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        MIDI for the Computerphile                             Page 1
                      A MIDI Primer for Computerphiles
             In the course of pursuing my dual interests in music and
        computers, I've noticed one thing:  though "crossover" in these
        two fields is certainly evident in hardware and software, most
        computer folk seem to know little about what those weird musician
        types are doing with their digital machines, and musicians, well,
        many musicians still think a byte is something you go out for
        after playing a set.  Hopefully, this report will be of some use
        to computer people who would like to know something about the
        computer revolution which has swept the music industry, but don't
        know where to start.  Obviously, this is a very large topic, and
        I can only present the broadest outlines here.  If there is
        sufficient interest, more detailed reports will follow.
                   A Basic Definition and a Little History
             MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a
        communications protocol developed jointly by American and
        Japanese manufacturers of electronic musical instruments.  It is
        a defined standard administered by an independent association,
        the International Midi Association, and, at least theoretically,
        assures compatibility among equipment produced by different
        manufacturers.  In practice, the ideal of total compatibility is
        not always achieved, but at least "MIDI standard" has a little
        more meaning than "RS232 standard interface".
             Now for a little history. MIDI is a fairly recent
        innovation; the standard was first proposed in 1981, when,
        fortunately, it was realized that unless someone did something,
        chaos would prevail in the musical instrument industry (with, of
        course, the resultant loss of sales.  Never forget that MIDI was
        spawned by manufacturers, not by users.  More on this later.)
             Over the past 15 or 20 years, many electronic instruments
        have been introduced.  Keyboard synthesizers are examples that
        are probably familiar to most people.  These machines were analog
        devices -- the pitch of the sound they produced was determined by
        a linear-scaled control voltage generated by the keyboard.  With
        the advent of microprocessors, it became feasible to produce
        digitally controlled instruments, eliminating the inherent
        instability and inaccuracy of the analog control approach.
        Please note, that the terms digital and analog are used here only
        to describe the method of control; they have a totally different
        meaning when applied to the technique used to generate the sound.
        That will be discussed in the section on Hardware.  Anyway, what
        is important is that instead of keyboards that produced varying
        voltages, you now have keyboards that produce discrete codes,
        just like a computer keyboard.
             Now I must digress for a moment, and present a short
        discussion on the elements of tonal music.  Tonal music (as
        distinguished from atonal music, i.e. noise) can be described as
        constituting three determinant parameters:
                  1 - Notes (comprised of pitch and harmonic data)
                  2 - Volume (how loud or soft the sounded note is)
                  3 - Duration (how long the note is sounded)
             A digitally-encoded keyboard is capable of generating, as a
        discrete quantity, only one of the 3 parameters.  Notes are
        determined by which key is pressed.  However, duration can be
        determined by measuring how long the key is pressed against a
        known time base.  Volume is a little tougher; you can measure the
        pressure with which the key is hit, but that will necessarily
        require analog measurement.  However, if you measure the time
        between the moment the key begins to be depressed and the moment
        it is fully depressed, you will know how fast the key is
        travelling, which gives a good indication of how hard it was
        struck.  This measurement, (beginning of key travel - end of key
        travel/time) is called "velocity" and provides the third
        parameter.  (Some MIDI instruments use analog pressure
        measurements to generate velocity data).
             If these three parameters were recorded in real-time, and
        then transmitted to an instrument, it would be possible to
        reproduce the original performance exactly as the musician played
        it.  This technique offers a major advantage over analog
        recording technology:  there is none of the degradation of sound
        which is inherent in any analog recording process.  The first
        devices which attempted to store and reproduce these parameters
        are familiar to everyone:  the old-fashioned player piano
        captured key presses in real-time and stored them on paper piano
        rolls for later retrieval.  The evolution of electronic
        instruments resulted in various schemes to electronically store
        these parameters.  However, the early attempts at "sequencing"
        (the process of coding, storing and retrieving note, volume and
        duration data) were individually developed by each manufacturer
  1. - compatibility between different brands of instruments was rare
             The MIDI standard was originally proposed to provide a
        single standard to be used by all instrument manufacturers, so
        that varied and different instruments could function together.
        However, as will be shown later, MIDI has evolved considerably
        beyond a basic note definition "language".
                           A Little Technical Data
             I won't reproduce the full standard here because it is
        readily available from a variety of sources and is not necessary
        for understanding the basic principles and applications of MIDI.
        MIDI is a synchronous digital protocol.  Data is sent in 8-bit
        words at 31.2K baud using a current loop.  Why yet another
        format, when good ole' RS232 is sitting there on just about every
        computer in existence?  The official Party Line is:  RS232, with
        its top speed of 19.2K is too slow to handle all the note data.
        Current loop is necessary to suppress interference that would
        result from the long cable runs.  Could it be an excuse to sell
        more hardware? Hmmmmmm.  Anyway, back to facts.  MIDI protocol
        consists of control and data words which may be from 1 to 3 bytes
        long, or, in certain situations, longer.  MIDI defines the three
        parameters from the previous section as follows:
                  NOTES:  128 notes are defined, from 0 to 127.  Notes
                  follow the standard even-tempered chromatic scale.
                  Notes are NOT defined as specific frequencies,
                  permitting performers to tune their instruments as
                  VOLUME:  The primary means of specifying volume is
                  velocity (see previous discussion).  Velocity is
                  quantized per note in discrete steps from 0 (softest)
                  to 127 (loudest).  There are also other parameters
                  which control relative volume of the entire instrument.
                  DURATION:  MIDI handles duration of notes with two
                  parameters:  NOTE ON and NOTE OFF.  NOTE ON is
                  generated when the key is pressed, NOTE OFF is
                  generated when the key is released.  These two commands
                  are sent independently of each other; if a NOTE ON is
                  issued and a corresponding NOTE OFF is not sent
                  (because of data errors, mechanical failures, or poor
                  programming) the note will sound forever (or until the
                  instrument is turned off).  This presents occasional
                  problems, particularly in live performance, because, as
                  in any communications protocol, data errors do
                  sometimes happen.  MIDI does provide an "All Notes Off"
             As stated before, duration must be measured against a known
        time standard.  MIDI provides a MIDI clock signal, which is sent
        as a specifically designated data byte.  MIDI divides each
        musical beat into 128 MIDI clocks.  MIDI also defines the
        following parameters:
                  PROGRAM CHANGE:  This parameter selects different
                  "patches" or sounds in the musical instrument.  The
                  programs are numbered 0-127.  Note that the patches
                  themselves are not defined by the MIDI standard.
                  Program #32 might be a violin on one synthesizer and
                  barking dogs on another.
                  CHANNEL:  MIDI provides for 16 different channels.
                  Most MIDI commands and data can be specific to a single
                  channel, i.e. instrument, or can be global.
                  PITCH BEND:  As the name implies, the pitch of the note
                  can be "bent" up or down in real time (remember Jimi
                  MODULATION:  This is a control parameter that usually
                  effects the vibrato sound of the note, though some
                  instruments can be programmed to use modulation data to
                  control other parameters.  Modulation and Pitch Bend
                  are usually controlled from the instrument with wheels
                  or levers that the performer can rock back and forth.
                  SUSTAIN:  The same as the sustain pedal on a piano, it
                  will cause the note to sound until the pedal (or other
                  control device) is released.
             The MIDI spec allows for 127 different control parameters,
        although only a small number are currently identified and
        standardized.  In addition, MIDI provides a "system exclusive"
        message.  Each manufacturer is assigned their own unique "sys ex"
        code which allows them to implement custom features without
        interfering with other manufacturers customizations.  Ah ha! you
        say, doesn't that defeat the purpose of a "standard"?  Yes, to an
        extent it does, but remember it was the manufacturers of the
        equipment who pushed for a standard, and allows for innovation
        and differentiation between brands.  And, as stated earlier, you
        must admit that this standard is considerably more consistent
        than a "standard" RS232 interface.
             The preceding constitutes only the broadest description of
        the MIDI protocol, and there are quite a few more features which
        I haven't covered here.  However, you should have a general idea
        of the kinds of data MIDI can handle.  Now I'll tell you some of
        the ways MIDI is used.
                           What is MIDI Used For?
             Ok, we've established that MIDI is both a communications
        protocol and note definition language.  What can it do?
        1.  Control of Instruments
             Any musical instrument can be thought of as having two
        distinct components: the sound producing component and the
        control component.  As an example, the keyboard of a piano, the
        frets on a guitar and the buttons on a clarinet can all be
        thought of as control components.  The piano's strings and
        hammers, the guitar's strings and acoustic body (or magnetic
        pickups if it is electric) and the clarinet's reeds and hollow
        body are all sound producers.  The first application for MIDI
        permits the separation of control and sound production
        components.  The most common (though not the only) MIDI
        controller is the keyboard.  The keyboard generates the NOTE ON
        and NOTE OFF data as well as various other control data (see
        previous section) and passes it on to the sound producing
        section.  The sound producing section could be a synthesizer,
        digital sampler, drum machine, or any other MIDI equipped sound
        producing device.  Most synthesizers combine the sound producing
        device and the keyboard controller in a single physical package.
        However, MIDI permits them two be addressed as two distinct and
        separate sections.
             A single musician at a single keyboard can play many
        different instruments simultaneously.  There are two ways of
        doing this.  The first places several different sound producers
        on the same channel, all responding to the same MIDI data at the
        same time.  This is a process called "layering" and can be used
        to produce full, rich, harmonically complex sounds.  The effect
        is of several different instruments all playing in unison.
             The second technique is called "splitting" the keyboard --
        arbitrarily assigning specific channels to specific notes on the
        keyboard.  This permits different instruments to play different
        music, all under the control of one musician at one keyboard.  As
        an example, the musician might assign the bottom two octaves of
        the keyboard to channel 1 and the rest of the keyboard to channel
        2.  If a digital sampler set to reproduce the sound of a bass is
        assigned to channel 1, and a synthesizer producing a piano sound
        is assigned to channel 2, the musician will be able to play the
        bass line accompaniment with his left hand while playing the
        piano lead with his right.
             Note that when instruments are layered, an unlimited number
        of instruments may be played.  However, when the keyboard is
        split, the maximum number of instruments that may be controlled
        is limited to the maximum number of MIDI channels -- 16.
        2. Sequencers
             Another obvious application for MIDI is the storing of the
        MIDI data stream for later playback -- a process known as
        sequencing.  This task may be performed either by a dedicated
        piece of hardware (called, of course, a "sequencer") or by
        general purpose computers equipped with the appropriate software
        and interfacing.
             Most sequencers allow editing of the MIDI data -- wrong
        notes can be corrected, new material can be entered one note at a
        time, and sections can be rearranged, moved or copied (much like
        a word processor).  Almost all sequencers allow for transposition
        (changing key) and tempo changes.  Some will "auto-correct" so
        that all notes are played exactly on the beat, eliminating any
        sloppiness in playing.
             Since MIDI provides 16 unique channels, 16 different
        instruments can be controlled simultaneously, allowing the
        sequencer to function like a multi-track tape recorder.  Each
        instrument is "played" into the sequencer individually on a
        different channel.  When all the parts have been entered, the
        sequencer can play them back all at the same time, in effect
        creating a one-man band (or one-man philharmonic orchestra).
             Finally, since MIDI was developed as a professional and
        semiprofessional musical tool, several features required for
        recording are supported.  Most sequencers allow for some form of
        tape sync.  In the most basic form of tape sync, the sequencer
        provides a synchronization signal which can be laid down on one
        track of a multi-track tape recorder.  When new tracks are laid
        down, the sequencer can synchronize to the previously recorded
        material.  This makes multi-track recording, over-dubbing, and
        similar recording tricks much easier.  The MIDI spec also defines
        a MIDI SONG POINTER, which can be thought of as "mile markers" in
        the music.  A sequencer that supports MIDI SONG POINTERS is
        capable of automated punch-in and punch-out -- the process of
        inserting new material into a previously recorded track.
        3.  Librarian Software
             One of the uses manufacturers of MIDI instruments make of
        the SYSTEM EXCLUSIVE command is for data dumps; literally
        "dumping" all the parameter data needed to define sounds and
        setups out the MIDI line on command.  Software that stores this
        data for later recall is called Librarian software.  Most
        librarians are not limited to merely storing and retrieving the
        dumped data, but are also capable of editing specific patch
        parameters -- a task which is more easily performed on a computer
        with a full keyboard and video display than on the more limited
        displays and entry devices available on the synthesizers
             A special form of librarian, generally called a Sound
        Modeling Program, use the SYSTEM EXCLUSIVE dump command to obtain
        wave sample data from digital samplers (see the section on
        Hardware).  The wave sample can then be displayed, manipulated,
        stored and retrieved by the librarian.  "Serious" sampling with
        digital samplers virtually mandates the use of some form of Sound
        Modeling Program.
        4.  Notation Software
             Notation software takes the MIDI note data and translates it
        into conventional music notation which can be displayed on the
        screen or printed on a dot matrix or laser printer.  It allows a
        musician to play music in on the controller keyboard in real time
        and get finished musical scores out.  Alternatively, music can be
        entered in notational form on the computer keyboard using
        wordprocessor-like commands, and the finished result can be heard
        played on a MIDI equipped synthesizer.
           Copyright 1987 by Paul Tauger.  This article may be freely
        exchanged, copied and/or distributed provided it is done without
        5.  Other Applications
             Lately, MIDI has also found application in non-musical
        functions, e.g. controlling mixing boards, stage lighting and
        sound processing equipment (reverbs, digital delays, etc.).
                             Problems with MIDI
             As powerful a tool as MIDI is, it is not totally without
        problems.  What follows are a few cautionary notes:
        1.  As already mentioned, MIDI defines note duration with two
        separate data commands: NOTE ON and NOTE OFF.  The possibility of
        a NOTE ON being transmitted without a corresponding NOTE OFF
        following is an always present danger.  Data can get garbled
        during transmission, lines become unplugged (the MIDI standard
        utilizes 5-pin DIN connectors which have a nasty habit of
        loosening in their sockets), channels accidentally get switched,
        etc.  Without a NOTE OFF command, the note will continue to sound
        for ever.  This can be a major annoyance in a recording session
        (more than annoying if it occurs during that once-in-a-lifetime
        hot set) and in live performance, well, you get the idea.
        Various manufacturers have come up with different solutions to
        the problem, the most common being a button which, when pressed,
        produces an ALL NOTES OFF command.  This will, of course, silence
        the offending note, but silences all the other notes in the
        process.  Because the two note NOTE ON/NOTE OFF structure is
        intrinsic to the MIDI spec, we will just have to live with the
        occasional stuck note.
        2.  MIDI transmits at 31.2k baud.  A little math shows that MIDI
        is capable of sending approximately 1000 notes per second.  This
        is obviously more than any musician can ever play.  However, when
        you divide this capacity among 16 channels, add in the data
        stream produced by controllers such as pitch benders and
        modulation wheels, then throw in a few program changes for good
        measure, you have the possibility of overrunning the data.  To be
        honest, I've never heard of this happening, but the possibility
        is still there.
        3.  Most MIDI instruments contain a MIDI-in jack for receiving
        data, a MIDI-out jack for transmitting data, and a MIDI-thru jack
        for passing MIDI data along to another instrument.  When
        instruments are daisy-chained together, a perceivable delay
        develops between the first and last instrument in the chain.
        This is the infamous "MIDI delay" of which you may have heard.
        This delay can be eliminated by using a device known as a "MIDI
        Thru Box".  This is an active splitter that accepts one MIDI
        input and divides it into 4,6 or more MIDI outputs, thereby
        assuring that all instruments receive the MIDI signal at the same
        time.  Does it solve the problem?  You bet!  Does it cost more
        money?  You bet!
        4.  Another problem, frequently mistaken for MIDI delay, is
        inherent in some MIDI synthesizers.  Remember that the keys on
        the keyboard are scanned sequentially, in the same manner as a
        computer keyboard.  In some brands of keyboard synthesizers, the
        internal electronics introduce their own delays in translating
        the key presses into sounds.  Though not specifically a MIDI
        problem, it is a problem none the less, and is particularly
        evident when the musician "grabs" large chords consisting of many
        notes.  Fortunately, this problem is recognized as a hardware
        "bug" and is usually corrected by the manufacturer (after enough
        people complain).
        5.  By its very nature, MIDI is designed to permit one controller
        on line at a time.  More than one controller on line will result
        in inevitable data collisions with the resultant garbling of
        data.  Think of two computers sending data to two printers at the
        same time.  There are devices available which mediate data
        contention between two MIDI controllers.  Generally called Midi
        Mergers, they are another relatively expensive solution to what
        seems like a simple problem.
        6.  Though the MIDI protocol is clearly defined in the spec,
        computer storage schemes are left up to the individual software
        producer.  There is no MIDI equivalent of an ASCII or EBDIC file.
        Consequently, MIDI data files produced by one piece of software
        can not be read by another.  This would be fine if there were
        such a thing as a program that did everything (and did it well).
        However, as in the case of the "integrated" packages that
        combined word processors, spread sheets, data bases and
        communications software all in one box, such as thing simply
        doesn't exist.  Right now, the only way to exchange MIDI data
        between programs is by transmitting the data over a physical MIDI
        data line between two computers.
        7.  As mentioned earlier, the MIDI spec provides considerable
        latitude to manufacturers who want to incorporate custom features
        in their instruments.  Consequently, MIDI is afflicted with
        "creeping non-standardization".  There are already controller
        number conflicts between some of the largest instrument
        manufacturers, and the SYSTEM EXCLUSIVE command guarantees that
        no single librarian program will work with all synthesizers.
        8.  Now for what I see as the major problem with MIDI - MONEY!
        Until the electronic revolution, quality musical instruments were
        carefully crafted, often handmade, and very expensive.  After
        all, great instrument making is an art.  Consequently, musicians
        have become accustomed to paying a lot of money for the
        instruments they play.  This tradition has been maintained by
        many manufacturers of mass-produced electronic instruments.
        There are exceptions (see the description of the Casio CZ-101 in
        the Hardware section), but for the most part, the sales price of
        a piece of electronic musical gear frequently does not bear any
        correspondence to the cost of its manufacture.  Fortunately, the
        current trend is towards dropping prices.  However, walk into any
        music store and you will see MIDI cables (2 DIN plugs and 10 feet
        of 2 conductor shield cable) for $25 or more.  Though good MIDI
        software tends to be very expensive, it should be remembered that
        MIDI software publishers have a much more limited market for
        their product than publishers of more common business-oriented
                      A Brief (and Biased) Hardware Catalog
             I would like to conclude this report with a description of
        the types of MIDI hardware currently available.  Hardware
        selection is a very personal decision, and what I say here
        (beyond the basic descriptions) is necessarily biased by my own
        preferences.  Here goes:
        1.  Sound Producing Devices
             The devices which produce the actual sounds can be divided
        into two basic categories:
  1. Synthesizers - devices which generate basic sound
                  waveforms, and, by manipulating various parameters of
                  the sound (envelope, modulation, etc.) can produce a
                  diversity of tonal textures and colors.
  1. Samplers - devices that digitally record, or sample,
                  a sound, and then play it back at pitches determined by
                  the controller.
             Synthesizers can be divided into two broad categories.
        Analog synthesizer use conventional oscillators and filters to
        produce different sound waveforms, e.g. sine waves, square waves,
        triangle waves, etc.  Digital synthesizers "store" a digitally
        encoded waveform in ROM, and produce their sounds by reading the
        waveform out to D-to-A convertor.  Generally, analog synthesizers
        are thought of as producing "warmer" sounds than their digital
        counterparts.  Some common synthesizers are:
             Yamaha DX-7 (approx. $1700) - The DX-7 has become something
             of a "standard" for digital synthesis, and is used by many
             professional musicians.  Most librarian software supports
             this machine.
             Casio CZ-101 (approx. $300) - Casio has a complete line of
             digital synthesizers, but the CZ-101, in my opinion, offers
             more "bang for the buck" than anything else on the market.
             This machine is supported by many librarians, is capable of
             producing an astonishing range of sounds and is an excellent
             "starter" for anyone interested in testing the waters of
             electronic music.  Two drawbacks:  it has a small keyboard
             that is difficult to play, and does not support note
             velocity; all notes default to a velocity of 64.
             Samplers are available in a wide range of prices and
             capabilities.  Factors to be considered in purchasing a sampler:
             1 - Sample width.  The more bits per sample, the better the
             resolution, dynamic range, and fidelity. This rule is not
             written in stone, however, as many manufacturers have
             developed data compression algorithms that allow them to
             squeeze more information out of smaller width samples, and a
             12-bit machine may not necessarily sound better than an
             8-bit machine.
             2 - Sampling rate.  Higher sampling rates permit the
             reproduction of higher frequency sound data.  The Nyquist
             rule specifies a sampling rate 2-1/2 times the frequency of
             the highest sound to be sampled, i.e. to sample the full
             audible audio spectrum (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz), a sampler
             should have a sampling rate of (2.5 * 20,000) or 50,000
             samples per second.
             3 - Number of active samples.  The sound of a "real"
             instrument can not be reproduced by sampling only one note
             and "stretching" it across the entire keyboard.  Many
             samples taken at many different pitches are necessary to
             effectively simulate the distinctive voice of an instrument.
             Some samplers provide only a single sample at a time which
             must be stretched.  Others provide as many as 64 active
             samples at a time which may be assigned to specific sections
             of the keyboard as needed.
             4 - Available memory.  Samplers with a lot of memory can
             allow higher sampling frequencies, longer samples, and more
             active samples.
             Digital Samplers are "where the action is" and new machines
        are being introduced all the time.  Some inexpensive samples of
             Akai  S612 (approx. $1000 with disk storage):  The least
             expensive "real" sampler (as contrasted with several
             sampling toys that have recently hit the market) the S612 is
             also available in an expanded version called the S900 for
             approximately $3000. The S612 is limited to one active
             sample at a time.  Sampling rate is also limited, which
             restricts its ability to sample high frequency sounds.  In
             addition, it is a rack-mounted device which requires a MIDI
             keyboard to control it.  It is, however, a fully implemented
             sampler for a minimum price, and constitutes a good
             entry-level machine for those who want to experiment with
             Ensoniq Mirage (approx. $1700 with keyboard):  The Mirage is
             a versatile instrument that offers a user-selectable sample
             rates up to 30 kHz with up to 16 active samples. The machine
             also has a full sound modification section consisting of the
             traditional envelope and filter synthesizer controls,
             permitting the user considerable flexibility in customizing
             sound samples. Ensoniq offers a large library of factory
             samples on 3-1/2" disk (disk drive included with the Mirage)
             which range in quality from adequate to extraordinary.  A
             good test for a sampler is the ability to recreate the sound
             of an acoustic piano, as pianos produce extremely complex
             waveforms.  The Mirage does a very credible job with pianos,
             as well as other acoustic instruments.  The Mirage is also
             available in a less expensive rack mount version (no
             Sequential Circuits Prophet 2000 (approx. $2500): 12-bit
             sampler with extensive MIDI implementation.  Sampling rate
             user-switchable up to 41 kHz.  There has been some criticism
             of the quality of factory-produced library samples,  but the
             machine is capable of extremely high-quality sampling.
             Emu Emulator II (approx. $8000):  A very high quality
             sampler the uses a proprietary data encoding scheme to
             purportedly wring 14-bit resolution out of 8-bit samples.
             The Emulator was one of the first "affordable" samplers (as
             compared with the $50K - $100K Fairlight and Synclavier) and
             has seen extensive use in professional recording and live
             Drum machines are specialized devices that simulate the
        sound of a drum set.  The sounds are ROM-based digital samples,
        though some machines permit the user to sample their own sounds.
        All drum machines allow the user to define a number of patterns
        which can be strung together to form "songs".  A representative
        drum machine:
             Yamaha RX-15 (approx. $400) - Has 16 different drum sounds
             (only 12 available at the same time), memory for up to 99
             patterns and 10 songs (depending on complexity).  Good MIDI
             implementation, though incapable of MIDI sys ex dumps.  Also
             available as the RX-11 (approx. $700) with complete MIDI
        2 - Keyboard Controllers
             Keyboard controllers produce no sounds by themselves but
        generate the MIDI data necessary to control MIDI sound-producing
        devices.  Keyboard controllers have "actions" that provide a feel
        similar to traditional pianos.
             MIDI data can also be generated by non-keyboard devices,
        including guitars, drums and various wind instruments.  Devices
        called "pitch riders" can translate an analog sound input into
        MIDI data output.
        3 - Computers
             This is a volatile area for discussion, with proponents of
        different brands fiercely loyal to their machines (as I am
        fiercely loyal to mine - an IBM PC-XT).  Anyway, here's a quick
        run down:
             Inexpensive Machines:
             Commodore 64/128:  Many software packages are available, as
             well as different interface options.  The machine's 64K of
             memory presents a limitation for sequencing and scoring
             programs, but low cost of the Commodores makes for them good
             MIDI "starter" systems.  If you are considering the
             Commodore, avoid software that claims it can use the 64's
             internal sound chip to produce "real professional
             synthesizer sounds".  The sound chip on the 64 is quite
             clever and very versatile, but is limited to three voice
             polyphony and has severely restricted sound modifying
             capabilities.  It is not a substitute for a synthesizer by
             itself.  Passport and Dr. T are two publishers of quality
             MIDI software for the Commodore.
             Low-cost Atari's:  Same limitations as the Commodore, though
             perhaps with fewer quality software packages available.
             Noted exception: Hybrid Arts produces well recognized and
             well respected software, though unfortunately, only for the
             Atari line.
             Apple II - About on a par with the cheap Atari's from a
             music standpoint.  48K memory presents severe limitations.
             Moderately Priced Machines:
             Only two worth considering - the Amiga and the Atari ST.
             The Atari has slightly more software packages available and
             offers a built-in MIDI interface.  The MIDI interface is an
             extra-cost option on the Amiga.  I'll avoid jumping into the
             Atari vs. Amiga war by saying both machines offer good value
             and are well-suited for MIDI and other music applications.
             More Expensive Machines:
             Macintosh:  In fairness, I must confess to a certain amount
             of anti-Mac prejudice.  My criticisms are not new:
             expensive peripherals, up-until-recently closed
             architecture, hard-to-support serial bus, operating system
             designed for computerphobes, etc.  However, if you like it
             you like it, and there are some excellent professional music
             packages available for it.  However, my preference, hands
             down, is:
             IBM PC-XT (and PC clones):  The PC offers a great variety of
             powerful, professional music software packages, and a
             variety of flexible MIDI interfaces are available for it.
             It is also the only machine which will run Personal
             Composer, the only notation program I've seen which actually
             works.  There are other notation programs out, but they are
             so riddled with bugs as to be almost unusable, or else are
             so limited in their implementations as to impose severe
             restrictions on composers.  (I will happily retract the
             preceding statements upon compelling evidence to the
             contrary). One program worth mentioning is Texture, a
             sequencer which has become the de facto standard of
             professional musicians.
                                   Final Words
             As stated at the outset, MIDI is a very large topic to be
        tackled in a single report.  I hope I have presented enough
        information to give the MIDI neophyte a basic understanding of
        the topic.  Let me also remind you that the "review" material
        presented here is highly subjective, particularly in the
        "hardware" section.  There are many more fine instruments and
        software packages which I have not mentioned here.
             A good source for information on MIDI and electronic music
        in general is KEYBOARD magazine, which publishes reviews of
        hardware and software, features on all aspects of keyboard music
        (both acoustic and electronic), occasional how-to articles, etc.
             I hope some of you who read this will be motivated to
        experiment with MIDI.  The control capabilities of sequencers and
        the sound generating abilities of the various synthesizers and
        samplers put the ability to create professional sounding music in
        the hands of almost anyone.  If there is enough interest, I can
        prepare occasional reports that explore specific areas of
        electronic music production in greater detail.  Messages for me
        can be left at The Sleepy Hollow BBS, 213-859-9334 (24 hours,
        1200 baud, 8-bit, no parity, 1 stop bit), which, incidentally, is
        the finest BBS I've encountered and is run by a knowledgeable and
        dedicated Sysop.
           Copyright 1987 by Paul Tauger.  This article may be freely
        exchanged, copied and/or distributed provided it is done without

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