Archives for the month of: July, 2016


Just doing some reading since i’ll probably never get a proper Fairlight III lol.

There was a host of digital audio programs for the Apple II that look cool!

I like the idea of E-MU’s graphical software editor for the Drumulator. This was Pre Midi on the RS232port only but I imagine could be very useful in the studio for writing.  The advantage of using the software over programming the Drumulator directly is that you got more control and could even adjust the volume ( velocity ) of each individual drum hit.




But then i got dragged into actual sound cards for the Apple II system!

The Mountain Computer System was a 2 card set that allowed the apple II to become a 16 voice digital synthesizer.  Tones could be layered and stacked to have up to ( i believe ) 8 different voices stacked under each key!

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The MCS could be controlled via software and even a Pratt Reed keyboard made by Passport!  The early software controller for this was called SoundChaser and could drive the Mountain sound cards.  Passport later went on to revolutionize computer music sequencing with Master Tracks Pro in the 80’s


“One of the earliest peripheral cards for the Apple II was the ALF music card. The ALF provided three hardware oscillators coupled through 16-bit multiplying DACs on each card, and the software could handle up to three cards, yielding 9 voices. The software consisted of a step entry music editor, a player, and a jukebox player.

One of Apple’s engineers, Charlie Kellner, wanted to play music more directly, so he took a Pratt & Reed keyboard of the kind common in home organs, designed an interface card for the Apple II buss, and wrote some software to play the ALF cards. Thus was born the alphaSyntauri. As the software became more sophisticated and gained features, a company was formed to sell the system commercially. Charlie was known as “The Dragon” to Syntauri users, but he remained at Apple, contributing to Syntauri part-time.

Billed as the first affordable digital synth (starting around $1,500, Apple II not included), the alphaSyntauri competed feature-wise against the very expensive Synclavier and Fairlight systems based on minicomputers like the VAX. Syntauri was popular in academic settings, where Apple II systems were already commonplace, and eventually made its way into a handful of recordings. Computers in the arts were rare and experimental in the early 1980s and only a few bleeding-edge artists like Herbie Hancock were interested in learning about them.

One of the early changes to the system was changing to the more expensive, but versatile Mountain Computer Music System cards as sound generators, which brought 16 digital oscillators, 8-note stereo polyphony and 8-part multitimbrality. The waves were generated from 256 byte tables in Apple II motherboard RAM by DMA, allowing for any arbitrary wave shape. The user interface and recording, looping, and playback came courtesy of the Apple II Plus and lots of assembly and AppleSoft software. My MCMS cards will only run in an Apple II or Plus. Apparently some of the later ones will also run in a //e, DMA in the Apple II family being a bit dicey. Keyboards were available in 4 or 5 octave sizes, the big one velocity-sensitive. The primary performance software, “alphaPlus” provided 10 presets at once, control over a handful of parameters and could manage a keyboard split of two sounds as well. The “alphaPlus” interface also included an odd visual feedback effect of bars displayed on the monitor corresponding to the keys being played. The result was not unlike the light show in the finale of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. It serves no actual purpose but it looks neat. A 16-track sequencer called “MetaTrak” was also available that was multitimbral and quite flexible. You could play live over a recorded MetaTrak sequence. Third party software included many music education titles, as well as some pretty impressive visual wave editing programs.

The sound is lo-fi digital, a premonition of the first Ensoniq instruments to come a half-dozen years later, thanks to its 8-bit waveforms and utter lack of filters or any analog processing. The upside was that you could actually draw your own waveforms, create them by additive synthesis, or sample them with a DX-1 (not part of the Syntauri system), making it something akin to a simple sample-playback unit. The included instruments and presets are mostly soupy pads, but with practice you can get some cutting lead tones, basses, pianos, and organs out of it.

A lot of the user interface elements for MIDI workstations and DAWs first appeared here. The last version of MetaTrak had a rudimentary MIDI output add-on, but as the MIDI standard didn’t yet exist, it’s not 100% compatible, and there’s no way to play the system from a MIDI keyboard. The keyboards appear at auction occasionally, but usually don’t include the interface card or software. Software can be found online in Apple II archives.

The company, Syntauri Corporation, folded in 1984. It failed to advance the system or lower price to reach beyond the nerdy musician niche. Management seemed more interested in acting like rock stars than advancing their product. Mimetics Corporation picked up support for Syntauri until they disappeared in 1988, by which time the Apple II was obsolete, and MIDI and the very first computer based digital recorders like the DigiDesign cards for the Mac II were appearing.”