Cadenza For Windows
IBM PC Software
Play solo on the PC.
Despite a delay of several years, professional PC music software is finally with us and demands our attention. But can programs like Cadenza ever make up the ground lost to the ST and Mac? Bob Walder opens his Windows...
People new to the world of music technology could be forgiven for thinking that, Macintosh aside, there is only one computer worth looking at. And indeed, for a long time the Atari ST was the only viable proposition. It's popularity was based largely on the fact that it was, and still is, the only machine to include those all-important MIDI ports on its side panel (thus encouraging software writers to write for it). It also had a workable user interface (thus encouraging software writers to write for it), and it was cheap (also encouraging software writers to write for it). Result - plenty of good quality music software to choose from. By comparison, the IBM PC and all its clones were much more expensive and were regarded as business machines - most definitely not for writing music on.
Recently, however, all this has changed. The explosion in the use of PCs for business has forced down the price to the extent that they are now being sold as home computers. These days it is possible to purchase a good quality 80386-based PC with a high resolution colour screen and a 40Mb hard disk drive for less than the price of an equivalent specification Atari.
The availability of high specification machines at a reasonable price has also spawned an increase in the use of Microsoft Windows Graphical User Interface (GUI). This has led to more attractive software being developed, and, with the advent of Multimedia machines bringing an air of respectability to the idea of sound on PCs, we are finally beginning to see music software appearing which rivals that on the Atari. One such package is Cadenza for Windows from Big Noise Software...
Anyone who has looked at PC music software before and thought that it was pretty awful (...and most of it is) is in for a big surprise when they see Cadenza. On firing up the program you are briefly presented with a screen announcing the MIDI Director before Cadenza itself is loaded. The Director is a MIDI management system for Windows which allows several MIDI programs to multitask and share multiple MIDI ports without any unhealthy competition.
Unlike the approach taken by some other manufacturers where all the timing functions are built into the sequencer, the MIDI Director provides a consistent way of synchronising several MIDI programs using internal sync, MIDI Time Code, or Song Position Pointer based methods. This would allow you to run, for instance, a copy of Cadenza with a copy of a drum sequencer and ensure that both are kept perfectly in sync. You can even run multiple copies of Cadenza itself - ever fancied working on three songs at once?
Since Cadenza is fully compatible with Windows Multimedia Extensions and Windows V3.1, it will use the supplied Windows timer (where available) to add a further level of consistency. The Director provides all metronome functions too, allowing you to select either a MIDI sound source or the PC's internal speaker. Note that apart from the synchronisation methods mentioned above, Cadenza also supports SMPTE with 24, 25 and 30 (drop and non-drop) frames per second - providing a suitable MIDI interface, such as the Music Quest MQX-16S or MQX-32M, is installed.
The basic structure of Cadenza is that of a 64 track linear sequencer. The opening screen contains the basic track sheet, which contains as many tracks as can be accommodated by your screen resolution (you get 38 on an 800 x 600 screen) and holds track name, instrument name, status (mute or play), mode, port, MIDI channel, pitch transposition, bank, patch, volume, pan and number of events in that track. Given the right hardware (such as the Music Quest MQX-32M) Cadenza supports up to 32 MIDI channels.
You can add additional ports using the MIDI manager, and it is possible to mix and match hardware within the same machine - drivers are included for several well-known MIDI cards. If you have a 32-channel card installed (or more than one 16 channel card), the 'port' parameter of the track sheet allows you to specify which MIDI port is to be used. The instrument name is a nice feature which allows you to set up instrument specific patches. For instance, if you have a Roland U220, you can create a U220 file which contains the necessary patch information for all the instruments.
From then on, you simply say that you want to use 'Jupiter Strings', for example, and Cadenza takes care of the patch changes automatically. Of course if you prefer, you can simply specify the bank and/or patch numbers within each track instead. The only other parameter which requires explanation is Mode. "Linear" is the normal state, playing the track from beginning to end. Loop allows you to record a short pattern which is then looped for the duration of the song - fine for drum or repetitive bass patterns.
Link is Cadenza's attempt to emulate pattern-based sequencers such as Prism. It allows you to record your patterns in different tracks and use a link track to specify the order in which they should be played. It is not a particularly useful feature, and I didn't make use of it at all, but it's there if you need it. Other parameters such as status, pitch, volume and pan are also included, but these are (I assume) self-explanatory.
Above the track window are the transport controls, which are much the same as for any other sequencer. To the right of these is the status window, containing the current song position (measure:beat:tick and SMPTE time), the meter and tempo. An aspect of Cadenza I particularly liked was the ease with which any of these could be changed using the mouse. Want to go to measure 4, or change from 4/4 to 6/8? Simply place the cursor over the appropriate section of the status window and click the mouse buttons until you're there. This is much better than using menus, although the menu approach is also available for the more conventionally minded.
Up to this point, you may be thinking Cadenza is not significantly different from any other sequencer on the market, and that's probably true. Where it really scores is in its graphic editing capabilities. The song editor provides a graphic representation of all the measures in a song, with an indication of which ones contain MIDI data. Cutting and pasting measures is a simple operation using the mouse, and patterns can be repeated any number of times when pasting back.
The note editor is the familiar 'piano roll' type, with the keyboard displayed vertically at the left of the screen, and the notes shown as horizontal bars (the length representing the duration) to the right of the appropriate keys. Editing using this window is simplicity itself. You can access the appropriate measure by altering the current song position display, using the horizontal scroll bar underneath the window, or just by playing the song until you reach the point at which you want to stop.
A single click on any note displays that note's parameters (time, pitch, velocity, duration and channel), whilst a double click brings up an editing window to change them. Notes can be moved or their duration altered by clicking and dragging, and new notes can be inserted by clicking at the appropriate point. Pressing the right mouse button summons forth a tool bar from which you can set options such as quantise and default note duration.
There are also screen editing tools for pitchbend, modulation, aftertouch, tempo and one for all other MIDI control events. These take the form of a 'graph' type display which can be edited or drawn from scratch using the mouse - that silky smooth crescendo is now within your grasp!
The Faders window allows you to select and control a parameter (such as volume or pan) on screen - with one fader per MIDI channel. The values can be altered in real time and the resulting events recorded as part of the song. Multiple windows can be opened simultaneously, each controlling a different parameter, and clever use of volume and pan on your workstation with it's built-in effects means you can mix down to stereo without even using a mixing desk!
Other editing windows worth a mention are Meter and Event List. The Meter Map simply allows you to change the time signature on a bar-by-bar basis throughout the song, whilst the Event List provides a precise way of editing individual events. An event filter is also available and this offers a powerful means of isolating a specific group of events for editing operations. A particularly nice feature, and one that really does help simplify the editing process, is that all these windows will follow the song position pointer whilst the song is playing.
Since we're on the subject of editing, it is probably worth looking at some of the commands within the editing menu in a little more detail. This, after all, is the heart of the system - and let's face it, there are not many of us who can play everything perfectly first time. I have already mentioned the more graphically orientated operations such as using the mouse in the note editor or drawing pitchbend curves, but the edit menu refines some of these functions even further and adds some which are simply not possible using a mouse alone.
Besides the usual cut, copy and paste commands and the event filter, which we have already mentioned, there is the ubiquitous Quantise option. Quantising is not applied by default during recording but must be introduced subsequently. Resolution is down to 32nd notes, and there are triplet options as well. If you prefer, the quantisation can be set in MIDI ticks - the maximum resolution being 192ppqn, though this is increased to 240ppqn with the Music Quest MQX-32M MIDI card.
If you don't want too mechanical a sound, you can leave the timing slightly "off" - the amount being determined by a percentage indicator. 'Humanise' is basically quantisation in reverse. It allows you to inject a random element of mistiming into a track which has been too heavily quantised or entered in step time. The Slide command shifts a marked block of events by a specified number of measures:beats:ticks, whilst Length allows you to expand or compress the duration of events within a marked block.
One related function which should prove a godsend for some is not to be found in the Edit menu, but in the Tempo window. 'Fit To Time' will adjust the tempo of a marked region so that it takes exactly the specified amount of time to play - a dream come true for all you writers of jingles or advertising music.
Good as all these features are, what's most impressive about Cadenza is the fact that it doesn't attempt to force you into a particular way of working, but leaves you free to develop your own. Within the program it is possible to define a number of preferences which can be saved to a file and recalled at any time. In addition it's possible to construct various window layouts (perhaps one with the track sheet and note editor, and another with the track sheet, modulation, pitchbend and aftertouch windows) which can again be saved as individual files and recalled at any time.
As you might imagine this allows you to personalise your working environment to a considerable degree, and because the settings are saved to named files it would be possible for two people with quite different working practices to use one copy of Cadenza (alternately, of course) without upsetting each other.
Future enhancements of the program include staff editing and score writing, and Digital Music are currently bundling a copy of ShowTune with the package. This program reads standard MIDI files (type 1 files can be created within Cadenza) and produces a printed score from them. It's competent enough, but has an extremely dull and not particularly intuitive user interface which does not run under Windows - although it will run in a DOS window alongside Cadenza if you have enough memory.
Extensive editing can be performed once the file has been read in, including changing the staff layout, splitting tracks across multiple staffs (to separate left- and right-hand parts of a piano piece, for instance), altering margins, and adding text, beams and slurs. Beaming can be automatic or manual and notes can be added, removed or quantised before the work is saved and printed. With a little care, the printed output can look very professional, especially when using a laser printer.
That said, I wasn't particularly impressed with the way pages are saved as separate files on disk. It has the effect of making the directory look unnecessarily untidy and actually gives away the US origins of the program (the only paper options it offers under HP LaserJet are Legal and Letter - no A4). As a package in its own right, it would be hard to get excited about ShowTune, but as a freebie it serves as a worthwhile stop-gap until the Cadenza score writing module is completed. It should certainly win Digital Music some friends.
Working with Cadenza is a dream. Recording involves nothing more demanding than pressing the Record button and playing on the keyboard. Step time recording is also supported, for those tricky lead lines or drum patterns, and so too is overdubbing. Once you have your basic patterns down, you can cut and paste to your heart's content with your mouse in the song editor in order to build up the bones of a song. Correcting minor mistakes and making subtle additions such as pitch bends or crescendos is quickly accomplished using the various graphic editing tools.
Many of Cadenza's features are not unique, but they are particularly well implemented. Overall, the package puts everything at your fingertips and has a way of appearing to be working for you rather than against you - making constant recourse to the manual unnecessary. I would be quite happy using Cadenza as my main sequencer and look forward to future releases with relish.
Price: £279 - including Music Quest MIDI card, Showtune, postage & packing and VAT!
More from: Digital Music, (Contact Details).
Review by Bob Walder