It Begs The Question
Hey…I'm just saying… And while we're at it, why are you defending them?

Music long ago April 14, 2015

All of the songs you’ll find below were recorded around 1988-1990 using 2 MIDI keyboards (a CASIO and a Roland).   I don’t remember the models but the Roland had aftertouch (expensive option at the time) while the CASIO did not. The MIDI keyboards plugged into a MIDI interface on an early IBM PC/XT clone with a 5 MB hard disk!! The “music”   (MIDI data) from the MIDI keyboards was recorded on the PC using a MIDI Sequencer called GFMusic (which I developed in 1985-1988).

After recording and arranging the music with the Sequencer (GFMusic), one would generally play it back and record it on tape. No mp3 in those days… we were manly and used audio mixers and cassette tape decks for the recording.    A lot of this type of audio stuff came from Radio Shack in those days.  Anyway, the MIDI keyboards would provide some of the sounds when playing the sequenced arrangements but I also had a Roland MKsomethingorother   MIDI sound module that I used which provided really nice and rich orchestral sounds as well as superb bass instruments.

The GFMusic MIDI Sequencer was modeled after the outstanding and very inventive and unique product called Dr. T’s Keyboard Controlled Sequencer (KCS). Dr. T’s KCS ran on the Commodore 64, The Apple2, Atari, and I think it eventually made its way to the Commodore Amiga. I used it on the Commodore 64, Anyway, Dr. T (Emile Tobenfeld) never ported the KCS to the IBM PC… Something that Dr. T says he “regrets.” However when I called Dr. T back in the 80s sometime and found out that he would not make a PC version I “ported” it myself (using the term “port” rather loosely).   By the way, the call was from a phone booth in Key West!  A phone booth!    Anyway,  it took well over a year write the programs. I developed a MIDI Sequencer with many of the same design and operating principles as Dr. T’s but with added features and a modern (for the time) user interface. The result was the GFMusic MIDI Sequencer which I would describe in many ways as Dr. T’s KCS on steroids.So Dr. T’s KCS  rose from the dust of the 6502 and took flight on the IBM PC as the GFMusic MIDI Sequencer.   It was not, however,  a commercial success. Almost all of the sales were to computer programmer types because it was more of a music programming/scripting   environment and “language”  with features like asynchronous and synchronous function calls to music “subroutines” (aka “tracks”), independent music “tracks”  that you could run as  “threads” (subtasks),  the ability to embed (add) creating, posting, and waiting on “events” in your music “tracks”,   the ability to start and wait on timers, and so on.   It even had a Programmer’s API to make it possible (easy?) for other developers to add their own features.   Only 500-600 copies were sold.    It was a rich music/MIDI  sequencing environment for the tech savvy but it was not a big hit with the average musician because, as it turned out, all they really wanted was a computer version of a multi-track tape recorder. Of course, GFMusic would function admirably at that level but that got lost in the bright lights and bells and whistles and things like music tracks as functions,  threads, subtasks, timers, waiting on events, posting events…   Too many features that super-geeks might think were really cool but which the  average musician could care less about.   Oh well… we live and learn.

Dr. T

“Dr. T” – Emile Tobenfeld – A Hero!

   Later on in this post (after the songs)  is a reprint of a 1989 Atari article about Dr. T   as well as a few things that I thought would be interesting for people involved in computers and music back in the 80s and early 90s.   There’s a lot of interesting people out there!  Finally, the songs below were recorded to casette tape around 1990 and languished in a desk drawer until about 2010. That was when I converted them to digital mp3 form using the fabulous Google product called Audacity.

Except as noted, the songs below are covers of popular songs. They were created by starting with the sheet music. I would play all of the parts using a MIDI keyboard while recording it on a PC using GFMusic. I would also create additional parts (e.g. drums and counterpoints). Then came hours of experimenting and playing with different instrument sounds, tempos, keys, and so on. Finally, using GFMusic, I would play the final arrangement (MIDI data) back out to the MIDI keyboards and the MIDI sound module and record the resulting “sound”/audio (music) from those devices to casette tape. Of course, this would take hours and often days for each song depending on how much experimentation (playing) I wanted to do in the Sequencer sandbox.

A final note about the music below.  They aren’t great music per se.  But they show (sort of) what a complete non-musician can do with some basic knowledge and some software (and a decent synthesizer/keyboard).

So connect your best speakers to your PC and let’s begin…

LOCK THE GATES!

 

Title = Bink   Bink1 and 2  both started as a very simple piano melody I got from some bulletin board that I modified and added parts to.  I like it a lot.  Note how the tempo changes.  This is due to using a unique GFMusic  tempo command on a timer with an independent music thread.  In this way I could slowly change the tempo up or down over some pre-determined amount of time or over a pre-determined number of measures very simply.

 

Title = Bink2   –  Should be almost identical to Bink1

 

Title = Chords    Give it about 10 seconds to start.  Very early original – just a simple chord progression

 

Title = Breathe  (slow version)   Pink Floyd

 

Title = Breathe (fast version)

 

Title = Blues    early original – just a simple blues progression

 

Title =  Baroque    A simple baroque thing I got from somewhere that I modified.

 

Title = Ain’t No Use   Give it 10 secs to start  –   cover of Dylan song – heavily modded

 

Title = All Along The WatchTower    –    Dylan of course

 

Title = Time After Time    –    Cindy Lauper’s great song

 

Title = Taxi theme    –    This thing got “fuzzy” when recorded but I included it any way.

 

Title = Give it 10 secs to start  –  Stuck Inside Of Mobile from tape 2    –    Dylan of course

 

Title = Stuck Inside Of Mobile    –    Again… what is different in this one?  OOPS!  First  1:15  is from some other song.   Just skip the 1:15.

 

Title = Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands    –    Dylan again  –  I’m not thrilled with drum track.  If I had it to do over again…

 

Title = Poem On An Underground Wall    –    Paul Simon – The first 1:10  is from another song and should not be there.  Just skip past it.  I like it.

 

Title = Original1    –    Just a short original ditty

 

Title = OohAah    –    Experiment using “Ooohs”  and  “Aaaahs”  –  The original tape recording was just a little fuzzy.

 

Title = Major Tom Long Version    –    Cover of David Bowie classic – a fuzzy recording

 

Title = Major Tom Short version   –  a better recording but a short version.

 

Title = Love Is A Four Letter Word  –  More Dylan

 

I Threw It All Away    –    More Dylan – give it 10 secs to start.

 

Hours That Make Up A Dull Day – Pink Floyd – I like this version.

 

Fugue – I got this from somewhere and changed the instruments

 

Original  –  A sort of takeoff on the Ferris Bueler theme  –  Do you like the ringback?

 

Bink – one more time – I love Bink!!!!

 

 

THE DOCTOR IS IN

Dr. T: The Man Behind The MPE

by Jim Pierson-Perry

Emile Tobenfeld, Ph.D.–Dr. T–is one of that rare breed of people who have left their first careers to pursue their dreams. Dr. T’s first career was in physics, but his dream led him to create the world ‘s biggest MIDI software empire. In a rare interview with START Contributing Editor Jim Pierson-Perry, Dr. T reveals the unusual path he followed from the lab to the studio.

drt.jpg
Emile Tobenfeld, the famous Dr.
T: A non-musician in the normal
sense of the word.

Not many of us have the opportunity to turn our hobbies into careers, much less successful companies. A few years ago, Emile Tobenfeld, alias Dr. T, took that risk, turning away from a Ph.D. in physics to follow his musical aspirations. The result was Dr. T’s Music Software and it has been an overwhelming success. Over the past four years Dr. T’s has grown from a one-man operation to the largest MIDI software developer and distributor in the world.

“I defined myself as an artist even though I wasn’t working as an artist for a long time,” recalls Tobenfeld. He accepted a low-key programming job at a science laboratory in order to have the time for his music and photography interests.

Having few formal music skills, Tobenfeld seized on an ARP Odyssey in 1976. “Here was something I could make music on without needing to be a trained keyboard player, having a trained ear or needing much of anything except an imagination.” The ubiquity of synthesizer tone controls fit well with his interest in exploring musical processes and structure.

The turning point came in 1984. After viewing sequencer programs based on the recently created MIDI standard, he decided to write his own, since “nothing available then could do the types of things that would be useful to me.” Once committed, he reasoned “If I’m going to write software, I’ll do it all out and see if I can make some money at it.” His initial expectations, at best, were “to sell enough to quit my job and work on some new programs, with maybe one person helping with shipping. Even if it didn’t get that far, it would be fun to have a couple of programs and make some extra money for awhile. It would at least give my resume a kick in the pants!”

Tobenfeld’s first programs were for the C-64. “Having blown all my money on a [Yamaha] DX7 synthesizer,” he said, “I found that the Commodore was the cheapest computer around with a MIDI interface. My customers and I could afford it.” From there, he expanded to the Apple II and then to the Atari ST in 1986. Currently, the vast majority of his products are for the ST. “We have a whole group of people who understand the ST really well and want to develop software for it,” he explains.

No other company matches the breadth of Dr. T’s product line, which has expanded into all aspects of music software. There are four work groups for ST products: sequencers and algorithmic composing programs, patch editor/librarians, scoring programs and sample editors. Efforts are in progress to port the programs over to the Amiga and to test the Macintosh market on a limited basis.

Commenting on the MIDI software market, Dr. T holds mixed opinions. “With desktop publishing [another software niche market), there is a job to get done,” he says, “and a guy can weigh the economic equation and see if there is going to be a payoff. You don’t have the option not to do the job. For music, the nitty gritty market is all the people out there without an economic driver who aren’t even active musicians. There are a hell of a lot more non-musicians who would enjoy playing music if they could than there are actual musicians. Whether these people will get bitten by the bug enough to want to make the commitment–that’s my fear about this market.”

A criticism leveled at Dr. T’s sequencer programs is that they are not very user-friendly; GEM is not used and the workscreens are full of dizzying amounts of data. GEM’s speed limitations are the main reason for avoiding it; sequencer programs that appear to use GEM features have usually gutted the GEM code and replaced it with high-speed proprietary routines.

As to the user interface, Dr. T feels that if you’re going to make computer music, you have to deal with the computer. The ability to access and interact with virtually every byte of MIDI data is a hallmark of his programs (or tools, as Tobenfeld calls them). “The tools are there for anybody who has an imagination concerning sound and really wants to make music. Why did the rules of music develop the way they did? It comes down to a question of what works–not only what sounds good but what can be executed. A lot of things that can sound interesting haven’t been done because they are too damned hard to play.”

With release of the MPE (Multi-Program Environment), Dr. T has provided the first fully integrated desktop computer music workstation. Far more than memory partitioning, the MPE offers interactive data switching among whatever modules you have installed. “They’re not merely multiple, independent programs,” Tobenfeld says. “Rather, they’re modules sharing a central data pool. The programs in memory act together as one big program.” The MPE is still evolving to greater degrees of interaction. Planned modifications include increasing the number of program modules that can be installed to make it more GEM-like.

What’s Next?

For future projects, several concepts have caught Tobenfeld’s attention. Long a proponent of improvisation, he’s looking at ways to merge traditional sequencers with algorithmic composing for real-time interaction. Another interest is software to interpret your music and play along with you, possibly requiring some form of artificial intelligence.

Carrying the interactive ideal a step further is development of computer music instruments that respond to gestures. “I’m looking at how to make more tools like Fingers, and simpler ones like Music Mouse [for the Macintosh],” says Tobenfeld. “Simple and cute makes it appealing to the end user, the guy who’s just coming in.” In the (somewhat) long run, he has been looking at ways to combine interactive graphics, video and MIDI into an interactive, performance-oriented multimedia workstation.

Not bad for someone with no formal microcomputer training and a self-described “non-musician in any normal sense of the word”!

Jim Pierson-Perry is a semi-professional musician and a Contributing Editor for START. He lives in Elkton, Maryland.

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Fingers, $49. Dr. T’S MUSIC Software, 220 Boylston Street, Suite 306, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167, (617) 244-6954.


 

DrT_MIDI_interface_C64

DrT_MIDI_interface_C64

 

 

 

DrT_KCS_UserGuide

 

 

C64ProgrammersReference

The Apple II and the C64 were out at the same time.  I opted for the C64 and even bought a 5.25 inch floppy disk drive that cost as much as the computer (about $600 as I recall).  I used the C64 to run Dr. T’s KCS and even got into 6502 assembler programming on the C64 (eventually developing a  C64 6502 assembler language debugger to be used by other developers).   A friend of mine bought an Apple computer and Dr. T’s and we would exchange  KCS  files with songs and things like drum tracks (we coded a makeshift “FTP” to exchange the files).    My friend with the Apple computer was an excellent guitar player and would even take his Apple computer, a drum machine, and MIDI sound module all driven via Dr. T’s KCS  with him to live gigs for accompaniment.

Everything was ridiculously primitive back then (64K of memory,  96K floppy drives,  TVs for monitors,  and Phone Booths).  But it was the time when synthesizers,  computers, and programmers all came together to create great products;   And what made it really happen was the MIDI standard    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI

 

btw,  the C64 Programmer’s Reference was an excellent and thorough book.

 

Finally,  the following book is one of the things that got me started on a lot of this stuff.  A great book!

 

HowToPlayPiano

You can still buy it on Amazon and at many Brick and Mortar stores.

http://www.amazon.com/Play-Piano-Despite-Years-Lessons/dp/0385142633

 

 

 

Categories Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *