This month, in the continuing Saga of MIDI, we take a look at two interface devices which turn the Spectrum into a very powerful music processor. Linked via cables to a MIDI compatible synthesiser, both interfaces offer the user a staggering array of musical possibilities, the results of which can be stunning. Your 'umble reviewer managed to get each of them to turn out not only Axel F, but also a pretty decent version of Elgar's introduction and Allegro for Strings (pretty classy, huh?)
Enough bragging, and down to the hard and software. The main difference between the two systems as reviewed here is that the Performer is a real time sequencer and the Micon is a step time sequencer. It must be said, however, that both interfaces have software available and in the pipeline that will extend their possibilities.
Another sturdy box to clip on to your Spectrum's edge connector - this time with MIDI in and out sockets, and two separate sockets for Clock in and out. Micon is supplied with copious detailed documentation which I found a bit difficult to follow - although the initial start up procedures of the program are straightforward. However, I understand that XRI are taking their documentation in hand and a rewritten set of instructions in on the stocks.
The Micon is aimed at the more serious musicians amongst us. It's an eight track recorder that has a scrolling music stave screen with excellent notation, but each note has to be entered manually by playing it on a synth and defining its length by tapping the space key.
Each tap on the space key is called an 'event', and each track is capable of holding 2,950 events. Micon is a step-time sequencer which allows you to enter rests and pauses as well as notes, as well as expression. A note may be specified as abrupt or smooth in execution (staccato or legato) and the velocity and pressure sensing that some synthesisers are capable of can also be defined for each note.
Micon's editing features are also very powerful. Any note can be removed and replaced at any time, and at any place in your piece. It is also possible to change the sound of the synth from a command inserted within the music. This is known to musical boffins as a 'patch change' - but all it does is tell the synth to stop playing one sound and look elsewhere in its voice library for another.
Any bar can be repeated, and this means that repetitive sequences on just one track can be created with ease. Axel F is a case in point, as the bass line is three sequences set to repeat in a certain order. This takes very little time to set up, and the result is very impressive.
Once you have created your recording, you can store it on microdrive - and you can put the program on cartridge too. Most thoughtful of XRI! In short, Micon is an exceptionally powerful composing tool.
It's a clear case of 'horses for courses' when comparing these two products. On the one hand is the EMR system, MIDITRACK PERFORMER which is easy to use and relates very nicely to the way a tape recorder works. However, it lacks a bit in the editing features and there's no display of the music you've just played. (If there was, it would probably take up most of the remaining memory and render the whole program pretty useless!) in tests, it did give the Casio CZ1O1 some problems as it kept an reverting to mono mode, but this may have had more to do with the way in which the MIDI code is ordered within the Casio itself than any shortcomings in Performer.
XRI's MICON, on the other hand, has complete and full editing facilities but is rather more laborious to use. However, you do get a real-time sequencing program thrown in as well, and i understand that muLti-tracking software is also on its way. XRI also offer additional software to store and edit on screen the voices of Yamaha, Roland and Casio synths, while Miditrack Performer only supports Yamaha equipment in this way at present.
The two systems were tested using a Yamaha DX7 and DX9. a Korg Poly 800 and the acid test was tried using the most modest of set ups, the excellent Casio CZ1O1. Thanks must go to Musicmakers of Selly Oak, Birmingham for supplying the synths used for this and other MIDI reviews...