The ISA-Bus

One blog to bind them all.

Tag Archives: MIDI

Two Cards on One Port

Common wisdom has it that you can’t have two devices set to the same port. This may not be true in all cases. At the moment, I have a 286 with a Roland SCC-1 and a Sound Blaster 2.0 (CT1350B). The SCC-1 is set to the default value of 330h, and the MIDI port of the Sound Blaster cannot be configured anyway.

Yet they both work. I can play General MIDI files with the SCC-1, play games with an external module hooked up to the SCC-1, and play MT-32 MIDI files with an external module hooked up to the Sound Blaster’s MIDI port (which both GSPlay and MegaMID support).

The only program that can get confused by this setting is Roland’s CSSCHK utility. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes it reports, not incorrectly, that the port is taken up by another device, and won’t let me set the SCC-1 into MT-32 emulation mode. That’s not really a problem since there are other ways to do this.

Some Notes on the Roland MT-32

Roland had not, originally, intended the MT-32 to be used with a computer. They had a very specific setup in mind, that is explained in detail in the manual: A PR-100 sequencer and a Roland Piano.

The suggested setup in the MT-32 manual

A PR-100 and an MT-32 were later released as a single device, the MT-100. The Roland Piano was the main instrument, the one connected to the amplifier or headphone. The MT-32, therefore, had no need for a headphone jack. Its audio output was plugged into the piano. So far, I have not been able to track down this “Roland Piano”. The professional Roland synths are documented very well on the web, the low-end home products less so.

Then, in 1988, Roland released something they called the Musi-kun, a set to create and listen to music on a PC. It seems to have been available for NEC PC-98 only. Unfortunately, only tiny images can be found:

Musi-kun-1 Musi-kun-2

I suppose that it was on this occasion that the second generation of MT-32 was launched. One of the changes was the addition of a headphone jack. Now that the MT-32 was the main instrument, it needed one.

A Short Timeline of MIDI and PC Games

1983: MIDI is standardized after two years of discussion.

1984: Roland launches the MIDI processing unit MPU-401, designed to connect MIDI devices with a computer. The MPU-401 is a box with its own power supply that is connected to the computer via a card or cartridge. Interface kits for eight computer systems are available: NEC PC-88, NEC PC-98, Fujitsu FM7, Sharp X1, MSX, Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC.

1987: Roland launches the LA (Linear Arithmetic) family of synthesizers. At the bottom end is the MT-32, designed for hobby musicians and garage bands.

1988: With the fourth game in the King’s Quest series, The Perils of Rosella, Sierra introduces a new game engine, Sierra’s Creative Interpreter (SCI). The new engine supports EGA graphics and three music devices: The AdLib Music Card, Creative Labs’ Game Blaster, and the Roland MT-32. They also sell these three devices. If you buy an MT-32, you get two games for free.

1989: Roland launches the “Computer Music” series of synthesizers. They are designed for use with a computer only and have no LED display and no controls but a volume knob. Of these, the CM-32L is an improved version of the MT-32. It has less noise and some extra sound effects for games. For NEC PC-98, Apple II and IBM PC it is also available together with the MPU on a single card, the LAPC (LAPC-N, LAPC-A, LAPC-I respectively).

1991: The General MIDI (GM) standard is published. Still in the same year, Roland adds the GS extension (expanded variously as General Standard or General Sound) and presents a device that supports both, the SC-55 Sound Canvas. Unlike the MT-32, the Sound Canvas is a wavetable device and not programmable. Other companies soon produce GM devices as well, often as daughterboards for the Soundblaster cards that are getting more and more popular.

1992: Dune II is one of the first, or maybe even the first, game to support the new Sound Canvas.