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Digigram Proscore

Software for the Atari ST

Article from Music Technology, January 1991

The elite of ST scorewriting software is C-Lab's Notator and Steinberg's Cubase; their prices reflect this status. Ian Waugh makes the French connection and finds a cost-effective alternative.


If music scoring is your priority, the ST is your workhorse and C-Lab's Notator is beyond your budget, this French program could be pour toi.


THIS REVIEW is something of a victory of persistence over reluctance. Proscore version 1.0 was demo'd at 1989's British Music Fair but it was due to be upgraded to version 1.1 in the following August. Rather than dive in with a review which would soon be out of date, MT decided to wait for the new version.

So we waited. And waited. Six phone calls and several promises later it still hadn't arrived. The less objective reviewer would have muttered "stuff 'em" (or similar), and looked for distributors more interested in their wares and getting them reviewed.

Eventually a disk arrived. Not the program disk, you understand, but a demo disk - without a manual. Two phone calls later a manual arrived - with a request to return it when finished.

The problem was that Proscore was distributed by SoundBits which bought in directly from the French manufacturers, Digigram, and they weren't given any review copies. Effectively, any review copies had to be written off at full purchase price as - even if they're returned (would you believe some reviewers try to hang on to review gear?) - they were likely to be unsaleable. To make matters worse the demo disk contained a virus - get your virus killer now.

I sympathised, especially as SoundBits are a small company, but how is the great software-buying public to know about these programs if they aren't reviewed? Since this review, however, distribution of Proscore has moved to GFA Data Media. Hopefully, this will ensure Digigram of better UK representation in the future.

Having got six months frustration off my chest, let's begin. The program proper is dongle-protected. It runs in mono and requires 1Meg of RAM. It supports 32 tracks arranged in a format similar to Comus-Digigram's Studio 24. The first 27 tracks are used for notes as per normal, tracks 28 to 31 are used for drum parts and track 32 stores chords.

As you can tell from the name, Proscore is a scorewriter and it will convert a piece of music you record into its sequencer into notation. It can hold a maximum of 2000 bars of music which should be more than long enough for most users.

THE SEQUENCER



LET'S LOOK AT the sequencer first. Each track can be given a generous 20-character name and solo'd and muted during playback. You can select internal or MIDI metronome in which case pitch and channel can be altered.

Recording takes place in Omni mode and only notes and velocity are recorded. You can specify the start and end bars to be recorded although the end bar is not compulsory. This is useful for punch-ins. You automatically get a two-bar count-in.

The MIDI transmission channels are set from the MIDI menu. This is its only contribution to the program which seems rather a waste. How much more useful it would be to have this information on the main screen.

The Play menu allows you to allocate each track a Program Change number and two controllers with an associated value. These are sent at the start of playback. Velocity can be scaled (from 0-250%) and an offset applied to it (plus or minus 64). The Transpose menu lets you transpose the tracks but, helpfully, not the drum tracks.

You can copy and merge tracks by clicking and dragging but you can't copy to or from the chord track. Block operations in the Functions menu let you cut, copy, paste and insert a range of bars. There are erase and transpose operations here, too.

To help with block operations - which can only be performed on whole bars - you can insert time signatures at any number of places throughout the piece. This would, I suppose, also allow you to create artificially small bars on which to perform an edit.

The sequencer may lack a few of the bells and whistles that you might expect to find on a dedicated sequencer although it is quite up to the production of sophisticated recordings. But Proscore's raison d'etre is to produce a score and the sequencer is there mainly to let you put the notes in.

The program supports MIDI files, too, and recognises both types 0 and 1 so you could import files from another sequencer. A separate program on disk converts between MIDI files and Digigram's Studio 24, Track 24 and Big Band files.

SCORING



TO CREATE A score, you first select Parameters from the Score menu to determine which tracks the score will contain. As the manual says, "the left column permits either to validate or not the track in the score". The next column sets the key signature. Then you can select one of nine clefs including alto clefs and transposed treble clefs.

Next is the number of staves for the track - one or two - another transpose option and two boxes which indicate on which track the chords and lyrics will be shown, if at all. The on-screen headings for these columns, by the way, are unnecessarily minute.

You can bracket staves together and adjust the vertical space between staves by clicking and dragging. You can alter the height at which the chord names appear above the stave.

The score is drawn in the top two thirds of the edit screen. The lower third is a gateway to six edit menus which take over this lower area although you can remove it in order to see more of the score.

THE SIX MENUS



THE FUNCTIONS MENU houses quantise and note display operations. You can select the range of bars these will affect and whether quantisation is Binary or Mixed. Mixed allows triplets. You can suppress tiny inter-note rests and eliminate very short notes. If a quantise setting doesn't work there's the invaluable Undo button.

I confess I was impressed with how well the system handled some of the stuff I threw at it. It even grouped a piece in 12/8 - something Notator can't do. (C-Lab are aware of the problem but haven't fixed it yet).

Mixed mode has a tendency to "tripletise" note groupings. By limiting quantisation to selected bars you can mix straight notes and triplet groupings in the same track with ease. In practice, however, this seemed to fall victim to an occasional bug. When it stuck I found I had to work from the end of the track back to the start otherwise the notes weren't quantised correctly.

Stems are beamed automatically and although you can un-beam notes, you can't select a specific group for beaming and you can't reverse the direction of the stems. The notes on each track can be shown on one or two staves, and each stave can support one or two voices. The stem direction is used to distinguish between two voices on the same stave. This is a very powerful feature although its use is not explained well in the manual.

The bars space out automatically according to the number of notes they contain. When more than one track is shown, each bar aligns with the widest bar and all the notes line up perfectly. It saves messing around with spacing adjustments, which is fine by me although some of you may prefer to be allowed to adjust the width.

If the durations are too far removed from the ideal you head for the Notes Editing menu. Basically, to edit a note you select an edit function from the list then click on the note or stave. Options include pitch and time edit, shift (block transpose), insert, delete, set duration and modify duration.

This is where notes are entered in step-time, too. This really requires the use of both the mouse and the ST's keyboard. As well as individual note durations, you can also select patterns such as two quavers followed by a crotchet or a crotchet followed by four semiquavers. This is particularly useful for repetitive bass lines and drum parts. Neat.

The Presentation menu is used to determine which notes belong to which voice. The program supports up to four voices over two staves. For example, a single note can be assigned to both voices one and two, and will accordingly acquire both an up and a down stem. Voice separations are fairly easy to do.

The Parameters Change menu (not to be confused with the Parameters page which is used to select the tracks which will be displayed) lets you change the key signature and clef at any point in the score.

The Expression Marks menu contains a fair complement of musical symbols and expressions including pp and ff marks, crescendo and diminuendo hairpins, phrase marks, articulation marks, an assortment of bar-lines, trills and mordents. A couple of symbols, however were greyed out including the arpeggio (Notator also currently lacks this). You can insert bar marks (lettered section numbers in boxes) and symbols can be inserted, erased and moved.

Text and lyrics can be entered anywhere on the screen. In Lyric mode, pressing Tab steps the cursor on to the next note. If the lyrics contain long words, the notes space out to accommodate them. Excellent.

The Chords Editing menu is used for editing chords (well, someone not as bright as you may have picked up the magazine). When you record on the chord track, the notes you play are converted into chord names and these are shown above the track selected in the Parameter page. It recognises dozens of chord types. There are quite sophisticated modifiers, so to your standard major/minor/diminished chord (or whatever) you can add a flattened or sharpened 5th plus a 9th (sharp, flat or natural), plus an 11th (ditto) plus a 13th. From this menu you can insert, delete, move and modify chords.

The program interprets the chords literally so if you play an inversion it includes the root note of the chord in the name. For example, playing EGC will result in the chord being displayed as C/E. This is correct, strictly speaking, and although you can edit the chord name to remove the bass note, I think I'd prefer the option to work the other way around.

Having to select different edit pages for different edit functions keeps things fairly straightforward but it means you can't click on a note and drag it to adjust pitch and timing all at once. This seems, to me, the logical way to work although perhaps that's because I'm used to programs which do work that way.

QUANTISATION



WHEN YOU FIRST enter the score page the notes have no quantisation. At least they are displayed with the program's finest resolution of 128th-note triplets. But far from welcoming such detail, I'm afraid it only serves to confuse the score, so much so that it's quite possible some bars of poorly-timed notes will contain so many fractional notes that they won't fit onto the screen.

Once you "OK" a quantise setting and leave the page there's no going back. It's very easy to make a real mess of things if you're not careful. It would be far more helpful, I feel, if quantise in the score page only affected the display. That way you could tweak as much as you like and still go back to an earlier or an alternate setting.

DRUMMING & PRINTING



THE FOUR DRUM tracks can support up to 18 drums each. For each drum you set the MIDI note number, the position on the stave (note and octave number) where you want it displayed - these do not have to be the same, the symbol (one of three types) and the voice number from one to four.

Each drum track only changes when you click on the Read box, not when you select a new track. This may seem strange but it lets you "reload" the previous setup if you make a pigs ear of the current one and it allows you to copy one track's setup to another.

There are several printer drivers on the disk including some for 9-pin, 24-pin and laser printers. Different drivers produce different types of printout in different sizes ranging from draft to "instrumental" quality. You can write your own driver providing you have access to your printer's code book. A bit more about this in the manual would have been welcome, although at least one of the supplied drivers will probably work with most printers. The program may take a little while to do the printout but the quality is superb even on a 9-pin printer.

E MANUEL!



THE PROGRAM IS French in origin and the manual suffers in the translation - vertical and horizontal lift arrows, for example, instead of scroll bars. The program has VALID boxes instead of OK boxes and there are many Franglais instructions and clumsily-phrased sentences.

On one hand I'm tempted to say that it's nothing drastic, but some functions are decidedly inadequately explained and a little trial and error is essential. It could be laid out better, too, and more (or even some) tutorial sections would be useful. It dodges about from menu to menu like the Galloping Gourmet. The lack of an index doesn't help.

I'm afraid there really is no excuse for such a sloppy effort. As they've taken the trouble to translate it into English at least you'd think they'd run it past an English musician - or logical Frenchman at least (I'm steadfastly resisting comments about French letters...). On the other hand, like the other Digigram programs (Studio 24, Track 24 and Big Band), once the functions are sussed Proscore is quite easy to use. But be prepared for some initial experimentation.

Even though this is a revised version, several options were still not available and were greyed out on the menus. Mostly minor things were missing like preventing the track from accidental erasure, the insertion of header and footers (or Bottom as the menu calls it) so it would appear that yet another upgrade is in the pipeline.

VERDICT



INEVITABLY, COMPARISONS WILL be made between Proscore and C-Lab's Notator, but I don't think anyone would suggest that Proscore is in quite the same league - then again, it is considerably less than half the price.

Proscore attempts to perform an extremely complex process and handle it in a fairly simple manner. To achieve this simplicity it has foregone many of the more sophisticated options found in some other scorewriters. Part of the simplification involves splitting the edit features across several different menus and while this does undoubtedly have the advantage of simplicity there is something to be said for having all options available at the same time.

I must add, too, that I felt some of the features could have been better implemented - showing MIDI channels (and program numbers?) next to the tracks, for example, and having a quantise function which only affects the display. However, I found Proscore relatively easy to use and the results are impressive.

I know many potential users will welcome this ease-of-use and will not miss some of the more sophisticated and esoteric functions which it lacks.

If you want sequencer-to-notation facilities with the ability to enter and edit parts in step time directly on the stave, you'll find Proscore well up to the job. In spite of some of my more astringent comments I have no hesitation in suggesting you check it out.

Price £199 including VAT.

More from GFA Data Media (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)



Previous Article in this issue

Meet the Beat

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Studiomaster Pro Line Gold


Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Jan 1991

Gear in this article:

Software: Scorewriter > Digigram > ProScore


Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> Meet the Beat

Next article in this issue:

> Studiomaster Pro Line Gold


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