C-Lab Creator/Notator 3.1
Atari ST Software
Another recently updated package is C-Lab's Atari sequencer/notator. Ian Waugh experiences the delights of an excursion on the version.
One of the best-established and most popular sequencing and scorewriting packages has just had (yet) another facelift - where now, C-Lab?
IF YOU'VE BEEN following the news releases, you'll have heard about the latest updates to Creator/Notator (v3.1) - the Graphic Arrange Mode, synchronisation with the Fostex recorders, a few new additions to the notation side of things and the ability to export scores to DTP packages, for example. There are other improvements, too. Many may appear rather trivial on their own but together they make a significant list of new features.
We'll start with the updates to Creator, as these are also found in Notator.
GAM (GRAPHICS ARRANGE Mode) displays the arrangement as vertical bars in the Arrange window. Up to four beams can be shown side by side, representing the chains a to d. There's a bar list on the left-hand side of the window and Upbeats and Cuts are shown as grey areas. An SPL (Song Position Line) runs down the window during play and the current pattern is highlighted. It's easy to see where you are and where the patterns are in relation to the song.
For fine tuning you can zoom into the window until it's filled with only two bars. At the other extreme you can cram 51 bars into it. The arrangement can be saved and loaded.
Naturally, you can move, copy, delete, insert and rename the patterns. By devious use of the Shift key and left and right clicking you can set up the Locators. A rather neat feature is GAM scrub which lets you drag the SPL back and forwards through the arrangement, listening to the MIDI playback in both directions.
Another useful arranging feature is the ability to show 32 tracks in one pattern - sometimes 16 tracks just aren't enough. It shows the combined tracks of two adjacent patterns, although selecting, say, Pattern 2 will show the tracks in Pattern 2 and 3.
You need to take care when using 32-track mode. For example, it restricts you to two chains (a and c) instead of four in the Arrange window. It's advisable to decide whether you want to use two chains of 32 patterns or four chains of 16 patterns before you begin work. Attempting a change-over may lead to problems.
Some pattern functions apply to all 32 tracks but others such as demix and mixdown, new pattern and multi-copy only apply to the half of the pattern in which the cursor sits.
Notator users can use 32 tracks to access more staves for their score.
There are new mute functions which let you mute, demute, solo mute and mute invert the tracks. You can store ten groups of mute settings in the function keys. When you're scanning your latest masterpiece, it's worth knowing that patterns can now be deleted from the Pattern Overview window. If you're using a Fostex G16S, G24S or R8 with the MTC1 synchronisation unit and C-Lab's Unitor then you can control the recorder from Creator. One of the major advantages is being able to locate the tape position according to the bar and beat as well as via SMPTE.
The tie-up is probably as close as you can get between recorder and sequencer and the Fostex follows Creator's normal method of operation - clicking on Stop stops the recorder, clicking on it again rewinds the tape to the beginning. Clicking on fast forward or rewind "scrolls" through the tape and if the sequencer is playing you'll hear an audio cue. The manual suggests advanced users use the RMG to configure their own user-interface. It's a thought.
Sync support for C-Lab's Steady Eye VITC synchroniser can now be found under the Sync option, although this isn't mentioned anywhere in the manual.
Finally, Creator owners will be pleased to know that the Macro function which somehow slipped past them in v3 is incorporated in v3.1
A long-overdue update to Notator is the correct grouping of notes in 12/8 time - music doesn't rely solely on 4/4. The fudges I've had to do to get 12/8 to print correctly...
A single stave can now have three independent polyphonic voices. It's a bit of a faff but it works and it will be useful for transcriptions of some piano and vocal music.
The Note Attributes window has been considerably enhanced. You can now do things to notes no self-respecting publisher even thought of. For example you can create "independent" notes which can be placed anywhere, but which still continue to sound over MIDI. You can also insert "graphic" notes (such as grace notes) which don't play over MIDI.
You can disable Interpretation/Rest mode on a per-note basis to create a display which would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve. The direction of a tuplet bracket and selection of the note head are available, as are options to make miniature notes and set stem and tie directions. As before, you are referred to separate sections of the manual for detailed explanation of each function.
Process Notes Attributes is an addition to the Functions menu. It calls up a window reminiscent of the Transform window and, indeed, works in a similar way. It allows attributes such as enharmonic shift, accents, staccato dots, note head and so on to be applied to or removed from all notes in a track or a segment thereof.
"There's more to the v3.1 upgrade than first meets the eye, but much of it is hidden in the depths of the new pages."
The selection criteria can include MIDI channel, note pitch, velocity and length. This allows you to place accents on all notes with a velocity greater than 100, say, or a staccato mark on all notes whose length is less than 30 ticks. This is especially useful for music which has been recorded (correctly) in real time and could prevent a lot of time-consuming insertion of symbols.
There are a few new symbols in the music partbox - sf and fz dynamic marks, more Tempo = note symbols and an extra C clef (which is missing from the partbox diagram - the old partbox is still in the new manual pages). There's also a .//. sign (shorthand for repeat last two bars) which I personally hate when I'm sight reading. Lazy transcribers use it and I can't see the point when the full score is easy to copy on the computer.
You can now select styles (fonts) for page numbers and repeat endings.
Tracks in mapped drum mode can have a percussion clef and a one-line percussion stave is available. All good options to produce better notation displays and more accurate printouts.
There are a few additional print facilities, too, such as page number offset. Single tracks can be printed - useful for extracting parts from a score. You can determine where the time signature, clef and key signature are printed - nowhere, at the top of the first page, at the top of each page or on every stave. Another pet hate of mine is not having the key signature on every stave, another practice employed by lazy arrangers.
Jumping directly to any page is possible in Page Preview mode. The first time, through, you have to scroll through the pages as usual but once the program has constructed the pages, you can jump to any one of them. If you leave Page Preview, however, and enter it again, the construction starts from scratch.
Margins can be determined from Page Preview mode and altered by clicking and dragging. Flip Page lets you see the bottom of a page where the printer adaptation is for A3 or A2 paper. New printer drivers include the Cannon BJ-10e.
A new facility is the ability to export pages in .IMG format for loading into DTP programs such as Calamus. It's not quite as straightforward as clicking on a button - you have to load or create a special IMG printer driver depending on the resolution required. Pages are saved singly to disk and if you save more than one you have to change the file name to prevent overwriting. An automatic file name incrementer would have been useful here.
The next addition can only be a PostScript driver, surely?
A surprise inclusion in the upgrade pack is a Tutorial disk for Notator which explains how to perform over 70 functions from editing notes and working with bar lines and braces to moving split points, working with polyphonic staves and drum maps.
Each example shows what the result should look like, what the "raw" data looks like and explains how to achieve the required result.
This is absolutely excellent and you can only wonder why no-one (it didn't have to be C-Lab) did it before. If you want to brush up on your Notator techniques, the tutorial alone is worth the price of the upgrade.
There's more to the v3.1 upgrade than first meets the eye. The trouble is, much of it is hidden in the depths of the new pages. You have to know what you're looking for - and then go look for it.
A couple of pages explain what many of the new features are, but not all of them and in no great detail. For example, the fact that in external sync mode the "." key (Continue) puts you into internal sync is not mentioned, neither are some of the new printing features such as the ability to print single tracks, the inclusion of new printer drivers and the correction of the 12/8 display.
Many of the new features in the Note Attributes box aren't mentioned, although perhaps that's excusable on the grounds that once you look it up you'll find all the goodies. Creator users aren't told that Macros are now available to them.
This update makes Notator probably the most complex and feature-packed music program on the ST (I'm not complaining) but a blow-by-blow list would save us wading through the 100-plus replacement pages. Perhaps a small "u" could be placed next to new entries in the contents page and/or index. Just a thought for next time, guys. I would really like to see a good tutorial on the use of the Transform function, too. It can do your head in at times.
I suspect the main attraction of v3.1 Creator will be the GAM, the 32-track display and, for Notator users, the (at last) correct display of 12/8 time. The other notation enhancements give us even greater scope for tweaking and will be of major interest to those who produce printouts. (I know many musicians who simply like to edit on the stave and rarely print out their music.) We mustn't forget owners of Fostex machines who will buy this as a matter of course. Now if someone would only loan me an R8...
There's no doubt that the upgrade is well worth the 20 quid although there are some users who still manage very well with v2.2 (I've heard some users are still with v2.1). I can understand that; if it does the job there's no point in upgrading. But having sampled the delights of v3 and v3.1 I would hate to go back. I wonder what's planned for v4?
Prices Creator/Notator Upgrade from v3.0 to v3.1, £20; from Pre-v3.0 to v3.1, £60
More from Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).