During the past few months, I was in touch with musician Frans Lemaire from Belgium. The initial reason for contact was his past work on computer controlled music, later we discussed his current musical outings under the name of Micado. I asked Frans if I could create a page on him and his works. Read part 1 here. This is part 2 in which Frans discusses his early works and thesis on computer controlled music…and who knows there will be subsequent parts later on 🙂

CHIPS – BRT Broadcast with Frans Lemaire

From an early age (maybe 12 years old) I was already involved in chemistry and electricity and electronics. Copper plating of nails with copper sulphate with electricity and similar experiments. I was also a musician. Music school started at the age of 9 (Veurne). So I was quickly inspired by piano, organs, (WERSI) and … electronic devices that made noise. At the age of 15 I made my own electronic organ. Everything made by myself with recuperated parts from radios and TVs and keyboard of a no longer working old organ. After my high school I did one year of music conservatory and traditional pipe/church organ building.

In 1979, I decided to study electronics engineering. It is then customary that you build a device as a final project (thesis) and give it a show. I speak of 1983. I was then crazy about synthesizer work and was fascinated by the radio program “Music from the Kosmos”. There I got to know the music of Isao Tomita, who at that time was a pioneer in making Synthesizer music with computers and sequencers. So that’s what I wanted too. I was already an Elektor tinkerer and fanatic. That was a popular Dutch magazine with electronics designs for DIY. So I did some research and designed a computerized Digital-Analog interface. Completely self-designed, calculated and made.

At that time the ACORN ATOM was a popular affordable computer for electronics students. Coincidence was that as an engineer I had training in microprocessors and the “Microprocessor study” was the same as in the ACORN ATOM. We could also program in assembler and BASIC. So I made a program that uses a code text. A text with codes where the codes contained a musical note, tempo, etc ….

Everything needed to trigger sound from an analog music synthesizer. At that time I had a lot of self-built equipment (also designed by myself), but also a Korg MS20 and SQ50 and the Roland System 100. Those systems did not feature MIDI that time. I was also able to represent the notes graphically on the Acorn Atom. The Acorn Atom sends the necessary signals to a Digital/Analog converter with 4 channels and 4 triggers: So I could control 4 analog modules with a CV voltage and a trigger signal. I had designes and built this myself.

In principle I therefore made a program in BASIC that allowed to enter a music score encoded with the parameters such as

  • Pitch
  • Tone length
  • Start/stop trigger
  • Tempo

The BASIC commands (computer language) were converted into assembler language that controlled the ACORN ATOM to provide Digital output codes/combination for an AD/Converter. So for that I had to process assembler codes and burn the BASIC program into an EPROM, which gave the correct instructions to the microprocessor to provide the necessary signals for the AD convention. An EPROM was a CHIP with a window that you could erase with UV light and configure with a kind of electronic “burner”. (Type of memory) .

An AD converter converts digital codes to an analog Control Voltage, so a signal: a DC voltage. Old analog synthesizers are controlled by a CV voltage and a trigger signal. The value of the voltage determines the pitch or the filter action or the ADSR parameters and the modules must be ” gated ” triggered . So those signals were generated by the made hardware (AD converter) : 4 CV outputs and 4 triggers. These signals were connected to KORG MS20 or the ROLAND system 100. When the program runs with the music codes of a piece of music/composition, the music comes from the synthesizers. That was a kind of forerunner of MIDI, because I had invented all the codes myself. MIDI sends standard codes for all Synthesizer parameters from a computer to a synthesizer device. That device contains the necessary AD converters.

I worked many hours during 1983. For Electronics and Digital Technology I had excellent points scores (by the way, I studied in Ostend, the city where Paul Verkempinck was active with his radio program and performances at the time. Also the stand of Arno and Serge Feys, who had encouraged me to buy my Roland System 100 : Days of holiday work and collecting emptie bottles and packages in the dunes and repairing defective appliances for neighbors and family and friends to save money … but that’s what we did. )

On the demo and thesis defense, my KORG MS2O and Roland System 100 played my variation of Strauss’s “Radetzky March.” Unfortunately I never recorded it. Completely successful and made an unforgettable show. And everything worked perfectly. I think I had highest honors…for this job that is. Almost a year later, the BRT contacted me who was looking for unique hobbies and achievements for the youth program CHIPS. The result was that an arsenal of cameramen and an interviewer came to film everything, so I also had to give a mini performance with the equipment I had made.

2 years later, after my military service and first job (at MIETEC then in the ALCATEL buildings in Antwerp) I sold everything to be able to buy real MIDI equipment and digital music equipment. I sold my KORG and ROLAND and made other electronic equipment with my thesis work. I sold the computer to I don’t remember who. I then bought digital equipment. I was crazy about the AKAI samplers and bought an ATARI with CLAB Notator , the predecessor of LogicPro X on today.

I still have all the plans for the design and of course my thesis book. Fortunately I have some photos and the digital film of the BRT that I was able to retrieve about 5 years ago. I had a VHS video recording but it had become of extremely poor quality. I had to pay for the digital recording and sign a document that this was for personal use only. I was able to convert the fragment with the music to a YouTube compilation.