Ubik's Music (Firebird) Review | Zzap - Everygamegoing


Ubik's Music
By Firebird
Commodore 64/128

Published in Zzap #31

Sometime Crash music reviewer Jon Bates is promoted to Zzap! to cast a cold eye over the new budget music utility from Firebird's squarest programmer Dave 'Ubik' Korn

Ubik's Music

Firebird's latest foray into the realms of music software is not one for the squeamish, being designed more for the programmer who wants to enter the Rob Hubbard stakes by putting together a worthwhile soundtrack, rather than one that simply uses endless repeated sequences. It would be unfair of me, therefore, to try to put this in the usual category of music programs that caters for someone who just wants to dabble with the C64's SID chip.

The program is divided into two main areas - the first to create and order sequences, the second to create voices.

Three vertical columns are displayed on loading, relating to the three available sound channels. Each column contains a set of sequence numbers, with each of these having a designated number of repeats. A sequence usually consists of a set of notes that can form, say, a bass line or melody. This utility, however, also allows the sequence to contain instructions to change the voices (sounds) - but more about that later.

This idea of creating repeating sequences that can be chained together is not new; but one thing that indicates that this is aimed at the more serious programmer, is the user of Hexadecimal code throughout: any number that has to be entered in or read out is in hex. A second point is that entering notes into any sequence is quite a laborious process for the uninitiated. Each note needs its name and octave number, e.g. C4, then the note's length must be defined in Hex on a scale of 1 to 20. Additionally, a gap must be set between each note. If you want a note to sustain over the maximum allowed time, there is a handy CONT command which extends the note into the value of the one following. The tempo, voice and specific drum sound can also be altered, and notes can be made to slide in pitch from one to the other. A typical short sequence might look something like this...

B2 08
OFF 08
B2 08
OFF 03
C3 08
OFF 03

A sequence may contain up to 128 notes and commands, and each note can be edited, copied and generally chopped about to suit. The sequences themselves may also be edited, transposed, re-ordered and copied from channel to channel either in blocks or as separate notes.

There are many other features available, all of which are accessed from the main menu, (which surprisingly is not the first to appear on loading). Up to 26 tunes incorporated into a program running either in basic or machine code.

The other main feature is the voice creation page. This allows the creation and editing of voices, which can then be played from the QWERTY keys and finally stored. Although there is a two octave keyboard displayed, the transpose option allows for the use of over eight octaves of sound. Each channel can be turned on or off at will from the ASD keys, while using the transposer allows the channels can be stored at any one time, and subsequently pulled down separately to be worked on. Music and voices can be saved individually so that voices can be transferred from tune to tune. A slide rule helps to calculate the time it will take for one note to slide to another and, for the less technically minded, there is a 'Hex to Decimal' converter at the bottom of the main menu. Unfortunately, in voice edit mode it is necessary to constantly return to the menu screen - maybe a look-up table would have been more practical.

Apart from the obvious Save and Load facilities, there is also a disk directory and a compiler, allowing tunes and voices to be saved in a form that can then be set up to play chords or dischords at will. Personally I would have liked to have seen the addition of a fine tuning option so that slightly more weird effects could be created.

The keyboard display is situated at the top of the screen, while the lower half is literally packed with voice edit facilities. It would take too long to go through all the features available, but suffice to say that virtually any peripheral of the sound can be altered and modified: waveforms, ring modulation, filtering - which includes a valuable band pass option - note slide (portmento), special effects, pulse width's modulation, and a very gamesworthy music fade utility. All this in addition to the expected envelope shaping.

Having said that, it's not the easiest of sound manipulators to use. The facilities, though nicely and thoughtfully colour-coded, are very densely packed on-screen and take a bit of getting used to. I managed to annoy the Zzap! office with cunning impersonations of American warships amongst other things, and after a few hours the lads round the corner on Crash greeted me with a united chorus of "turn that *%$&ing thing down", so it certainly made quite an impression.

Generally, Ubik's Music is a very detailed program - but not one that I could recommend to a novice, as both its operation and rather complex instructions are somewhat overwhelming. However, for a games programmer or SID freak without a bespoke music program it's a bargain. Especially with the promise of a good selection of demo voices and tunes.

Dave Korn