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Making of a Atari Musician

Tim Conrardy tells his tale

Tims studio

The Making of an Atarian Musician

Tim Conrardy tells his tale


We all have a tale to tell and a beginning road, which we have all traveled upon. We have had shared experiences as well as unique ones which we call our own. Here is my own unique tale, which I hope you can identify with in your own musical journey.

The Seed

My parents planted the seed by encouraging me to play musical instruments. I first tried violin, then trumpet. Then my brother brought home a guitar. When he was not using it, I would sneak in and try to play it. I eventually got my own guitar and thus started my musical journey.

The Early Days

In McLean Virginia where I went to high school (late 70's), I became aware of electronic music through the progressive rock of the times with groups such as Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Genisis, and others. I was also influenced by a radio show called "The Keyboard Filter" which played the more avant-garde material such as Karlhienz Stockhousin, Edgar Verese, Todd Dochtoder and other forms of music concrete and experimental music. During this period I purchased an EML 500 synthesizer, which was my introduction to synthesis. I was also experimenting with creating different sounds with my guitar by pluging it into the EML 500 and using the filters and envelopes to modify the sound.

Moving to Saratoga, California, I became involved with the DeAnza college electronic music department then taught by professor Allen Strange (now at San Jose State University) I quickly became the electronic music tudor where I instructed students (including my wife to be) with the intricticities of the Roland 100 system and ARP Odyssey synthesizer as well as classic tape techniques. During this time I also purchased an EML 200 system with matrix keyboard controller. This was a modular system, which I still have, minus the matrix keyboard.

I married and had a child. Then the DX7 came on the market. I had to have one. Borrowing some money from my supervisor at work, I brought it home on a bus! FM synthesis came naturally to me, and I could not figure out why people were having such a hard time with it. I programmed my own sounds straight from the front panel. I was also involved with creating DX7 sounds for a ROM cartridge called 'Sound Connections'. It had good reviews in Keyboard Magazine at the time. Then I purchased a Yamaha CX5M computer. This system had built in midi ports (sounds familiar?) and had an excellent DX7 editor and step time sequencer as well as built in synthesis (which basically was an FB01) Then I added a Yamaha QX7 sequencer and Roland TR505 drum machine. I learned a lot about sounds and MIDI during this period.

Then a fire struck down our mobile home where I was living, but my DX7 was saved (See my DX7 page for the story : http://sites.netscape.net/timconrardy/dx7.htm) However what seemed like a disaster actually ended up better as we were able to purchase a house. Then I got involved with IN Music (Investments in Nature) and we produced four CD's with a rain forest theme. I worked with a percussionist named Tajalli as well as an Ensoniq TS-12 synth workstation and Alesies ADAT machines. I was the engineer for the studio and we worked on other projects as well.

My First Atari Computer

From there, I felt the need to get a music computer as the CX5M was gone from the fire. One time I was at a thrift store and noticed they had an Atari 1040ST for sale. Not really knowing about Atari, I called some of the local music stores asking if there was software available. I did get one response, not for software, but an offer to get a complete Atari TT030 system with the TTM195 19" monitor as well as the SLM605 laser printer (with Cubase installed) all for $200.00 USD! After viewing the system, I decided to go ahead and get it. What a ride it has been since then!

I quickly found out about B&C Computer Visions (http://www.myatari.com), which at that time were local to me. I was a real green Atari user and Bruce of B&C helped me out more then once. One time I purchased Steinberg's TWELVE sequencer program, and not knowing what I was doing, put the 12.prg in the auto folder on my hard drive. Then I could not get back to my desktop. Panicking, I called Bruce. I was able to get the HDX.PRG PD disc and boot up from that and remove the culprit. Another time I found a nice little program on my TT that I thought was a game. After clicking into the various boxes, I exited and had the error message: "C drive does not exist". I later found out from Bruce I was playing with a sector editor! I had to reformat my drive. Fortunately, I had done a lot of backups on disc previously, which should be a lesson: always back up! Bruce also set me up with Hybrid Arts Edit Track, which was my staple for a while, as I could not get the Cubase application to work yet on my TT. Then I called Stienberg support and actually got some help that was enough to get Cubase working on my TT. Cubase was splendid on the 19" 1280x960 res monitor. It also had a module that interested me greatly: the IPS. (Interactive Phrase Synthesizer) This got me started in algorithmic experimentation.

Then I remembered some programs that Bruce had at B&C. They were Music Mouse (Laurie Spiegel) and M (Intelligent Music) I also remembered reading about these programs in past issues of Keyboard Magazine. I dug out the magazines, re-read the articles and then decided to get the programs, which were at a good price at B&C. Bruce was telling me:" You don't want these.They are old programs" But I insisted. Glad I did, as these programs would be helping me a lot in what was to come. Bruce was a big fan of Master Tracks Pro. Even though he could not play keyboards, he enjoyed playing MIDI files and tweaking them in Master Tracks Pro set up on a TT030 and played back on a Roland Sound Canvas. Sometimes I would bring in a disc of MIDI files done on Edit Track or Cubase, and he would play them back on that system. I was amazed at how good they sounded on that Sound Canvas. Before he left to El Dorado, Bruce gave me a demo of Master Tracks Pro with one of my midi files right on the disc! What a treat. I still have that disc. There was another occasion, after Bruce and Cathy had moved to El Dorado, that I wanted Tunesmith (by Jim Johnson). My wife, knowing I wanted the program ordered it from B&C. Then Bruce brought the program to his house in Santa Clara where he was getting it ready to sell. My wife then went and picked it up, and presented it to me for my Birthday. What a nice surprise!

One time I was reading the letters section in Keyboard Magazine. There was a letter that caught my attention by saying that "Keyboard Magazine did not support Atari users anymore" and that he was unsubscribing. I looked at the location of the person with the rebuke, and he happened to be local to me. So I called information, got his number and made the call. " Do you use Atari computers?" I asked. "Why Yes, I do" was the answer. We got to talking about MIDI and Atari. He came over several times and set me up with more midi programs as well as the Internet using NewSie and Cab. Much later, I was the inheritance of all his Atari stuff as he made the move to Mac. This inheritance included a 4 Meg 1040STE; with hard drive (from Toad) a 1 meg 520ST (which I use as a backup) many monitors, tons of software, which included a dongled Notator program with complete docs!

The Birth of Tims Atari MIDI World

At this time, my provider allowed 1 Meg of space for a web site. Using Penguin, (an HTML Wizard) I created my first efforts at a page using some simple graphics and text. I called it "Tims Atari MIDI World." The idea was to present Atari programs with screen shots and tutorials. I learned how to create pages within pages using Penguin. I learned about creating screen shots using an ACC to take the snapshot from within the program where it outputs it to a Degas File. Then using TOUCHUP, I converted it to Gif. My first pages were Cubase and M. I had a demo version of M that was downloadable on the page. Then an Internet friend sent me a "libed" copy of M, meaning it did not have copy protection. I found out about www.cycling74.com where David Z was continuing to upgrade the Mac version of M. I wrote him and asked for permission to have the libed version as a download, releasing it as freeware. He agreed. But I was still disturbed that it was a libed version. I noticed that the port to the Atari platform was accomplished by Eric Ameres. At the time, I was also in communication with Laurie Spiegel about Music Mouse, so I wrote her regarding the whereabouts of Eric Ameres to see if there was an unprotected 'real' copy of M. She forwarded my requests to Eric, and although Eric did not have a 'real' copy for me, he gave his consent for the 'libed' version and also gave permission to release his own program called 'RealTime', a fantastic MIDI sequencer with many algorithmic possibilities. Thus, out of a chance communication and networking, I was able to get two programs released. Thus started my 'quest' to write to programmers and companies to finally release their former Atari-MIDI applications.


I have come a long way since then, finaly moving to a free web space with some more room and making more contacts. A lot of these were just by chance, such as the time I finally contacted Tom Bojoras (former Hybrid Arts programmer) I put his name in a search engine and came up with an article, which showed his email address, but as Bob Bojoras. Taking a chance, I emailed him, and low and behold, it was the Tom Bajoras I was looking for. He released a whole slew of former Hybrid Arts programs that he was the programmer for and also connected me with Stefan Daystrom in which I was able to get the famous Edit Track released.

Another interesting contact was Emile Tobenfeld A.K.A Dr T, in which he has been very patient with me for my endless pestering! He has been more then kind and has released many of his programs for inclusion on my site which includes the famous KCS Omega (ver 4), Tiger Cub and his very interesting Midi Ax algorithmic system. Other Dr T products from other programmers are now available such as Jim Johnson's Tunesmith , Cris Sions Copyist as well as all of Bob Melvin's Caged Artist series of synth editors and most recently Jeffery Reid Bakers DR T Keys! a step time tool.

During my web wonderings, I would go to programmers pages, find out who programmed Atari-MIDI programs in the past and then email them regarding availability. Many of these were also composers. I was very successful in this regard with applications such as Eduardo Miranda's CAMUS application, Christian Banasiks AFSTS algorithmic system, Harry Koopmans MIDI Joy as well as Petra Wolf and Joker's 'Klang Piraten ' software. These contacts however took a lot of time and patience on my part, as sometimes I had to wait weeks and months to finally obtain permission, the actual program as well as the documentation. But it has been rewarding. However a lot of these programs would not be on the site if it were not for the Atari-MIDI Mailing List.

The Atari-MIDI Mailing List

I answered a post on the Atari newsgroup (alt.comp.atari-st ) about a concern that there was not a dedicated newsgroup for Atari musicians. I indicated there are mailing lists that can be under any subject you want. However the consensus was that there was not one for Atari-MIDI. At that time I belonged to the Mirage-Net at One-list.com (A mailing list dedicated to the Ensoniq Mirage) I visited the main page at One- list, read the instructions for creating your own group, and before I knew it, I had created the Atari-MIDI mailing list! Since then, One-list migrated to Egroups and now it is Yahoo groups. The list turned out to be a valuable resource for all who joined. It became (and still is) a passion and a responsibility for me, which I enjoy immensely. There is a teamwork and mutual helping attitude prevalent in the group. There are questions that I do not know the answer to, but somebody else does. This is a relief to me, because as a consequence of putting up my site, I get a ton of emails from people who think I am the Atari expert. I answer the best I can, and what I can't answer, I take to the Atari-MIDI group. Members have also been responsible for a large number of the programs released on TAMW such as the Caged Artist Editors, Tunesmith, including a rare version that was specially coded for 030 machines as well as many of the other Dr T and Hybrid Arts programs. I am forever indebted to this great group of people from all around the globe that share a common bond: Atari and MIDI. Currently we are 300+ members strong!

The Studio

During the years, my studio has grown and comprises mostly of what can be called 'budget synths'. It started with a Yamaha PSR510 controlling a DX7 mark I, and a Suzuki SX500 expander module, along with my EML 200 analog synth. Since then, I have expanded to more FM goodies, which have come down in price considerably. These include a Yamaha TQ5 (same as a Tx81z, but with sequencer and effects) FB01, TX7. TXP1 piano module, a Roland MT32 (which I have found has enormous analog sound potential) and a Kawai K1m. One time, a received an email from someone who had read my story on the burned DX7. He offered me a DX7s (which is a mono version Mark II) in mint condition as well as a TX81Z for a really excellent price. I wanted these instruments together as you can tune them microtonally using the Caged Artist Editors. I also have a Ensoniq Mirage, which I find most excellent for sampling despite its 8-bit architecture. Add to this a RX11 drum machine, a boss digital reverb and Korg 12 channel mixer, various noise makers, percussion instruments and guitars, all being fed into a Tascam Porta 01 Four track cassette.

For computers, I have three workstations. A pair of Atari Computers: Mega 2 and 1040STE with a pair of mono/color monitors each (with the monitor switchers) and a Falcon/TT030 both with 19" monitors. I combine all of these with MIDI. I like to run several applications at the same time for a great variety of possibilities. I see each system as a 'module' that has a specific purpose. For example, I can run Music Mouse on my Mega2, which I use as a controller to create scale structures in Tunesmith running on the STE. Then Tunesmith is run through the Hotz Translator software on the Falcon and I can record the whole thing in Cubase running on the TT where everything ends and goes out to all the MIDI instruments.

I also use a PC running Sound Font technology as well as soft synths and an excellent program called Key Kit which first started on Atari and grew to a full blown algorithmic application (www.nosuch.com) I also use the PC to record my mix downs from the Tascam four track and burn to a CD or create MP3's. As of late, I have been experimenting with Steem, the Atari Emulator for PC, and find it works well with most MIDI programs.

The Magnetic Atari

It seems like Atari machines are magnetically attracted to me. There have been many instances where I have been given Atari systems. For example (previously mentioned) when my friend decided to go Mac and I inherited all his Atari stuff: 1040STe with Notator/Docs, plus a Toad HD, boxes of Software, plus a 1 Meg 520ST (for backup purposes) and 4 monitors (for free)

One time I answered a post from the Atari newsgrps and picked up 2 Atari systems (a mega 2 and an STf) with laser printer and boxes of S/W.4 monitors (for Free)

My original Atari system (TT030) I picked up for $200.00 which included a laser printer and the 19" 1280x960 res monitor .It came with Cubase as well (dongled)

Another time, a friend from work sold me his Mega STE for 20.00!

Another instance, I helped my friend by tracking down a Falcon (for $80.00) where he had Best Electronics install a 360 M Hard Drive and 16 megs of Ram. I loaded up the hard drive with Atari-MIDI stuff, gave it back and he was happy. However a year later, he said he did not have time for it anymore and gave me the system (for free) so now I have a Falcon. What a friend!

Another time, another person gave me his 1 Meg 520ST with monitor and a box of more software.

One time I found an Atari XL 8 bit computer lying in the street! I am using it as a decoration.

Of course I did not keep all these systems, but gave some away to local friends/musicians so they could get started on Atari. One friend is very happy when I set him up with SMPTE track so he could sync it to his 8 track analog tape system. He also uses Robobop to program the drum parts.

I am still waiting for a friend to pick up his Mega ST2 system. He better hurry. I am beginning to like it!

The Future

Now thanks to all the programmers and companies who have released their former Atari-MIDI software, we can now enjoy a multitude of excellent and unique applications with more to come. I am glad to be part of this union of technologies, which enable us as musicians to freely explore new realms of possibilities, which we have only begun to fathom.

Tim Conrardy