Blue Whale PSSED synth editor for the Yamaha PSS series
By the beginning of 1988, Yamaha had taken the synth world by storm with the Yamaha DX7 and had launched a number of smaller synthesizers to allow those without £2000 or so to spare to join in with the Frequency Modulation revolution that had been created. A few home keyboards had also been made which used this new wonderful digital wizardry, but it was so cut down that it sounded awful, and there was no memory to store sounds as any editing functions were done with sliders.
But in September of that year, Yamaha upped the home Yamaha PSS680keyboard game with some editable Frequency Modulation keyboards with both MIDI and memory storage, these keyboards were the Yamaha PSS 480 and PSS 680 music workstations. Both had mini keys and both had the same number of memory locations (5 in total), the same 100 pre-set voices and the same editing options on the front panel, but the PSS 680 had 32 sampled drum sounds instead of 12(4 sounds per drum pad), 3 fill effects for the drums, programmable rhythm bank, 5 track sequencer, pitch bend wheel and a 5 octave keyboard for the extra £80 over the PSS 480 asking price. Having said that though, the rest of the features were identical, with the same synth editing options, the same MIDI specifications and the same number of voices, 12 notes playable at the same time, more than most professional top of the range synthesizers at the time.
Trouble was, although these keyboards gave you editing options on the front panel, there was always the feeling you should be able to do more. There was the basics and nothing else, which could leave you feeling cheated if you bought one of these expecting a fully fledged synthesizer. However those who ventured to the end of the manual found the list of system exclusive commands that the keyboards would respond to, and if you knew how to do it, you could write a software editor to unlock the keyboards potential as a synthesizer.
Thankfully though, someone else did the hard work so you don't have to.
Blue Whale Software's PSSED was released on the Atari ST and became well known for a time after being distributed on the Atari ST User cover disk in 1989. It allowed you to access all the synthesis options on the PSS series, archive your voice masterpieces and back up the sound memory in your synth via the wonders of the MIDI System Exclusive protocol. One thing to note though, once you launch the program, you are in the software's interface, there is no GEM and some things can be a little quirky at first.
The main screen
The program only runs in ST Low resolution, so if you only have a mono monitor, its going to be either connection to a TV or taking your chances with a colour emulator. Once loaded your presented with the main screen shown above, which is divided into sections. The 2 top sections are for the operators (Yamaha's term for an oscillator), here you can change the waveforms, frequency, tuning and keyboard scaling.
If you click up by where it says either Modulator Wave or Carrier Envelope EditorWave, the contents of the section change to show the sound envelope options. The front panel only allows you to edit the Attack and Release portions of the sound envelope, but here you can edit all the parameters, giving you full control over how the sound evolves over time.
You also get the option to turn on Amplitude Modulation (AM enable) by clicking on the LED graphic. With this program you can enable or disable this for each operator, whereas this option is not available from the front panel.
The bottom left section allows you to control how the sound responds when the keys are pressed, delaying the start of one oscillator, setting the modulation levels, all of which are on the front panel, but placed here for complete editing of the sound. Next to this is the memory bank selection, where you select one of the 5 memory locations on the synthesizer to edit.
There are 3 areas all grouped together on the right, just below the Carrier Wave editing section, these are for MIDI system Exclusive data receiving and sending, accessing the library and loading and saving voice data to disk. To receive system exclusive data from your PSS synth, make sure the MIDI cables are properly connected and click on the Receive button, then press the MIDI Dump button on your PSS synth, That's pretty much it.
To send your creations from the software to your synth, again make sure the cables are in correctly, click send and again that;s pretty much it. The Load and Save buttons bring up the PSSED file selector, which to be honest is one of the best file selectors I have ever seen on an Atari, in this section you can load or save a set of 5 voices stored in the 5 memory banks of your current editing session. I'll go into the file selector a little more in a moment, but first we will look at the Library...
Here you can give your creations a name and save them among your ever increasing library of sounds. You can also make custom banks of sounds and send them straight to your PSS keyboard. The names you give the sounds will not be remembered by your synth, however if a sound you already have in your library is transmitted back into the software from your synth, the library will recognise it and give it the correct name. Not bad for a humble Atari running a free editor and librarian system in 1989!
Clicking exit to main will take you back to the main page, clicking Load library or Save library will being up the file selector...
While it could have some extra features, it is one of the cleanest and best thought out file selectors on the Atari platform (In my opinion). At the time this was released there was no easy way to select a new drive with the mouse in GEM. Click on the drive, go into a folder and give your file a name then click OK.
That pretty much covers the program, though the manual is included in the ZIP file which will explain a few of the program's oddities better than I can here. However I will mention one thing, in all pages there is a bar running along the bottom of the screen, trying a few things like double clicking where you think your shouldn't, or right clicking randomly may make some interesting messages scroll along the bottom (Nothing rude or offensive though).
All in all, this program expands on what the PSS series offers on the front panel and turns a regular home keyboard into a semi-professional synthesizer. In effect, your home keyboard gets a free upgrade and you gain a great little synthesizer.
Who can argue with that?
You can download the PSSED zip file here.
This software works with the Yamaha PSS 480, PSS 680, PSS 580 and PSS 780 home keyboards.
Note: It has been tested using NoSTalgia on OS X with TOS versions 1.02, 1.62 and 2.06, issues were seen using TOS 1.62 though this could have been due to the emulator. It has been confirmed working on actual ST hardware circa 1989, though it has not yet been tested on a TT030 or Falcon.
All information is slowing being ported from AMN over to this section for preservation.
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