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Composing Music

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Ever since I purchased my first computer (Sinclair ZX-80) in 1980, I have been enthralled with the creation of synthetic music. The Sinclair ZX-80 had no music programs available but certainly the games did produce some amazing beeps and clicks at the time.

Later on when Commodore became a household name, I purchased a Commodore C128 around 1986.

This computer was one of the first computers for the home that allowed 80 columns. Not only did the computer have high res graphics, it contained an actual sound chip called the SID chip.

  • Three separately programmable independent audio oscillators (8 octave range, approximately 16 – 4000 Hz)
  • Four different waveforms per audio oscillator (noise, pulse, sawtooth, triangle)
  • One multi mode filter featuring a low-pass, high-pass and band-pass outputs. The different filter-modes are sometimes combined to produce additional timbres.
  • Three attack/decay/sustain/release (ADSR) volume controls, one for each audio oscillator.
  • Three ring modulators.
  • Oscillator sync for each audio oscillator.

Does not seem like much but compared to the early synths at the time, this was still very powerful. Games on the C64/C128 now had sophisticated soundtracks playing during the gameplay. Once you combined the C64/C128 computer with software like the Kawasaki Synthesizer, the home computer actually became a musical instrument.  The Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 synthesizer which was available in the early 1980′s had 5 oscillators and more professional features but the C128 had the ability to be programmed and save the various settings which the Prophet 5 lacked. No stand alone synthesizer keyboard at the time had any mass storage or setting saving capabilities.

 One of the major drawbacks that computers and synths in the early 1980′s lacked was true portability. Though the C128 computer was small and light enough to take anywhere, it had to be powered using household current. Also the issue of no musical keyboard made creating music on the fly very tedious. In the early 1990′s we started to see MIDI based sequencing software that worked well with laptop PC’s. Now musicians could play on the musical keyboard and record compositions directly onto the computers hard drive. This opened the door to live performances accompanied by prewritten computer sequences. Bands like Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Human League and Yaz where some of the early pioneers of sequenced synth music. The problem I had as an amateur keyboardist back then was finding a suitable location for my Toshiba laptop along side my Yamaha musical keyboard which would be connected via a MIDI interface and two MIDI cables. A desk small enough to place the laptop on and have it conveniently located near the keyboard at the proper working height was a continuous nightmare.

Now, fast forward to 2011 and everything is so much easier. Musical keyboards are cheaper, lighter and come in smaller keyboard sizes that are as small as the laptop computers. Moving from a Windows based laptop to an Android based tablet, I can now have access to a smaller computer with touch screen which is the ultimate dream come true for me. The Android tablet can be placed where the traditional sheet music is placed which is on top of the keyboard. Now I can sequence music directly from the musicial keyboard, play songs directly via the tablet on the musicial keyboard and also access other MIDI based sound modules and drum machines remotely. No more typing on the computer keyboard to access the music software.

These are some of the more feature rich music related software programs available for the Android:

Uloops Studio Pro

Reloop Loop Sequencer

Caustic

RD3 HD Groovebox

What we are seeing in 2011 is just the beginning of what the Android marketplace is capable of producing. As more and more musical enthusiasts embrace the Android tablet, the selection of sequencing software and the quality will  improve dramatically. I can see in the near future musical keyboard manufacturers creating instruments that come equipped with a built in docking port for an Android tablet. This will allow keyboard players to easily travel with a compact keyboard and MIDI equipped computer with ease. No more MIDI interface and cables to worry about.

If you are a musician or interested in computer music, you must check out the latest software programs above and others. The option for MIDI and music sequencing is no longer limited to just Windows PC or MAC OS users anymore.

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