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Orchestra-90 CC (26-3143)

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Home / Hardware - Orchestra-90 CC (26-3143)

Orchestra-90 CC
Orchestra-90 CC Conectors
Orchestra-90 CC Manual
Orchestra-90 CC Box

The Orchestra-90 CC is a stereo 8-bit audio player that plugs into the Color Computer's expansion port. It has a ROM-based program that allows the user to compose and play software-synthesized music through the two 8-bit Digital to Analog Converters. Audio can be routed to an external stereo amplifier and speakers through two RCA jacks in the end of the cartridge, or to the speaker in the CoCo's TV or monitor through the SND pin on the CoCo's expansion bus. In the latter case, sound is reduced to one channel.

The built-in ROM software can save and load music files on tape or disk (one of the few ROM-based programs to support the disk drive) and can even transfer files over a modem. Music files are ASCII text files written in the Orchestra-90's special music language. Music could be composed in four voices, or five with slightly reduced sound quality.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

There were versions of the Orchestra-90 for other computers in addition to the Color Computer, including the TRS-80 Model III and 4. The Orchestra-90 CC is compatible with Orchestra-80/85/90 music files from the other platforms. Because of this, there is a large library of music files available to the Orchestra-90 user. has a page dedicated to the Orchestra music synthesizers, including many music files to download.

Third-Party Software

In addition to the built-in software, the Orchestra-90 CC hardware can be used to play sampled music and digitized sound effects. Version 5 of the OS-9 Play program can use the Orch-90CC to play digitized audio file formats originating on the Macintosh and Amiga.


While the Orchestra-90 is used more for music than game sound effects, there are a few games that make use of it. John R. Strong sells Soviet Bloc and Gems, which support Orchestra-90 CC if present. And in a message to the Maltedmedia CoCo email list on 1/29/2007, L. Curtis Boyle had this to say:

I should mention that I have made quick patches to OS-9 games (and  
OS-9/NitrOS9 itself) to use the Orch-90 for full 8 bit sound, including  
Kyum-Gai:To Be Ninja (which actually has 8 bit samples in the code; it  
masks out the unused 2 bits). I even had plans to add stereo support to  
the standard OS-9 calls, but never quite got that far (the TC-9 driver did  
use native 8 bit sound, though, and it would work fine with the Orch-90  
pak as well).

Orchestra 90 CC Info from Bryan Eggers of Software Affair (circa 1984)

  • Tandy's New ORCHESTRA-90/CC
  • Stereo Music Synthesizer for the COLOR COMPUTER!
  • Catalog Number: 26-3143
  • Price: $79.95
  • System required: Any 16K Color Computer.
  • The ORCH-90/CC cartridge supports TAPE and DISK I/O.
  • Available through all Radio Shack stores and Computer Centers.


There are more music files available for the ORCHESTRA-90/CC music systems than there are for ANY OTHER music system available for ANY COMPUTER!

The ORCH-90 SIG on page PCS-15 has <ONE THOUSAND> music files available in the DL2 database, and nowhere else on CompuServe will you find anywhere near as many files for any other music system. All existing ORCHESTRA-90 music files will play on the new ORCHESTRA-90/CC!


Jon Bokelman, the author and designer of ORCHESTRA-90/CC, first started making music with micros in early 1977. He discussed his music routines in the June 1977 Computer Music Journal, and is considered by many to be the first person ever to create true digital music synthesis on a microcomputer.

One of his early synthesizers was sold in 1979 as the "Software Music Synthesis System" for 8080, Z-80, and 8085 microcomputers, distributed through California Software Co. For this system, Jon developed the basic music language that would eventually become today's ORCHESTRA music language.

In 1980, he created ORCHESTRA-80(tm), a 4-voice mono music synthesizer for Tandy's new Model I microcomputer. It was sold through Software Affair, Ltd., a new company formed for that purpose.

During the next couple of years he added several new features, including 5 voices, stereo, special register definition and percussion. This became a new product, ORCHESTRA-85(tm), also sold through Software Affair.

Around this time, Tandy approached Software Affair and expressed interest in selling a music synthesizer product through Radio Shack stores. This required a new version, ORCHESTRA-90(tm), which would be compatible with the Model III/4/4P computers. This product appeared in the Radio Shack stores in March of 1984.

In early 1984, Jon developed a version of ORCHESTRA-90 that would run on the Color Computer. The prototype was demonstrated to Tandy later that year. This new product is called ORCHESTRA-90/CC(tm) and it is the most sophisticated version of ORCHESTRA-90 currently available.


  • The ORCHESTRA-90/CC system consists of a totally self-contained cartridge that plugs into any 16K Color Computer. The stereo output is available through two standard RCA phono jacks on the end of the cartridge. These may be connected to your stereo amplifier, however the music is simultaneously produced (in mono) through your TV speaker if a stereo amplifier is not available.
  • The software consists of a single program in ROM that lets you create, play, load, edit and save music files to tape or diskette. All functions are instantly available online at all times. The software is written entirely in assembly language, providing instant response time. Compile time for the average music file is only a few seconds, and you never see the compiled code. It exists only temporarily in memory. Your music file always remains in the editer so that you can quickly modify the file and play the new version instantly.
  • The ROM also contains "The William Tell Overture" as a demonstration piece!
  • The ROM also contains a TERMINAL PROGRAM which can be used to access any information system (like CompuServe or your local BBS), then upload or download music files to your tape or disk! Just hook up a modem. Nothing else to buy. This gives you instant access to THOUSANDS of music files since the files created by all other versions of ORCHESTRA-90 are totally compatible. Just download and play (you can also save them to tape or disk and modify them as desired).

To sum up, the ORCHESTRA-90/CC cartridge features a single 8K ROM which contains a full-screen editor, digital music synthesizer, compiler, tape/disk file I/O manager, William Tell demonstration music file (2K of code!) and TERMINAL PROGRAM for accessing information systems and up/downloading music files. The cartridge also contains twin D/A converters and associated hardware to convert the digital output of the synthesizer into stereo music channels.


  • The system can synthesize up to 5 simultaneous instruments ("voices"), each of which has a six octave range.
  • Five standard instrument sounds are available, each of which can be assigned to any of the voices. Instruments can be reassigned as often as necessary within the music file. These sounds can also be modified to create other instrument sounds. The waveform type, strength of eight harmonics, and overall volume of each of the five instrument registers may be changed to create your own unique sounds.

An easy-to-learn, yet powerful, MUSIC LANGUAGE makes it very easy to transcribe any standard sheet music or compose music in any key or time signature. The capabilities of this language go beyond what standard musical notation can support. Among its features are:

  • Time values for notes can be from Whole notes to Sixty-fourth notes, and can be single-, double-, or triple-dotted and/or played as triplets. Single and double accidentals are supported, and there are four intensities of articulaton available (two each for staccato and portato).
  • Sections of music can be repeated (with or without tempo changes and instrument changes).
  • The key signature and tempo may be changed any number of times within the music file.
  • The file can be instantly transposed up or down in semi-tone increments. If you sing, and the song isn't written in your key, you can transpose the file to any other key in seconds.
  • Each individual voice in a measure may contain a totally different combination of note values and rests, yet the result will be a correctly compiled measure. The compiler also accepts any number of beats per measure (up to 32), therefore you can change time signatures anywhere in the music file. Each measure in a music file could contain a different number of beats.
  • Each voice may be individually transposed up or down in whole step increments. A voice will then play notes up to two octaves higher or lower than actually written. These voice transpositions can also be changed anywhere in the file.
  • Reiteration is supported, allowing you to type in a group of notes once, then specify the number of times they will actually be compiled into the arrangement.
  • Two types of percussion are supported, Random and Sinesoidal. Any or all of the voices may play percussion at any time. A special percussion clef is available which features "reverse articulation", simulating the intense articulation characteristics of percussion instruments.
  • A option is available to apply accidentals only to the voice in which they occur.
  • A option is available to carry all accidentals forward into the following measure.
  • Stereo mapping lets you change the voice-to-channel assignments any number of times within the music file.
  • The system is fully compatible with Tandy's 4-slot expansion box. ORCH-90/CC and the disk controller cartridge must both be plugged into this box for disk I/O operation.
  • The ORCHESTRA-90/CC cartridge can also take full advantage of any CoCo that can run at double-speed (this is not documented in the manual, of course, since Tandy does not promote or guarantee that the system will run that fast, however, this undocumented feature of ORCH-90/CC will be explained by the designers of the product on the ORCH-90 SIG on PCS-15).


  • A 100+ page manual is included. It is fully typeset and contains numerous musical examples and illustrations. A person with no musical knowledge whatsoever can easily learn to use this system. The manual was written by Software Affair, then typset and illustrated by Tandy Corp.
  • A full schematic of the hardware is also included!


  • Tandy did an outstanding job on the design of the cartridge itself. They enhanced our original prototype circuitry and designed a custom white enclosure (matches the new CoCos). This is also the first cartridge sold by Tandy to be marked with the new "TANDY" logo on the name plate instead of "Radio Shack"!


After plugging in the cartridge, commands are immediately available to:

APPEND - Append files.

BOTTOM - Go to Bottom of music file in memory.

CASSETTE - Switch to cassette I/O. Cassette filenames can be 8 characters in length.

DIR - Displays names of ORCH music files on disk.

EDIT - Invoke full-screen Editor.

GET - Automatically load, compile and play all songs listed on the command line. This works with tape or disk files. The command "GET *" will play the next file on the tape or disk, regardless of the name. The "*" can also be used as a wildcard to represent any letter or group of letters in a tape or disk filename.

KILL - Delete file from disk.

LIST - Print out a music file. 300 to 2400 baud printers are supported.

MULTI - Perpetual play of named files. May be used with "*" to automatically play all songs on disk or tape. Since the "*" will represent any characters, the command "MULTI M*" will get and play all songs on the disk that begin with the letter "M", for example.

NEW - Clear the music file buffer.

OPTIMIZE - Delete all unnecessary measure strings, spaces and blank lines. The file is reduced in size, but can still be compiled and played normally.

PLAY - Play song from beginning or from a specified point in the file.

READ - Load a file into memory from tape or disk. The "*" also works here to represent any group of characters.

SCORE - Compile a file. The compiled code exists only in memory. Once a file is compiled it may be played any number of times until the file is modified with the editor. The command automatically determines whether a 4- or 5-voice synthesizer is required for the music file. You can also overide this feature.

TOP - Go to the Top of the music file in memory.

VERIFY - Verify that the file is written correctly to tape.

WRITE - Save file to tape or disk.

XFER - Transfer mode (terminal mode).

/ - Locate specified string (forward search)

- - Locate specified string (reverse search)

@ - Locate position in file where music was stopped.

? - Display current register assignments and voice tranposition at current position in file.

! - Play file from the current cursor position.

NOTE: The system also takes advantage of the CoCo's color capabilities to enhance the edit and terminal modes.


This mode lets you upload and download music files from any BBS or information system without any additional file conversion whatsoever. A 300 baud modem and cable are all that are required. You can also use this mode to read and write messages, etc., just like you'd do with any other terminal program. Even a 16K tape-based Color Computer can do it!

All alphabetic characters are transmitted in uppercase.

Control characters may be sent, as well as escape, carat, backspace, tab, underline, backslash, and brackets.

The system responds automatically to R/T buffer open/close commands as transmitted by most bulletin board and information systems. Once a music file is downloaded, just press <BREAK> and the file is on the screen, ready to play or save to tape or disk. You haven't lost the connection, so you can press "X" to return to transfer mode and download more files.

You can also manually open/close the capture buffer.

You can use the edit mode to compose messages for later transmission!

You can upload music files in this mode, including the option of uploading in prompted mode. You can select the prompt character, too.

In addition to the R/T buffer commands, the transfer mode also recognizes the following control characters: backspace, tab, linefeed, carriage return.

Thanks for listening. Hope you enjoy Tandy's ORCHESTRA-90/CC

Bryan Eggers Software Affair, Ltd.

(Used By Permission of Bryan Eggers)

Color Computer Archive Link