New 8-bit Musical Instruments

2008 November 9
by JJ Sonick

Thanks to Simon Williams’ site 8-bit Sound and Fury (be sure to check out the software and great Apple II-generated music there) and Michael J. Mahon’s Real Time Synthesizer, I’ve begun my musical journey with 8-bit Apples.

Simon’s site and an email conversation with him lead me to look closer at Michael’s RT.SYNTH, which allows the real-time playing (via your computer keyboard) of 8 different synthesized instruments (one instrument at a time), each of which can play in 6 octaves. You can switch between instruments and octaves in real-time, and record and play back your performance as well. It’s is all software-driven, requiring nary a Mockingboard or other add-on hardware. For all the juicy details, visit Michael’s site (linked to above).

It is also possible to build new virtual instruments (voices) for RT.SYNTH. After I emailed him about creating new voices, Michael kindly provided extra info and some programs he uses to build the voices. I had many false starts, producing wav files (transferred to disk images thanks to Apple Commander) that crashed the voice-generation programs, and after that producing voices that crashed RT.SYNTH once loaded. :D

But fortunately I was able to produce two new, working voices. I have to say, it really helps to do work like this on an emulator, as parts of the audio-processing procedure would be painfully slow on the actual Apple, whereas I could crank Virtual II‘s speed up and whip through it (which also made it less painful to start over when the voice didn’t work). On the other hand, Virtual II’s sound emulation, which is solid in general, makes a slow-responding, tinny mess of RT.SYNTH’s music. To really hear its instruments as intended, you need to run RT.SYNTH on an actual Apple. So once I discovered the voices were functional, I was happy to transfer their disk image over to my IIc via ADTPro and try them out for real.

Both voices are based on a sample of one of Logic Pro’s clavinet instruments, which I’m very fond of. By the time I had created the first non-crashing voice, I had still messed up either the sample, the sequencing of the sample, or both, but it turned out to be a happy accident, as it produced a off-kilter spacey timbre that would not sound out of place in an 80′s video game:

>> Hear a bit of the Spacey Voice

The second non-crashing voice used more portions of the same sample, and was more ‘correctly’ constructed, as it sounds more like the original. But it’s too short (fades too quickly for it to achieve the clavinet sound) and ends up not be as fun as the ‘mistake’ voice. I’ll revisit it later and try to get it closer to the clavinet original:

>> Hear some of the Sorta-Clavinet-y Voice

I’ll be sure to work on some more voices, and post a disk image of them once I’ve made a decent collection, for any other RT.SYNTH users to try out.

2 Comments leave one →
2009 March 3

[...] original music on that podcast, and that means I’m motivated to a) make some more soundsets for Michael J Mahon’s Real Time Synthesizer b) make a ‘play the Mockingboard with your [...]

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2009 July 23

Thanks for the post, any new voices?

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