An Atari MIDI
Recently a friend
came over to my studio and decided to bring
his digital camera with him. He took a variety
of pictures. After reviewing the collection,
I thought it might make a good subject for an
article to depict a home project studio with
descriptions and methods on how it all works...
for me anyway. Each musician's studio will
be different and to their own taste. It also
depends on the pocketbook as well. My own is
what I would call a "budget studio"
in that I have been able to collect over the
years a good number of instruments, however,
being satisfied with "older" technology
combined with some new. A number of them have
been outright gifts. I have also been lucky
to receive several Atari computer systems and
use them all together as one system. Let's take
photo of my main
Atari computer center and rack mounted modules.
at the right top is the monitor for my Atari
Falcon with Dr Ambient's AEX showing. The first
module in the rack is a Kawai XD5 16-bit digital
percussion synthesizer. What most people don't
know is that it is the same as a Kawai K4 and
it can do synth sounds as well. Of course it
is excellent for percussion. On the Atari, GenEdit
and Matucana's XD5 utility handle the editing.
Right below that is an EMU Sound Engine GM module.
Given to me for free! Great General MIDI. The
next module is a Boss RRV10 digital reverb unit
I use strictly for the XD5. Next (mounted on
a board) is my TT030 keyboard. The actual TT030
CPU is below on a shelf. The monitor for the
TT030 is to the left showing my NeoDesk desktop
and rare Star Trek clock! Under the TT030 keyboard
is a Roland MT32 and a small mixer. The MT32
is excellent for GM type sounds as well as analog
style sounds using the Caged Artist editor which
runs on the Falcon.
Next is my actual
Atari Falcon. There's a story that goes with
this as well. I helped a friend track down a
Falcon system, where he had Best Electronics
put in a hard drive and 16 MB of RAM. I loaded
it up with MIDI software. After a while, he did
not have time for it any more and gave me the
system. What a friend! I run New Beat's ACE MIDI
soft-synth on the Falcon as well as various
A small board
protrudes for the TT030 mouse and Falcon trackball.
The TT030 mouse is actually a PC serial mouse.
I use an AUTO folder program on the TT030 that
allows you to use the modem port for a serial
mouse. Works quite well. Having both keyboards
close together allows greater and easier interactions
between the TT030 and Falcon. The rack was actually
built up so I could fit the Falcon into the
rack and bring it to gigs or sessions. It was
meant to work independently from my other modules
and keyboards. For example, I could have AEX
pumping away, playing the modules in the rack,
while I am free to play my other keyboards.
Not a bad system.
Right below the
rack system is my MIDI percussion center which
consists of a Yamaha DD50 and DD5 giving me
11 pads and 2 foot pedals. While not as big as
the Roland V-Drums it serves it purpose, and
I got it at a floor model price!
That pink little
box is the heart: a MIDI merge box going into
the MIDI In of the Falcon so I can combine controllers.
For example: a DX7 keyboard and the DD50 for
Now for the keyboard
rack. Starting at the top are some modules:
a Yamaha RX-11 drum machine, an Alesis Data
Disc for storing sounds and sequences, a Suzuki
SX500 analog-hybrid module I got for $25.00!
I was able to create a Cubase mixer map for
editing. Great analog sounds. Next, one of my
prides and joys: a Yamaha TX81Z FM synthesis
module. 8-part multi-timbral and microtonal
tuning. Lots of Atari editors for
this one. On the shelf are also my nick-nacks:
a Hotz logo, Yes keyrings, Lord of the Rings
cups and action figures and meditating
monks (every studio should have one of those!).
my studio monitors are there: basically a good
quality speaker system used for computers.
Next are my actual
keyboards. First is a gift given to me by a
friend. A Roland U-20: a good looking instrument.
Using XOR I was able to create lots of soundscape
type patches. It almost sounds like a Korg!
Next is a Yamaha
DX7S, a second generation DX7. There is a story
connected with this one. I had my original DX7
burnt in a fire (but it still works!). A DX7 list
member saw my web page about it and contacted
me and gave me a great deal on his DX7S
and a TX81Z together as one package. I am very
thankful indeed! I use the DX7S as a master
keyboard at times as I can plug in a breath
controller. The sounds are also excellent. Lots
of resources on the internet. See my article in MyAtari
about it (Atari and the DX7, http://www.myatari.net/issues/sep2002/ataridx7.html).
Right below that
is a Prophet 2000 sampler which was another
gift from a friend! Basically I had an extra
Atari system and set him up for sequencing.
In return, he gave me this unit with lots of
disks as well. The strings and percussion sounds
On top of the
Prophet 2000 is a Boss DR550 Dr Rhythm drum machine,
another gift! Pretty good drum sounds for a
down (not shown in studio photo, see above photo)
is a Yamaha PSR510 keyboard I use as a master
keyboard. An underestimated "consumer"
keyboard that when connected to the Atari, gives
me 16 General MIDI tracks along with great DSP
effects which can be controlled from Cubase
(panning, volume, reverb...). The
eight drum kits sound pretty good, too.
I use it for
GM sounds and even sometimes use the auto-arranger.
For anyone starting in MIDI, I always recommend
the PSR series. Big bang for the bucks.
Next is a Ensoniq
Mirage. 8-bit sampling, but sounds wonderful.
I have created a lot of samples for this "beast"
myself. There have been comments that all you
can do is "grunge" music because of
the 8-bit sampling. I have been able to use
it for excellent analog pad sounds, because of
the real analog filters built into it. The strings
are excellent as well.
Last but not
least is my trusty but burnt DX7. Even after
going through a severe fire, it still works (through
MIDI). Even the battery is still going strong.
Read the story here: http://tamw.atari-users.net/mydx7.html
To mount these
keyboards, I went to Home Depot and purchased
heavy duty shelving. A real space saver so you
don't have to use dedicated keyboard stands. I
also installed shelving to hold the other monitors
and also have a place for all the manuals (too
many!). I had limited room, as you can see from
the photos I crammed a lot into a small space.
However, this way everything is within arm's reach.
I can use the main Atari computers from sitting
in my chair next to my keyboards. They are not
across the room and this makes for better ergonomics.
are some paintings and pictures, which I believe
brings atmosphere to a studio and also personalizes
it. Above is a space painting of planets by
my daughter when she was ten years old (I think).
Below that is an airbrush painting I did, a
sort of space thing. Above the Roland U20 to
the right is one of my synth heros: Tomita
against a background of Moogs. Right below that
is a Jean Michel Jarre cover of Oxygene
and of course the angel to the far left. Below
the angel are rainforest pictures. You can really
tell my interests from this wall! Sometimes
I look at pictures of studios and they look
like offices. They should stir creativity,
thus I would recommend adding personalized pictures
and also mood lamps of some sort.
Next is my module
section. Starting at the top, you see the bottom
of my two-way color/mono monitor system for the
Atari STE (shown top-right). You can also see
the monitor switcher on the STE itself. Above
the STE is a Toad 800 MB hard drive. I don't turn
it on very much as I run mostly from floppy
the STE. Hanging off the STE is my Music Mouse
(by Laurie Spiegel) keyboard mapping diagram,
as I am an avid user of the program. I use the
STE mostly for "left hand" applications such
as Music Mouse, Tunesmith, and also for Notator
SL which does not run on the Falcon or TT030.
On the shelf
below the monitors is a Kawai K1M synth. Got
it for $50.00! There are lots of Atari editors
for this unit and it delivers great atmospheric
and punchy sounds. Next to it on the shelf is
an unusual Yamaha module called a TQ5. It's basically
a TX81Z, but has effects, a sequencer and a
built-in clock (no alarm, however!). Martin
Tarenskeen's YS Editors handle the editing on
this one. The same shelf holds a small rack
of master cassettes of my songs for the Tascam
4-track cassette (see below).
The next shelf
contains a Yamaha FB01 4-op FM synthesis module
and a Yamaha TX7 (same as DX7 but without the
keyboard). These units are going very cheaply
now and offer a studio the benefits of
FM technology. $40.00 for the FB01 and $75.00
for the TX7. Now that is what I call a budget
Going down the
rack is a Digitech 128+ effects unit. XOR handles
the editing. Great budget effects. Flange,
chorus, delay, reverb and EQ. To get the
most out of the FM instruments (and others)
you need a good effects unit which really brings
life to what would be a dull patch if played
Next is a Yamaha
TXP1 piano module. While it only offers a few
sounds, they tend to stand out in the mix. $50.00
for this one as well.
Right below the
TXP1 is a Korg KMX122 12-channel line mixer
which is used to mix stereo pairs, as a lot
of the modules are in stereo and sound better
when patched that way. The effects are also
patched in here as well. This mixer acts as
a sub-mixer to the main mixer (the Tascam M-512,
The next shelf
starts with a Fender M80 pre-amp (another gift),
mostly used for guitar and Yamaha CS5 analog
synth. Actually, I put my guitar through the
input of the CS5 to process it through the filters
and envelopes, then it goes out to the Fender
pre-amp. It has an overdrive section which sounds
wonderful and I can get any kind of overdrive
sound. Combined with the CS5 doing filter and
envelope effects, it sounds great for electric
guitar. I also use the CS5 as a keyboard. It
is not MIDI, but adds analog warmth to the mix
and is great for soloing or effects. When using
the overdrive from the M80, it screams! To hear
an example see my M42 piece description.
Below this is
a Sony ten band equalizer I picked off the street
during a "spring clean-up". Works great!
Next is a Sony double cassette deck for dubbing
cassettes, and a Pioneer amplifier for monitoring.
Right below that
is a treasure from my early days: an EML 200
analog synth. You actually use patch cords on
this one! I use it as a mixer and for space frequency
type sounds. I learned a lot about synthesis
from this jewel from the past.
Also seen in
this set of pictures is the heart of the studio,
a Tascam Porta 02 4-track cassette recorder.
This cheap unit (new for $150.00) has served
me well and I get good results from it. Basically,
I record all the MIDI stuff to two tracks of
the Tascam (stereo), then I have two tracks
to work with for other stuff, such as guitar,
percussion or voice. From there, I mix down
to stereo on the PC running Sound Forge. From
there it gets put on CD or converted to MP3
for the web.The key I believe is to use hi-EQ
when going into the Tascam so you get a lot
of highs which make it sound very crisp. You
also get the analog saturation that creates
the "warm" sound that analog recording
is known for. Below the Tascam is a special
wireless mouse I use for the STE.
If the Tascam
4-track is the heart, the Tascam M-512 12-track
mixer is the hub. One time I set up another
friend with an Atari system running Hybrid Arts
SMPTE Track. Down the road he got a Mac based
Pro Tools system, but still uses the Atari for
MIDI as he got so used to it. As a gift he gave
me this mixing console. While quite large, it
does the trick in creating final mixes of the
MIDI stuff as well as the audio material. It's
like a super patch bay and I have learned a
lot from using it. Basically, I use two channels
for the sub-mixer (the Korg 12-channel running
stereo pairs) and the rest for my mono instruments,
such as the DX7S, DX7, TX81Z, Mirage, Prophet
2000, TX1P... It has eight busses, meaning outputs.
I can assign any channel to any buss. I have
two busses assigned to go to the inputs of the
Tascam 4-track. Two go to the PC for mastering.
Two go to the inputs of my sampling machines
(Mirage, Prophet 2000) so I can sample anything
that comes into the board. Quite a system! I
have learned to use this console as an instrument.
When I start Cubase or an algorithmic generator,
I can set up sounds on my instruments, then
mix them in and out while recording the results
to the Tascam 4-track. So you might call it
a performance. I also tend to record amd mix
on the fly when I am doing my master recording
on the PC running Sound Forge. A recording engineer
would wince! Above the mixer, you will see a
Radio Shack turntable in which I recently installed
a new stylus cartrige. I can now play my "old"
prog-rock records. The M-121 has a special input
just for turntables, so I can put it through
mixer as well. I have tried sampling some sounds
from records for fun with good results.
While my MIDI
stuff is covered with Atari computers, I also
use my PC for a number of things: As a sound
generator running sound fonts or soft-synths
an application called Orion or KeyKit for algorithmic
MIDI stuff. Recently I did a soundtrack for
a project we are now doing on the CN-Fractal
forum. Combined with a PC program (Magix Studio
2000) to run the video portion and synchronize MIDI
stuff to, then finished in Atari Cubase. I
also run several fractal music applications
as well as audio minipulation programs. The
major use is for mastering using Sound Forge
which I have found quite easy to work with.
I use a Peavey
T60 electric guitar. Went through a fire, but still works
well. The burnt edges make me look like I
am smoking! I also have a guitar that was given
to me called a Series 10. It has a whammy bar,
so I use it for whammy bar effects when needed.
For acoustics, I use a Seville PC-120 which
is a classical guitar. I also use various flutes,
whistles, ocarinas and varous percussion instruments.
I recently used an Irish tin whistle for a piece.
Put it through some echo and delay and it soars!
the help of an Atari MIDI member, I was able
to get a Casio DG20 MIDI guitar. Good tracking
as well as lots of features and a space age
look, it can send on six MIDI channels at once,
each can be assigned a different sound. I have
tried using it with the Hotz MIDI translator
to good effect as it gives me 128 different
Now we deal with
an intricate part of the studio: how do you
hook it all together? Here is my MIDI layout
in general terms:
- Master keyboard
(Yamaha PSR510) MIDI Out to Atari STE MIDI
- Atari STE MIDI
Out to MIDI merge box MIDI In (A).
- Casio DG20 MIDI
guitar or Yamaha DD50 percussion controller
MIDI Out to MIDI merge box MIDI In (B).
- MIDI merge box
MIDI Out to Atari Falcon MIDI In.
- Atari Falcon
MIDI Out to MIDI In of sound module.
- MIDI Thru of
sound module to MIDI In of next sound module
- MIDI Thru of
last sound module in rack to MIDI In of Atari
- MIDI Out of TT030
to MIDI In of MIDI Thru box (eight Thrus).
- MIDI Thru box
eight Thrus to rest of MIDI modules. One of the
MIDI Thrus goes to the MIDI In of the PC so I
can synchronize and control soft-synths on the PC.
This is my own
set-up, and it tends to change from time to time.
If you think of In/Thru, then you are OK.
On the STE and Falcon, I usually boot up a program
that has MIDI merge so my master keyboard can
play through to the other modules in the system.
Putting it all
Here are some
notes on how I created one of my pieces called
M42 (the Orion nebulae for astronomy buffs).
a week or so on this piece. It is more of a
production for me. Tried
all sorts of experiments. It was first inspired
by a piece I was working on in Koan (a PC application).
Recorded it to tape. Then added DX7 stuff, then
started adding more, like some tablas and some
KeyKit-generated material running at the same
time as some Tunesmith stuff... very
fast tempo to get a "sparkling" sound.
I made two passes and
panned them stereo. Makes a nice blend and the
Keykit stuff seems to
work really well as if they were one sequence
panning across the stereo
field. Fades into a Koan background which generated
the bass, 1st
style percussion and arpeggiated sequences.
I tried a kit percussion
played in by hand as well as tabla. Both sounds
were from my Kawai
XD5. Then I tried some of my "space"
guitar and got into
Just some more
notes on the recording process: I had fun putting
it together. Had to make several passes putting
in the hand material. Studio work is not glamour
work! But you get a certain satisfaction out
of it. I actually tried some tricks to make
new tracks. First did the Koan and DX7 stuff.
all four tracks on the 4-track cassette. Mixed
to Sound Forge. Then re-recorded to two tracks
(stereo) on the 4-track (while recording the
tabla parts by hand live) which gave me two more
tracks to work with. Set up the algorithmic parts on
KeyKit and Tunesmith. Played those live, then
fading out by hand, and put in the kit drum
parts and guitar by hand. Then recorded the whole
thing back to Sound Forge while triggering the
wind sound live from my analog synth (Yamaha
CS5) while I was mixing down. Quite a lot of
live processing to make the most of available
Once in Sound
Forge, I used the fade in and out commands and
did a light chorus on the whole thing, then
saved to WAVE, and converted to MP3 using Music
An Atari musician
I asked the Atari MIDI
forum for links and information about their
studio set-ups using Atari (see link section).
Here is a great response from Nutking:
studio of the technical university in Delft
(Netherlands) there is a
Mac and a 2 MB Atari 1040STE. We use the Atari
for monitoring the output levels of the audio
just to be sure there is no distortion. We can
also see how the L/R channels are panned.
It has an SM144 monitor. Everything is fed
into the ROM port of the Atari via a cartridge
with audio connector plugs (the Japanese type).
This was custom made by the people at the university.
The program for it was also programmed by one
of the students. The Atari does its job well.
the photo s You can see the 1040STE if you take
a good look. The keyboard of the Mac is situated
on top of the computer compartment of
the Atari, so the lower keyboard and the smaller monitor are Atari. The rest is Mac.
It is funny. We don't have any MIDI recording
to do but we still use the Atari! The CD is
coming out soon.
Here is another
response from Atari MIDI member Alexander Feige.
Some notes about
Alexander (taken from his web site, see links
My name is Alexander
Feige. I was born in July of 1974 in Mannheim/Germany.
I came to making
music in 1991 when I got a so-called "soundtracker"
for the ST in 1991 and started making music
for our Atari demos.
Since then I
have written more than 700 pieces of music,
but I have had a semi-professional studio for about a year now, so I will continually
convert and upgrade the older tunes, too.
I think my music
is mainly inspired by the following musicians,
which I all admire a lot for what they have
Mode, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Front 242, Guru
Josh, Jochen Hippel, Petr Iljitsch Tchaikovsky,
The Maniacs of Noise, Frontline Assembly, Jean-Michel
Jarre, Reinhard Mey, Alphaville, Rob Hubbard,
Camouflage, Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung,
Peter Schilling, Mike Oldfield, Nena.
All these musicians
managed to write music which you will recognize
by just listening to the first two tones - from
Symphony Nr 40 to Human Race 4.
It's not the
sound that makes the music, it's the melody.
And you can enhance it by sound. That's the
way it is.
Mega STE with Cubase Score
CTK-1000 is a synthesizer, too
- Yamaha TG500
- Kawai K4r
- Kawai GMega
- Atari Falcon030
with ACE MIDI soft-synth
- Effect units:
- Zoom Studio 1201
- ART Multiverb
- Sound enhancers:
- Behringer SNR2002 Denoiser
Falcon030 with Soundpool Audio Tracker
- I'm using the
- Steinberg Cubase
Audio, Soundpool Audio Tracker, New Beat ACE
MIDI, NewWave Falcon, FiveToFive
Your own studio
You have now
been on a journey with my own studio as well
as some others. Hopefully this will encourage
you to build your own studio, or make your present
studio a better creative place to work in. There
are many Atari MIDI forum members that have
small to very large professional studios but
still use Atari in their set-up. I also encourage
those who have boxed up their Ataris to move
on to "new" technology, to unbox them
and use them in the studio for what they were
intended: as tools for music. With all the great
software available, this is now a reality.
Time to make music!