Fifteen Years Ago in EM

Our editorial RAM buffer overflowed with computer information in April 1988. The cover feature, The Musical Computer, was actually a suite of articles

Our editorial RAM buffer overflowed with computer information in April 1988. The cover feature, “The Musical Computer,” was actually a suite of articles about the Atari, Amiga, Mac, and PC.

Dean Friedman sang the praises of the Amiga 500, which cost $599 and offered more features than any other computer in its price class. The Amiga was the only personal computer of the day that could truly multitask (simultaneously run multiple active programs). True, you could multitask Unix programs on a PC, but Unix was for networks, not desktop music production.

Carter Scholz's “Big Blue Does MIDI” should not be confused with his January 1989 PC-sequencer roundup. The latest Intel CPU was the 80386, and all of the music programs were still running under DOS because Windows wasn't ready for prime time.

Geary Yelton presented the state of the Macintosh. Apple had blindly stumbled into music-computing success, having made no special effort in that direction. The Mac II and SE were quite good but expensive; a user-friendly OS and outstanding third-party music software made the difference.

Jamie Kruz reported on the Atari ST, which was good, cheap, and had a lot of features. Third-party music software abounded, though the selection of business software was weak. The ST was a winner in Europe and found initial success with U.S. musicians but failed to crack the home-computing mainstream.

We published two DIY projects in the April issue. Thomas Henry's LED bar-graph peak detector let you check levels on any audio signal and could even be used as a battery tester. Jim Johnson offered Chord, a DIY algorithmic-composition program, written in Atari ST BASIC, that let you create chord progressions using your own algorithms.

Our Winter 1988 NAMM report featured keyboard synths, including the Yamaha DX11 (a TX81Z with a keyboard), Kurzweil K1000, Roland D-20, and Ensoniq SQ-80. Single-rackspace gear was coming into fashion, as were the AES/EBU digital audio standard, Standard MIDI Files, and digital audio format converters. Going out of fashion were 5.25-inch floppy disks (replaced by 3.5-inch floppies) and — temporarily — analog subtractive synths.

First Take reviews covered the DMC's MX-8 MIDI patch bay/processor and Stick Enterprises' unusual Patch of Shades floor box, a signal processor/router controlled by a pressure-sensitive, 3-inch-square pad. Pressing on the pad simultaneously crossfaded between direct sound and an effects loop, cut in an onboard wah-wah, and increased the dry output level at a separate output for feeding additional effects. Trippy!

We also reviewed the Kurzweil K1000 synth (great sounds, lousy keyboard action) and the Akai MPX820 MIDI-controlled analog mixer. The 8×2 mixer was a tad pricey at $2,500, but it had great features for the time. Finally, we auditioned the Nady Tube Distortion, Chandler Tube Driver, and Bartolini Tube It fuzz boxes. Each had a different flavor, and we liked them all.