Archive for September 2016

MAKING MUSIC – PART 1   2 comments


A weird tune I recently created on my new/old Yamaha CX5M Music Computer using the Yamaha FM Music Composer Program


After thinking a lot about The Machine Language Book of The Commodore 64, I was writing another post about it, but of course this is a very complicated subject, so I didn’t know how to finish it. I was also involved in political campaigns for the Mayor of London and Greater London Assembly (GLA), as well as the EU Referendum. I was devastated and sidetracked by the leave result, which means the abolition of the UK/Britain, serious isolationism for England and Wales and that I must leave the country ASAP. Then, I got an email asking if I was alright and when I’d make another post. My answer to that was I was still alive, but basically that I didn’t know when I’d make another post. Now, after over three months without any new posts, I decided to do this post instead.


Making music was one of the reasons I bought a Commodore 64. It was one of the computers described in that lying buyers’ guide “The A-Z of Personal Computers” as containing a 3 channel synthesizer chip. This detail was true, but of course there was a catch. After I found out that some computers had built in three channel synthesizers, while other computers only had tone generators or beepers, I decided to go for a computer which did have a synthesizer chip. This more or less limited my choice to one of the range of Atari computers with FOUR sound channels, the BBC Micro, the Commodore 64, the Oric-1, a Memotech MTX, or the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. When I was choosing one, I didn’t know about any upgrade peripherals which could add a synthesizer chip to any of the other computers. I was disgusted when I found out I could’ve bought a peripheral for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum which added such a chip. Of course, there were also replacement keyboards for the rubber calculator key ZX Sinclair Spectrum, which would have shut my Dad right up with his saying of “Word processing. Word PROCESSING!”


The Commodore 64 seemed to have everything I needed, although I knew I didn’t really need 64K, because plenty of computers had less than that amount of RAM. It had a three channel synthesizer chip, came with “BASIC” built in, and had a good amount of software widely available for it. I thought the Commodore 64 came with everything I needed to play music on it. I was shocked to find out that it didn’t. After that, I bought an Amstrad CPC664, then started to have lots of fun drawing lines across the screen and playing simple tunes.


About two years after buying a C64, in early 1986, I bought a Yamaha CX5M Music Computer. This computer was part of the MSX standard, which I’d read a lot about, but I knew it contained an FM Synthesizer Module, which wasn’t part of the MSX standard. I was previously told in a music shop (i.e which sold musical instruments) that the Yamaha CX5M is a true musical instrument, but the Amstrad CPC wasn’t. It came with everything needed to play music on it. Built in was a non standard MSX command CALL MUSIC. The command CALL on MSX always refers to something contained on a ROM other than the MSX BASIC ROM. Typing this in at the MSX BASIC 1.0 Ok prompt turned off MSX BASIC 1.0 and brought up a page allowing the user to control the FM Synthesizer Module enough to play music. It even allowed the user to save or record the data to cassette or cartridge, although I never used this facility, I only recorded compositions from the FM Music Composer, and the DMS-1 cartridge. A synthesizer is called that because it can make up or synthesize an almost infinite range of sounds. An electronic keyboard is stuck with a fixed number of sounds. A synthesizer doesn’t actually have to have a music keyboard built in either. The FM Voicing Program was what enabled me to make up my own unique sounds.


I originally learnt to play music on an electric guitar and bass guitar, after playing only a few notes and a couple of short tunes on pianos. The electric guitar and bass seemed a better way of making music. I first learnt to play my first tune written by anyone else on just the sixth (i.e. the thickest) string before learning to play it using bar chords, meaning that the first finger is placed across all the strings, allowing guitarists to play the same chord shapes for Major, Minor, Seventh, Ninth, Minor Ninth, Diminished, etc chords at any fret, meaning root note, on the guitar.


One problem with that was the need to find other musicians who would agree exactly with my musical style, have the right image, etc. The CX5M made that unnecessary.


Unfortunately, I couldn’t make much use of the knowledge I’d gained from playing guitar and bass, because I was suddenly given only the choice of playing on a piano type keyboard, or inputting notes using the computer keyboard. There was no way to hook up a guitar to the CX5M via MIDI. There may have been MIDI guitars and MIDI guitar adaptors, but unfortunately, due to a design fault, MIDI IN on the original CX5M SFG-01 FM Synthesizer Module didn’t work! This meant I was stuck with the music keyboard and the computer keyboard.


I managed to compose several tracks on my trusty Yamaha CX5M, as well as input some sheet music and play it back. After that, I got sidetracked, as follows…


The Soho Roses’ final gig, in 1989 which I went to, showing the guitar based Glam/Sleaze or Glam/Trash Rock with accompanying fashions and lifestyle


About two years after buying the Yamaha CX5M, I experienced the attitude, as mentioned in the BBC Documentary “Synth Britannia” that synthesizers had gone out of fashion and guitars were back in fashion. In my case it was about being part of a close knit group or cult, based on a personal recommendation from someone I met. There was a lifestyle attached to that, with lots of gigs and some clubs, although I hadn’t been going out much in the period just before that, because it seemed there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, or anywhere I could go was totally out of fashion, due to the rapidly changing and cliquey attitude associated with the music. This made me go back to playing the electric guitar again, which I hadn’t forgotten how to play, as well as to neglect and even stop playing the CX5M altogether.


Synth Britannia (BBC)


Some time later, I answered a Musicians Wanted ad as a guitarist. The ad was placed by a female singer. We got together and formed the nucleus of a band. She also told me about a vacant flat, which was how I got my first flat. The two of us tried recording vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, in my bedroom, as well as in rehearsal studios onto a four track Fostex machine, which used the then standard compact audio cassettes as one sided instead of two sided. These recordings were all quite distorted, though. Unfortunately, we never managed to get any more members, or at least not permanent members. I could have programmed my CX5M to play the missing instruments of bass guitar and drums, but that was totally disapproved of in this scene, so we needed people to play bass and drums live, but I tried and failed to program convincing electric guitar type sounds on the CX5M. The main problems we faced were other people not wearing the right clothes and not having the right hairstyles, as well as the people we saw at gigs and clubs not being able to play any instruments, or already being in a band. I was driven in desperation to teach a woman we’d met who had “the right image” to play the bass guitar. Unfortunately, although she actually went out and bought her own bass guitar, she wasn’t dedicated enough to learning. She was from northern England, but living in London with her family. She kept hanging round with people visiting London from northern England, then later on complained that she didn’t have any friends in London, so she decided to go back up north! If we’d all been squatting together instead, then I think things would’ve been different.


As for the very short track at the start of this post which I composed on my new/old Yamaha CX5M, I should explain how I did it. A well known mnemonic (i.e. memory aid) to learning standard music notation is that the lines on the treble clef stave are, from the bottom to the top, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”. The spaces in between can be remembered by the word “FACE”. The bass clef stave is different, so I made up my own mnemonic for the lines, which is “Good Boys Deserve Favour Always”. You might like to make up your own mnemonic for the spaces in between, with the notes ACEG. Although I know what kind of sound one note followed by a particular other note will make, I decided to input all the notes on the treble clef without thinking how they’d sound. This created a different type of tune, which I think has given me my inspiration back to create more tracks. Unfortunately, my creativity was sucked dry a few years ago after being granted so many free recording sessions that I just couldn’t think of any more tunes. Of course, bands like 1950s Rock ‘n’ Rollers, or Status Quo would just have done more riffs based on the Blues Progression.


That’s all for now! You can look forward to another post about making music, or about “The Machine Language Book of The Commodore 64” in the near future.


Posted September 3, 2016 by C64hater in Uncategorized