C-Lab Notator Alpha Scorewriter
Slimmed down for the educational market, Notator Alpha offers comprehensive music scoring on the ST for just under a ton. Vic Lennard gets educated.
C-LAB HAVE BEEN at the forefront of Atari ST sequencer software since launching their Notator program at a time when musicians were seriously asking for a professional scoring package. Derived from Notator, Notator Alpha is a 16-track sequencer with the ability to score up to four tracks of musical information. On a 1040, the program gives you 61,000 events (roughly 30,000 notes). Using tails up and down for two independent MIDI channels, up to eight MIDI channels of information can be scored and printed out.
The main screen is unmistakably C-Lab, but is less busy than other members of the family. The central panel is the Pattern window, containing 99, 16-track Patterns. To the left is the Arrangement window; here you can dictate the order in which Patterns play. To the right are the transport controls, Track information box and left/right locators. Along the top are boxes for tempo, time signature, score quantise option and so on.
But Alpha is more than a simple scoring program - it is also a sequencer in its own right. MIDI information (at 192ppqn resolution) can be recorded onto a Track using the transport controls (which lack only an automatic punch in/out control from Creator/Notator). The track information box then allows you to alter MIDI channel, quantise value and transpose per Track, as well as increment or decrement the velocity values of all notes on a Track. All parameters are changed in real time. Tracks can also be solo'd and muted, and you can copy between Patterns, Tracks and parts of Tracks.
The edit page is entered via the Edit icon in the track information box, or by pressing E on the Atari keyboard (most functions have keyboard equivalents). The Graphic editor is the same as the Creator/Notator version: each MIDI event is listed with its timing and a small grid to show its position within the bar. You can move events, alter them, delete from or add to the list by grabbing from the choices on the left of the list. An event will be created at the same position as the current event (shown in inverse graphics).
Alpha's second editing function is for notation. The master quantise box gives the note value to which all notes will be resolved. Before entering the Edit page, the Edit option on the menu bar lets you select whether you're going to see the first four active Tracks in the current Pattern scored (full score) or just the current Track (note display). There is also the option for step-time input from a MIDI keyboard.
Parameter mode allows you to decide the visual setup of the note display for each Track. Split point for double stave and independent transpose for each stave can be set from here, as can the removal of all beams and replacement by single tails for vocal top line. If two MIDI channels of data exist in a Track, this is regarded as two voices, each of which can have their tails up or down. There is also the choice of whether to have rests for one voice if no notes exist at a point where the other is playing. The minimum distance between any two notes and the degree of slant for beams is edited via the Global Score option.
Using the note display is quite intuitive. Clicking on the clef sign changes between treble and bass clefs while adding or changing notes is achieved by simply selecting the note value from the choices to the left of the score and clicking on the correct place in the score. There is a library of articulations below the screen accessed by dropping the cursor; chords, text and lyrics can all be added, and you can manipulate the distance between staves on screen.
Printing out the music is equally straightforward. The Printer option gives you control over parameters like whether Track names are printed, how often the bar numbers are shown on the score and the left/right margins. Over 30 printer configurations are currently offered, including draft and final options for many printers. Unfortunately you can't edit the configurations so you're going to have to rely on C-Lab bringing out a version for your printer. Most popular printers are catered for though drivers for laser printers are a little scarce.
Alpha files are fully compatible with Notator, and MIDI Files can be loaded from other sequencers. There are a few additions I would have liked to have seen: two arrangements instead of one for overlapping Patterns would have been useful, and the lack of MIDI clock input makes it impossible to run Alpha under external sync. With schools - the main market for Alpha - starting to network Ataris, this omission prevents a central timing device from controlling multiple computers running Alpha.
Notator Alpha represents excellent value for money, and schools already using Notator stand to get more out of it when used in conjunction with Alpha.
Price £199 including VAT. Price may be subject to change due to the recent increase in VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard