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Tim's Atari MIDI World
The Hots for the HOTZ

Tim Conrardy reviews a unique software and MIDI controller made by Atari itself!


In the late 1980s a certain Jimmy Hotz (pronounced, "hots") was making the rounds in the music industry by introducing musicians to the wonders of MIDI, and in particular Atari computers. Fleetwood Mac, members of Yes and Tangerine Dream as well as BB King and the Pointer Sisters were just a few of his clients. However, he had an idea in his head that evolved into what is now called Translator Technology. From this initial idea came software and also a special hardware controller called the Hotz Box which ran in tandem with the software. Tom Bajoras (then a Hybrid Arts programmer) did the actual coding, while the concept, scale creations and programming was done by Jimmy Hotz.

Eventually, the Hotz Corporation was formed and is presently called Accordance Music Systems, in which the Translator Technology is continuing to evolve (see the links section).

Screen shot HOTZ

Translator Concept
The concept is you can layer the keyboard into zones. One zone controls chords that you can assign to any key in the "lower" part of the keyboard. So all you have to do is use one finger to trigger the chord. Normally on the Hotz Box, this would be a pad you trigger.

The "upper" zone is for scales, of which you have 128 to choose from. Whatever chords you trigger in the lower keyboard, you will be in perfect tune to it when playing the upper part. So you could literally play like a virtuoso. You could play a pattern in the upper part, switch chords on the lower and the pattern is transposed to the same key as the chord. You could call it an "expert system" as Laurie Spiegel would say. You can basically play in any key just by changing your chord. It takes a bit of re-thinking on what you are playing. However, the results can be very rewarding.

Screen shot of HOTZ

I also use the Translator to process the "left hand" applications. For example, running Music Mouse, M or Tunesmith through it for some interesting results. With Music Mouse, it gives me 128 more scales to play the mouse with instead of the 8 or so scales within Music Mouse itself.

The Hotz Box

Photo of Hotz Box

As mentioned Atari manufactured a special MIDI controller which worked in tandem with the Hotz MIDI translator software. You can see the keys are flat membrane pads in the photo above. One has a "regular" piano keyboard layout with other pads going horizontally and vertically. The side set of pads are usually used to trigger chords which in turn the other horizontal layouts are used to generate scales in tune with the chords. These areas are called "zones" which can be represented on a piano-style MIDI controller as well.

Given the nature of the controller with no moving parts you can perform lightning fast movements that would be near-impossible on a regular keyboard. The unit is extremely fast, with 10 parallel processors collecting and merging the data that you are playing on the keyboard. Having been given the opportunity to try it out myself, I have found the Hotz Box very satisfying to my playing style. You do not need to hammer the keys but can press very lightly as it is still very touch sensitive. I also find it easy to play percussively, as they feel like drum machine pads as well, and can also be used to play percussion voices very effectively. It is also easy to accomplish strumming techniques. When used with an acoustic guitar or dulcimer sound, the strumming effect can be very realistic. Using a sustain pedal together with the strumming technique can create beautiful effects that have to be heard to be appreciated.

Photo of Tim in his studio


Example files

Below are some examples in MIDI file format of what can be done with the Translator Technology. These are pieces from my latest work based on the JRR Tolkien series, "Lord of the Rings" (Yes... I am a big fan!)

Basically, I am exploring scale structures. They are in General MIDI format, but the audio version will be different (of course). All the music was created with the Hotz Box as the main controller. Enjoy.

    The fellowship enter the mines of Moria going further into its depths and ending with the fall of Gandalf. A study in Eastern scales and patterns.
    The fellowship enter the elven wood land of Lorien. A study in Oriental scales and patterns.
    Galandrail: The spirit of the eleven queen and her ring and well.
    The journey through the lands of the barrow downs and the escape.


Useful links


New at Tim's Atari MIDI World

Several new programs have been released

  1. Fractal Music Composer by Hugh McDowell is now freeware. A new version has replaced the demo version that was on the site. It works well in Steem, the Atari Emulator for PC.
  2. Fractal Music ST by Chris Sansom is now freeware. Also, this month at the Atari-MIDI forum, Chris is aboard to answer questions on his program as it is the AOTM (Application Of The Month). Feel free to join us at the forum! FMST is Steem-compatible.
  3. Simon ST: There is now a page dedicated to Johanna Bindgen's programs which includes Simon ST and her new program MIDIPlay ST. Also, if you go to her site, she has a new program available called Guitar ST along with a complete tutorial.
  4. Steem Page created. I now have a dedicated page for Steem (the Atari emulator for PC) with installation instructions.  
  5. A.E.X: The Tangerine Dream Machine By Dr Ambient. The Dr is a member of the Atari-MIDI forum at Egroups. He has released his excellent program. Worth checking out.
  6. Ludwig complete docs are available on the Hybrid Arts page. Thanks to Tom Bajoras (the author) who dug them out and sent me the disks by snail mail, and now they are available.
  7. New version of MIDI Square available. Last year, David Snow released his Atari MIDI programs to the Atari community. A certain Edgar Aichinger took the BASIC code and produced a version in C that can be used as a desk accessory as well as improved dialogs and windows. It is now on the Atari-MIDI archives. MIDI Square is an alternate mouse controller that turns the Atari computer into a versatile music instrument.

MyAtari magazine - Feature #5, November 2001

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Copyright 2001 MyAtari magazine