Another look at the Apple II player piano

April 8th, 2019 6:44 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
no comments yet.

I know some classical musicians who are quite up in arms over virtual orchestras. Why hire a violinist or flautist to interpret your sheet music when you can simply set your composition software to flawlessly perform your digital score?

This is not a new phenomenon: the player piano, invented in 1895, requires no human operator, either. The last time I saw such an instrument was at Hildene, the summer home of Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert. The estate's player organ boasts an extensive collection of vintage music scrolls, most of which are now too brittle to be used. But to keep the organ fed, it has been modified with a USB port through which the scrolls' digital equivalents can be loaded.

This isn't the first time player piano and computer technologies have been integrated. In the 1980s, the Apple II often played a critical role in creating music for these automated performers, as seen in this profile.

The Apple II has only a brief visual cameo and little mention in the narration. But fear not! A more exhaustive look at the Apple II can be seen in a similar video I shared here eight years ago.

Pianos don't need computers to make music; and, with the power of MIDI, computers don't need pianos. But no matter the era, the two together are an inimitable duet.

(Hat tip to rryland on reddit)

An Apple II appearance in Beep!

February 13th, 2017 12:48 PM
by
Filed under Musings;
3 comments.

I have a growing collection of documentaries in my watch queue, many of them springing from Kickstarter. If I see a topic I like, I can't help but throw $15 at it — especially if it'll get me a digital copy of the movie, years down the road.

Such is the case with Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound. This movie, crowdfunded in 2014, chronicles the evolution of audio composition technology in the interactive entertainment industry, featuring interviews with composers for such classic games as Marble Madness. A variety of hardware platforms and sound processors are featured, especially the Commodore 64 and its infamous SID chip — but disappointingly, at no point did I hear mention of the Apple II.

But I did see it! In two scenes, the narrators' commentary is overlaid with B-roll footage of convention-goers (perhaps at MAGFest?) using classic computers. At 25:19, the machine on-screen is very obviously an Apple IIGS, though the exact software being demoed is indeterminable; minutes later, at 32:44, an Apple RGB monitor — perhaps the same one previously featured, but from a different angle — can be seen in the background.

Playing an Apple IIGS in Beep documentary

Apple IIGS monitor in background of Beep documentary

Given the breadth and depth that Beep set out to cover, it's unsurprising that they wouldn't have the opportunity to focus on our favorite retrocomputer. But the Apple IIGS's Ensoniq chip was one of the platform's hallmark features, warranting acknowledgement right in the model's name — the 'S' stands for "sound", after all. At least it had its cameo.

For more opinion about Beep, read my review on Gamebits.

8-bit iTunes

January 2nd, 2012 10:42 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
1 comment.

While putting together last week's post of floppy disk music videos, I came across an odd and obscure video that demonstrates iTunes running on an Apple IIe. It is of course no more real than "Maxster", my Napster client for the Apple IIGS. But it's a professionally shot composition that nonetheless doesn't take itself too seriously, making it a fun and short watch:

In the video's comments, the creator explains some of the steps he took:

Using a special app, the Apple IIe samples the audio and stores it on a floppy disk. Then, it can be played back from the floppy over the Apple's internal speaker. It is a very primitive digital voice recorder using 1980s technology.

The goofy music at the beginning is from a 1957 film called In the Suburbs — this and many more films are available for download at archive.org under Prelinger archive. They are public domain so you can use and edit for YouTube. The clip at the end was actually coming from the IIe on a disc from the 80s — I think it's What's on Your Mind by the Information Society — Leonard Nimoy's voice was sampled saying "Pure Energy" in this song.

The video was uploaded a year ago this month and, at this time, has only 760 views. I should drop the uploader a line and ask him what his goal with the video was and his involvement with the Apple II. Faking a trick like this is one thing, but he obviously has some familiarity with and fondness for the actual hardware, wouldn't you say?

The Apple II player piano

March 21st, 2011 9:35 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
Comments Off on The Apple II player piano

Depending on your definition, computers have been around much longer than the Apple II. For example, Charles Babbage's analytical engine was documented in 1837, demonstrating a mechanical means of computing and converting data.

But such devices weren't always so pragmatic; starting in the late 19th century and peaking in 1924, another sort of computer was the player piano. By "reading" a spool of paper, the machine could interpret the data encoded onto those sheets and translate it into aural tones.

Although player pianos have waned in popularity, there was a brief period in which their manufacture was aided by the Apple II, itself a musical machine. This video shows an Apple II being used to create spools of music for player pianos:

(Hat tip to IonFarmer)

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

June 10th, 2010 10:43 AM
by
Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
8 comments.

This week at the WWDC, the iPhone 4.0 was unveiled, and with it, several new apps, including Activision's own Guitar Hero, a music rhythm game that first debuted on the PlayStation 2 and allows players to use a plastic guitar to strum along to on-screen color-coded symbols. Games in the Guitar Hero franchises have sold over 40 million copies, warranting its first appearance on an Apple platform.

It's encouraging that an entire genre has sprung up around a game's audio component. Game soundtracks have often taken the backseat to visuals, which is unfortunate; years after we last play a game, it's the melodies that we remember best, rising unbidden to our whistling lips. Apple IIGS users are especially fortunate to have enjoyed this element of the gaming experience, as the machine's Ensoniq sound chip performed far better than stock IBM clones of the era. I have a Soundmeister sound card in my IIGS, though I don't recall exactly what benefits it bequeathed; all I remember is that, even prior to that upgrade, my DOS-based friends were jealous of my computer's capabilities.

With all that aural processing power, I can't help but wonder why the iPhone has Guitar Hero but the Apple II doesn't? Turns out, we do:

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

Guitar Hero for the Apple II!
Image courtesy Mac-TV.

This advertisement is for a sound card that Steve Weyhrich's Apple II History site describes: "ALF Music Card (ALF Products, Inc.) was strictly a music synthesizer, with some included software to aid in producing the music." This card, released in the early 1980s, was outclassed a few years later by the Apple IIGS. But in theory, both 8- and 16-bit model of Apple II should be capable of a Guitar Hero-like game, sans peripherals. It requires playing music and accepting input simultaneously, but also matching the accuracy of the input with the time of the music. That too shouldn't be difficult: the input routine doesn't need to be aware of the music, so long as it has its own counter by which to judge input. (Five seconds into the game, it looks for the letter 'A'; six seconds in, it'll accept only 'F'. etc.) If the keyboard input and sound output routines were in fact separate, then the former wouldn't even be complicated by the latter using Vince Briel's MP3 peripheral. Even barring that, there are so many chiptune artists who use the Apple II to create original or remix songs that assembling a sweet soundtrack should be trivial. On the visual side, it's already been proven that the Apple II can produce music videos in time with external audio, so such a game could truly be a complete package.

Has anything like this been done before? Since music rhythm did not emerge as its own genre until the 1990s, I can't think of any software titles that predate that label which would nonetheless suit it. Are there Apple II games that rely predominantly on sound to prompt user input? If not, why not?

(Hat tip to dangerman and Mac-TV)