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Hands On: Apple Macintosh Computers (part 4)

One thing that every computer ought to have these days is a selection of MIDI inputs and outputs like the Atari ST and more recent Atari Falcon. The Mac has none...

The Musical Mac

One thing that every computer ought to have these days is a selection of MIDI inputs and outputs like the Atari ST and more recent Atari Falcon. The Mac has none. Yes none. There is a reason for this, or so I heard. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this story but I was told that long ago when Apple first set up as computer manufacturers they were contacted by an already existing company called Apple Corps, a music publishing company owned by a group of people including one Paul McCartney. Apple Computer and Apple Corps came to an agreement that as long as Apple Computer stuck to computing and didn’t get involved in music they could continue to use Apple as part of their company name. Of course, this didn’t seem like a problem at the time, but along came MIDI and music sequencing and it would have been really nice to have had a MIDI socket or two on Apple Macintoshes but there was that agreement… Apparently even though no Apple computer has had a MIDI socket, Apple Corps were still concerned that the computers were being used for music sequencing via external interfaces and third party software; justly concerned I would say for a trade mark is thing of value worth protecting. The last I read, quite recently, was that the two companies have made an undisclosed settlement. So will we ever see an Apple computer with a MIDI socket? I wonder…

The lack of inbuilt MIDI circuitry doesn’t at all hinder the Mac’s usefulness for music sequencing. In fact, once you get beyond the basic stage, then the Atari’s single MIDI IN and OUT are not really adequate. MIDI interfaces for the Mac are not well advertised and, I discovered, not many dealers know everything about how they can be used. Having taken good advice, I started sequencing on my Mac with Cubase 1.8.3 and two Opcode MIDI translators, one for the printer port and one for the modem port. These work fine and having the two means either that you get thirty-two MIDI channels to play with, or that you can keep MIDI note data and MIDI Time Code completely separate, which is always a good idea. (To get all thirty-two channels playing complex music simultaneously you may need something faster than an SE, Classic or LC, by the way). Since my early Mac sequencing days with the MIDI Translators I have graduated to a JL Cooper SyncMaster which contains two interfaces, a SMPTE to MTC convertor and switches so I can still conveniently use my printer and modem (well I’ll be able to use the modem when I get one). If anyone wants to buy a little used MIDI Translator, or a pair, then please get in touch! The point I made about MTC, to explain a little further, is that you shouldn’t try to mix it with note data in a MIDI cable. Mixing it with notes in the cable that goes between the interface and the Mac is OK because the data flows at a much higher speed.

It seems that many people feel there is some sort of barrier to using the Mac in a MIDI system, purely because manufacturers of MIDI interfaces don’t make their products sufficiently well known. My advice is to contact SOS advertisers who deal in Mac computers, they’ll get you up and running with the minimum of fuss.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004