MIDI INTERFACE GOES FOR A SONG
SPEAKING as someone with Van Gogh's ear for music I approached the Micon MIDI interface, from XRI Systems, with some trepidation. I just about know the difference between a crochet and a semi-quaver - one wears funny hats and the other is half a crisp - but now, however, I could give Vangelis a run for his money and still have change for the bus fare.
For the uninitiated, MIDI is a standard by which various musical devices, synthesisers, drum machines and computers can be connected so that any device can 'talk' to any other.
In this way the Spectrum, with a suitable interface, can control the sounds produced - not only the tone but also the speed and the type of sound. The Micon interface allows all of this over eight tracks.
On the top of the interface are five five-pin sockets. MIDI in, two MIDI out, Sync in and Sync out. The last two allow non-MIDI machines - such as the Cheetah SpecDrum - to be used and kept in time with the music.
The interface is supplied with two pieces of software, a Step Sequencer and a Real-time Sequencer. The first centres around an on-screen stave.
Music is input to this stave by pressing keys on the synth' keyboard which then appears on screen as notes. Various options are then available to edit the music produced. These cover copying bars, altering notes and so on.
On playback you can display the music on screen as the notes are played - that slows the whole thing down as the screen cannot be updated fast enough, so there is an option to turn it off.
Other options set the tempo, select tracks - any or all can be played at once - transpose the music and set the gates.
The outcome of all this, is that it is very easy to compose a piece of music one note at a time until you have your masterpiece. Even I can do it.
On the flip side of the tape is the Real-time Sequencer. That is simple and acts as a tape recorder. Up to ten sequences can be stored and played back but to use it properly you have to be able to play properly - which counts me out. A fuller version will be available soon which covers all eight tracks and will have all the bells and whistles.
For the more advanced user there are additional tapes which allow you to shape the sound produced and produce a graph on screen of what the sound looks like. These are available for the Casio range.
Once you get into this sort of thing you can also get software from third parties. Midisoft produces a tape called RAP for the Micon, and other MIDI interfaces, which lets you set up a rhythm track. That covers 16 separate MIDI channels and is a very professional-looking piece of software.
If you are at all serious about your music, or even if you are just an enthusiastic amateur, the MIDI is the way to go. The Micon allows things I didn't think were possible with a Spectrum.
XRI Systems, 10 Sunnybank Road, Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B73 5RE. Tel: 021-382-6048.
MIDI Interface £109.00
Casio Editor £22.95
DX7 Editor £24.95
Juno 106 Toolkit £19.95
Midisoft, PO Box 43, Romford, Essex RM1 4EG.