Author Topic: Roland Music Processing System (MPS) for IBM PC (1986)  (Read 824 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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Roland Music Processing System (MPS) for IBM PC (1986)
« on: February 08, 2019, 04:00:53 AM »
http://www.muzines.co.uk/articles/amusement-arcade/1691


Quote
MUSE's big brother is Music Processing System for IBM PC, costs just under £600, is shown here among Roland gear with which it is compatible

MPS, MUSE's big brother, is based on the IBM PC, a computer found in many front-rooms in the United States. Now, the USA is a country in which two-and-a-half-thousand pounds is a reasonable amount to spend on a computer music system, and in which the Kray Supercomputer is presumably regarded as a small business system.


"With MPS, very few keys are called into action, and tracks can be selected, overdubbed, merged, temporarily muted and auto-corrected with commendable speed."


Sarcasm apart, it must be said that the IBM PC is far from being a home micro in the UK - it's very much a business machine, albeit a successful one. So successful, in fact, that IBM happily allow other companies to bring out 'compatibles' (copies) because they know that every copy serves to establish their original design more firmly.

So it's possible to save money by buying an IBM copy such as the Qubie machine mentioned below, the Compaq or the Olivetti M24.

The cost of using MPS is still pretty substantial, though. To run the system you need something like a Qubie PC (£1517) or the real McCoy (around £3000), plus a Roland MPU401 interface (£149), a Roland MIF IPC card (£75), and the software itself (£595). You'll also need one or (ideally) two disk drives, a monitor, and an IBM-compatible dot-matrix printer if you need it. And even if you use a mono monitor, the computer needs a colour output card (the whole display can be set to any of 16 colours). A 640K computer will give you 65,500 notes' capacity - the minimum requirements 256K, though you need 320K for cut-and-paste editing of the high-resolution printouts.

So how does MPS work? Basically it's an eight-track polyphonic composition, editing and printing system, recording in real time and offering enormous cursor-driven editing potential, all via the eighth wonder of the musical world: MIDI. As on many other packages, lengthy pieces can be recorded and chained in a Song mode and edited in Score mode, while the Print option is a relatively simple one that allows you to transfer individual phrases (but not entire songs) to paper.

In Song mode, MPS gives a display of eight tracks (each of which can contain polyphonic MIDI information on all 16 channels) and a ninth Conductor track which holds tempo and time signature changes. Many simpler MIDI packages don't allow you to change tempo during the course of a piece, but MPS is more versatile - a phrase which could be used time and again as we examine the package.

Any bars with music recorded are reversed out on the display, but it's necessary to go to another function to find out which MIDI channels have been used.

Each section recorded is played in real time from a synth keyboard connected via the MPU401. The IBM's Function keys are used to call up various, er, functions - F10, for example, allows you to alter the Auto Correct value from eighth-notes and eighth-note triplets up to 32nd-note triplet resolution.

Any music recorded goes into a Phrase Buffer which allows you to store, recall and transpose individual phrases to and from disk, and to copy and edit them independently. You can change the MIDI channels of a phrase or apply a general MIDI channel offset from the original values to clear a few working channels. It's also possible to insert a phrase (newly recorded or lifted from disk or from Score mode) at any point in any track.

In the unlikely event that you feel you need to save memory, you can strip incoming notes of velocity or pitchbend information, and it's recommended that if you intend to do any auto-correction, the pitchbend information be recorded separately and merged later - simply because pitchbends are often applied just before a note is played and tend to get confused if any auto-correct changes are made. Similarly, you're advised to auto-correct phrases to clean up their beginnings and ends if you want to append anything to them.

There are a whole load of options involved in moving and combining phrases. You can merge phrases, but this destroys the source track, so you need to save it to disk if it's likely to be needed again. It's possible to separate information on different MIDI channels even after you've merged tracks, though this involves re-plugging the MIDI Out to the MIDI In of the MPU401.

More than many 'user-friendly' systems, MPS is quite an approachable beast. Very few keys are called into action in day-to-day operation, and tracks can be selected, overdubbed, merged, temporarily muted and auto-corrected into a finished piece with commendable speed.


"Ever created a 32,000-bar composition? This could be your chance, though MPS only allows you to see 80 of those 32,000 bars at any one time."


As on an analogue tape machine, you can punch in and punch out of a recording, choosing the length of your count-in and your starting bar. Tempo can be altered with the +/- keys or typed in numerically, and tracks can be transposed individually or together. Transpositions aren't permanent until they're stored to disk, unless you're in Score Mode.

The velocity (volume) level of each track can be set at any value from 0-255, and a recent update allows you to switch the MIDI Song Pointer function on or off. This allows the package to tell external devices which point in a score it has reached, so MPS is capable of synchronising to SMPTE equipment via a Roland SBX80 or something similar. This means, of course, that in a lengthy composition using several tape machines or sequencers, you don't have to start at the start of the piece on each overdub if you want to keep the machines in synchronisation. MPS can also be synchronised to tape or MIDI, so it's far from a 'professionals only' package in that respect.

Other recent changes include the sending of All Notes Off (Poly) data at appropriate times to cure the tendency of some synths to drone on after the end of a piece.

Before you make a master tape of your composition, you might want to have it scored on paper. You have to format the Score Mode resolution - to 16th-notes, say - and define the time signature, and I can foresee this process causing a few unwanted changes if people don't auto-correct everything properly. This is where the Edit and Clean functions come in - it's possible to pick up and change any note with the cursor, then Clean the phrase to close up any gaps you've left (these may not necessarily sound over MIDI, but they do mess up your lovely neat score).

Actually, the Score mode has several clever functions, like Assume, which looks at the length, MIDI channel and velocity value of a note you've edited and 'assumes' that subsequent notes have similar values. This sort of function is invaluable on a system as powerful as MPS, because if you had to take care of all its possibilities individually, you'd be up all night.

You can add ties and other notation, change the gate length of notes for added expression (particularly good for bass passages), alter the stems on notes (though the automatic assignment of stem directions is already very clever), move notes slightly to clarify big chords (this doesn't sound over MIDI), insert accidentals and even lyrics. An update to MPS (usually available at a nominal charge to registered users) adds an icon designer for coda, repeat and other signs.

The Print mode places as many as four staves of up to six bars on one sheet of paper, carefully avoiding cutting bars in half. As is the norm with scorewriting systems of this kind, printing is pretty slow, and as mentioned above, can only cope with one 'phrase' (which admittedly can be very long) at a time. But by the time you've finished a 32,000-bar composition, you'll probably be ready for a cup of tea while it prints out.

So, MPS is an enormously powerful software package that's also speedy in use. It's also expensive, no question about that. But look at the opposition. Most of the dedicated alternatives (QX1, MSQ700 and so on) are nothing like as powerful. There are other computer-based composition systems, but those for cheaper micros like the Commodore 64 and Apple are slower and less accessible, while those for the IBM PC, Apple Mac and Atari ST are (or will be) unlikely to cost much less than MPS.

Where MPS falls down slightly is its lack of a good demo piece on disk to show off its capabilities. With luck, MusiCalc (who are distributing MPS) will make one available soon; until then, the system's only demo is a score printed in the handbook.

To accompany MPS, Roland have launched the SJE, an IBM editing/library software package for the Super Jupiter module which comes with a huge number of factory sounds, plus the ability to store sets of two sound banks to cartridge and one to the synth. If you can get hold of DesqView from Quarterdeck, you can use it to make MPS and SJE reside in the computer simultaneously, thereby creating an enormously powerful sound creation/composition system.

Another possible way forward is to get a good IBM emulator package for a cheaper computer such as the Atari 520ST. It's not clear whether such a package will allow other computers to run MPS or SJE, or indeed how you'd load the software from a 5.25-inch disk into a machine that uses the 3.5-inch variety. Worth thinking about, though.

In the meantime, Roland will be pleased to give a comprehensive demo of MPS and SJE to any interested parties, and to advise on which computer to pick, which accessories are vital, and so on. Evidently, MPS has a lot of potential for expansion and the sort of external interfacing denied to other systems, as well as being a damn clever system in its own right. If your studio is in this league, you can't afford not to consider it.

Prices MUSE £180; MPS £595; both RRPs including VAT
« Last Edit: February 08, 2019, 04:01:31 AM by chrisNova777 »