A few days ago Jack Tramiel past away. For most people it’s the his product the Commodore 64 that has them teary eyed in rememberance. For me however it is the Atari ST. When it came out the 520ST not only competed with the Mac it bested it on many fronts and it cost much less. I remember the first time seeing the Atari monochrome screen. People rave about the clearness of the new iPad 3’s screen and like today’s raves for the iPad that Atari screen was something to behold. It was so sharp and clear for the time. In addition the ST had something no other main computer system had: MIDI ports. I used DR T.’s KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) and later Cubase on a 1040ST. By the way theses were also in my own opinion beautifuly designed machines. Just look at that image above. Like my Apple products today I really loved that machine. It tempted me to create. I did also own an Amiga and loved it as well.
“In 1953, while working as a taxi driver, Tramiel bought a shop in the Bronx to repair office machinery, securing a $25,000 loan for the business from a U.S. Army entitlement. He named it Commodore Portable Typewriter.” – Wikipedia
The first software I ever used to create music was Dr. T’s KCS. I used it on an Atari 1040ST. The software was strictly to control external hardware midi devices. Hard disc recording and virtual instruments were years away from hitting the mainstream. A guy named Emile Tobenfeld (see photo) was the man behind Dr. T’s and KCS and he created this software in 1984.
Take a look at the screen shot above of the “Track Mode”. You see those 48 “clip slots”? Each one would play back a midi part. You could mute and un-mute parts to try different musical ideas. You could also record midi into any part. Sound familiar? It’s an early version of Ableton Live’s session view! Amazing no?
KCS also had an “Edit Mode” where you could transform parts. You could do quiet a lot with your midi data including change the pitch, velocity, controllers, pitch bends, compress and expand length, reverse, and much more. I have strong memories of using the “Step Time Track” feature to make drum patterns.
The “Step-Time Track” is used to enter notes one at a time. You specify the value of the note, (half-note, quarter note, etc.) and its length, and then play the note on your MIDI keyboard. Velocity can be recorded from the keyboard, or it can be preset. Step-time tracks can be appended to existing tracks. – myatari.net
We have come an amazingly long way from those days. Yet we were still able to create some good music. It’s really not what you use but how you use it!