The Advanced Music System (Rainbird) Review | Zzap - Everygamegoing

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The Advanced Music System
By Rainbird
Commodore 64

 
Published in Zzap #9

The Advanced Music System

A music software reviewer's lot is not always a happy one. Many times he is asked to pit his wits on your behalf against programs that defy all credibility, some of which should never have seen the light of day. However, the Advanced Music System, is the exception. In short, it is *the* system, and no self-respecting C64 owner with half a percent of musical interest should be without one.

Taking Advantage Of SID

The program was originally designed for the BBC and in 1983 consisted of a music editing and synthesiser program. The Island record company at this time were looking for a music system and joined forces with the original designers. Prototypes of the system found their way onto some of the company's record releases. After nine months of intensive team work, the Music System was launched. Development for the C64 meant many improvements to the software in order to take full advantage of the capabilities of the SID chip. Further re-coding and reworking of the system has now culminated in this, the most complete system for an 8-bit micro. "But what does it *do*?" I hear you ask. "Everything," is more or less the straight answer.

The AMS (Advanced Music System) will create, edit, play and print music. It allows music to be entered and played back either using the C64's internal chip or through an external MIDI keyboard or synthesiser. Sounds created on the SID chip can be stored for future use. The result can be printed in proper musical notation along with any lyrics you may have. Apparently, it will play continuously for about fifty hours if you tell it to!

Musical Iconography

On loading up, the control screen displays icons, graphic representations of the various modules that make up the system. These are: Editor, Keyboard, Synthesiser, Linker, Printer and MIDI. By depressing the Space bar, the module you want can be highlighted and hence accessed. There are keys common to each module that increase or decrease values.

Once into a selected module a set of icons appear that represent relevant functions. Across the top of the display is a command line giving you the option of Files, Values, Commands and Information. Accessed via the function keys these appear, like other sections within the module, as pop-up windows, thus enabling many more parameters to be altered and files to be stored easily. The graphics are of an exceptional quality not usually found on music software, and clearly much care and thought lies behind their creation. The colours are carefully chosen to be clear without burning the back of your eyes out.

The Keyboards mode is probably the most immediately satisfying. Highlight the keyboard icon, press Return, and the AMS retrieves the relevant part from the disk. The top two rows of keys become a piano keyboard and correspond to the piano keyboard represented on-screen. Among other icons are facilities there are plenty of pre-set voices, a visual and audible metronome as well as a facility for real-time recording on three channels.

The record/playback icon is cleverly laid out like the controls of a cassette recorder, even down to having a two-button operation for recording. All music played or recorded can be scrolled in proper notation on a pop-up window. This is definitely the place for the non-performer to start.

By selecting Files from the command line, the user can choose from ten demonstration tunes that show off the power of the program.

The Editor

Tunes created in the Keyboard module can be transferred to the Editor module. This is a powerful music processor akin to a word processor. Each note may be altered, accented, rather cleverly made to sound louder, or deleted altogether if need be. You can also edit all three voices - albeit one at a time.

As with all editors, it can be used to tidy up the whole piece, correcting timing errors and setting overall volumes and sound; checking your musical grammar, so to speak.

There is a 'cut and paste' facility, called 'notepad' that enables you to move whole sections around within the composition. The key and key signature can also be varied.

A constant barmeter display makes sure you know where you are. Repeats and loops of certain sections can be created both here and in the keyboard mode, which is great for creating rhythmic backing tracks a la breakdance or Jean-Michel Jarre. Having set up short tunes, these can later be merged and stored on disks on Files.

I realise that if you are a musical non-starter, this could present problems at first, but the logical presentation of the AMS is a great help in getting you to come to terms with the pen and ink side of music.

Synth And Merge

The Synthesiser module gives you complete control over the sound chip with clear graphic representation of the fifteen basic parameters for each sound you create. Tunes can be fetched from Files and run through with your newly-created sound. Parameters can be swapped from voice to voice and all new voices named and stored for later use.

The Linker is, in effect, a giant file merging utility. It allows large compositions consisting of up to twenty-six separate smaller music files to be linked together and played back as one piece of music in any predestined order.

Having created your music, it only remains for the two other modules to assist you in setting the musical world on fire. By using the MIDI link, you can have up to six separate keyboards/synthesisers controlled from your C64 via a MIDI interface. The manual claims that most C64 MIDI interfaces work with the AMS. It is also possible to enter music from the external keyboards. For the final professional touch, the Printer module provides you with very high quality music notation as well as giving you the option to print lyrics over the top of your music - and correctly spaced too! Hard copy can be obtained from Commodore and Epson-type printers (but don't try it with a daisywheel, idiot!)

Conclusion

This is a very fine program indeed and is acceptable to even the least musical amongst us. It is protected by a Lenslok device, about which the least said the better... The disks themselves can, however, be copies.

I would have welcomed an easy start approach in the handbook, but you can't have everything I suppose. At less than £40 it blows away any competition that comes within a good two hundred pounds of its price tag.

The only limitation is the SID chip. Further development of the MIDI module could very easily make this an extremely powerful controlling and compositional tool. If you want to explore music on your Commodore, then don't waste your money on sub-standard or exotically-priced software. Get this one.