Digital music creation with RISC OSBy Chris Williams. Published: 21st Jul 2004, 23:51:50 | Permalink | Printable
InterviewProducing 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."
The 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."
The 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."
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."
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
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Article tidied up at 23:15 25/7/2004
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