Music Synthesizer for the TRS-80 Color Computer

My first computer was a TRS-80 CoCo. Short for Color Computer the CoCo had a Motorola 6508e microprocessor. The 6508e was in some ways the predecessor to the 68000 which found it’s way into the original Mac and Atari ST machines. I had my CoCo hooked up to a television and I wrote a few small programs using Basic. I remember I created my own address book that would randomly pick a friend to call. I still have some of the old cassettes to which my programs are saved. I can barely make out the handwriting on the tapes scribbled in my thirteen year old handwriting. I frequented a local TRS-80 user group run by a guy named Larry Bank who I believe today works at IBM. We would trade games like “Donkey King“.

Believe it or not I was going online way back then. There was a local BBS called Mnematics Videotext I use to log into. To be honest I can’t remember what I even was discussing or downloading. Whatever it was it could not have been all that thrilling because in the early 80s download speeds were at about 300 baud. A slow stream of text would jump out of multi-colored cursor across a bright green screen. I have fond memories of my TRS-80 with the exception of his chicklet style keyboard which was universally panned as being cheap. I think it’s pretty funny the new Mac Laptops have a similar keyboard but no one has made a reference to the old CoCo.

My flashback was all triggered by some photos uploaded today on flickr by rach_thegoat. Apparently her parents gave her some old CoCos. Included in the happy gift was a Cartridge for something called “Stereo Music Synthesizer”. I never owned that Cart and I sure am jealous! Her photos are set to “All Rights Reserved” so I won’t post them here but you can take a look at her score here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rach_thegoat/sets/72157610837576228/

photo credit: david_s_carter

via Matrixsynth

6 Comments

  1. Very interesting find! I did some research and found out that the name of the program is Orchestra, and was released as Orchestra-80, Orchestra-85 and Orchestra-90, with the difference being how many voices they could play and so on. The higher versions being the best ones.

    It also seems that this game had some add-on peripheral to allow it to play back the synthesized voices.

    I have tried in vain to hear any audio demos of how it sounded, but found a winamp plugin called In-ORCH that lets you play back old Orchestra music files. The problem is I haven’t seen ANY sites that have old music files.

    To find more, search google for:
    TRS-80 “orchestra 85″

    And here is the info about the Winamp plugin to allow it to play Orchestra files:
    http://www.trs-80.com/trs80-main-orch80.htm

    Reply

  2. the oldest synth i remember was the atari, and believe it or not, it came with cubase

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  3. I used to have one of those devices that my friend gave me in the early 90s when he got rid of his CoCo. If you are looking for the next SID chip like phenomena of retro sound, don’t bother… Beyond nostalgia, there isn’t really much value to this thing.

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  4. The Orchestra-90 has two 8 bit DACs and embedded software for writing songs. I seem to recall the built-in demo song is a bit of the William Tell Overture. What you really want to find is the Speech/Sound Cartridge :)

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  5. I’m glad I’m not the only one to think that some laptop keyboards resemble chiclet keyboards. The “Stereo Music Synthesizer” you mention was the Orchestra-90, which was also available for the TRS-80 Model I, III, and 4. The Orchestra-90 was a fairly simple digital-to-analog converter with some very clever software behind it. Music quality depended on the abilities of the transcriber, but there were some very good music files available. By the way, the Color Computer used the Motorola 6809, not the 6508e.

    Reply

  6. Mnematics Videotext….
    Good old time!
    There was no downloads for sure, we were just messing around… enjoying the fact we were “online”! There was a IRC gateway at the end, an email feature, and a few thematic hmm newsgroups…
    I wish I could find the people I used to hang out with there… Count Zero, Dinosaur Jr, that old Andygee and more…

    The frenchie

    Reply

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