Product: Electron Music Disc
Publisher: Jon Ripley
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #50

When comparing an Electron with a BBC, what has to be the biggest disadvantage is the sound quality of the former. Whereas BBC owners can jig around the room to a tub-thumping bass with background scales and twiddly bits to make Beethoven proud, Electron owners are lucky to find anything for their machine that doesn't sound like an amateur piano player idly tapping the right notes!

This public domain disc is a suite of twenty-seven pieces of such 'music' dating, as its theme tunes indicate, from the late Eighties' days of 'Flipper' and 'The Dukes Of Hazard'. No external hardware is needed to play the pieces and, on booting up, you are presented with a fairly unimpressive Mode 6 menu screen of nine options inviting you to either select a piece from those displayed or scroll forwards or backwards through the three menus with the cursor left and right keys.

The majority of songs derive from musicals. Almost all of those from "The Sound of Music" are present plus a fair few from "Oklahoma!". Other sundries include a Phil Collins' ballad and one amusing masterpiece entitled Unknown.

Selecting a number causes a brief disc access and a flood of notes from your beige beauty. None of the recognisable pieces sound 'wrong' - although "The Sound Of Music" skips two bars - yet once again the screen display is drab, now only printing the name of the piece at the top of the screen. When the piece finishes, the cursor appears.

Each piece of music is stored as a separate program and all are fully LISTable. Doing so to the "!Menu" program yields the surprising result that the disc was compiled in just 1995! (Perhaps Jon Ripley collated the pieces from other sources?) But whether Eighties or Nineties, and whether you LIST them or not, that the sounds result from mere manipulation of the pitch and duration of the BASIC SOUND command shouts at you as soon as you hear the first of them.

This is not to label this PD disc as bad. It's just that it doesn't offer anything interesting on which to pass comment. With the Elk's one channel limitation, expectations are not and will not be high on such products. But the disc really is the one channel at its most basic. The composer chooses not to experiment with the ENVELOPE command or to spend any time with a colourful menu system. The best that can be said is that, as you get a large number of tunes to listen to, the disc delivers in a quantitative fashion.

The best tunes for the Electron are not on this disc but scattered around on some of the classic cassette games. Drain Mania and Rubble Trouble (by P. A. Morgan and D. J. Morgan, though oddly released by different software houses) are cases in point. Empire's Pipemania also wins high praise, not to mention One Last Game, which has the novel feature of using the *MOTOR command as a means of having a drum beat accompaniment.

On these, machine code routines are used to push the machine to its limits, and the results are marvellous!

Sadly, anyone armed with the Acorn Electron User Guide and the requisite sheet music could produce a similar Electron Music Disc within a few hours. Still, it provides a base to build upon.