C-Lab Creator/Notator V3
Atari ST Software
One of software's greatest strengths is its ability to evolve. Ian Waugh looks at the refinements now available in one of the most popular sequencing/notation packages.
If it's a fully-professional ST sequencer or scorewriter you're looking for, don't make a move until you've checked out the latest versions of C-Lab's Creator and Notator.
THROUGH THE UPS and downs of the music software business many companies have come and gone (Sonus, Iconix...), but some names seem to go on forever. C-Lab is one such eternal - its heritage can be traced back to 1985 and the Softtrack 16+ sequencer for the Commodore 64.
These days, C-Lab is best known for Creator and Notator, state-of-the-art sequencer and notation programs which are used by thousands of professional and amateur musicians worldwide. The latest update brings both programs to v3 and includes many enhancements and additional features as well as a new manual.
THERE'S REALLY NOT room in a review of this nature to fill you in on the existing features of Creator and Notator (see MT, Feb '89), but before we start on the brand new features, it's worth mentioning some of the enhancements made since the program's last MT appearance. Soft Link lets you switch between up to nine programs - not just C-Lab's - co-resident in the computer's RAM. You'll need at least 2 Meg for this, although a Director program is available which can direct music output of other programs to Export and Unitor MIDI ports.
In Creator, the user-defined Dynamic Groove enables slave tracks to take their velocities from a master track. Fast Delete and keep keystroke functions are now part of the Event page. The use of Pseudo events allows one song to load while another is playing - useful for live work. The increment/decrement function of the mouse buttons can be swapped, and an Output Channel Filter is available for each track to suppress the transmission of certain types of MIDI data.
Notator updates include repeat bar signs, the ability to group bars of rests and to use fermata on lines and rests. There is also a Kill Score facility which removes the score program to free computer memory. This could prove useful in an emergency. To regain it you must reboot.
WB'LL BEGIN OUR look at new facilities with Creator, as everything it can do, Notator can do too.
There are additions to the arrange mode. You can freeze the cursor by pressing Shift/L which disables Catch mode until re-enabled by clicking on Catch or pressing L. This is useful if you want to keep the cursor on one particular entry.
Pattern Overview in the Options menu displays all 99 patterns. For each pattern it shows the name, whether it contains data, whether it's in an arrange list and whether it's in more than one arrange chain. You can exit to any pattern by clicking on it.
QUANTISATION HAS ALWAYS been one of Creator's fortes. There are three levels of quantise: standard quantise (which should be familiar to all sequencer users); Groove Design (which provides preset and user-definable quantise patterns to give music a "swing"); and Adaptive Groove (which selects its error-correction procedure from a range of pre-defined templates). Adaptive Groove will analyse the structure of the music and quantise or groove segments of the track separately, depending on the results of its analysis. Clever stuff. Groove Design encompasses standard quantisation and Adaptive Groove encompasses Groove Design, so you can use the system at whichever level you wish.
In v3, Groove has an additional Free mode which lets you play with a "freer" degree of swing (it doesn't correct notes falling between positions "112 1" and "112 17"). It also adds eight new user-definable, namable Adaptive Groove settings, the first four characters of which appear in Quantise Track Parameter on the main screen.
You can select up to eight Quantise and Groove templates simultaneously. So, to give a simple example, selecting 16 and 24 would correct 1/16th note and 1/6th note triplets. A Bend To column lets you apply a second correction template which may be necessary if the first template is a Groove.
There are also Segment, Minimum and Advantage settings which determine the range over which the analysis will take place, the minimum number of notes to be analysed and how much priority one groove will have over another.
It is rather complex, and often the results are extremely subtle. The best way to experiment is to record something absolutely straight and then run it through the mangle, although some quantise settings will have no discernible effect on certain types of music.
THE REALTIME MIDI Generator (RMG) has undergone several enhancements. It consists of a control panel with 16 faders, one for each MIDI channel. You can generate any MIDI event here - except notes - and use the faders to alter its value. For example, Control 7 (volume) lets you create fade ins and outs with the faders which can be recorded onto a track. On playback, the faders move to reflect the volume changes. For reasons pf memory conservation, they only move when Control 7 is used and it's worth remembering if you only have a 1Meg machine that mass fader movement can generate an awful lot of data. You can now select a group of faders and move them as one - particularly useful for fades - and you can delete just one fader's movements from a track so you can overdub it.
Selecting P-User events 5-8 adds an extra dimension to the RMG. Above each fader a digital readout appears which can be substituted for an on/off switch. This is mapped onto a P-User event four more than the selected one. For example, P-User 5 has the faders and P-User 9, the digital readout/switch. Click on an element (a fader or readout/switch) and you can allocate it maximum and minimum values. You can name the controls, too.
Click on Listen To MIDI, and the program will interpret and display incoming MIDI events - including notes. Certain data, particularly System Exclusive data, may contain several parameters. There is room in the display for 14 and these can be shown in decimal, hex or ASCII.
This is powerful stuff and correspondingly complex. The manual suggests it may be used for real-time control of sound parameters, and the bootup definitions include an Editor for the Lexicon LXP1 and an M1 Effects Editor.
ONE MAJOR ADDITION to the editor page is Hyper Edit. Whereas the Score and Matrix editors are designed to display notes' pitches and positions, Hyper Edit can be configured to single out events such as a particular note or MIDI controller. It shows data on one track only although on first acquaintance it may seem as if more is being displayed.
Events are shown graphically. There are eight Hyper Sets, each of which can display 16 "instruments". Values are shown by a vertical bar and there are both horizontal and vertical zoom functions.
You can assign any note, MIDI event or P-User event to an instrument. These use screen space but after defining the instrument names and settings, you can drag the display to cover the other parameters - neat. Quantise lets you stipulate the resolution of new data that you enter - it doesn't alter the resolution of existing data - and you can add a delay.
The Hhat option creates mutually exclusive instruments so they can't both be active at the same time. For example, you could draw in a run of l/16th note closed hi-hats, set the resolution of a lower instrument to 1/4 and draw in open hi-hats - hence the name.
There are other functions to assist with Hyper editing, including global increase/decrease, insert and delete on specified quantise steps. The manual includes quick tips on how to use it as a drum editor.
In Notator you can combine this with the drum map to make editing even easier. You can copy one instrument's data to another, swap instrument positions in the display and apply Groove to an instrument. You can convert all the events of an instrument into any other event - convert a snare to a tom, for example (you can do this with Transform, too).
You can lock the Score to Hyper which will line up the notes, but zoom in too much and you'll get the proverbial spider's web (this is actually a Rorschach test).
Hyper Edit also provides an alternative way of creating fades - just draw them in. Incidentally, can I be the only Notator user who never uses the Matrix editor? All my editing is done using a combination of Note display and Event editor.
Other Creator facilities include the ability to trigger a MIDI note using C-Lab's Human Touch. Also, if you enter "I" in the top left-hand corner of the Notepad and save the Song, the Notepad will auto-appear on loading.
NOTATOR HAS ALL the features mentioned above, plus...
The Macro Function will remember a sequence of key presses - and even mouse movements - which you can store under a single key or combination of keypresses. The manual suggests using this to jump from the event editor into the RMG and to name tracks automatically - "Bass", "Lead" and so on. This should have been implemented in Creator but it got left out for one reason or another. It is, however, promised for the next update.
There are many additions to the scorewriting facilities. For example, Diatonic Snap (a low-calorie soft drink?) will only allow notes to be entered at the note pitches of the current key signature - this saves a lot of time.
You can convert normal notes into mini notes for use as cues. You can also convert them into grace notes although this requires a bit of fiddling (polyphonic mode on, rests off). But they look and act like grace notes - very welcome.
There are more note heads for drum notation: you can print stems without heads and you can hide the stems of single notes or a whole track. Other new Partbox symbols include an arpeggio and a "quarter note equals tempo" symbol (for display only). Notes which are tied but whose partner note is off the screen are now shown as tied.
Notes now have a set of attributes which are revealed by double clicking on a note. These include tuplets, syncopation, force accidental, enharmonic shift, accidental distance, horizontal distance, stem and beaming. These give more precise control over the display. You can enter any tuplet (up to 15 subdivisions of the beat), adjust the distance between a note and its accidental, "micro-shift" a note (this is how grace notes are placed) and force an accidental (re-affirm it when it may not be strictly necessary). Syncopation will show a quarter-note, eighth-note, quarter-note grouping as exactly that. Previously, the eighth note would have been shown as two tied quarter notes.
Accent and staccato signs are now imbued with "MIDI meaning". There are nine accents which can add a value to a note's velocity or give it a fixed velocity. The staccato signs can divide a note's duration by 2, 4, 8 or 16.
UNDER NOTATOR, UP to 16 different fonts can be shown on the screen simultaneously. As well as the three in-built fonts, another 13 can be loaded from disk if in G.DOS format (G.DOS drivers are not required). If you have a 1Meg machine, it probably won't be able to hold your music and lots of fonts. However, there are sizing options which help you get more from the fonts without using too much precious RAM.
The 16 font style slots are allocated a font plus sizing attributes. One font can, therefore, be placed in several slots. You can assign a style to track names, bar numbers, chords, tuplets (optionally italic), multi-rests and tempo. There's a new "boxed text" style, too.
One thing to be aware of is that the font configurations are saved as part of a .SON file and if they're not found on reloading, the Control Line will report a Load Error and move on to the next font - just in case you think there's a rabbit off somewhere.
An associated problem may arise if you boot from a hard disk as the program tries to access drive A to check for fonts. To prevent this, after loading, access the fonts page, click on a font slot, the file selector pops up, set the default drive to that on your hard disk (you don't actually have to load a font), quit the fonts page and save the file as AUTOLOAD.SON. Perhaps an option to set drive paths would be helpful.
Fonts from Notator v2.2 and earlier don't map onto the new fonts exactly, but running them through Transform 1 (Load System from FONTDEMO.SON file) will convert the font styles.
Dragging the lower and header printing limits shows how many lines will print per page. Use this in conjunction with Page Preview which gives you a miniature view of the score as it will appear on the printed page. This alone is incredibly useful but you can also turn pages in the display, print individual pages, override the number of bars-per-line setting, and format individual pages independently.
On the subject of printing, constructing your own printer adapter is as complex as ever. However, 42 adapters are supplied for over nine printer types including nine-pin, 24-pin and inkjet/laser printers so there should be no need to do this.
THE NEW MANUAL is so large that it requires a new binder. If you bought your program since the development of Soft Link, the binder will have SL marked on it and will be large enough, otherwise you'll need to upgrade your binder, too.
The manual is divided into 31 chapters, each separated by a plastic, tabbed page separator. The layout is far better than the old manual and although there's no tutorial, it's easy to find a particular section.
There are illustrations on almost every page and, yes, there's an index - 18 pages of it coupled with an extensive 28-page contents list. The Notator section and references to Notator in the index are shown in red (actually a sort of lilac).
Included is a pull-out listing of computer keyboard commands. While these offer many shortcuts, there are a lot to commit to memory. Most functions can be accessed with the mouse, but some can only be triggered from the keyboard. I've always maintained that if you have a mouse you should be able to use it for everything bar name entry. Having to use keystrokes increases the learning curve, but that's the way the program is.
Like most musicians, wading through a manual isn't my idea of a good time. But in order to get the most from any piece of musical equipment - hardware or software - you have to read everything to make sure you don't miss any features. I can guarantee the new manual will reveal many aspects of the program of which you were previously unaware - unless your name is Will Mowat. Will heads the C-Lab software support team - and also translated the manual. User support is free - or is included in the price of the update, whichever way you want to look at it. But note, there are no extra user registration fees. If you have any queries, in the first instance call Mark Gordon or Simon at Sound Technology.
MY BIGGEST NIGGLE with Notator is that even after two updates it still doesn't handle 12/8 note groupings correctly. Perhaps they don't use 12/8 time in Germany but the rest of the world does. Next time for sure, eh lads?
Because of the internal structure of the sequencer, time signature changes belong to a bar position, not to a track or pattern. This is an integral part of the way the program operates but it does mean you have to plan any time changes carefully, especially when using arrange mode. Also, although you can display elapsed time in hours and minutes rather than bars, in arrange mode if there are tempo changes you don't get an accurate reading of the total length of the piece. It would be useful.
IF YOU'RE A dedicated C-Lab user you'll want this update - not just for the extra features but for the manual. If you haven't yet got a scorewriter, Notator must be very near if not top of your list. Although other programs are trying hard to catch up, it's still the most sophisticated and comprehensive sequencing/scorewriting package for the ST that money can buy.
Prices: Notator 3.0 £499; update £49; Creator 3.0 £299; update £39; SL Binder £10. All prices include VAT.
More from Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Waugh
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