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ATPM 6.01
January 2000





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Beyond The Barline

by David Ozab,

A Time for Transition

Well, it’s January 2000 and if you can read this, I guess the Y2K thing was a little overblown. In the spirit of a new year, this month’s column is about transition. I’m saying goodbye to an old dear friend, and hello to a new kind of home studio.

My Last Opcode Update

This short set of reports began with the first article I ever wrote for ATPM. It was actually a piece I had written for another Web publication a couple of months earlier. The publication had expressed an initial interest in me based upon my music and computer background, despite my lack of writing experience, but never followed through. So I had the article on hand when I contacted Daniel Chvatik about a possible position here. Though he felt its tone was a little specialized for most ATPM readers, he also felt that it contained critical information that would be useful to a select few.

Little did either of us know then (in early September) that my difficulties with Opcode’s tech support were a sign of much worse to come. Before the October issue was even posted, the “Death of Opcode” rumors began to circulate, most notably in an apocalyptic posting on the MacInTouch site. I had already written my second installment of “MIDI and the Mac” by then, which included Opcode software and hardware along with MOTU, Steinberg, and others. Given the situation, I decided to add an update to my November Segment. More news gradually leaked out, and by the time I was wrapping up my December Segment, the end was all but obvious. I still held out hope, though, that Gibson would realize the level of support for Opcode among musicians like myself. Alas, it was not to be. I’m sure the Opcode site is still up as you read this, though I imagine it’s reduced to selling Web downloads and the remaining inventory of MIDIPorts. All we Opcode users can hope for now is continued support for its key applications. MAX seems the most secure. David Ziccarelli has joked that the application is “perfect,” and with the addition of MSP and the continuation of third party development, he’s basically right. All I ask is a smooth transition to OS X next year.

The futures of Vision DSP and Studio Vision are cloudier. If Digidesign steps in, as has been rumored, there is hope. Otherwise, I expect both MOTU and Steinberg to be ready with upgrades that I hope are competitively priced. As for OMS, a sale to Apple in time for its inclusion into OS X (also rumored) is the best solution to save the Macintosh’s de facto MIDI standard.

Opcode will be missed, though, even if the above issues are all worked out. It was a pioneer. Opcode’s contributions included the first application combining sequencing and digital audio (Studio Vision), the first universal editor/librarian (Galaxy), the first Mac to MIDI interface protocol (OMS), and the only Mac port of a revolutionary interactive music application (MAX). It was in part thanks to Opcode, along with MOTU, Digidesign, and other software pioneers of the late 80s, that the Macintosh was the only legitimate music on a home computer platform for an entire decade. Its contribution to the building of a loyal Mac following that helped pull Apple through its darkest days cannot be overemphasized. Sadly though, they never recovered from the same slump.

The Software Studio—Phase One

My “build your own studio project” began last April when I purchased my G3 350. At that point I was still considering a more traditional studio with MIDI synths and a mixing console integrated with hard disk recording. Hardware costs money though, and I had already sunk a lot of money into my most expensive piece of hardware, my computer. The thousands of dollars extra I would need to invest in keyboards, modules, and other audio components are far out of the price range of a graduate student. Instead, I decided to build a software studio. This project is still in progress, but I’m well on my way.

First, let me say that this decision is quite an adjustment for me. I learned audio engineering as everyone does, with knobs and faders and tape decks. I like something I can touch and manipulate with my hands. Times change, though. I also learned tape splicing, but digital audio editing is so much easier. My sanity is preserved and no blood is spilled. I hope my next job will put me in the kind of production studio I have become accustomed to. Until then, I need something affordable and clean.

I basically own all the software I require. I have a sequencer (Vision DSP) that records both MIDI and digital audio, a software sampler (Bitheadz Unity DS-1), a collection of VST plug-ins, and, through MSP and Pluggo, I can create my own tone modules and VST plug-ins. Everything is Rewire compatible, so once I increase my RAM (from 128 MB to 256 MB) I’ll be able to mix both MIDI and audio tracks on my Mac. I also own a copy of Felt Tip’s Sound Studio, a great little shareware audio editor that will do the job until I have the money to invest in a forthcoming OS 9 compatible version of Bias Peak. In the spring, I plan to add hardware starting with the extra RAM and a SCSI hard drive that I’ll dedicate exclusively to audio. A pro-quality sound card and a better monitoring system will follow, and finally a SCSI CD burner with corresponding software (Toast and maybe Jam or Wave Burner). By this time next year, I should be all set. Good timing too as I plan to get my Ph.D. in June of 2001, and once I leave school I will lose access to a great production studio. Look for subsequent updates on my studio in future columns. Also, if any of you are working on similar setups, drop me a line. Questions, advice, and general experiences are all welcome.

What about my digital audio series? Well between this column, my review of Finale 2000, the end of the quarter crunch at the U of O, and my Christmas vacation (ten days in sunny So. Cal.), I ran out of time. Next month, I promise.

Copyright © 2000 David Ozab ( David Ozab is a Ph.D student at the University of Oregon, where he teaches electronic music courses and assists in the day-to-day operation of The Future Music Oregon

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