Scorewriting packages are becoming more and more popular Clive Grace looks at Dr T's top of the range offering
Generating traditional music notation has been a stumbling block for most affordable computer systems - Clive Grace looks at one that may change all that
Desktop publishing has been with us for some time now, but most of the software available for the Apple Mac and the IBM PC has concentrated on more traditional approaches to the DTP dream - Pagemaker and Ventura are both ideal for creating text and graphics with flow around boxes and the like, but when it comes to laying down staves of music with traditional notation forms, then the aforementioned packages fall sadly short of the ideal.
In fact it is impossible to effectively write music using a desk top publishing package such as Pagemaker. In order to effectively write music and play it back, you need software that is not only specifically designed to show music on the screen as accurately as possible, but you also virtually need a sequencer built into the package as well!
Desktop music publishing has become a reality. Copyist III v1.5 for the IBM PC and compatibles is a vast improvement on earlier levels of software, now being totally postscript compatible, the IBM PC with the Copyist level III can create pages of astounding accuracy that will keep even the bitchiest of session musicians happy.
With a postscript laser printer (such as the Apple LaserWriter II NTX or the QMS Postscript), Copyist enables the user to write a piece of music using a sequencer such as the KCS or Voyetra Sequencer, download it into the copyist, and then print it out as a score, either for production purposes, or for real live musicians to play at a performance or a recording session.
But you don't have to stop there! Because the copyist files are postscript compatible, you can send the postscript Copyist file down to a bureau and have it output at a 1600 dots per inch - that's publishing standard for you and me, and it makes the job of reading plates, rescoring and checking for errors a lot easier, because you can hear what the music is like on the screen!
Music transcription software isn't new however - a great many software houses have turned their eyes towards the particular problems of generating music scores on computer. Normally the screen resolution has never been high enough for really accurate WYSIWYG presentation (a ghastly jargon term meaning what you see is what you get - on printer).
After a few awful attempts on 8 bit machines such as the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro, some companies have turned their eyes towards the new generation of powerful graphics computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga and, of course, the IBM PC.
The Copyist is just such a program, it requires a CGA adapter for high resolution graphics output, but you do not need a colour monitor - a paper white screen is ideal for this purpose, and I would recommend the higher resolution of the white screen over a colour monitor any time for this sort of application.
The screen displays what you will see on the page when it gets printed out and it takes advantage of Adobe's Sonata fonts - fonts designed specifically for music publishing!
The Copyist III supports its own postscript driver - as far as I can see, the driver supports the standard Adobe postscript interpreter - so it is possible to load a PC postscript file into the Apple Mac for whatever reason or another - it is also possible to import files using the MIDI file format protocol - but more of this later.
If you have a slow PC - ie a 4MHz machine, get a faster board! This package requires at minimum an 8Mhz processor in order to work at speeds approaching useful - this is because CGA standard is particularly intensive on the machine - users of Amstrads should be fine, but I really would recommend getting a hard drive as well, as the copyist makes heavy use of files for nearly all operations.
As far as minimum configurations are concerned, the copyist will run in 256K of memory, it will need CGA (or Hercules) colour boards fitted, either two disc drives or one drive and one hard disc, and a Microsoft mouse would make things a lot easier.
Copying the files to the hard disc is the first thing most people will want to do with the software, and the manual is very good at telling you what programs do what, and also what system configurations are likely to make music making as easy as possible - once you have copied all of the software to hard disc (and with the original disc in the floppy drive - for security purposes), you should be at the MS-DOS prompt - simply typing in ME3 will put you into the software, and users of Microsoft windows will simply be able to click on the folder of the same name.
The Copyist uses a menu system for those of you not using a mouse, this accesses the various system modules, and is also used to select options and enter data. The most common menu type with this package is called the select bar consisting of all the options on the top of the screen - one of which can be selected, by using the cursor keys, you can move around very quickly from menu to menu, and it also has the advantage of leaving most of the screen free to write on.
Once the system has been configured so that the copyist will work on your machine, Copyist can be run by a simple ME3 from the floppy drive (at the A> prompt) - strangely enough Dr T's have decided to opt for a protection routine that require the main program to be loaded in from the original disc, and any data or additional files to be loaded in from a hard disc. Special versions of the software are available for an additional $15 (get in quick while the exchange rate is in our favour!) so the system isn't slowed down too much.
Once loaded, the software displays the main menu - this is not compatible with the mouse, although the most important option - the EDIT option, is fully compatible with the Microsoft Mouse and the Amstrad mouse.
The copyist has no special requirement for mouse control other than setting the EDIT cursor to any point on the screen. I have tried a bus-card mouse following Dr T's instructions and have found that the cursor movement is a little jumpy (although I didn't fiddle with the interrupt jumpers as they suggested I do).
The mouse operation is very much an afterthought - not bad, but a little "clunky" at times - certainly it proved its worth when placing notes on the stave, and I very much liked the way this aspect of the software was implemented - although I cannot really see why Dr-T's haven't written a proper mouse driven version of the software - perhaps level IV guys?
Assuming you want to work the hard way, simply select Edit from the front menu. The copyist will ask you to type in a file name (either an existing .ME3 file or a new one), and after a while the screen will clear and voila! The computer simulation of a blank piece of paper appears ready for you to lay down your ideas. This is the editing screen.
You can move the pointer around the screen easily enough by virtue of the four cursor keys (or with F1 to F4). After adding the staff to the page (by pressing S), the clef can be added. All of the traditional clef forms are utilized, so you can correctly write music for octaved instruments such as violas and the like. Multi-stave instruments such as organs (bass and treble clef followed by the pedal staff) and extreme range instruments such as the 8th va of the violin are supported. Instruments with more than one clef range (such as the trombone - requiring the F clef, the C clef and the soprano clef), are also supported, a very promising start!
Bar lines are inserted by typing ct and again, the good doctor has seen fit to support all of the extended bar line conventions I have ever seen in traditional music notation forms.
Time signatures are quite easily inserted by putting in the time manually by placing the cursor to the right of the clef and hitting the up cursor key to denote the number of beats, whereas the lower cursor key denotes the number of bars - simple and straightforward. Needless to say that the number of beats to the bar can be changed at any point in the staff - enough to satisfy both Bartok and Zappa in one go!
If, you need to tie notes from bar to bar, then the t key will happily tie any note or combination you care to try by joining the notes together - again, this is all done in real time on the screen. The same can be said for beamed notes, except this time you will have to mark which notes are to be joined for beaming. The J key will pop you into join mode, whereby you can highlight each note group you want beamed, when leaving this mode, this software automatically pops you into edit mode, and any further edits to the beamed sections still apply, so you won't have to rebeam a group every time you want to transpose a note or change a chord!
Although the main edit menu is quite important, Dr-T's software also relies on the ability to import information from sequencers and other packages with a reasonable amount of ease.
Texture, Sequencer + and Master Tracks (all PC versions) are all directly readable and sequence files can be directly imported - these files can also be exported easily enough by use of the Convert option.
If you are expecting your sequenced music to be seamlessly converted into pure staff notation then please don't! Yes, Dr-T's package is just about the best I have yet seen at interpreting data from software such as KCS, but show a raw, untweaked sheet of imported music to a session musician, and he will throw it back at you!
The problem partly occurs because music notation is not logical, sensible yes, but it is most definitely not logical because composers are always using looping forms to make life and playing easier - stems are not joined, and notes, whilst beamed are slurred only if asked. I would still consider altering the beats/bar setting if too many notes start getting slurred. Properly using the slur in notated jazz and orchestral music is a great art form, and many composers go back to their music at a later date to sort out their notation style - so you should when importing a file.
The actual process of importing a file is quite simple really, and because the software must be efficient about converting a sequencer file into a ME3 compatible file, a number of stages must be undertaken before you can start to edit your music.
With the copyist, the process of converting a sequence file into a finished manuscript can be broken down into three stages. Firstly, the sequence file must be prepared for transcription by placing all of the relevant musical parts in the first 24 tracks of the sequencer (I told you converting files wasn't easy!) and possibly making minor adjustments in the sequence. Secondly, the file created by the sequencer is given a .STR suffix that can be used by the copyist for the final conversion.
In fact, this halfway house, enables the copyist to do an awful lot of pre-processing before the file is transferred, this means that, although the conversion isn't done in memory, it also means that the data file is quite compact and doesn't take up great chunks of memory or disc space - think about it, the IBM PC isn't renowned for its ability to store large amounts of data - even a hard disc has its limits, and with 24 part scores of up to thirty pages in length running on a 512K machine, I think the PC would probably be breaking under the strain of that amount of memory processing and conversion.
You really need to know what the music is going to look like before you choose to import a file and go through the tedious job of of setting up stream file parameters, you will need to know whether to include such detail as adding rests, time signature on first brace, stems beams, and, more importantly - the start times of each quantization per note (up to a sixteenth).
Staff notation is, by definition, designed to make the most of each instrument, so different notation forms exist for different instruments - for example, the violin requires special symbols to denote the direction of the bow, or the amount of forte or piano one should put in the music - grace notes are also important, especially when playing small chamber music (such as quartets) which require slight variations that will not get lost in an entire section.
So, Copyist supports all the symbols - they will not affect the sequencer file output, but they are printed out whenever and wherever. The software includes a symbol designer which, if pushed will work with postscript as a low resolution downloadable font - just like any user defined characters, the user-fonts (as they are called) are a great boon if you need to write in dynamics that a sequencer/synth combination cannot produce but a human can.
Last, and by all means least comes the drum transcription option - drums are a pain in the ass to write, and many people find it easier to get the drummer to write out what they are doing, than to write it down for them!
But considering drums are so easily programmed from sequencers using MIDI grids and the like, the doctor has seen fit to include this option as well!
You will need to reassign the notes to fit the layout of the software so, for example if you are using MT-32 sounds, the chromatic scale (if you trigger from a keyboard) will have to be rearranged to fit the notes Dr-T have assigned. This isn't too much of an imposition as many people write different songs using the same equipment - but the professional wanting to cart the PC into the studio, will have to keep an eye out on the MIDI assignments for the drums - especially if using Samplers that run on ordinary MIDI channels as opposed to shoving them out onto channels 10 to 16.
Laser printing a file was surprisingly easy considering the fact I had tried to get my Apple ImageWriter II to work with the PC and failed!
Postscript files can be printed on Apple LaserWriter Plus/NTX and Hewlett Packard LaserJets. Although I was not able to try out these options in depth I was assured by the Doctor that these packages worked with most postscript printers. There is no real way of Linotronic printing yet as far as I can see, but I am sure that there is some method of spooling a postscript file to a disc and then blasting it down the serial port for typesetting, but as you may imagine, most musicians will not stand for anything involving serial links and the like.
The perfect score writing package is an impossible dream I am afraid, but Dr-T's have got awfully close to my personal ideal. Being reasonably computer literate, I found the menu system easy and quick, and as far as menu operations are concerned, you either remember them or you don't - I thought they were logical enough, but some commands were just too arcane to remember - perhaps the doctor should supply a short-cut card for forgetful writers!
I must admit to liking the software because, with time, I was able to write better and better scores using the software - the mouse control is an afterthought, and I really feel that Dr-T's should make the other sections of the package mouse driven. Similar Mac based packages that use this system are quick and easy, but they are slow! Mouse operation can be likened to playing a keyboard monophonically - one thing at a time, with a keyboard, you can quickly flit from option to option faster than any mouse can (just look at the way people word process with a mouse and you will see what I mean!)
It was slow at times, especially on 8Mhz machines - I wouldn't really want to use it on a 4Mhz PC, but then no-one in their right mind would! Get a turbo board before choosing this software - you won't regret it!
All in all, Copyist III is a great piece of software, the requirements for CGA are not too demanding, and the interfacing capability I would like to see it accept standard MIDI file formats (when they can agree on the format), but on the whole, Copyist is a revolution for all the traditional composers out there using pen and ink and lots of Tipp-ex.
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Review by Clive Grace