Making music with your Vic. (evaluation) Shelby Goldstein.
Whether you're a music pro, a computer whiz, or an amateur dabbling for the first time in either field, you can make great music with the Commodore Vic 20. The Vic comes with four-voice, music making capability built in, and now there are three software programs available that can help you take advantage of that capability. Piper
Piper from Abacus Software enables you to compose and play one-voice music with ease. Music is entered into the computer much as you would write a Basic program, although you need not be a programmer to use Piper.
Notes are indicated by their letter names, which makes it quick and easy. For example, the note C is played simply by typing C, not POKE 36876,195. Note values are specified by adding a number after the letter name. C/4, for example, indicates the note C played as a quarter note. To enter a half note C, you type C/2.
The Vic has a five-octave range. With Piper, you indicate the octave that you desire by inserting its number between the letter name and the note value. For example, a quarter note C in the fifth octave would read C5/4.
Sharps or flats are added by entering their sign next to the letter name C#5/4. Rests are inserted by typing R. A quarter note rest, for example, would read R/4.
The following is a sample program that plays a D major scale: 1 RUN "<CLR>" 10 T80 20 D4/4 E4/4 F#4/4 G4/4 A5/4 B5/4 C#5/4 D5/4 30 END
Line 10 sets the tempo, which can vary from 15 to 255. In addition, phrases can be repeated, and volume can be controlled. You can also display the lyrics as the music moves along. Piper even allows you to control certain elements while the music is playing. For example, you can instruct the computer to skip a subroutine, repeat it, or go to a different subroutine.
As you enter music into the computer, you can play it back immediately to check yourself, or you can enter the entire composition and then play back and edit. Music can also be saved to disk or tape for replaying at a later time.
Piper is easy to use and fast. Keep in mind, though, that you can enter and play only one voice at a time. Vic Music Composer
If you need a program that enables you to compose two- or three-voice music and play all voices simultaneously, then you should consider Vic Music Composer from Thorn EMI.
Vic Music Composer by Martin G. Taylor allows you to play as many as three voices simultaneously. However, you can enter only one voice of music at a time.
As with Piper, you can stop at any time and edit or play back to check yourself and edit. Once you finish one voice of your composition, you can play it back, add a second or third voice, and save it all on tape or disk.
Music is entered into the computer by placing notes on a graphic representation of a musical staff. You first choose the key, time signature, and voice in which you wish to compose. You then use cursor controls to select the note value and move it to the chosen place on the staff. Rests are located in the same manner. Once a note is in place, a sharp or flat can be added by pressing certain keys. Bar lines are inserted by simply pressing the B key.
While not as fast as Piper, this method of entering music has a couple of advantages. Using it, a non-musician can create music on the Vic simply by copying notes from sheet music and putting them in their proper places on the staff. In addition, this method of composing is more common among professional musicians, who tend to think of and write music as notes on a staff rather than as letter names.
Other features of Vic Music Composer include ease of editing with cursor-controlled deletion and insertion. Also, volume can be changed within the piece as often as you wish simply by entering a number from 1 to 6 beneath the staff. A variety of tempos can be used by choosing various numbers from 1 to 9.
As you play back your composition, you can choose which voice you wish to have displayed. Unfortunately, you can display only one voice at a time even though you may be hearing two or three. There also doesn't seem to be a way to listen to only one voice if you have composed a two- or three-voice piece; you must always listen to all three.
One other disturbing omission is the ability to hear repeated attacks of the same tone. For example, if you enter four quarter note Gs, they will be heard as one whole note G. This can change the sound and feel of many tunes significantly.
In spite of these disadvantages, Vic Music Composer is a superb program. It allows you to compose, store, and play back as many as three voices simultaneously, using standard music notation. Entering and editing music is fairly fast and easy. The program comes in a convenient ROM cartridge and, like Piper, requires no memory expansion. Synthesound
However, if you are more interested in creating a variety of sounds than in using musical notation and saving compositions, Synthesound from HES may be for you.
Synthesound, by T. Dachsel and D. Hassinger, turns your Vic 20 into an exciting music synthesizer. Like the other two programs, it helps if you know something about music, but it is not necessary. Even a novice can create many different sounds and special effects by fooling around with this program.
Synthesound uses three voices within a four and one-half octave range. Using attack, decay, sustain, and release controls over the three-voice oscillators, you can create a variety of sounds, from bagpipes to a piano to a police siren.
There are two parts to the program: player mode and programmer mode. In player mode, your Vic keyboard becomes a musical keyboard. By pressing certain keys, you produce notes of the scale, songs, or some pretty wild sound effects, all depending on what controls you have set in programmer mode.
Programmer mode is the part of the program in which you control the ADSR envelopes (attack, decay, sustain, release) of the three voltage controlled oscillators, your three voices. Basically, the way you set the ADSR of the three voices determines whether your tone will sound like a violin or like a trumpet. While there are other factors involved in the production of a sound (such as low frequency oscillators), and while it does require quite a bit of musical knowledge to understand music synthesis fully, most people can have a great deal of fun creating a wide variety of different sounds with this program.
Other features of Synthesound include an optional illuminated keyboard in player mode and a four-voice sequencer for repeating musical or rhythmic patterns. The only really disturbing drawback of Synthesound is the inability to save the sounds you create. Once you turn off the machine, that's it. This can be very frustrating if you have spent hours finding just the right kind of sound and there is no way to recall it during future sessions.
When questioned about this missing feature, a representative of HES explained that it would have required twice as much memory to incorporate this feature, and the retail price would then have doubled as well. One wonders if it wouldn't be worth the extra money, and also if there isn't a way to incorporate that feature without using so much extra memory.
At any rate, Synthesound is an excellent program. It, along with Piper and Vic Music Composer, now offers a variety of ways with which to create music on your Vic computer. If you haven't tried any of them, you are really in for a treat.
Products: Abacus Software Piper (computer program)
Thorn EMI Vic Music Composer (computer program)
HES Synthesound (computer program)