MSX-MUSIC
This page was last modified 17:27, 2 November 2016 by Mars2000you. Based on work by NYYRIKKI and JohnHassink and others.

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MSX-MUSIC

MSX-MUSIC is a standard for FM-based sound-generation on MSX. It came later (1987) than the MSX-AUDIO standard (1985), as a Panasonic proprietary extension, the FM-PAC. It is using a more limited version of the MSX-AUDIO BIOS, patched to use the much cheaper and incompatible Yamaha YM2413. This means it blocks ADPCM commands explicitly and that only 1 user-instrument can be used at a time. The size is also smaller: only 16kB.

It's not known why Panasonic chose the YM2413 to build an incompatible cheaper sound cartridge for the MSX when they could have chosen the YM3526, which was 100% FM compatible with the Y8950 MSX-AUDIO sound chip, lacking only the ADPCM registers. ASCII further weakened the MSX-Audio standard when they chose the MSX-MUSIC as the standard for the MSX Turbo R spec, after already having it featured in some MSX2+ machines.

Being incompatible with the MSX-AUDIO, the MSX-MUSIC was not designed to be used for direct OPLL access, but many games did it.

Next to the Panasonic FM-PAC (FM Pana Amusement Cartridge), also other versions, based upon the FM-PAC, were produced. Soundwise, they are practically the same as the FM-PAC. Although some of them had extra features, like a separate audio output, or "stereo" output (one channel the FM drums, the other channel the other FM sound). The rest of this section mainly discusses the FM-PAC, the original MSX-MUSIC.

The Yamaha YM2413 is a low-cost OPL2, thus named OPLL, for "OPL Light". This means its core is a stripped-down version of the YM3812 (OPL2), while the Y8950 core has a YM3526 core (OPL1) internally. The only advantage is that the YM2413 has two types of sound waves, while the Y8950 has only one. This doesn't seem to be much, but is enough to get a good advantage on the synthesis, resulting in more complex and nice instruments.

The OPLL was also used in Sega Mark III and the Japanese Sega Master System, as well as in arcade machines by SNK and Alpha Denshi, and in a range of Yamaha keyboards. It provides 9 channels of FM sound without drums or 6 channels FM sound with 5 FM drum channels (same as MSX-AUDIO).

The aforementioned supplied MSX-MUSIC Basic (BIOS) gives the user opportunity to make his own music. There are approximately 64 preset voices to choose between and more can be made. As already mentioned: only one user instrument can be used at the same time.

MSX products with OPLL

OPLL without BIOS

Before the release of the FM-PAC cartridge that introduced the new BASIC commands for MSX-MUSIC, the OPLL sound chip (YM2413) was already present on some MSX products:

  • the MSX2 NTT Captain Multi-Station computer
  • the Yamaha SCA-01 device that combines the YM2413 chip with a graphic adapter and a RS-232C interface

In both cases, the OPLL chip produces the Captain tones, used on this Japanese Videotex/BBS.

MSX-MUSIC cartridges

Different models of MSX-MUSIC cartridges were produced. Only the Panasoft FM-PAC is an official release, the other products are clones with minor modifications and without the PAC saving system. Most of these clones don't have a built-in firmware.

  • CIEL/ACVS FM
  • Digital Design FMX
  • MK FM-PAK
  • MSX Legend FM-PAQ (made in France)
  • Tecnobytes FM Sound Stereo (made in Brazil)
    • two RCA connectors for output on the cartridge
    • switch to enable PSG mixing with FM drums
    • one channel contains the FM drums (and PSG), the other the FM melody channels
  • Zemina Music Box (a.k.a. FM-Ship)
    • Quite noisy

MSX computers with built-in MSX-MUSIC

The MSX machines with built-in MSX-Music are:

All those machines include the 16kB of FM-Basic which allows user to write music and add into their own BASIC programs. The PAC saving system is not included, contrary to the FM-PAC cartridge. Besides, the PAC SRAM does not be confused with the specific SRAM used by the firmware of the Panasonic computers.

MSX-MUSIC editors

Popular music programs

In Japan

In Japan the most known are Synth Saurus V2.0 and V3.0 by BIT². It's a very nice piece of software which allows to arrange your own songs. Everything is mouse controlled. The graphic are in screen 7 (16 colours) (V2.0) and V3.0 is in screen 6 (4 colours). The music can be saved on disk as a ready to run BASIC program. So mainly it generates a BASIC listing, which is hard to create without such editor.

MuSICA is another Japanese piece of software for writing music. It supports FM-PAC, SCC(+) and PSG. It's not so easy to write music for it, but it gives the possibility to compile the music and replay later by using an machine code replayer.

There are several other japanese music composing utilities, but these two are the most common ones.

In Europe

In Europe the first music-program which make a "break-through" on MSX-scene was SoundTracker 1.0 (later version 2.0 and Pro were released) made by Federation Against Commodore. This piece of software supported FM-PAC (6 channels FM-sound + 5 FM drum channels) and the Philips Music Module (an MSX soundcard which conforms to the MSX-Audio standard and an ADPCM unit for replaying samples (e.g. drums)). Actually, SoundTracker was originally written for the Philips Music Module. It became very fast a standard tool used by demo-makers, game-programmers and musicans. Music disks were produced as never before.

In 1992 a new program appears which was called Moonblaster and was produced by MoonSoft. Moonblaster gave until now unheard possibilities, so it swiftly became a huge success. Everyone threw away their SoundTracker and grabbed the MoonBlaster v1.4. With Moonblaster it is possible to make a kind of stereo-like music: one pan MSX-Audio and the other pan MSX-Music.

Some MoonBlaster features:

  • Can replay sound in stereo: MSX-Music and MSX-Audio at the same time
  • Pattern/Position system (less work with songs)
  • Good editor. Menu controlled
  • Supports MSX-Music 6 FM channels + FM drums / MSX-Music 9 channels + PSG drums
  • Supports MSX-Audio 9 FM channels + ADPCM samples/drums
  • MSX turboR compatible
  • Voice editor
  • ADPCM sampler
  • Music is crunched when saved
  • Fast replay routine (much faster than FST)
  • Special effects (modulation, detune, pitchbend, linking, sustain and brightness control)

Lots of music for music disks/games/demos were made in this editor and it is still used by MSX-freaks world-wide.

More recent developments

A new piece of software from Fuzzy Logic has been released in 1997 and was sold by Sunrise for MSX. It is called Oracle. This program is technically much better than Moonblaster, since it really is able to squeeze everything out of the MSX-Music and MSX-Audio chips. The only problem is that it is so complex that the replayer is not very fast, which makes it difficult to use the music created in Oracle in other software. Also, there has never been released a stand-alone replayer, so that the composed tunes can be used in other software.

Where to buy

Get it second-hand: just place an add on the MRC forum or search eBay, etcetera. Also, the FM Sound Stereo is still being sold by Tecnobytes.

Are there other music composing programs for MSX-Music? TriloTracker for FM is still being worked on, but will surely be released.

Other composing software

Here are some of the music editors which didn't make a career.

  • PCM Tracker V1.10 by Henrik Gilvad 1993
    • 6 channels FM sound + FM drums or 9 channels FM sound + PSG drums on MSX2
    • 9 channels FM sound + PCM 16kHz drums on MSX turboR
    • 9 Channels of MIDI + Drums. SMF file replayer for MSX-Audio/turboR/Joystick-MIDI
    • PCM sampler with graphic view
    • Pattern/position editor
    • Special effects
    • Many voice banks
    • Block/Copy/Paste/Mark functions
    • HD-installable
    • DOS2 compatible
  • Koustracker by Soksoft (pretty good, but complicated)
  • Studio FM by MSX-Engine (also pretty good!)
  • Pro Tracker by Tyfoon Soft
  • Super Music Editor 3.0 by Xelasoft. Some features:
    • Music chips supported:
      • MSX-Audio, in both 6 music + 5 drum channel mode and 9 music channel mode
      • 1× MSX Music, in both 6 music + 5 drum channel mode and 9 music channel mode
      • SCC
      • PSG
    • Editors available:
      • Sound editor for MSX Music and Audio, supporting both FM and AM mixing mode on MSX Audio
      • Sound editor for PSG and SCC, to edit the SCC wave pattern and to have software emulation of attack/decay/sustain envelopes. Just like you have have in hardware on the MSX Audio/Music
      • Graphical sample editor, which decodes ADPCM samples to be able to do normal edit operations like mixing samples, increasing/decreasing volume, etc.
      • Sample editor supports numerous sample record/playback devices, like SIMPL, MSX turbo R PCM and of course the MSX Audio itself
      • Music editor based on an enhanced Macro Music Language. This is the weak point as most people do not like MML (this is like the PLAY command in BASIC: e.g. PLAY "o2 c4d4e4c4 c4d4e4c4" (the first line of "brother John" in 1/4th notes))
      • Step time editor to have a pattern like view on the MML code. Still not as easy to use as a real pattern editor
    • Other remarks:
      • Samples can be played as notes
      • Special effects like pitchbend and detune available
      • DOS2 compatible and harddisk installable
      • Music can be used in own demos and games
      • Separate program available to convert soundtracker music to SME format
      • Music replayer has proper support for R800 mode (does not need to switch back to Z80!)
      • Other weak point: you can not load the music, sound and sample data at once. They are saved in separate files (makes re-using sound and sample banks easier) but there is no 'project' file concept

Software using MSX-MUSIC

  • Almost all MSX2/2+/Turbo R games produced after 1987
  • Almost all demos/disk magazines/music disks e.g. made after 1990

Programming

Emulation

At first, only the newest versions of fMSX-DOS by Marcel De Kogel and MSX4PC by Adriaan van Doorn were supporting MSX-Music. Mitsutaka Okazaki wrote a great YM2413 emulation engine in 2001, after which many other emulators also support this chip.