A Touch Of Magic
Emagic Notator Logic 1.2
When Gerhard Lengeling and Chris Adam left C-Lab to form their own company, they took their new baby, Notator Logic, with them. Kendall Wrightson assesses Emagic's 'object oriented' Mac MIDI sequencer.
After 10 years of MIDI sequencer development, most publishers have settled on an interface based on the multitrack tape recorder — tracks, transport controls, etc. Editing wise, the majority offer at least two solutions: simple event lists (like those that graced the first generation of computer MIDI sequencers), pseudo piano-roll and other graphic solutions, right up to full blown traditional music notation. Emagic have endowed Notator Logic with four editing methods — Event List, Matrix Edit, Hyper Edit and Score Edit.
While a tape recorder-style interface and a healthy supply of editing tools provide the basic ingredients for a respectable computer-based MIDI sequencer, it's the main screen — the place from which trips to edit-land are made — that determines the ease with which inspiration can be developed into a song.
Back in '87, Passport's Master Tracks Pro offered a main page 'overview' window that was divided into rows of tracks, with a horizontal axis of musical time (ie. bars: beats: clicks). When a track is recorded in Master Tracks (now called Pro 5.0), rectangular boxes appear — one per bar. Double clicking a box (each representing a specific bar in a specific track) opens an edit window where MIDI events can be edited individually. The system was highly successful, Mark Of The Unicorn being one of many competitors to er, borrow the idea in subsequent versions of Performer.
In their search for the ultimate overview screen, Emagic seem to have decided that the Arrange Page from Steinberg's Cubase offered the best starting point — well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Much of what follows has been available to Cubase users for three and a half years. Credit issues aside, Notator Logic has many innovations of its own and cannot be described without copious use of superlatives, as you'll discover if you read on...
Upon launching Notator Logic, the Arrange window appears primed and ready for action. You might expect the menu bar to be bristling with selections, but apart from the Apple, File and Edit menus — common to all Mac programs — only one item is available: 'Windows 1'. So where are Notator Logic's numerous facilities? Like MOTU, Emagic have opted to break Apple's programming guidelines by adding sub-menus ('local menus') to every window. Their virtue is that irrelevant functions don't clutter up menus, main or local.
The Arrange window is divided into seven areas (see screen dump): the Control Panel (incorporating Transport and Positioning Controls ); an Arrange Area  where the Track List  forms the vertical axis and a Bar Ruler  the horizontal axis (ie. musical time); a Playback Parameters Box ; a Toolbox  and an Instrument Parameter Box . The Bar Ruler/Arrange Area can be resized at the expense of the Control Panel/Track List, etc. by clicking and dragging the point marked 'X' on our screen example.
With maximum space allotted to the Arrange Area, the Control Panel is obscured apart from the two left hand most buttons — Catch and Link (described later). However, an additional floating Transport Window (at the bottom of the screen) — offering identical controls — can be displayed at any time.
All the standard Transport Controls are provided, with the rather fab extra that, having clicked (and held) the rewind/fast forward controls, cue/review speed can be controlled by dragging the mouse further to the left or right, with audio scrub in both directions when a sequence is playing. Visual confirmation is provided by a Song Position Line that moves across the Arrange Area. The SPL can also be used to stop and start a song (by double clicking in the Bar Ruler in play and run modes respectively) and to move to a specific location by clicking and dragging in the Bar Ruler or the SPL itself. As if this isn't enough, the floating Transport Window offers a novel ribbon controller style locator.
The lower row of Control Panel buttons, offer (from right to left): MIDI Panic; [external] Sync On/Off; Solo On/Off; Replace Mode On/Off (toggles between merge and replace overdub modes); [Record] Auto Drop-In On/Off and Cycle On/Off. The Auto Drop-In and Cycle start/end points can be set up in the Position Displays (located in the Control Panel and Transport Window) or the Bar Ruler (by clicking and dragging). Finally, the Transport Window and Control panel display the current tempo, time signature and display format. The Transport Window also provides LTC Position, Notes Free, Last Bar Number and MIDI Activity displays. The latter is complimented by individual Track Meters (similar to those seen on Pro 24). Sensitive to velocity, the Track Meters rack meters also indicate other MIDI activity (controllers for example) using icons.
Unlike sequencers that assign a track to a specific MIDI channel/NuBus slot (and cable number if a multiport interface is connected), each Notator Logic track (in the Track List ) is assigned an 'Instrument' — a collection of 8 parameters selected from the Instrument Parameter Box . The 8 parameters — MIDI channel (and cable or NuBus slot), Program Number, MIDI volume, MIDI pan, Transpose, Velocity and Note/Velocity limits — are imposed on input and track data in real time during record and replay respectively, ie. they do not affect the data on the original track.
Track Instruments offer two advantages: they allow experimentation without affecting the recorded data, and reduce the need to edit target MIDI instruments. For good measure, tracks are also assigned a descriptive icon and can, of course, be named.
Like Lengeling and Adam's Notator SL for the ST, Notator Logic also offers a Playback Parameters Box , offering seven parameters that are applied individually to any recording or overdub — ie. the named rectangular boxes displayed in the Arrange Area. This is an extremely useful feature, allowing real time experimentation of Quantisation, Transposition, Velocity, Dynamics, Length Control and Delay without affecting original data.
In Notator Logic's hierarchy, MIDI Events are the lowest level of information. Next level up is the Sequence — an individual recording or overdub that appears as a box — an 'Arrange Object' — in the Arrange Area as a recording is made.
Building arrangements (and generating remix ideas) from recordings and overdubs is a fast and intuitive process in Notator Logic, since sequences (Objects) can be moved around with impunity. Like Track Instruments and Playback Parameters, Objects can be edited during playback — a brilliant facility. Dragging one (or more) Objects left or right moves a sequence backwards or forwards in time, the default interval being one beat. Smaller intervals are best achieved through the Playback Parameter Delay feature (which can also be calibrated in milliseconds).
If an overdub is performed on the same track at the same location, Objects can obscure one another. However, (clicking and) dragging the frontmost Object to a new track solves the problem (The Object will then take on the Track Instrument parameters of the destination track, though this can be easily changed.) Alternatively, a Merge Objects function is available from the Arrange Window's Structure local menu.
When Objects are moved (horizontally or vertically) outside the current range of the Arrange Window, scrolling is automatic. However, horizontal (and vertical) telescope buttons — located in the top right hand corner of the Arrange Window — allow you to change the resolution from one beat to an a hundred bars or so (on a 9" screen). Vertical telescoping increases/decreases the number of visible tracks, the former making Objects bigger and allowing them to display track parameters, even a tiny stave.
The length of Arrange Objects tend to reflect structure editing points, though it's sometimes necessary to cut, copy or paste between locations x and y. This can be achieved by entering the desired edit points in the Locator and then using a Select Inside Locators command (from the Arrange Window Edit local menu). All Objects falling within the Locator range are highlighted but can be deselected by shift-clicking.
While the locator method is standard practice for Vision and Performer users, Notator Logic's Toolbox offers an easier and superior graphic solution in the form of a pair of scissors. Having selected the Scissors icon and selecting one or more Objects, placing the now scissors-shaped cursor at a specific location causes all selected Objects to divide at that point. Selecting the Arrow tool, divided Objects can then be dragged to their new location. During the editing process, you never have to think about bar numbers: the positioning of Objects is obvious from the positioning of Objects; and if not, audio scrubbing makes it so.
Divided Objects can be stuck back together again using the Glue tool to make one longer Object, while the Eraser tool deletes Objects and the Pencil tool inserts them. Clicking an Object with the Mute tool has the desired effect, the former placing a bullet point by the muted track. Whereas the Solo button in the Control Panel solos an entire Track, the Solo tool solos individual Objects in the Arrange Area. Clicking an Object with the Solo tool moves the SPL to within the Object (in Stop) and starts playback within the Object (in Playback) — neat.
Notator Logic's Arrange Window offers two functions similar to facilities available in the Mac Finder. The first of these is Trash: any Objects highlighted and Cut (or Erased with Eraser tool) are stored temporarily in an area of memory called the Trash. Selecting Open Trash from the Arrange Window Structure local menu opens a new Arrange Window containing the cut/erased Object. Knowing that accidental or deliberately deleted sequencers can be recovered at any time makes the prospect of working with particularly humourless producers at 4am seem almost palatable.
The second Finder-like idea is the Folder. The Folder is the next level up after Objects in the Notator Logic hierarchy — Folders contain Objects. In practice this means that you can record (say) drum and percussion instruments on separate tracks, then, by highlighting their Objects 'Pack' them into a Folder. The Folder then appears as one 'Track' that can be dragged around as one entity, and processed using the Playback Parameters (though Track Instrument Parameters are unaffected).
Double clicking on a Folder Object opens a new Arrange window containing only the Objects within that Folder. Closing the Folder is achieved by clicking the black square located inn the top left hand corner of the Arrange Window.
There is no limit to the number or nesting of Folders (Folders within Folders). For example, you can create (say) a Song, and then pack collections of Objects into drum, percussion, brass, keyboard and melody folders. By packing these Folders into a new Folder, you have the entire Song in one Folder — ie. as one Object. The whole Song can then transposed using the Playback Parameters — excellent stuff.
Another way of navigating between Folders is to use Notator Logic's rather fabulous Screen Sets feature. Screen Sets are arrangements of windows, including positioning and telescope settings, that can be recalled by pressing the alphanumeric or number keypad number keys. Thus you can switch from one view to another very easily. Up to 99 Screen Sets are available by pressing 1 to 9 — holding down the Control key tells Notator Logic to expect a 2-digit number, to access Sets 11 through 99).
Screen Sets are invaluable when in the midst of a multi-window editing session, and Notator Logic's Link button (the one with the Chain Icon) is a great help too. Located in all time-related windows, the Link Button can, for example, force an Event List or Score Edit window to display data pertaining to the currently selected Arrange Window Object. Time related windows (ie. all windows with the Bar Ruler) can also be set to jump to (and track) the current song position by toggling Catch mode (the button with the little person).
Of Notator Logic's four editing pages, we only have room to describe the Score Editor (see box). Of the others, the Event List matches the competition, and includes System Exclusive data editing. The piano roll principle used by the Matrix Editor will be familiar to all pro Mac MIDI sequencer users, while Notator SL owners will recognise Hyper Edit, a graphic solution aimed primarily at MIDI controller data editing.
Notator Logic is a joy to use. Emagic have seized the opportunity that designing a MIDI sequencer from scratch offers, producing a sophisticated yet intuitive application. You never feel that a feature has been tacked on the way you do when an application evolves beyond version 2.0 and, as any Cubase owner will tell you, once you've used the Arrange Window (common to both Cubase and Notator Logic), working with their non-European competitors is like groping around in the dark.
I particularly enjoyed the ability to loop record drum machine-style while changing tracks and track parameters, all without dropping out of record or stopping — not that this feature is exclusive to Notator Logic. Linear recording is a joy too, since the Arrange Objects and smoothly integrated editors free you from the dreaded bar counter, allowing you to concentrate on producing the most euphonious arrangement, rather than memorising bar numbers.
On the negative side (and we all have one), I have to report that Notator Logic decided after hours of bug free use that a particularly fab sequence I was working on was "Not a valid Notator Logic sequence" — to quote the dialogue box I almost rammed my fist through. Trying to load the sequence a second time, I found myself in the dreaded dialogue box loop: "This sequence is not playable. QUIT" OK. "This sequence is not damaged. QUIT" OK. "This sequence is..."
If you don't need notation, Opcode Vision is the cheapest pro Mac MIDI sequencer, retailing for £399, though without the glory that is the Object Oriented Arrange page. Notator Logic and Cubase Score both weigh in at £499 — £40 more than Performer. What separates the two? On paper, Cubase Score offers more features — most significantly Groove Quantise and Postscript output. Steinberg will tell you that they're a bigger company, that they've been around longer and that Cubase works faster. I wonder what Emagic would say to that?
Notator Logic is due to appear on Atari ST, TT and Falcon platforms before long, with a PC compatible version to follow. Logic Audio, a digital audio version of Notator Logic that will compete against Cubase Audio, Digital Performer and Studio Vision, should be available by the time you read this.
Clearly there's little reason for Cubase owners to consider Notator Logic (Cubase Score would be a more sensible upgrade solution) but plenty of reasons for Performer, Vision and Pro 5 owners to consider Notator Logic or Cubase Score. Having said that, familiarity counts for much: an expert Vision programmer will work faster and with greater accuracy than any novice Notator Logic/Cubase user. Also, if you're happy with what you have, why change? With due acknowledgement to Steinberg for the Arrange page, (and recognising that I've yet to try Cubase Score), I would have to say that Notator Logic is the best Mac MIDI sequencer I've ever used. Who says reviewers sit on the fence?
Emagic Notator Logic £499 inc VAT.
Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
Review by Kendall Wrightson
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!