SUMMARY: MIDI & Sparcstations

From: Jonathan Foley (
Date: Mon Jan 27 1992 - 11:46:29 CST


A while back, I posted a request for information concerning the use
of MIDI hardware and software on a Sun Sparcstation. I only got two
replies that told me anything about this subject...but I got *many*
requests for this, here it goes...

Enclosed in this messages are a few notes I got in regard to
MIDI/Sparcstation workings. Rather that paraphrase what these
people said (and possibly screw it up), I'll let them speak for

By the way, I have no connection to any of these individuals or
any company mentioned. I have not checked out any of this
information myself either. I am just forwarding on what other
folks have told me...

Good Luck to you all.


Jonathan Foley | email: |
Center for Climatic Research and -------------------------------
Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences
University of Wisconsin -------------------------------------------
1225 West Dayton Street | These views are my own and do not reflect |
Madison, WI 53706 | those of any part of the Univ. Wisconsin. |


>From Mon Jan 13 18:56:35 1992

In comp.sys.sun.hardware you write:

>My question: are there any MIDI packages available for the Sun
>Sparcstations? Where? How much $? Etc?

Keynote is a software system that supports MIDI on the Sparcstation,
using the Key Electronics MIDIATOR (MS-114) interface. Call
1-800-533-MIDI for info on that hardware interface, which does
baudrate conversion from standard serial rates to the MIDI rate.

Below is a description of Keynote, and then the cover letter of a hardcopy
package, which gives distribution details. If you want the complete
hardcopy package, send me your postal address.


Keynote is an awk-like programming language and graphical editor
for MIDI data, with both algorithmic and realtime applications.
The graphical interface is based on only a few built-in functions -
the entire user interface of a complete music editor (piano-roll
style with pop-up menus) is written in Keynote itself, and is hence
completely customizable and extensible by the user. Although it
works best on UNIX systems (ideally 386-based) under the X Window System,
Keynote is portable and runs on the Macintosh and Amiga. Ports to other
machines are underway.

For more info, see COMPUTING SYSTEMS (Journal of the USENIX Association),
Vol 3 No 2, Spring 1990. Send me your postal address and I'll send you
hardcopy documentation. Complete C source code with a site license is
available in the AT&T UNIX System Toolchest for $200 ($100 for Toolchest
registration and $100 for Keynote), call dial 1-908-522-6900 at 1200/2400 bps
and login as "guest", or mail to, or call 1-908-580-4124.
A mailing list was recently started, with an archive server that provides
music and code examples - send email to

   ...Tim Thompson...AT&T Bell Labs/Holmdel/

(This is a cover letter to the hardcopy package)

Enclosed is a collection of documentation on the Keynote language and
extensible graphic editor for music.
First is a summary article from COMPUTING SYSTEMS
(The Journal of the USENIX Association), from an issue that
was entirely devoted to music.
The language reference manual that follows is
a terse but complete description of Keynote version 4.1.
Also included are manual pages that describe the current
function library and graphical editor menu structure, although these are
typically out-of-date since the function library and editor capabilities
are user-defined and constantly expanding.

Keynote version 4.1 is now available in the AT&T UNIX System Toolchest.
The Toolchest contains the complete source code for Keynote,
with good machine-dependent support for the X Window System,
Macintosh, and Amiga computers.
The Toolchest prefers to distribute source code only, via uucp,
although binaries for the Macintosh and Amiga are available on
special request.
Initial registration for the Toolchest is $100, and
Keynote is $100. For more information on the Toolchest,
dial 1-908-522-6900 at 1200/2400 bps and login as "guest",
or mail to, or call 1-908-580-4124.

Customers in Europe should address Toolchest inquiries to:
AT&T UNIX Software Operation Europe, International House,
Ealing Broadway, London W5 5DB, England. Phone: +44 1 567-7711.
Fax: +44 1 567-2420. Email:

Customers in the Far East should address Toolchest inquiries to:
UNIX System Laboratories Pacific, Ltd., No. 1 Nan-oh Bldg., 5th Floor,
2-21-2, Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105 Japan.
Phone: (03)431-3305 (Japanese), (03)431-3670 (English).
Fax: (03)431-3680. Email: att!upheisei!attup.

Jon Backstrom ( is organizing a Keynote User's
Group and is sub-licensing Keynote for binary redistribution.
His announcement is included.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me personally.
If you purchase Keynote from the Toolchest, please send me email so that
I can let you know about any upgrades that may be available (the
software in the Toolchest is only updated once every year or so).


> I may be interested in getting the Keynote package. However, I have
> had some problems making X11 stuff on my Sparcstation. Can I be sure
> that it will compile on my machine with just OpenWindows? Is there
> a proper Makefile for this setup?

Yes, I run OpenWindows myself, so I can guarantee that it'll work.
We have raw X11 as well, so it's possible that something may
need to be tweaked to get it to run in an OpenWindows-only
environment, but I guarantee that it can work, and that I'll
be responsible for making it work.

> As you can guess from the above, I'm not really a Unix/X11
> a pre-fab Makefile or the actual binaries for the SunOS with OpenWindows
> would be great if they are available. Any suggestions/comments?

People routinely get it from me and compile it on a Sparc or 386
without changing anything, so there should be few problems there.
I prefer to make sure you can compile it there, since then patches
can be made/distributed easier.

The thing that is less certain (mainly about whether it'll meet your
needs or not) is the MIDI interface. If you get the Key Electronics
MS-114, the support for it is included with Keynote, but there are
several caveats that I should mention about that environment:

1) I think I'm the only one that has used it (the Keynote+Sparc+MS114
combination), and I've only tested it briefly - enough to know it
works, but not enough to know how well it compares to my 386.
I.e. my 386 with MPU is good enough for recording and generating
medium-density multi-track MIDI, i.e. good enough for real music.
I don't know for sure whether the Sparc+MS114 can do as well - e.g.
there may be occasional realtime glitches if the Sparc is connected
to a network and other things are going on. There also may be
less-than-ideal performance when recording MIDI input and playing
back MIDI output at the same time.

2) MIDI output (in isolation) works pretty well, especially if you
run the RS232 interface at 38400, which a Sparc can do no problem.

3) However, when running the RS232 at 38.4Kbaud, you run the likelyhood
of losing MIDI input (because there's no flow control in the
interface, and because MIDI is 31.25Kbaud). So, a reasonable
comprimise is to run the RS232 at 19.2Kbaud. MIDI output is still
quite good at that rate, and you don't lose MIDI input (I think).

If you give me more details about your planned application,
I can make more comments about how well Keynote and the MIDIATOR
will work for it.


>From berger@sfc.Sony.COM Sun Jan 26 02:11:32 1992

I would be interested if you find anything. Here is the only reference
I have:

Article 281 of alt.sys.sun:
Xref: sfcsun alt.sys.sun:281
Path: sfcsun!mips!!ucsd!!!mccanne
From: (Steven McCanne)
Subject: Unix MIDI Driver for SparcStations
Message-ID: <>
Date: 14 Jan 91 06:18:51 GMT
Organization: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley
Lines: 12
X-Local-Date: Sun, 13 Jan 91 22:18:51 PST

I am working on a device driver for rs232-to-midi devices. The current
version runs on Sparcstations with the Key Electronics MIDIator.
Midi events are timestamped to millisecond resolution.

I have a very rough version of a command based sequencer,
and a program that will play standard midi files.

The code is still evolving and the documentation is terse.
If anyone is interested in trying it out, drop me a message;
I'll let you know how you can grab it.


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