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Digital music creation with RISC OS

By Chris Williams. Published: 21st Jul 2004, 23:51:50 | Permalink | Printable


hegelian dialectica logProducing digital music with RISC OS is still possible, says artist Antius, who this month told drobe.co.uk that he's finished recording his latest album, in which RISC OS played a considerable part. Conceived under the hEgelian diAlectics project, the album has no specific release date as yet.

Having recovered from partying in Holland, one inebriated email and an interview later, Antius described his music as being "sympho-ebm-soundsculpture-tekno-noise", which we reckon is another way of saying "sample-based electronica with extra bite". Certainly, we all have different tastes in music and while this digital genre may not be your cup of tea, Antius' comments and insights on available software and hardware should hopefully be interesting enough for anyone considering music production on RISC OS, or even looking for a nostalgia trip to Tracker music land. Antius also pointed out that the July issue of Sound-on-sound reviewed Sibelius 3, which happened to mention RISC OS despite being a Mac and Windows review.

"I guess work started on my new album after my girlfriend and I returned from a wonderful vacation in Scandinavia... almost a year ago," recalled Antius. "These countries have inspired me in a special way and I had the privilege to meet two producers I deeply respect.

"Every song has a special meaning for me, because it is a most important reflection of myself. In some ways, my music is my therapy and stress relief but also a catalyst for change. It works in different directions, every song will have its dedicated influence on the whole of the album. Therefore it is not yet 'put together', it will take a while to select and adjust those songs most fitting to the theme I have conjured up in the past year. Still, I must say some parts were more enjoyable than others, in the sense that they worked more relieving or clarifying than others."

As to how he got into electronica and techno, the man of many aliases continued: "I guess I was about 14 or 15 when I started to get really serious about personal tastes on music and after I left my parental home and got my own place in another city it rapidly matured. Before long I developed a firm interest in synthesizers, sound processing, creating electronic music on a more advanced level. I've always had an interest in computers, beginning with the fun C64 and BBC, to working on the mighty Archimedes. When I started sampling and sequencing with Digital Symphony all hell broke loose! I guess I created about a hundred Trackers in those days! Maybe I'll put them in the public domain someday, if there's enough interest in them."

MIDI keyboardsThe album contains samples from videotapes, documentaries and news broadcasts, captured using a parallel port sampler fitted to Antius' StrongARM RiscPC. The RiscPC is also fitted with an 80GB hard disc, 82M of RAM, a 52x Philips CD-R drive, a network card, an AKA16 MIDI interface and serial port MIDI interface, and "the 16 bit sound expansion which sounds 'true Acorn-ish'".

Next to the burning question: why pick RISC OS for music creation? "Well, first off I've been using it for about 10 years now and it has not let me down. Secondly, it's very straightforward in use and when composing you'd rather be wearing your 'composer's-hat' instead of some 'programmer's-hat'", Antius explained.

"On the other hand Windows and Mac OS have gained a lot since the early days and modern 'softsynths' (software synthesizers, sometimes emulations of actual hardware) are only available on them."

Antius mentioned that he will be using an Apple Mac at some point in the future, so is it curtains for his RiscPC, which was recently upgraded to RISC OS Select? "The RiscPC will have its unique stuff to perform, things not easily done on other platforms. Quick edits, fast programming, specific driving of instruments where it would take longer on a Mac. The RiscPC is always nice to work with and is not that much demanding as a Mac or PC is: although the latter are much more powerful and need to be used in certain situations in spite of the RISC OS ease of use I've come to rely on."

Close up of a MIDI keyboardThe album was recorded from external equipment, although RISC OS software Anthem, Debbie and SysExy were all employed during the course of production. Antius has a somewhat love-hate relationship with Anthem, after he found that it didn't work well with RISC OS Select despite R-Comp advertising it as being compatible with RISC OS 3.1 and greater, although it does with RISC OS 4.

"Anyway, I must say the Acorn kit has proven to be most reliable: Once, I even dragged an A5000 machine to a live performance and it worked great managing to drive 4 separate instruments perfectly," enthused Antius. "Nowadays, I don't perform as much live as I used to (rarely in fact) but with the new album coming, I'll probably be needing a laptop like an Apple Powerbook or perhaps even a VirtualAcorn-Adjust machine."

Thumbnail of Antius' desktop
Screenshot of desktop MIDI work

We also asked Antius if he had any further hardware and software recommendations:

"A StrongARM RiscPC or (working) Omega with lots of RAM, hard drive space and a good CD burner, preferably a Plextor. Some kind of sampler, if you can get one, the DMI card with 16 bit sampler or the Irlam one. Also a MIDI interface, and preferably with more than 1 MIDIPort (IN/OUT) - the DMI will also qualify there because it has 2 ports, and you can always install more MIDI interfaces. A nice screen, keyboard, mouse to work with. Unfortunately, the Iyonix is currently lacking in the MIDI department and most necessary programs have not yet been (or will never be) converted to RISC OS 5."
"First of all, the MIDI 4 drivers and MIDISupport. Some of Lenny's tools (MidiWays) of which SysExy is invaluable. A good audio sequencer, of which I prefer Digital Symphony, but StudioSound also comes in handy. An additional audio editor, like AudioWorks, Sonor or ProSound. A good MIDI sequencer of which, arguably, the best is MelIDI, but MIDIWorks is also okay if only a bit 'intimidatingly' complex. Anthem has a great user interface, nice capabilities, but isn't 'finished' - it won't save on RISC OS Select and Adjust, though it does on RISC OS 4. It also has a few unpredictable bugs and it cannot be connected to MIDISupport. The 'system exclusive' implementation leaves a lot to be desired. Hopefully, some developer can get some new developments to RISC OS or this is really where it stands."
Favourite features from the software
  • Anthem: "Change one part of a phrase and every implementation of that phrase is changed as well - its approach to phrase-sequencing. Built-in MIDI effects of Anthem are very nice in general, most options are easily accessible, fast operation, etc. Generally it's got all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a 1990s sequencer. Though Anthem does need some serious work and compatibility upgrades to really make it perfect. Hopefully Pete Goodliffe can be persuaded to continue his work on Anthem."
  • Midiways: "Lenny's tools are just great. He does some really important work for the RISC OS MIDI and audio scene and deserves more attention. There's a great new patch-editor/programmer he's occasionally working on, which connects via MIDI to a line of popular, British synths. These programs he designs are just exemplary of RISC OS ease of use and speed. Very efficient. I particularly use Debbie and SysExy. Debbie is a Yamaha XG synth editor which offers almost complete control at the internal engine of XG synths. I use it to program sounds and effects for my CS1x synth, because the front panel does not allow such in-depth editing of XG parameters. SysExy is a System Exclusive librarian. SysEx is used to transfer specific messages to and from specific MIDI gear, for example voice/patch definitions or tunings, effect settings, etc. It is invaluable for saving and loading existing or newly created sounds/settings for all my hardware. It works quite easy compared to some similar tools I know on Windows."
  • Digital Symphony: "Well, this is really my scratch pad. I use it to program extremely crazy or demanding drum and effects tracks. Once you work through its slightly awkward user interface, it can prove to be a great tool for messing about with samples. It has a few excellent qualities, but is technically speaking out-dated. Not for me though, as it 'cements' certain parts of a track which make up a song. Many times I use DigitalCD and GrabSound to sample a Symphony track to a Wave file, which is done via some kind of internal 'audio-dump' so it is recording-noise free."
  • Audioworks, Prosound, Sonor: "Prosound is only used to edit large files, when Audioworks can't handle them. Besides that it is used because it has a lovely 'flange' effect. Its workings are slow and limited, so it's just there for rare use. Audioworks on the other hand works a treat. Very fast, a straightforward way of editing audio. The envelope function is quite nice too. I use Audioworks mostly when touching up raw samples. Sonor is, in my opinion, the best of the lot, with a !Edit like interface and luxurious filter section."

Sample tracks
Antius has also kindly produced a strictly unfinished track, available here as an MP3 (4.5M in size, download it first before playing it) - which is somewhat of an album teaser as Antius says he's yet to finish the vocals and melodies for this particular track. Also, he's produced another example MP3 (7.1M in size), created using just Digital Symphony and Grabsound. Great music to do some late night programming to, methinks.


MIDIways - Lenny's audio website
Got a story to tell? Get in touch Article tidied up at 23:15 25/7/2004

Previous: My Iyonix and I
Next: Repton on and on


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Yeah, just about all A/V editing software for RISC OS could do with some development, if only to reduce the number of bugs and make them work with recent OS versions.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/7/04 7:48AM
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Really impressive how an MP3 can be achieved from MIDI on a musically "unmodernised" RISC OS computer that only recently got an AudioIn (Iyonixs) feature, long overdue since the death of the Acorn acclaimed !Sibelius days. I too have been searching for ways to get !Sibelius7 (RISC OS version) files and/or it's MIDI on to CD in MP3 or Wav format (to hear on CD like a song), and without having to cross over to Windows to complete the task is near impossible! Well done Antius, a lot of patience for a tricky task on RISC OS. However, I recently was told by local New Zealand sound studio professionals that all these tricky outdated software techniques and any new developed stuff is not really necessary??? I have been advised that for around NZ$1,200 dollars I could get an Audio Digital Mixer that has CD Writer built in... and that's it!! My RISC OS !Sibelius MIDI output to my Roland SC8850 Sound Canvas (external sound module that play all my !Sibelius MIDI sounds), and then the AUDIO output (RCA 2nd speaker outputs) from the Roland SC8850 Sound Canvas goes to the Audio Digital Mixer where the built in CD Writer will Wav format the sound to CD. Antius may know if this is correct and/or will work? This method I'm told appears to be an alternative to using computer software to achieve CD sound of RISC OS !Sibelius files. Having RISC OS software still would be nice though. MusicMan software last month told me that the next release will have MIDI grab support to get MIDI to MP3 on CD. But I'm still '*Dreaming of a White Christmas' (*the return of !Sibelius7 music software upgrades!!) in a New Zealand Summer Christmas!?!? :bowdown: Cheers, Steve.

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 22/7/04 9:53AM
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As one of the Digital Symphony authors, I'm really touched by this article.

 is a RISC OS Userjoty on 22/7/04 1:58PM
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I'm really impressed with the example mp3s. Is the 7.1MB file a recording of the 8-bit output from Symphony or was a way found to coax Symphony to play 16-bit samples?

I bought Digital Symphony way back, when it was the big thing. I was never musically inclined, so I can't say I produced anything worthwhile on it, but I had a lot of fun playing with it. A great piece of software! :)

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 22/7/04 2:15PM
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The mussic doesn't appeal to me ,personaaly, but I was taken by the look of the Desktop. It exactly reflects my style of dress - sort of crumpled.

 is a RISC OS Userian.l on 22/7/04 5:43PM
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sawadee: yes, you could get the Audio Digital Mixer if you're serious about multi-channel digital recording, but if you're only interested in getting your Soundcanvas output to CD, you could just get a stand-alone CD writer, which has line-inputs for direct recording.

joty: I LOVE digital symphony! Thanks to you and the other BASS members for writing it!

ksattic: the 7.1MB file, plumbum, has not been recorded through the computers rear output jack, but through a program called !GrabSound. It performs a 'dump' of the internal audio played through !DigitalCD. So, the 'plumbum' symphony file was loaded/played into DigitalCD and simultaneously recorded through GrabSound. In fact, Grabsound can record anything played through DigitalCD.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 22/7/04 8:08PM
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I completely agree with Antius' software recommondation regarding AudioWorks which is a wonderful straightforward program. I'd love to see it native on my Iyonix, but it seems not to find the way to RISC OS 5. I always produced all my elecronic music with RISC OS computers, and still do. From 1990-1999 with Studio 24+ on my A310 (great sequencer for its time), and since then with MidiWorks and now with MelIDI on the RiscPC. MelIDI is far better than MidiWorks in terms of usability. I'm still happy with producing music solely on RISC OS and enjoy the stability of MelIDI. As I don't use any softsynths, but completely work MIDI-based with hardware synths and sampler, I don't need Macs or WinPCs. I only miss a Midi card, MelIDI and AudioWorks for Iyonix, so I still have to use my old RiscPC ...

 is a RISC OS Usertinopeners on 22/7/04 9:29PM
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Nice to see these sorts of articles making it onto www.osnews.com

Current (or recent) articles from RISC OS end users are very few and far between for those who just have a passing interest. They form a valuable part of the decision making process for many people.

Keep up the good work Drobe!

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 22/7/04 10:38PM
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As one of the Digital Symphony authors, I'm really touched by this article.

As the author of MelIDI, I'm pleased too. :-)

Anyone ever written an output module for 16-bit audio for AudioManager? Even the first versions of MelIDI supported multi-stream audio playback using AudioManager, however I removed it from the released versions as CC wanted a licence fee for distributing it. I hear on the grapevine it's now freely distributable; I could look at putting it back in.

 is a RISC OS Usersborrill on 23/7/04 3:14PM
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Is it possible to patch AudioWorks to work with larger samples?

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 23/7/04 3:44PM
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unfortunately I have (still!) not yet ordered a copy of melidi - i've picked up a lot of positive feedback on your app and if r-comp is not going to update anthem any time soon, I'll be obliged to get melidi, cause if that means working more on riscos I must have it :) it would be great if you're able to put in support for multi-stream audio... and make it able to playback 16 bit quality ;)


I certainly hope so, I would much rather be working in audioworks with 'big' samples then in prosound...

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 23/7/04 5:04PM
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In reply to mavhe and hEgelia:

yes, it's a pitty that sample processing is limited in AudioWorks. However, I always found its "Sample to Disc" feature convinient for preparing demo Audio CDs and recording samples of unlimited size, as I prefer sampling with AudioWorks and not with Prosound, as for me Prosound's GUI is less intuitive.

 is a RISC OS Usertinopeners on 23/7/04 7:24PM
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hEgelia: Yes, the Audio Digital Mixer is more expensive for the mixing features, which I could use here in our school music dept. As a cheaper alternative to try first, I may option for as you suggest a stand-alone CD Writer that has Audio Inputs (not all of them have audio in I noticed the other day). Looking through Audio catalogues, CD recorders caught my attention. With a range of prices and features, could be a second consideration for getting my RISC OS !Sibelius files via the Roland Sound Canvas on to Audio CD. Thanks for the tip. Regards, Steve.

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 24/7/04 10:46AM
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This is great to see, people showing how RO can be used as part of a music studio; I myself have always used my Acorns, in the past to make music with tracker software. Now I'm running my own studio with a RiscStation R7500+, with MelIDI as my main MIDI sequencer.

The studio comprizes MIDI samplers & synths/modules, all programmed using RISC OS. MelIDI allows me to sequence it all with a good level of control. I'm working on my album (very slowly, as recently finishing at Uni' took most of my time) which is predominantly progressive/tech house & breakbeats (think Underworld, Orbital, BT et al) and sequenced completely with MelIDI, with some sample-editing done on ProSound.

When I finally release something, perhaps I could do a similar feature, about how I've used the platform in the studio environment.

 is a RISC OS Usertootled on 29/7/04 4:06PM
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