Pay attention, kids. This is a real computer. (Oh, yes, and if there weren’t already enough computing geek cred in this shot, check the Amiga developer poster on the wall.) Photo (CC-BY) Blake Patterson of ByteCellar.com.

DMS_4iPad, wha? How about new music creation software for the Apple II platform?

8-bit weapon has a new instrument – delivered on 5.25″ floppy, natch – for the Apple //e, IIc, and IIc+. This isn’t just a novelty, though; they’ve built it to be battle-ready for onstage use. That means it works without a user interface, so you can use it without having a monitor plugged in. Here’s usability for you: “Just turn on your Apple II and when the drive light goes off. Then hit the space bar you’re ready to play live~!” Engadget gets the scoop:

Apple II Digital Music Synthesizer available now for 8-bit die-hards [Engadget]

Get over the novelty, and there’s something happening here: recycle old equipment otherwise destined to be toxic waste, make a computer instrument that’s dead-simple to use onstage and doesn’t require looking at the screen, make the most of extremely limited resources rather than burning through computing resources arbitrarily …these are principles that could be applied to any computer music project.

Up to 8 voices, preset sounds (Acoustic Piano, Vibraphone, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Bass, Trumpet, Clarinet, square wave, sawtooth wave, sine wave, Banjo), monophonic QWERTY performance. Now, admittedly, the Apple IIe isn’t much fun to take to a gig. Look for the Apple IIc, a svelte, slim design that was easily one of the best designs Apple has ever made, in any decade. When you do need video out, plug the analog jack directly into a TV, then stare into your soul (or your HDMI-connected, content-protected, latency-inducing TV) and ask yourself what progress means.

Okay, so maybe even at firesale prices (typically $10 or $20), you don’t want to bring an Apple II home. We also learn from our friends James Grahame that 8-bit Weapon has a new sample library:

8 Bit Weapon Chiptune Sound Library [Retro Thing]

There are also a couple of iPhone apps, but… that doesn’t have the same cred, somehow.

So, Let’s Talk Long-Term Investment

It’s a worthy question, though: can a computer last you as an instrument for some 25 or 30 years? I have to take issue again with Gino Robair, who repeats the lament that computers lack longevity. I couldn’t agree more, Gino, that computer’s lives are too short, reliability too low, and repairs to difficult, or that the onward march of software requiring replacement systems is absurd.

But I think Gino is missing cases like this, where folks are still playing on their Apple IIs. This isn’t just nostalgia: it’s actually practicality, conservation, and a certain sound. In short, to the musician, it’s an instrument, as beloved to them – and perhaps strange to everyone else – as a favorite bassoon. (If you can’t stand the sound of 8-bit, I forgive you – but if you love the sound of, say, a specific Reaktor patch, why not expect to use that in 2030?)

Gino also talks about “renting” software, but doesn’t address the existence of open source tools, and indeed, tools like Csound and SuperCollider have new longevity. We likewise watched Hans-Christoph Steiner rescue bins of old PDAs and iPods others thought were literally trash, in order to run Pd. Nor does commercial software have to be excepted from this, just because of its upgrade-cycle business model: just as hardware manufacturers now consider the impact of their goods as waste, software developers could thoughtfully end of life discontinued products, and use copy protection that has a statute of limitations instead of planned obsolescence.

Most importantly, though, Gino I believe incorrectly assumes that hardware will last people forever. On the contrary, on CDM, I regularly encounter people who are selling and trading in those beautiful boutique hardware synths, because they find they don’t need all of them. Likewise, you’ll find people working with DSP systems for many years, or even maintaining an old Be computer or mobile device. These are essentially software, used in a specific way because the user so chooses. Software itself is not to blame: planned obsolescence, inferior hardware, botched copy protection, greedy resource consumption, and overly complex software rigs could be.

Indeed, software’s flexibility, its ability to change, is one of its great strengths. It’s a different kind of longevity. How many users might say they’re still using “Cakewalk,” or “Cubase,” or “Performer,” or “Max,” or Notator (now simply called “Logic”)? Those are all applications conceived in the 80s. They’ve changed and grown because users wanted them to, and we’ve been musically enriched as a result. What I think Gino is talking about is quite different – when you expect something to last, and it dies, that’s the real problem. But it’s not an intractable problem for software; indeed, it may be easier for software to solve than hardware. (Ask someone who’s had to deal with servicing a vintage analog synth.)

That to me is the lesson of the 8-bit musician, which transcends just a fondness for old sounds. It’s just as much about doing more with less. That’s not a technological principle; it’s a creative one. It could be as simple as saying, you know, today I’m going to focus on this one tool and one option and not let myself get distracted by the others. Maybe it isn’t the computer that’s the limiting factor, after all. Maybe it’s us.

Longterm Investing [Robair Report]

  • Jim Aikin

    Gino is being optimistic in thinking that a hardware synth will outlive him. If the LCD goes bad, will his heirs be able to buy a replacement part? Maybe, maybe not. My cello, on the other hand, will certainly outlive me, as will my piano.

    I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: If you'd like to be able, 20 years from now, to open up a file containing some original music that you've composed, because you've decided you want to edit or rearrange the piece in some way, don't use Cubase or Logic or Pro Tools — use Csound! You'll have to deal with its 1970s-era UI, but there's a high probability that it will still be running on whatever computers are current in 20 years.

  • Damon

    I'm immediately confronted with the I wish I was cool enough to be using an old Apple 2 for music of my own accord rather than feeling uncool cause I have an almost new mac and an NI Maschine but wish I might have purchase an old Apple without anyone suggesting I wish I had.

    Ps. Am still ashamed I needed No Doubt to remind me how much I like that old song "It's My Life" by Talk Talk.

  • http://www.exodub.com Kyran

    I also want to add that, even though you do not see it, pcb boards and chips do wear out. The electron currents can move the metal atoms of the conductors. This causes the interconnects to grow thinner at one point and wider at others. In the end this will lead to broken interconnects and unwanted shorts on chips and boards. (or at least unwanted capacitive/inductive effects and impendance mismatch)

    It's near impossible to fix this kind of damage. (and it'll most likely not be worth the cost anyway by the time it happens). Also keep in mind that this still happens in perfect conditions (ie no dust causing shorts etc), it's wear on the components just from operating it.

    Most people ditch their hardware long before it reaches this point, but a well used apple II will most likely have reached that point for some of it's components. This behavior is also encouraged: repair prices for electronics are ridiculously high compared to new prices, mobile plans where you get a new phone every two years, etc.

    So I agree that we should use are electronics longer than we do now, don't think that they will last you forever (or even 25 years).

  • M Vincent

    I had an Apple IIc when I was a kid. I got it after my elementary school bought new Macintosh computers but before they got rid of the Apple II lab, so I could program in BASIC and take it to school. I used to get excited listening to it beep let alone run the SONATA disk that played a Mozart piece. I've oft fantasized about 80's colors and electrofunk perfection, with an Apple II as the hub. Sigh. I heard something a few years back about old Ataris (with MIDI ports) being retrofitted with a complete suite of software.

  • LdC

    Can't help but notice that one of the floppies in the second pic is actually Amiga BASIC :-)

  • LdC

    Oh wait, it's an Amiga drive – that would explain it :-D

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    > pcb boards and chips do wear out. The electron currents can move the metal atoms of the conductors. This causes the interconnects to grow thinner at one point and wider at others.

    [citation required. badly.]

  • http://twitter.com/eesn george

    Kyran, what have you been smoking???

  • Guy

    gwenhwyfaer and george I agree with you.

    Kyran I'm afraid calling foul, that physics just doesn't add up. Old hardware doesn't die due to wear and tear from electron movement. It will possibly suffer problems due to expansion/contraction of things due to heat ( http://www.nexlogic.com/PCB-Design-for-Assembly-C… ) or perhaps the circuit design stresses monolithic chips somewhat ( http://www.analog.com/static/imported-files/tutor… ). sometimes stuff does just break, components do have a lifecycle but its more likelly to be someone dropping it or spilling a beer inside that causes issues.

    Apologies if this sounds like a rant but seriously, there is plenty of electronics thats been running for an awful long time and is happily still running. If you have information about currents causing metal to get thinner I would genuinly be interested in seeing it.

    ultimatelly, I love all my old gear and i intend to keep it all up and running for a long time yet

  • http://andrew.hicox.com plurgid

    also your capacitors are gonna wear out long before electron wear threatens your interconnects.

  • http://blacktownsound.com seanbutnotheard

    There are a number of products out there like this… I personally have used Paul Slocum's "Cynthcart" with my C64 on stage before. It seriously sounds *incredible* when pushed through a twin reverb. (pic of the C64 rig here: http://blacktownsound.com/images/c642.jpg )

  • http://truechiptilldeath.com peter

    Man why do people always think that using retro gear on stage is ironic? Its not ironic, its a PAIN IN THE ASS. Shit breaks, picks up weird rf tones etc etc. It would be easy to run laptop emulations, or just even by playing aiffs off your iphone. They don't because hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere right?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I don't know, I've had modern computers be a pretty huge pain in the a** onstage now and again.

    Some time in the future, people are chuckling because they use particle accelerators in their computers, and electron wear actually chaps their lips.

  • http://avanturb.com Primus Luta

    This post reminded me I desperately need a USB floppy drive.

  • http://john.capseat.com John Tyson

    Can't wait for fiber-optics based chips… problem solved.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh, yes, and I know those are Amiga disks. They're, I must admit, probably more worth saving than the Apple II ones. ;)

  • http://dmlandrum.noisepages.com/ Darren Landrum

    I love how you can take anything with a small but strong following and run it down by calling it "hipster." It's hardly the chiptuners' fault that their sounds are being ripped off by certain mainstream artists who are then getting praised by the media for their "creativity."

    I've given a lot of thought to snagging myself an Amiga and seeing if I can program it into a serviceable and quirky sampler. I have too many other projects to finish first, though.

  • http://blacktownsound.com seanbutnotheard

    @plurgid

    by your logic, the guy who buys 60s guitars and plays them on stage is a exhibiting "hipster wankerism", right? or could it be that they just *prefer* the sound of certain older gear?

    i love it when people make fun of things they don't understand…

  • http://www.blacktownsound.com bschulzjames

    I've been wanting to purchase an old commodore 64 and use that cynthcart card that Seanbutnotheard was talking about. I've seen it used in live settings, and i've used it myself on a few recordings. There's nothing that replicate the original sounds of a sid chip.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yes, and in defense of the people above, there are folks who really love this old tech. The Flickr shots come from a guy who's a computer collector and historian. Why shouldn't you love what's old as well as what's new?

    In fact, I'd go further: I think we have an obligation as technologists to understand the history on which our modern tech is built. For one thing, you risk throwing out great design ideas and chasing whatever happens to be fashionable at the time.

    Sometimes, understanding the way people approached tech as it was first developing can help provide a fresh perspective on the new tech.

    I'd actually like to see more performances where the 8-bit and 64-bit (ahem) are mixed liberally. I can see some "hipster resentment" kicking in if people only appreciate chip music and not the full spectrum of what's out there – indeed, the gaming world seems to have gravitated almost exclusively to chip as "cool," which would be a loss. But I don't get that vibe from the chip musicians themselves; most of those I know are just darned good technologists with a broad appreciation of what vintage and modern digital can do.

    And having endured the analog versus digital argument for so long, I think it's liberating that we can now appreciate vintage in digital, too, and start to just enjoy things for what they are.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    > Old hardware doesn’t die due to wear and tear from electron movement.

    I think we got trolled. It was very well done, though – at least, in terms of being entertaining.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    > Who in their right mind would haul an antique computer on stage as a serious instrument?

    Well, I didn't think anyone would buy a SID stuck in a box that looked like an ancient desktop calculator and sold for £650 – I sure wouldn't have – but Elektron bootstrapped their company off it…

  • http://andrew.hicox.com plurgid

    oh come on. Who in their right mind would haul an antique computer on stage as a serious instrument?

    Nobody except hipsters who wanna look ironic on stage.

    Seriously.

    There are lots cheaper, simpler and more stable ways to make lo-res samples come out of some speakers … or if you’re into it, to make music that sounds like it came out of a SID chip (that is in fact generating identical waveforms as the SID).

    Honestly, I’d be more impressed if there was an artist using their ironic 80′s computer on stage, WHO HAD BEEN USING IT SINCE THE 80′s, and just never changed platforms.

    THAT situation is more like “computer as instrument”, honestly. Like a guy who’s been playing the same Strat since the 60′s … versus a guy that lives at guitar center and buys all the newest gear every 6 months.

    This is just “hey I found some new gear, but it’s old gear … but it’s new gear wink wink”

    Blah. Hipster wankerism.

  • jt

    @gwenhwyfaer

    The phenomenon is called electromigration. I don't know too much about it, but it appears to be a topic that has been well researched.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromigration

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    From wikipedia's electromigration article:

    > In modern consumer electronic devices, ICs rarely fail due to electromigration effects. This is because proper semiconductor design practices incorporate the effects of electromigration into the IC's layout.

    Note "modern". If today's very tiniest circuits are designed to be immune from such effects, how much less likely is it that the comparatively vast (and thus inherently less susceptible) circuit areas in a 6502 would be affected?

    I stand by my assertion – we wuz trold.

  • jt

    I'd say unlikely. I'm just saying that electromigration is real IC failure mechanism. Kyran brought up valid points, but of course whether or not electromigration applies to Apple II's is pure speculation without knowing anything about the geometries/materials/current densities in the IC's.

  • Steven

    I favour similarly simple software but running on a more recent machine.

    That way you get both creativity shaped by limitations AND much better energy efficiency.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_per_watt

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Steven: I tend to agree. That’d suggest mobile devices, honestly, because while desktop computers get fantastic performance per watt, they also use up a lot of that additional horsepower. (In fairness, they often do it using things that are naturally, not artificially, computationally pricey.)

  • http://andrew.hicox.com plurgid

    @seanbutnotheard

    uuh, no. By my logic it's just fine to play your 60's strat … 'specially if you've been playing it all along.

    It's hipster wankerism to for instance, go and purchase a brand new "distressed" guitar …

    I'm not mocking what I don't understand. I understand this completely. I've got no problem with chiptune music in general.

    however, what this article is about is the musical equivalent of a fixie.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Open comments are frustrating some of the time, but see, this electron discussion has wound up being more interesting to me than my original point. :)

  • Guy

    Well well well, I stand corrected I feel. Even if the above post was a troll the idea of electro-migration is still interesting news to me.

  • Kaden

    Back in the day, I used to go on stage with an Apple II+, running a Soundchaser system. Soundmen hated me: the Apple RF'd like a Mexican radio station, and the Mountain digital oscillator boards bled a continuous drone that sounded like the background soundtrack from an engine room scene on the original Star Trek.

    Did I mention that soundmen hated me?

    No sane or compassionate individual would *ever* subject the general public to such a thing in the 21st century. It's a nice exercise and all, but cripes, don't get any ideas about setting it up in a club next to your laptop.

  • jonah

    I still use an old compaq laptop to run adlib tracker. I wish I had the dedication to build a midibox fm http://www.ucapps.de/midibox_fm.html

    An argument about hipster, etc confuses me, but I have found that crappy lofi sounds pick up some incredible harmonics when they are distorted.

    PS Where can you get an apple ii for 10-20? – it's way more on ebay.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    I'm guessing thrift stores and swap meets (car boot sales in the UK – our charity shops aren't allowed to sell electrical equipment) would be a good place to get ancient computers. There's not just the Apple, remember – pretty much any 8-bit computer will do the same kind of thing. Just a Small Matter of Programming(TM).

  • http://www.ginorobair.com/inorton.htm ginorobair

    @Peter: I am definitely aware of open-source tools, as well as the DIY community that mines so-called “obsolete” platforms (hardware and software) for creative purposes. Both are taking hold to a greater degree each year (and CDM is a testament to it). And you know that my comments are, again, in reference to the planned obsolescence that the mainstream/corporate computer and MI community subject us too.

    And we’re on the same page in terms of your comment that “software developers could thoughtfully end of life discontinued products, and use copy protection that has a statute of limitations instead of planned obsolescence.”

    @Peter: “but if you love the sound of, say, a specific Reaktor patch, why not expect to use that in 2030?”

    I think the likelihood of being able to do so diminishes exponentially each year compared to a hardware synth because subsequent OS revs aren’t future proof — and they should be. If you want to use your favorite software instrument in the future, w/o paying for upgrades (if they’re available), and you have the talent, patience, and luck to source a working machine, Godspeed you, friend.

    You also say: “Gino I believe incorrectly assumes that hardware will last people forever. On the contrary, on CDM, I regularly encounter people who are selling and trading in those beautiful boutique hardware synths, because they find they don’t need all of them.” You are confusing two different issues: what you’re saying above is that people are selling the hardware instruments not because they’re obsolete, broken, or no longer supported, but because they don’t need them anymore. My point, as you touch on later, was that computers/software these days don’t last long compared to hardware instruments. Sure, many of the early desktop computers still survive and can be put to work. Sadly, none of my early Apple computers still work.

    @Jim Aikin: “If the LCD goes bad, will [Gino’s] heirs be able to buy a replacement part?” Point well taken. However, if the device has common parts (capacitors, resistors, tubes), there’s a chance to fix it. And Peter doesn’t realize that in many cases it easier and cheaper to get a vintage synth fixed right now than a computer. I just had a Micromoog refurbed less expensively than a new Arturia instrument costs.

    But the same argument that Peter makes about software works in hardware’s favor: people are hacking old hardware instruments that have been given up for dead. But you can’t do that with a softsynth that was designed for an earlier Mac OS if your computer can’t run either. Consequently, you “rented” that soft synth. Of course, this is a moot point if you’re a coder/hacker. But the majority of people making music with computers don’t have those skills, so they purchase the tools they need. And my point is that these tools should last longer. I think we’re in agreement about that.

    One last comment: @Peter “”How many users might say they’re still using “Cakewalk,” or “Cubase,” or “Performer,” or “Max,” or Notator (now simply called “Logic”)? Those are all applications conceived in the 80s.”” How many PC users are still using Logic? I do know Atari ST users who still run Cubase. That’s because Atari’s seem to have been built well, as were Amiga’s (my favorite computer to do video art back in the day). But I’d rather use the latest version of Max than go back to trying to code for an Amiga.

  • http://www.onyx-ashanti.ning.com onyxashanti

    I have to admit. about 3 years ago, my software rig finally reached a place of "stability". by that i mean that although i have kept up with updates to my primary hosts (ableton and flstudio), I have not been interested in upgrading anything else. it is all the perfect balance of sound quality, versatility and cpu usage.

    also, I havent so much as installed a single security update to my customized install of windows xp sp2,since 2004. 3 computers later, i am still running basically the same system evewn though i have increased its capability profoundly during that time by,for instance, actually LEARNING the pieces i have like Pure Data, Max/msp (4.6 not 5) and synthmaker dashboards in fl studio.

    i have also gigged constantly with the same hardware (yamaha vl70m physical modelling synth) since 1997. it is now so old and abused that i have to open it regularly and resolder points on the circuit board that have broken from simply being schleped around the world in a backpack for so long. the second i can find something of comparable quality in software, this joint goes into the same corner of the shed where my trs-80, sy-85 and magic merlin now reside.

    I actually wrote a piece on hardware vs software for the wind controller list a while back http://onyx-ashanti.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-q… and basically, i haveno doubt that as long as i can find a x86 based or emulated system, and there is no indication that the most popular platform EVER is going to beshelved or replaced anytime soon, I should be able to run my hard won music creation system, until i see that there is a valid reason to move on from it,which i dont anticipate happening. the machines will dies but, with care, the "soul" of the machines live on.

  • Damon

    I guess we presume older hardware is more reliable in the same way mechanics find old cars more reliable. As they are simpler, you need not rely on a massive network of extreme tech professionals to fix or manage or modify them.

    What was the point? I don't remember. Now fun from here.

    I would be interesting to do a scientific experiment to see how different software effects the longevity of hardware, a potentially scary proposition for developers.

    It would also be interesting to study how a persons relates to his computer effects it's longevity. User induced electromigration. "Lets go thataway…"

    The affects of heat and moisture and resonant frequencies on electronics are much less a mystery, but there are surely more subtle effects that are less obvious.

    If you take 2 people using the same exact same kind of computer the exact same way, what if anything might affect how the 2 computers hold up? I realize there are a treasure trove of Z unaccountable variables here, but surely one could produce a test that can isolate way cool yet unseen dynamics.

    Science realizes that talking to plants does in fact affect how plants grow. Science also suggests the idea that observation does have an affect on that which is observed. If you were to X ray someone's body over and over again for an extended period of time, would this have an affect on their health? Would a computer in a clear glass case in a media frenzied environment be found to be more or less reliable than a computer in a conventional opaque case? Do hot chicks who get all the visual attention age faster? The often ignored attention slash critical mass question.

    Science also recognizes the existence of people whose bodies, for reasons not known, emit very high levels of electricity, causing TV's and toasters and other appliances to bug out when they are around. With this in mind, there is no telling how much computers are affected by the electricity from just 1 lesser charged individual. Again, a a big mess of variables, but there is surely something to be isolated. You don't have to know how something works for it to be proven that something works.

    Do people who love computers affect computers differently than those who resent them? How does one's technical confidence affect the hardware? If you have a lot of very personal information on your computer that you are fearful may be exposed, government records or of pics of your self dancing naked (never mind), will this have an affect on how the computer stands up over time? Do those who expect and anticipate computer problems tend to experience more computer problems?

    This all sounds like magical thinking, but were studies to be done, I think we would be shocked by the results.

    "Ok, there is a connection. The fact that we don't know how that works does not distract from the fact that it does."

    Ps.

    Is firmware more like software or hardware and is firmware getting away with something?

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    > Science realizes that talking to plants does in fact affect how plants grow.

    As it turns out, science hasn't really turned up a great deal of evidence to support that hypothesis.

    > Science also suggests the idea that observation does have an affect on that which is observed.

    Only at quantum levels, and then only in the sense that in order to observe a quantum particle, you need to bring another quantum particle to bear on it, which will naturally cause an interaction between them. Specifically, you can know what the spin of a particle was before you interacted with it by observing the result of the interaction – but the interaction will, of course, change the spin, so you can't know what it now is without doing the same thing again. You really can't leap from Heisenberg to magick in a single bound.

  • Kyran

    I just wanted to point out that ic's and electronics do not live forever, even though it's hard to see them degrade. I brought up electromigration to point out that the mechanisms causing chips to fail can be very subtle.

    I'm all for using electronics longer than we currently do. Making a dedicated instrument out of an apple II is great. There's nothing as inspiring as a good one on one interface to an instrument.

    I'm really supprised that my comment is considered trolling. I was convinced that my comment brought something interesting to the discussion.

  • http://www.isle-of-avalon.co.uk gwenhwyfaer

    I've been thinking about it, and I was out of order with the troll claim, so I'm sorry. What I meant was that I thought we were having our collective legs pulled – and that's what I should have said. And now it looks like you weren't doing that either…

    *blushes* I apologise.

  • http://www.chiptune.org Chip

    30 Dollar for Apple II Software??

    All other Softs (more sofisticated) for all other Homecomputers are usually for free. Looks to me that it is more about the money instead of contributing to the scene. Typically 8Bit weapon.

  • John Lazzaro

    Electromigration in on-chip interconnect is very real.

    It's a secondary reason why we scale the width of

    wires on a chip to match the expected current flow

    (the primary reason is IR drop). And yes, before this

    fact was fully appreciated, commercial chips were made

    with on-chip interconnect insufficient for their current

    flows, and failed prematurely. In our modern era of exhaustive

    EDA checking, the odds of a mis-sized wire getting

    through on a production part is quite low … but, there are

    lots of other reasons while solid-state systems will eventually

    fail, though, they call the failure curve a "bathtub curve"

    for a reason.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Gino:

    Yeah, well, not much of an argument as I think we tend to agree. :)

    Those Reaktor patches may well fail to work in a period of time because of backwards compatibility. Actually, the irony is, you may have a better change of running WINE + Linux and getting backwards compatibility with Reaktor, even though it's not Linux-native. But this comes back to either using open source software, or having commercial developers end-of-life more gracefully.

    That's not say that I expect commercial developers to open source applications — that's a more complex issue. But even just making binaries available (as Propellerhead has done with ReBirth) would be good news. Opening it up, if possible, would be even better, of course.

    I actually don't disagree that it's easier to repair hardware synths than computers — that's true nearly across the board, at least with the kind of gear examples you cite. So point taken.

    This does raise some other questions, though, like whether computer components could be made more modular and easier to repair. (It's tough to do with changing architectures, memory types, etc., so that certainly has been unreasonable, but it's tough to say where that could go.)

    I suppose what is more realistic to say is that you can get greater longevity out of software if you think of the software lasting instead of just the hardware. But that really does illustrate the importance of having things like Linux as a choice, even as a supplement (and yes, even for running proprietary software).

    It's all about tradeoffs. Those people who return some of these synths to stick with software do so partly because software gives them the power to change their rig. It's that same change that leads to some of this uncertainty.

  • Patrick_K

    Thumbs up Peter, I was having a similar discussion on this topic with friends earlier in the week.

    Did a page search to make sure someone brought up the ever-popular Atari ST + Cubase/Notator combo (and someone did, thank you). . .

    As someone who used to keep his Franken-PCs alive as long as possible, just replacing drives and fans and mobos as they burnt out, I agree that the planned obsolescence that supposedly excuses the poor long-term reliability of most home computer parts is highly problematic. . . while it may make short-term business sense for the manufacturers of these commoditized parts, it's a discouraging and distasteful reality that I hope is improving.

    Not to get too off topic, but I remember working at a post-house in 1999 where one of my duties was to troll ebay for 9600 series power macs (already discontinued by then), and try to buy up as many as I could from people that "didn't know what they had". . . (though Apple historians will be quick to point out even better machines that I am completely ignorant of) the 9600 was a dream to open up and swap parts on, had proven its durability in our fleet of abused Avid Media Composer remote-location rental systems, and had more expansion slots than any powermac before or since (which made it especially appealing for use with media composer and PT hardware, and allowed that model's professional life to be extended beyond what it otherwise would have been). Years later, I learned that a well-respected, well-paid, guild-member editor friend was still (in 2005-ish) renting OS 9/Media Composer 7 systems (presumably 9600s) as "that's what (he) knew, and that's all he needed". . which brought a tear to my eye. Still a far cry from a computer your children could inherit some day, but it's something.

    Anyway, I'm under no delusion that current Macs are any different, in terms of build quality and expected longevity, than the windows laptops that are being spit out of the very same factories (Shenzhen I'm guessing?, ASUS?). . . but I don't think I'm alone in a craving for microprocessor-based products that make a conscious effort to be more '86 Toyota 1-Ton pickup meets '82 Mercedes 300TD meets '75 KitchenAid mixer and less like the computer equivalent of an Ikea bookshelf. It's a certain form of product "sexiness" that I'm trying to be more vocal about (and conscious of) when evaluating a product's overall value/merit.

    *all things you still see in reliable daily use.

  • db

    I'm still using the sequencer program I have been using for 19 years, and also Ableton Live.

    They each have their strengths.

    Old tech can still be very useful.

  • Damon

    And sometimes you just love the sound. The sound of an old Atari has a something for some people that by passes all rationale. If I could organically locate that day I got my Atari 2600 feeling in the music domain, that would speak from the depths of me. I don't really have the patience of the know how to access something like that, as I am a bit more comfortable with immediate tech support and up to the moment warranty security, but I welcome that spirit if it can find me in time.

    I guess the key here is just because that guy is doing that, does not mean what I am doing is less valid or sincere. Though I do spend every other day saying I wish I had thought of that, or I am glad that guy thought of it instead of me. :P There can't be a right and wrong in this domain. Where else can you safely be a peculiar freak than in the creative zone?

  • http://dmlandrum.noisepages.com/ Darren Landrum

    This thread reminds me a lot of why I recently bought an Emu E6400 Ultra hardware sampler rather than get the latest Kontakt or similar (which actually cost more than this "old" piece of hardware). I wanted something that was proven, would work right out of the box, and wouldn't give me any format or DRM trouble. If I can get my hands on a similarly cheap Akai S5000/6000, I probably will.

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  • eeee

    @gwenhwyfaer:

    Way off topic but, it has been scientifically proven that it is good to talk to your plants, cuz when you talk you give out Co2, which is good for plants. haha back to fiber optic chips…..

  • gwenhwyfaer

    Negligible amounts, unfortunately, eeee – not really enough to make a difference.

  • http://retrothing.com James Grahame

    Chip: So you're saying that companies shouldn't be allowed to charge for software written for old computers? That makes about as much sense as saying that musicians should give away albums recorded with classic synths.

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Bill Van Loo

    As it happens, I went through my own version of this (resurrecting old technology to get usable instruments back) and documented it on my blog, as part of my ongoing "52 things" (a "project-a-week" series).

    A few years ago, I replaced my trusty titanium PowerBook with a shiny new Intel MacBook. That brought lots of increased power, but it also meant losing some things I really liked as a result of moving from the PowerPC-based PowerBook to the Intel-based MacBook. My favorite Rhodes electric piano sound came from Logic’s EVP73 plugin, which didn’t run on Intel Macs. One of my other favorite sound sources was Reaktor Session, which I loved for its Vierring ensemble, among others.

    You can read the rest of my account here:
    http://www.chromedecay.org/2010/01/29/552-ibook-i

    What it came down to, for me, is that it was worth getting back those capabilities. I learned, along the way, that the dongle-based copy protection schemes (much as I disliked them at the time) of Logic and Max/MSP allowed me to get them up and running extremely quickly.

    @Peter – in contrast to dongle-based copy protection, the challenge/response authorization system of Native Instruments actually made it much more difficult (relatively speaking) to get Reaktor Session installed & going. NI's customer support got me set up quickly, but having to rely on that to get software working makes it more fragile in terms of dependencies.

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  • http://ww.jhhl.net/iPhone jhhl

    And along with old software and hardware music, what old ideas and enthusiasms are lost in the constant rush to upgrade?

    What historic computer pieces can no longer be played, or even emulated?

    What interactive pieces, conceived and performed in the 80s or early 90s, say, which were heard only once in public, deserve a second hearing?

    So I applaud anything that keeps the old machinery in use!

  • http://www.8bitweapon.com 8 Bit Weapon

    CHIP: I think maybe you are misinformed. The article at engadgetstates $20 for the software which includes shipping. Also this is about offering a valuable tool to the community. If you understood what the software was doing to compensate for the apple II's lack of sound capability, you might appreciate the software more. Furthermore other breakthrough software for other platforms like Game Boy/LSDJ, C64/Mssiah, and others are NOT free, and you know it. I find it interesting that you left these very popular chiptune software packages out of your statement.

  • http://mixtape.be/ booml

    I actually think that my C64 is a couple of years older than me, and it still works like a charm. I have to disagree with plurgid; there are definitely genuine artists using vintage hardware as more than a gimmick.

    One shouldn't underestimate the value of old software, either. In the age of information, writing a new piece of software for doing something that can easily be done with an old one is almost as much a waste of resources.

  • David Prouty

    I like the old Atari St Falcon's and I also like Commodore Amiga's and C64s. These old machines still do things that many modern computers do not.

    I will be looking for old macs soon to make my junk mutant symphonic army complete. Go rescue a computer from your local computer recycling center you won't be sorry.

  • Adam Addison

    Very useful info. Hope to see more posts soon

  • iVoid

    I must say, I came here looking for a way to use my Apple IIe as a synth, and I totally forgot about all that as soon as I looked at the top picture. An absolute work of art. I love it. That now has to be one of my favorite pictures of all time :)

  • LaserActiveGuy

    Even has a vectrex game! Thrust is fantastic for the Vec! I too am creating a music sync program, already have ‘KeyLogo’ version 1 which can convert midis into a single note stream, taking the best parts of the first 4 tracks and combining them, I am well on my way creating ‘KeyLogo 2′ which will actually have 2 soundtracks and a drum/speech component using the ancient ‘SAM’ voice program. Useable on a standard Apple II without hardware modifications. Sadly, my operating system (which is Box 4.0) with multitasking componets, again not requiring expansions… has fallen on the back burner due to my new fascination with Apple II music…