My business was music, it always have been since I was 5 years old and started tinkering with my father’s organ in our house. That four scale-length keyboard was my main music companion for the next 8 years. It had cheesy electronic organ sounds, and more than cheesy electronic rhythm beat section. But it was great. With it, I learned to play by myself and learned to read sheet music by myself from a big blue book with music theory. Only much later I learned from a professor that the first finger must go after the third finger when doing a scale, but that goes beyond the scope of this article and the interest of the retro user.
I always loved synth music and still do. Jean-Michel Jarre (yes with the hyphen) and the synth pop of the early 80′s were the deal and the amazement for any youngster at the time. So I should have a synth don’t I? Ah good question! No I don’t, because I’m too poor to buy one. After all I’m in my teens age and still do not earn enough to be able to buy a shirt, rest alone a several thousand pounds synth. :p Yes, I’m screwed.
Well at least I had a brilliant plan: ‘I can work in a music shop! They have SEVERAL last model synths to tinker with’. Sounded like a very good plan. Then to the music shop I went to work after school and then full time on vacations. Was great but not enough. I learned a lot tinkering with the synths, but I needed to make my own music, to record it, mix it and later go back and make some arrangements. That I couldn’t do in the shop, I needed a decent computer for that.
I had at the time a ZX Spectrum 48k and I worked with a program called Wham! The Music Box, and have done plenty of 2 channel music. It all sounded like crap.
I was not Tim Follin and had not that great 6 channel beeper routine that he used to make his sonic masterpieces in the Spectrum 48k.
I still had not enough money for a synth, because my ego told me to buy a used motorbike so I could pick some girls and take my shot with them, and wasted the little I have saved (and still not enough to buy a decent synth), so was basically screwed again: back to square one. With not enough money for a synth I decided to go in-between and buy a decent capable music computer. The next logical choice was to buy a Spectrum +2 (sadly I wasn’t able to go for the much more expensive, and much bet
ter sounding C64 at the time). I had lot’s of software and games already. And could use my beloved Wham! The Music Box and redo all my tracks in glorious real 3 channel music! I was set for success! :p Made many musics that were presented in expositions, radio jingles, cafe intros, announcements and so on…
Made some $$ of those jobs, saved a lot and finally if I sold my piano I could buy a brand NEW synth. But no I couldn’t do that because I needed to study for the Conservatory and I needed the piano.
Then luck struck out in summer of 1988, when I won a first prize on a piano recital competition and finally had the money to buy the ‘real’ music computer: I wanted an Atari ST, because that was what Keyboard Magazine was always talking about as the affordable music computer at the time with the famous built in MIDI ports.
To the great capital city I went to buy an Atari ST. I arrived at the shop talked to the sales man what I wanted and he showed me an Amiga A500 that was sitting next to the Atari 520ST on a table, both fully assembled with monitors and speakers. Coming from a Speccy background of computers with little form case, the Amiga looked HUGE and the ST looked rather nice at the time. Then after this first eye contact with both machines the sales person started demonstrating the Amiga. He plugged in a scene demo that had sampled music and I was instantly sold to it. The SOUND coming from the speakers was absolutely unbelievable. Sampled sound on a computer? Never had heard of it before… My thoughts exactly: ‘this could be my synth, the one I still cannot afford!’ I don’t even remember if he showed me anything about the ST, if he did, I don’t recall because I was on stasis hearing that Amiga. I bought some games and a box of blank floppies and was out of that shop with a HUGE grin with something way better than I could have dreamed about. Thank you Mr. Sales Man.
So why an Amiga should be better to make music than an ST for me?
Out of the box was 10 times better just because of one thing: Paula. The ST was no improvement over my +2 machine. In fact an ST without a MIDI keyboard was pretty useless for me. I wanted to make music. At the mid to late 80′s anything that was digital was the deal. A sampler? You would be God! With my Amiga I had all that. The ST would be just another computer doing blips and blops just much like I’ve already had done on my +2. No real improvement. Heck!, the sound chip was the SAME! :D
With my Amiga, out of the box, I was able to score 4 channel tracks for the choir group in Deluxe Music Construction Set.
I saved the parts of the musics to cassette for rehearsal. The group could really hear a ‘choir’ coming out of the speakers and have a first hearing of the piece prior to the first rehearsals. I could rewind the cassette and play only one part. My Amiga saved countless of hours in rehearsing for the next 2 years. We could be more productive. I could make arrangements of ‘real’ instruments and accompany my choir group with them. I could produce all the sheet music I wanted to be clean and readable for the instruments sections of the real band and each part for the choir. At the time nobody had that capability. I really came fast on being exposed as a true professional on my music circle just because of that. When you were 18 years old in 1989 and thrive in the professional circles as being trustworthy, hard worker and the man who you could trust for the last minute fix, because you had a computer who was quick and flexible enough to deliver anything you wanted, well, felt really good. And what I was making meant a lot less work than doing all that by hand, or incapable of doing it at all!
Then finally came the time that I was able to buy my first synth. Not a synth but a sampler: the Roland W-30.
With that and my A500 we came to the next level of music production that lasted till the end of 2000. Of course not always with the A500 along the years. Had a A600 and two A1200 and finally a fully expanded A4000 with SCSI 2 controller and HD, CV64 RTG graphics and 16 bit Tocatta 16 soundcard. I lasted with my A4000 as my main MIDI sequencer till 2000 when integration and flexibility demanded I made everything with a PC.
But DMCS, Music-X, Bars&Pipes Pro, Samplitude, OctaMED Professional and many, many other music tools were very productive and best of all, fun to work with.
I worked with several Atari ST on professional studios during the 90′s and I can say that although the ST had great music tools for a specific task, I always missed working with my Amiga because it had much more flexibility in the end. My A4000 was much more powerful and very much more flexible than the 1040′s that populated those studios at the time. We had to quit an application to work on another one on the ST. On my Amiga I had always more than 2-3 applications working at the same time. Coming back and forth with them and doing roughly the same thing, in much less time. Working with my setup was always more flexible, in such a way that for some occasions I would bring my A4000 to the studio and make some parts of a project on it!
So what I missed about not having an ST? Nothing at all. I did not need a black and white monitor to work in more resolution. I was not limited to having only 1x in, 1x out MIDI ports. I could plug in directly 3 devices on my MIDI interface. I could do 48 MIDI tracks in Bars & Pipes without loosing sync. Never had seen that on an 1040ST even for a start.
Would have I been able to do the same thing with and Atari ST? Maybe, but very much doubt with the same level of success and again flexibility because of one thing really vital for my music at the start: the chip sound. Another thing vital to any creative mind: Fun. Great fun indeed. In three words: I Had It All. Well, four. :)
Thank you Amiga, I owe you everything.