The Sound Machine
How many times have you heard a tune on a PD program, and said to yourself…”I want to write a tune like that!”. Unfortunately, you had no utilities to write music…Until now! We have a copy of The Sound Machine, uncaged and dangerous, for this is an excellent piece of software! In the actual Sound Machine pack, you get 2 disks and a hefty instruction booklet, neatly put into a huge box with a bad colour photocopy inlay…! The booklet itself is a rather good read, as it tells you how to write and compose music, how to transfer sheet music to the program and how to write your own waveforms!
Enough of the booklet! As soon as the first part of the program loads, you are treated to a piccy of SAM with a keyboard, and a little arrow (well not little, it’s flippin’ huge!). You can control this arrow by mouse or keys, but BE WARNED! It is possible to use the Sound Machine with keys, but the cursor is very slow, so watch out! From this screen you can choose to load the actual Sound Machine or the rather spiffy Waveform Generator so we’ll review the latter first…
The Waveform Generator allows you to save your own waveforms, for use on the Sound Machine. This is the actual “nerve centre” of the Sound Machine, as you can define up to 10 waveforms for instruments….drum beat, bass guitar, tamborine, you name it - it can be simulated on this! Actually, you may need to combine 2 waveforms to produce one instrument. The Generator is well presented, and very easy to use. You can select noise or tone, the frequency of the waveform, and so on! If you are a little confused over the business of waves, there are several wave files on the disk, which you can load, examine and modify!
Now the Sound Machine! You can quit from the Waveform Generator and load to the SM quite easily. Once the SM has loaded, you are given a file handling program to SAVE, LOAD, HIDE etc. as well as the choice to load music, a macro file (see later), or a waveform. Then you can enter the main bit… You are presented with a very complex looking screen, with a selection of a keyboard to the left, and a full keyboard on the bottom of the screen. A grid is in the middle of the screen, and this is where you compose your music!
The amount of features on SM is quite mind boggling! There is full use of all 6 channels, or “voices”, where you can put two notes (waveforms) together to form your instrument! You can select the octave you need to compose with (you can edit one octave at a time!). There is a cut and paste feature, and a start and end block control for repeating a line of notes (e.g. f or a percussion or beat). Then there is the damn useful tape deck! You can fast forward, rewind, slow forward and rewind, stop, pause and there is “motion control”.
This is where SAM’s keyboard is turned into a piano keyboard, and notes can be entered into the grid here! You can also save a series of notes in a macro for later use. This is also useful, as you can reposition your series of notes on a higher pitch! You can also raise the note by a semitone, repeat the tune, repeat the channel, put tone and/or noise in any of the 6 channels, change the frequency, add bookmarks in your music, play one, two or three bars on screen, change the format of bars on screen, etc. etc…
Overall, I’m impressed with the Sound Machine! The booklet is a great help, with plenty of tips on making music, improvision music to tap in (E.g. complete a tune by yourself), and a load of diagrams! The actual program is good as well, but I felt that a mouse is much better to use than the keys, but you can write music with the keys just as well. I also felt that I should of been told a little more about the waveforms, and how to use them, or even produce instruments. If t here was another file on waveforms which has an example of instruments, it would of greatly improved my understanding.
Although E-Tracker is a superior music package, The Sound Machine is much more user-friendly and easier to get into - ideal for the beginner.
Cover art by Darren Blackburn