Art For Art’s Sake

There are literally hundreds of Art applications available for home micros, ranging from simple doodlers to complex suites offering solid 3D animation; the choice is bewildering. So what features should you look out for when buying one for your machine? Andy Storer paints a picture of the perfect pixel package…

Image001

King Tut gets another airing – the original pic was picked up as brush, rotated in 3D, pasted down 4 times, swapped to tint mode and overlaid with two circles. Simple eh? On Deluxe Paint III maybe…

How many colours in the spectrum?

Whether you’re paying £3 or £300, most art programs provide a system of pull-down menus and icons for moving between the screen painting area and palette and painting tool control. This is absolutely essential, since you’ll want to be able to move quickly through the range of colours on hand and the painting ‘surface’ before you.

A good program will allow you to flick back to a full screen painting area after changing tools, operations or colours from an overlaid control panel. The more advanced packages will offer you the choice to scroll through a much larger area of work than can be displayed on screen at any one time or, alternatively, have a number of screens in memory that you can flick between.

Although you can buy packages for mono systems, most on offer are designed for colour. Obvious really. Painting’s all about colour isn’t it? Well, up to a point. The point being that you don’t need thousands of colours to produce effective artwork. The number of colours available to you will initially depend on the resolution your machine’s able to support and the degree to which the software allows mixing of the standard colours and combining them to form composite hues and shades.

But more sophisticated software can actually address the hardware to change the screen-scanning to display a new palette of colours on every line. Thus, for instance, Quantum Paint on the ST can offer 4,096 on-screen colours despite the ST offering only a choice of 16 from a palette of 512.

For general purposes, however, 256 colours is the most you’ll ever need – beyond that it becomes difficult to distinguish them. The best packages will offer you a full screen palette which displays all available colours, rather than a simple palette bordering it, thus allowing you to select the one you wish to use simply by clicking on it.

Image002

A 512 colour extravaganza on the ST’s Spectrum 512. But shouldn’t you only be able to see 16 colours at once?

Pixel Picassos

The beauty of electronic painting is the ability to continually modify your work without having to start all over again. Whilst a package will offer you the obvious option of a variable sized eraser, alterations are often likely to involve finer tuning than rubbing out whole areas.

So, for instance, once you’ve chosen a colour and done some drawing you will be able to change it simply by selecting a shade from the palette you wish to replace it with. Ideally, you should be able to click on any individual pixel of colour you’ve painted and be given its exact RGB code so that subtle alterations can be made.

In addition, it’s useful to have a ‘cycle draw’ option where you may select a range of adjacent colours to be painted in sequence as a brush line is drawn. In this way you can subtly blend colour to produce graded hues. In this respect it’s also useful if you can individually alter the hue and luminance of any particular pixel or area by simply clicking on a relevant icon.

The ‘front end’ control panel will allow you to choose between the range of painting tools on hand. A good package should offer you not only different pens, brushes, sprays and fills but a range of shapes, transformations, preset effects and texts. For freehand drawing, mouse control is infinitely preferable to the joystick or keyboard, assuming you don’t have a graphics tablet, and the range of pens and brushes should allow you a choice of line thickness, tip size and style.

Ideally, rather than preset sizes and shapes, you should be able to step up or down through a range. Likewise, sprays should also offer variable density and offer a choice of pattern, flow and nozzle type. The option to fill enclosed areas of artwork with a range of preset patterns is also essential, as is the ability to design your own fills.

Such design may require a fair degree of detail, so a facility allowing a graded zoom magnification of any area is also essential.

Ideally you should be able to grab any part of a screen and use it as fill for another and also merge, or ‘dither’, two adjacent fills so that a perfect gradation is apparent.

Getting into shape

Image005a

Any art package worth its salt should allow you to zoom into an area of the screen for detailed work. Even an average package will offer a zoom of 16x magnification.

Another feature worth looking out for in art packages is the ease with which it is possible to call up perfect circles and ellipses of varying size and thickness for exact positioning in the work area. Advanced packages will also allow you to smooth the curvature of a circle or ellipse to remove its jagged edges.

Of course, you’ll want to be able to construct other shapes, not all of them regular, and in this case you should look for a package that allows you to form multi-sided polygons. Creating the exact shape you desire is likely to be a process of hit and miss, so it also essential to have an ‘Undo’ function.

The most sophisticated features available to the pixel painter are block manipulations. Standard packages offer the facility to define sub-screen areas and move or copy them to other parts of the display. Middle range products will allow you stretch, skew, rotate and distort such defined blocks, whilst the more advanced will not only provide the tools to mirror, flip and invert the image-block but also make it opaque or transparent. It should also be possible to smear a specified area so that it appears to have been dragged. In addition, a more comprehensive package will allow you to outline and frame specified areas with a range of borders and define shadow depth and direction effects.

What can I get out of it though?

Unless you wish to incorporate your artwork into a program or game, then you’ll be wanting to produce hard copies of your masterpieces. The simplest way of achieving this is by photographing the screen. For this you’ll need a 35mm camera with a variable shutter speed which will allow you to shoot slow enough to avoid screen refresh lines in mid-scan. It’s best to shoot in a darkened room with the aperture wide open at a speed of 1/8 or l/4sec.

Colour printers aren’t much cop unless you’re prepared to fork out the readies, so the only other recommended way of displaying your work is by transferring it to videotape. A composite video lead between your micro and the video’s input should do the trick quite easily.

There’s always more…

This overview has concentrated on the options offered by paint packages and takes no account of related features, often incorporated, such as sprite construction, animation and 3D modelling. Express will be covering these areas in the near future.

Write then, let’s go

The inclusion of a text facility is also essential so that you may annotate diagrams or drawings. Here, you should look out for those programs which offer a range of text and font sizes and also include options to vary density and add outline, underlining and skew.

Finally, you should be able to save whole or part-screen files in a compressed form to save on disk space, and also be able to save and load palette and paint tool selections as new default values.

Graphically Superior

Rik Haynes checks out the best buys in graphics software for your machine…

Amiga

With its huge potential as a graphics workstation, and thanks to its superlative custom-designed  chips, the Amiga has perhaps the largest and most impressive selection of excellent graphics software and hardware. This includes a wide variety of paint and animation software, video digitisers, genlocks, etc. But this power unfortunately comes at a price – namely extra RAM and disk drives are not only recommended but absolutely essential in some cases.

DeluxePaint III

  • Paint and Animation Software
  • £79.99
  • Published by Electronic Arts

DeluxePaint III is the latest version of the most popular Amiga paint package around. Requiring 1Mb of RAM, DeluxePaint III includes an impressive paint-animation capability, extra-halfbrite 64-colour and overscan mode support, new wrap and tint brushes, font handling enhancements and substantial speed increases in all modes of operation. Electronic Arts is offering a upgrade service for owners of DeluxePaint (£50 + £5 carriage) and DeluxePaint II (£30 + £5 carriage).

Photon Paint 2.0

  • Paint Software
  • £85.99
  • Published by Microillusions, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Activision

Photon Paint 2.0 is a 4,096 colour HAM-compatible paint package with sophisticated brush operations, surface and contour mapping, shadowing with adjustable size and offset, and luminance with definable source location and intensity. Although Activision has yet to confirm plans to run an upgrade offer for owners of Photon Paint 1.0 in the UK, there is a service available in the US.

Sculpt 3-D

  • Animation Software
  • £85 inc VAT
  • Published by Byte by Byte, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Amiga Centre Scotland

Sculpt 3-D allows you to design and animate 3-dimensional scenes and incorporates an interactive object editor and power tools for constructing arbitrary solid shapes with symmetry, reflection, surfaces of revolution, extrusion, and cross section reconstruction. Sculpt 3-D also includes anti-aliasing, variable object colours and texture, unlimited (number, colour and placement) of light sources, arbitrary observer (placement, angle and direction) of view, phong shading, flat polygonal shading, full ray traced imaging with shadows and highlights, supports all the  Amiga’s graphics modes including overscan and 4,096 colour HAM, and is IFF-compatible.

Sculpt 4-D

  • Animation Software
  • £320 ex VAT
  • Published by Byte by Byte, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Amiga Centre Scotland

Sculpt 4-D is a state-of-the-art professional animation program which requires 1Mb of RAM and two disk drives. It includes substantial enhancements and additions to Sculpt-3D, though at this price, Sculpt 4-D is strictly for Amiga owning animation enthusiasts with loadsadosh.

Zoetrope

  • Paint and Animation Software
  • £99.95 inc VAT
  • Published by Antic, USA
  • Distributed in UK by ISM on 0983 864674

Zoetrope is the Amiga version of the popular ST Cyber paint and animation series, and is split into five modes: painting, cell animation, image processing, video titling and “flip book” pencil testing. Zoetrope requires 1Mb of RAM.

Atari ST

Despite being overshadowed by the Amiga in the visual department, the ST has still managed to attract a wide variety of good quality graphics software which can produce some very impressive results.

Flare Paint

  • Paint Software
  • £34.99
  • Published by AMS/Logitech
  • Distributed in UK by Database Software

Flair Paint is the current flavour-of the-month paint package for ST artists, allowing you to draw images in low-res and high-res – but not medium-res – screen resolution modes.

Degas Elite

  • Paint Software
  • £24.99
  • Published by Electronic Arts

Degas Elite was one of the first paint packages released for the ST, and it still remains one of easiest and most versatile paint programs around for that machine, allowing you to draw images in low-res, medium-res and hi-res screen resolution modes.

Spectrum 512

Image003

Another shot from Spectrum 512 on the ST, showing off smooth toned gradation across a range of colour.

  • Paint Software
  • £59.95 Published by Antic, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Electric Distribution.

Using scan-line palette changing software techniques, Spectrum 512 allows you to draw images on a low-res screen with 512 on-screen colours.

Cyber Studio

  • CAD-3D 2.0 and Cybermate Software
  • £79.95
  • Published by Antic, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Electric Distribution

Cyber Studio requires 1Mb of RAM and combines a 3-D design program Stereo CAD-3D 2.0 and powerful animation control language Cybermate. CAD-3D allows you to create 3D objects and includes camera view with variable zoom and perspective control, three independent user positioned light sources plus ambient lighting (all with variable intensity) and wireframe, hidden line, solid, or solid outline modes. Cybermate uses Forth-type commands to create animation sequences, incorporates delta compression techniques, special effects and lap dissolves and allows you to splice in animations from multiple sources.

Cyber Paint 2.0

  • 2D Paint and Animation Software
  • £69.95
  • Published by Antic, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Electric Distribution

Cyber Paint 2.0 allows to paint and animate 2-D images and can be used to add the final touches to a Cyber Studio 3-D animated sequence. It includes automatic image registration to create cel animation arrangements, real-time zoom mode, multiple static or animated overlaid images and special animation effects with automatic intermediate view generation (tweening) on any area of the screen. Cyber Paint 2.0 requires
1Mb of RAM.

Cyber Sculpt

  • 3D Sculpting Software
  • £79.95
  • Published by Antic, USA
  • Distributed in UK by Electric Distribution

Cyber Sculpt is a professional 3D off-station solid-modeler used to port 3D object files to high-end rendering systems – and includes variable magnification, spline path extrude and spin, face bevelling, and cross-sectional model creation. Cyber Sculpt requires 1Mb of RAM and Cyber Studio (CAD-3D 2.0).

PC

DeluxePaint II

  • Paint Software
  • £99.99
  • Published by Electronic Arts

DeluxePaint II is the PC version of the popular Amiga paint program, and allows you to draw images in CGA, EGA, VGA, MCGA, Hercules and Tandy graphics modes.

Spectrum

Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £12.95 (Spectrum 48K compatible)
  • Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

Advanced Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £22.95 (Spectrum 128K Only) Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

C64

Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £12.95cs, £15.95dk
  • Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

Advanced Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £22.95 (Disk Only)
  • Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

CPC

Image004

Even on the Amstrad CPC, a machine supporting only 4 colours, the range of fills is impressive – here it’s Advanced Art Studio from Rainbird.

Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £17.95dk
  • Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

Advanced Art Studio

  • Paint Software
  • £22.95dk
  • Published by Rainbird
  • Distributed in UK by EEC

First published in New Computer Express magazine, 25th March 1989

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Amiga Sound Samplers

While the sound capabilities of the Amiga range may pose no threat to synthesiser manufacturers, a sampler/digitiser could help in the production of reasonable sound/music applications. Roger Howorth tests two such devices, and looks at the Amiga as a host for acoustic software.

The Commodore Amiga is often praised for its exceptional sound facilities – its capabilities have often been likened to those of a Fairlight sound synthesiser. While this is perhaps a slight exaggeration, the Amiga’s ability to manipulate digitised sound is second to none. Most computers have a sound generation chip that will generate certain tones: the Amiga, however, can only play back digitised sound. True – you can simulate sound generation by passing data to the sound chip as though it were digitised, but to get the most out of the machine you really need a sound digitiser to generate this data.

A sound digitiser, or sound sampler, is a small hardware device that allows you to capture external sound via a microphone or hi-fi. This review is centred on two sound sampling systems for the Amiga range – the Future Sound and the Sophus S5. It is also intended to provide a brief outline of the strength of the Amiga with regard to sampling as an application, and the uses to which these pieces of hardware can be put.

The Amiga as a host

Any sampling package must include some hardware that can convert the electronic signals produced by microphones or record players into digital values that a computer can then manipulate, and complementary hardware to convert these digital signals back into acoustic ‘sounds’. These two hardware stages are referred to as the analogue to digital converter and the digital to analogue converter, or ADC and DAC respectively.

What makes the Amiga unusual is that it actually has DAC hardware built into the standard machine, which, in turn, means that people producing samplers for the Amiga only have to provide the software and an ADC stage. This obviously provides a financial saving to the manufacturer but, more significantly, also gives a degree of standardisation that allows samples to be used within a range of software from many different sources.

The Amiga’s sound capability

Part of the Amiga’s custom sound chip provides four DAC channels which have their outputs mixed into a stereo signal under software control. These chips are 8-bit, so sample values can only vary between -128 and +127, and can replay samples at a maximum speed of 28KHz. As such, all samplers which use these chips will be limited to that specification, replaying via a stereo output and playing no more than four samples simultaneously. The amount of time that a sample can last for is related to the size of the Amiga’s free RAM, but a standard 512k Amiga can hold roughly 10 seconds of data sampled at a speed of 10KHz alongside the sampling software.

One of the main problems with sampling is that a relatively large amount of noise is generated at the audio frequencies which are approximately half the sample frequency (that is, the number of samples taken per second). There is a universal solution to this problem, which is to filter the audio output stage of the sampler at this frequency. Clearly, for this solution to work at its best, the frequency at which the filter is set should be variable with the sample rate.

Unfortunately, the Amiga 1000 has a hardware filter on its audio outputs that is set to remove everything above 7.5KHz. This is all very well when sampling speech to be replayed via a TV loudspeaker, but is quite limiting if you wish to replay top-quality samples through a hi-fi which can produce frequencies as high as 20KHz.

To put this in perspective, the human ear can hear frequencies up to about 20KHz but the British telephone system only reproduces frequencies up to about 4KHz. Samplers have to sample at a rate which is double the highest frequency they are to capture if they are to record both positive and negative peaks of a sound wave; this is why the digital audio compact disk system works with a sample rate of around 44KHz. It can be seen that using a filter to remove audio frequencies above 7.5KHz makes using sampling frequencies above 15KHz rather pointless.

Commodore has rectified this problem on the later Amiga models (A500 and A2000) by making the filter software controllable. Owners of Amiga 1000s can effect a partial solution by removing their filters completely, although this involves opening up the main system unit and cutting a few wires. This obviously invalidates any warranty and will create a new problem in that removing the existing filter will make a new, variable external filter all but essential. For these reasons, A1000 owners are unfortunately stuck with relatively poor-quality sampling.

Future Sound

The Future Sound package comprises one disk, a 38-page stapled booklet, a microphone, and the sampling hardware which is housed in a small box. This box has a socket for the microphone, and a standard RCA phono socket for connection to a headphone output from your hi-fi or video. There’s also a volume knob which controls the amplification applied to the microphone and hi-fi inputs before they are fed to the analogue to digital converter (ADC).

A lead on the rear panel should be plugged into the Amiga’s printer port, and there’s a 25-way D-type socket for printer connection. The Amiga cannot access both sampler and printer simultaneously, but a switch is provided on the front panel that will select which device may be used at any time.

The program is driven from one full-size screen window which cannot be re-sized or moved. Functions are invoked either by selecting one of the standard Amiga menu items, or by holding down one of the special ‘Amiga’ keys and a letter (usually the initial one of the menu command) on the keyboard.

Program operation

Future Sound operates rather like a four-track tape recorder in that the computer’s memory can be divided into four buffers or ‘tracks’, each of which can hold up to 512k of sample within the limits of your Amiga’s total free memory. Tracks can be merged with each other and copied or saved to disk.

Each track, in fact, relates to one of the Amiga’s four DAC channels, so all the tracks can be played simultaneously although there is provision for temporarily silencing one or more. Only one track can be recorded at a time. Each can be set to a different sample frequency, and each can be replayed at a different speed.

Screen display

ThisFSoundScreen

This Future Sound screen shows an immortal line from the film Casablanca as a Future Sound amplitude/time graph. Up to four tracks can be loaded in simultaneously

FSoundhaslimitedzoom

Future Sound has a limited zoom facility to examine sampled sounds but comprehensive editing facilities. Being mono, a longer sound can be recorded in a single sample

The Future Sound window is divided up into several sections. Along the top, just below the standard Amiga menu bar, are four boxes, one of which is always highlighted. This represents the current track being displayed and used as the destination track for recording.

Below these boxes is a large graph of the current sample. The graph plots amplitude against time, and is used to select a portion of a track for further manipulation. By default it will display the entire sample, but it may be zoomed in to show only a small portion of the sample.

The main functions of replay and record are controlled from a set of buttons below the graph that are similar to a video cassette machine, with forward and rewind as well as stop and slow motion forward wind.

The other two sections of the window are more text-orientated, with one section controlling how the four tracks are replayed. This section includes a sliding icon for the volume, an on/off switch that mutes the track, a speed control that will affect the pitch as well as the speed of the sample, and a loop function (of which more later).

The final section of the display is the recording control section, which features the sample rate, sample duration and memory size, as well as a bar graph meter that helps to set the volume control knob. This meter works in the same way as those found on most cassette machines, with a ‘needle’ moving across the screen in relation to the amount of noise present at the ADC; the idea here being that you should set the recording level as high as possible without causing the ‘peak’ indicator to flash red, which would mean that the level is too high and would produce a distorted sample.

Sampling

The sampling process is quite straightforward: first, select which track to record onto; then, if desired, change the sample rate and duration from the values last used. Finally, the record level should be adjusted by turning the volume knob on the Future Sound box before clicking the mouse on the Record button.

While sampling, the Amiga will seem to freeze, but this is not a huge problem.

Sophus S5

The Sophus S5 sampling package looks very similar to Future Sound. It comes with a 42-page manual of which roughly half concentrates on using the Sophus S5 and the theory of sampling, while the remainder deals with using the samples from within other software and programming languages.

Sophus differs slightly from Future Sound in that it is a stereo sampler: therefore, it has two RCA phono-type sockets on the front panel for connection to either hi-fi or microphones. There is also a volume knob and a switch which alter the amount of amplification applied to the inputs.

Unfortunately, Sophus doesn’t supply any microphones or duplicate socket for a printer, and you would have to keep powering down the Amiga and unplugging Sophus in order to do any printing. However, a bonus for Sophus is that it features a tone generator which can produce an octave of notes starting at the A below middle C (440Hz), which is very useful if musical instruments have to be tuned to the sampler and you don’t have a tuning fork!

Another nice feature in Sophus is a function to calculate discrete Fast Fourier Transformations. This is perhaps the academic side of sampling and produces, after much processor time, a graph of the frequency spectrum of the sample, highlighting particular harmonics and fundamental frequencies in the sample.

Program operation

Sophus is a stereo sampler and, therefore, acts rather like an ordinary cassette machine; the difference being that a cassette machine can only record left and right channels simultaneously. Sophus can record in this way but can also record first on one channel and then on the other, so it can also function as a ‘two-track’ mono sampler.

Channels can be merged in order that a stereo sample can be made into a mono one, leaving the other mono channel free to record another sample. The sample rate, buffer size and play-back speed can be varied for the left and right channels independently, and any of the inputs or outputs can be muted.

Screen display

SophosS5hastwo

Sophus S5 has two amplitude/time graphs, one for each channel of the stereo sample. The four ‘push-buttons’ in the left-hand corner operate like those on a cassette recorder.

SophosS5zoomin

Sophus S5’s ‘Zoom In’ and ‘Zoom Out’ buttons allow you to examine the wave form of any sampled sound in detail. Slider bars control other features such as sampling rate and volume

Sophus operates from one full-size screen window that is divided into several areas, and is, in general, very similar to the Future Sound display with Amiga menus and keyboard short-cuts, bar graph metering to help set the sample level, and Play, Stop and Record buttons to control the main functions. There are two amplitude/time graphs, one for each channel of the stereo sample.

The screen has a neat appearance, with an absence of increment/decrement boxes for data entry. Instead, numbers are either typed directly from the keyboard, or icons are used to ‘drag’ numbers to their new values.

Sophus has a few extra features above Future Sound, such as the ability to alter both the amplitude and frequency envelopes of a sample. These envelopes change the way in which a sample is replayed and are redefined graphically, so the user is initially presented with a straight-line graph which can then be dragged to form a linear gradient. This gradient will affect either the volume or pitch for amplitude or frequency envelopes, respectively. In this way, samples can be made to fade in or out in volume or rise or fall in pitch, which again can lead to some interesting effects. Also, ‘n-n-n-nineteen’ effects can be created by restarting the play-back of a sample before it has finished playing.

Sampling

Sampling with Sophus is quite straightforward. Like Future Sound, it is simply a process of choosing a sample rate and duration, setting the record level with the help of a stereo bar graph meter and peak display, and, finally, hitting the Record button. The Amiga screen is blanked out and the keyboard ‘hangs’.

Overview

I was impressed with the completeness of the Future Sound package which, if you use the microphone provided, requires no other plugs, leads or boxes to get you going; and, once installed, will cause no inconvenience when the computer has to be used for more conventional purposes.

On the negative side, Future Sound dictates that certain data items, such as how many seconds you wish to sample for, may only be altered by pointing the mouse at increment or decrement boxes located next to the existing value – there is no provision for typing numbers into the program via the keyboard. This is a shame, as not only can it be very frustrating to have to increment a value by 10,000 using this method, but it can also be even more frustrating to be continually switching between mouse and keyboard. Here, I feel both systems of data input should be supported.

The Sophus system is not quite as complete as Future Sound, lacking a microphone and, perhaps more importantly, a duplicate printer port. However, the software does have a nice feel, being quick and easy to move around the various functions. One feature I found very useful on Future Sound and missing on Sophus was a display of the RAM available for sampling. With Sophus, if you need to increase the sample time, you have to guess how many bytes you need and how many are available; with Future Sound this is not a problem as these figures are constantly displayed.

Both samplers allow editing of their samples by using cursors superimposed over the amplitude/time graphs. However, this is another area where I feel that Sophus wins because its cursors can be dragged to their new positions with the mouse. Future Sound’s system is similar but involves re-drawing the whole graph each time a cursor is moved, which is quite frustrating. Sophus also uses a better system to alter the sample and play-back rates, but loses a little in the race for user friendliness by making you specify the sample time in terms of bytes rather than seconds.

Both packages cause the computer to ‘hang’ during the sampling process, which can be annoying if you accidentally ask it to sample for minutes rather than seconds.

Implementation

Sound samplers for home computers are usually designed to perform one of two tasks: either they function as some kind of musical instrument; or they provide a method of capturing and storing real-life sounds inside the computer, perhaps for later use by other programs.

Both types will perform common functions, such as sound sampling, but the uses to which either can be applied are quite different. Systems required for use in creating music have to provide a method of replaying the samples quickly and easily at varying pitches.

Both Sophus and Future Sound fall into the last category, in that they don’t provide a musical environment in which to use the samples. However, because virtually all Amiga music software supports the interchange of standard ‘IFF’ sound files, samples from either program can be exported to more specialist sequencer or sound-editing software as well as programs written by the user in a variety of languages.

In this way, programs such as Instant Music can be enhanced with a whole library of samples built up with either Sophus or Future Sound.

Looping

Although both Sophus and Future Sound can save files in IFF format, unfortunately, neither provide an efficient system for setting ‘loop’ points. Consequently, some kinds of sample may be unusable unless they are passed through another piece of software to help set loop points more accurately. The best that these two programs can offer by way of looping is to repeat the whole sample continually.

Loop points are only crucial to samples that are intended for musical use because they are related to the way that software extends a sample in order to make it last for a variable amount of time. Percussive sounds, such as drums, are never required to last for a varying amount of time and, therefore, require no looping. However, imagine you wanted to sample a violin sound that you could then use within another program. Obviously, to sample every note that the violin could make at a variety of durations would be impossible within the memory of any home computer. Overcoming the problem of sampling every note is quite easy, as one sample can be played at many different pitches simply by altering the replay speed.

Making a sample last for a variable amount of time is slightly harder, the theory being that most sounds have an ‘attack’ phase, which is the first part of the sound to be heard. This then develops into a ‘sustain’ phase which will sound fairly constant and occupy most of the time that the sound is heard, before entering the ‘decay’ phase as the sound fades.

If a sample begins at memory point ‘A’ and ends at memory point ‘D’, it can be made to last longer by repeating or ‘looping’ a section that lies somewhere in the middle of the sample. The start and end points of this section can be called ‘B’ and ‘C’, which are the limits of the sustain phase. This system allows a sound to last for a variable amount of time while leaving the initial ‘attack’ and ‘release’ of the sound unaffected.

The lack of a good loop control system within these programs means that this part of the sample editing must be performed from another program. It should be possible to write a simple Basic program that could alter these values, though.

Documentation

Both manuals are adequate. Neither go into too much detail on the true technicalities of sampling, although both present just enough information to guide you through using the product. As these samplers can be used to provide samples for inclusion in your own programs, copious notes are required. Here, the Sophus manual certainly wins in comparison, with around 20 pages dedicated to this topic as opposed to Future Sound’s two. While Future Sound manages to discuss Basic and C, Sophus covers interfacing to machine code, Modula 2 and Forth.

Both packages supply example programs on the program disk.

Conclusion

If stereo sampling appeals to you, there is no choice – Sophus is the only package that can do this. Otherwise, the issues are less clear cut: one package can be thought of as a two-track recorder, the other a four-track. Technically, Future Sound will produce slightly better samples because its maximum sample rate is 28KHz as opposed to Sophus’s 20KHz maximum. On the other hand, Sophus has more sophisticated editing facilities and can use as much RAM as your Amiga has available; whereas Future Sound can only access whatever is left in the first 512k after the program has loaded.

Both packages have their strengths, and would be useful additions to your range of sound/music applications as well as being fun things to have around. Although Future Sound is unique with its four tracks and comprehensive hardware package, I feel it is let down by its software which doesn’t have quite the same edge as Sophus.

Neither package is at all musical in itself, but both allow samples to be exported to virtually any other piece of Amiga software. Sophus comes closer to providing a hint of musical creativity by allowing you to make ‘n-n-n-nineteen’ effects: you could even make Max Headroom type recordings with Sophus, a cassette recorder and a lot of patience.

A final and interesting use for these products would be with those people who want to include sampled speech or music within their own programs. This not only applies to people developing commercial games software, but also to people writing utilities in their preferred language – perhaps providing spoken instructions instead of the more traditional Amiga prompts.

Future Sound costs £175 and is available from Tri Computer Software

Sophus S5 costs £162.15 and is available from ASAP

First published in Personal Computer World magazine, December 1987