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Dr T's Tiger Cub

Software for the Atari ST

Notorious for the numerical approach of their programs, Dr T's have incorporated GEM friendliness in their latest Atari ST sequencer and scorewriter. Ian Waugh reckons it's purrfect for those on a tight budget.


Son of Dr T's Tiger sequencer program, Tiger Cub brings cost-effective sequencing and scorewriting to the Atari, and GEM friendliness to Dr T's.


3IF YOU FOLLOW developments in the software sequencer market, you'll probably be rather blasé about another ST sequencer (software writers must be an optimistic lot, don't you think?). Well, Tiger Cub is worth sitting up for and taking notice of. Not only is it one of Dr T's new generation of programs - which use GEM instead of unfriendly numeric displays - but it's also the cheapest ST sequencer with notation facilities currently available. That's got your ears standing to attention, hasn't it?

SON OF A TIGER



BUT LET'S BEGIN at the beginning. Cub (review v1.0) is based on Dr T's Tiger, has 12 tracks, and its operation centres around tape recorder-style controls. And you shouldn't be too surprised to discover that certain aspects of the program have their roots in other Dr T's programs such as KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer) and MRS (MIDI Recording Studio).

Cub will run in mono or colour (the colour display shows fewer octaves on the Edit screen) but you need 1Meg of RAM. It has a maximum resolution of 384ppqn (pulses per quarter note) which is very high for a budget program. What's even more intriguing is the fact that you can alter this - should you want to - down to as low as 24. It defaults to 240 which seems pretty sensible.

There are two main screens - the Tape Recorder screen and the Graphic Editing screen. The Recorder screen has familiar tape transport controls plus a variety of other icons whose purpose will be revealed presently.

MAKING TRACKS



BEFORE RECORDING, YOU must set the length of the song in bars (although this can be altered later). Like most Dr T's sequencers, after recording a Track the program moves on automatically to the next Track so you can plough through a recording with the minimum of clicking. If you make a mistake, the X-Rec button stops recording, resets the sequencer and lets you have another hack at the Track in question.

You can loop on playback. A clock shows the time elapsed but, oddly, this is reset each time around the loop. You can define a section of music with two loop points and play it by clicking on the Cue button.

Each Track can be given a ten-character instrument name, an eight-character Track name and there's room for a further 28 characters in the comments line. Use them.

A slider is used to set the tempo, and the maximum and minimum values can be fixed from the Environments window. The range is from 20bpm to an amazing 600bpm - just the thing for the Minute Waltz - but don't expect all your gear to take too kindly to playing at top speed.

A large Edit icon offers quick entry to the Edit screen, a MIDI Merge button allows you to play through Cub to an expander, and a Rechannel control lets you transmit the data on any channel.

There's a button to enable and disable the recording of continuous controllers, pitchbend and program changes (although perhaps a separate filter window would be more flexible), and another button toggles aftertouch recording in the same way. There's also a real-time Quantise button which affects both notes and controller data during recording.

Solo and Mute controls are present for each Track, and a Group function lets you listen to a preselected group of Tracks at the press of a button. Useful for listening to all the tracks containing drums, for example.

Cub always records on the lowest empty Track. Now, I must confess I would prefer the flexibility to be allowed to record on a track of my own choice. I found it rather frustrating, too, not being allowed to highlight a track for editing purposes, but this is done from the Graphic Editing Screen (just shows how used you get to certain methods of operating).

GRAPHIC EDITING



ON THE GRAPHIC Editing screen notes are represented by bars. The higher up the screen the bar the higher the note and the longer the bar the longer the note. The start of the notes also have a vertical bar attached to them which represents velocity.

As you move the mouse around the display, an indicator shows the note it is on and its position in time in bars, beats and steps.

A range of edit functions are available from icons at the bottom of the screen. The Note icon, for example, lets you edit pitch. When you click on a note it becomes a dashed bar (as opposed to a doggone, darn blasted bar) and you use the mouse to change its pitch. You hear the note, but only when you stop moving the mouse, so you don't get a screech of scales (a new collective noun?). There are corresponding Length and Velocity icons which work in a similar way, and there's a Move icon which lets you adjust a note's position in time.

You can select several notes for editing at the same time, individually, or consecutively, by "rubber banding" a box around them. The mouse can then be used to alter their pitch and position in time. After an alteration, the whole string of notes will play. Their pitch, position in time, duration and velocity can also be altered from the ST's keyboard.

A Pencil icon lets you draw notes (including their velocities) onto the screen and - yes, you've guessed - an eraser (can't call them rubbers) rubs 'em out. There's also a Paste icon, although you Cut from the Edit menu. A Horizontal Range icon is used to highlight a section of track for editing.

The screen shows one Track at a time, and along the top of the display is the Track Information Line. This includes duplicates of the Mute and Group buttons on the Recorder screen along with the Track's MIDI channel number (this can't be altered from the Recorder screen). An initial program change number and volume level can be set here, too (watch out for volume level - you may set your instruments to zero volume and, if not corrected, they may have to be reset). You can also offset the Track in time.

Clicking on a controller button - Program Change, Velocity, Pitchbend, Aftertouch, Mod Wheel, Breath Controller, Foot Pedal or Volume - raises the Note Display window and puts a Controller window beneath it. Yes, a graphic display of controller data. You can bring other controllers to the display if you wish.

You can transmit and record controller messages with the mouse, and you can edit the data graphically. This is beautiful. And fun. You can draw in controller data even if you don't have the relevant controller. With a little practice you can become quite adept at adding a touch of pitchbend or mod wheel here and there.

There is actually a 13th Track, visible only from the Edit Screen, which is used as a Conductor Track, one of Dr T's favourite ideas. In it you can insert time signatures and tempo changes (watch the tempo slider move by itself) and these can be programmed, too, graphically with the mouse.



"We're getting ever-nearer to the time when we will be able to call up sounds by name instead of by MIDI channel and program number. Full marks Dr T's."


Another neat thing about the Edit screen is that you can play the piece and edit it at the same time. A marker along the bottom of the window tracks the music as it plays. You can zoom in and out of the music for precision editing.

What's rather odd - and annoying - is the fact that the sequencer slows down and hiccups when you access the menus.

ENTRIES IN TIME



STEP-TIME ENTRY is selected from the Play menu. You can enter notes with the mouse, in which case they take their timing from the current Repeat Time set from the Repeats menu. If you enter notes from a MIDI keyboard, the values and velocities are taken from the Draw Attributes window. The function keys can double and halve the repeat time, insert a rest, delete the last step and set staccato and legato articulation. These functions can be duplicated by MIDI program change messages so you can work completely from a MIDI keyboard.

Personally, I don't think this is particularly friendly. Why not have a list of note durations which you can click on prior to entering a note? I can't think of anything simpler.

EDIT MENU



THE EDIT MENU offers Transpose, Velocity (both fixed and scaled alterations), Quantise and Time Reverse options.

Time Reverse is a favourite Dr T's function and I wonder why it hasn't cropped up on many other programs. It can reverse the Pitch, Velocity and Duration data (think about this). It's great fun, especially with Bach.

Quantise includes straight, dotted and triplet notes, a variable amount of swing plus a user-definable quantise value. If you botch the job, press Undo and try again. Bach, again, is a quantise fetishist's delight. Instant Jacques Loussier. Well, almost.

Other facilities include Move (forward or backward by a number of steps) and Insert Space which inserts, er, space. There are Copy and Delete options which operate on a section of the song on a single track or across all the tracks. You can also Split Off or Copy a section of a Track to another Track.

The Repeats menu is used to Draw, Copy or Select notes that are separated by a certain amount of time, known as the repeat time. This takes values from 1/16th note to eight bars. Copy Left, Copy Right and Fill options copy and fill selected notes into the track separated by the repeat time (got that?).

It can also be used in editing to select notes separated from each other by the repeat time and to insert notes automatically at the interval set by the repeat time.

Editing is comprehensive, but many operations require the use of the keyboard as well as the mouse. Although familiarity fosters understanding (as well as breeding children) you'll have to try the operations several times to get the hang of them all - and to remember them.

KITS & INSTRUMENTS



THERE ARE TWO especially interesting options in the Utilities menu - Drumkit and Instruments. Drumkit lets you list the note assignments for each drum. The notes cover five octaves, initially from C0-C5 but you can alter this. If you want to print drum scores you may have to change the assignments to match those of the notation part of the program (coming up).

Instruments is even better - it allows you to create a list of the sounds contained in up to six MIDI instruments. You can specify the channels the instrument can receive on and if anything is recorded on that channel, the instrument's name pops up in the Instrument column of the track list (it works on a lowest channel priority). You can also choose the sound to be used by that instrument on a particular Track and that, too, will pop onto the Recorder Screen in the Name box. The program then automatically selects that program number on playback.

This is a brilliant idea, but why can't the program read the data from the instruments directly? It's a tall order, but a program module is already under development which will be able to do just that. We're getting ever-nearer to the time when we will be able to call up sounds by name instead of by MIDI channel and program number. Full marks Dr T's.

Other utilities include a single track Backup - useful if you're about to perform a potentially destructive operation. Track Copy, Delete, Merge (although there's no unmerge and a merge cannot be undone), Swap Tracks, New Track and Change Track Length are found here, too, and there's a useful Text area for making notes.

The Environment window holds all sorts of goodies. For example, you can set your own size of Paste and Select buffer if memory is tight. A MIDI Slow switch offers a fix for some early Yamaha instruments and adds a delay after each MIDI message. The MIDI Clock switch will send MIDI clock messages but there's no option to sync Cub to an external drum machine or sequencer (which probably won't be a major consideration for anyone contemplating this purchase).

You can even use the ST's internal sounds and several presets are included on disk to load into the program.

QUICKSCORE



SCORE EDITING IS handled by a program module called Quickscore which loads into Cub's MPE (Multi Program Environment). The MPE is Dr T's custom memory-sharing application which allows up to eight other programs to share each other's music data.

As Quickscore is a MPE module you might expect it to work with other Dr T's programs. However the manual says that the version supplied with Cub cannot be executed from any other program. There's probably a very good reason for this (if I suggest it's pecuniary, please forgive my cynicism) but if Dr T's intend to produce different versions of MPE modules it sort of defeats the (excellent) object of the exercise.



"Tiger Cub contains a considerable number of novel and unique features - and these are all the more surprising considering this is a budget program."


Tunesmith, however, loaded happily into Cub (although there wasn't enough room in a 1040 for both Tunesmith and Quickscore). One of the files read by the program on booting reserves memory for MPE modules and you can edit this with a word processor. One day (probably next month) even 4Meg of memory won't be enough.

Quickscore is actually a cut-down version of Dr T's Copyist, and there are similarities between its Display menu and Copyist's Transcription Options window and drum note assignments, for example.

But Quickscore doesn't, alas, permit editing of the notes which appear on screen - you have to get these right in the Graphic Editing Screen - it simply displays the music in notation form. You can't add music symbols or text or even a header. But that's the nature of the beast.

The Display window, however, has a number of options to help you get the display right. For example, you can select joined stems and ascending or descending stems or both. You can also determine how syncopated notes (notes off the main beat) are displayed (as a long single note or as two shorter tied notes). Another option extends notes which fall just a little short of full value in order to remove messy, short rests, while yet another button removes double notes which may occur in legato passages.

Quantise sets the minimum note value which will be displayed and Transpose is used to make adjustments for transposing instruments. The Track can be split and displayed on the grand staff, but the split point is at middle C and can't be altered.

You can set initial key and time signatures but the display doesn't reflect changes in either of these. Finally, you can select the clef - treble, bass, alto or drum. The drum clef uses a special set of drum notation symbols which correspond to the note/drum assignments on Roland's MT32 (these assignments are also used by Dr T's Copyist).

You can view a single Track or all the Tracks - the full score. The only way to view selected tracks is to delete unwanted tracks from the sequencer.

With a little judicious editing and quantisation, Quickscore can produce very impressive results. The convenience of having a notation program resident with the sequencer rather than having to load the file into a separate scorewriter (such as Copyist) is enormous.

Quickscore supports 9-pin Epsons, 9-pin HP Inkjet, HP Deskjet/Laserjet, Atari Laser and 24-pin NEC printers. The printout, even on a 9-pin, is excellent.

FILE HANDLING



MOST DR T'S PROGRAMS handle six or more file types. Cub adds another to that list. It can handle standard KCS ALL files plus files with a CUB extension which are similar but additionally contain the repeat time setting and various menu options. When it saves a CUB file it strips out redundant controller information (it does this when you enter the Environment menu, too) to minimise the file size.

You can save startup options, there's a useful Append command and it handles MIDI files, too (formats 0 and 1).

MANUAL



THE MANUAL WAS written by Jim Johnson who appears to be Dr T's resident manual writer. He's come a long way from the self-indulgent twaddle of Fingers, and this manual includes tutorial sections on sequencers and MIDI for the beginner. There are illustrations where required - and an index. But to be told that "the menu bar... contains menus that do all sorts of things" may be chatty but it's not terribly informative.

One of the problems with writing a manual is that in order to explain how to use certain functions you often have to refer to features not yet covered. Jim cops out of these situations by doing just that - referring the reader to later pages. A more detailed tutorial wouldn't have gone amiss but considering the program's complexity, the manual is one of the software sequencer world's better efforts.

VERDICT



EVEN THOUGH CUB has an awful lot going for it, it's fighting against approximately a dozen other sequencers under £130 (which, for some reason, seems to be the budget-price fall off point). Twelve tracks are a limitation (the Recorder screen could easily have been compressed to accommodate another 12) but will be adequate for many users.

The program locked up several times (sometimes when I accessed some menus "too quickly") although control did return on a couple of occasions - perhaps it was doing its housework. It bombed out a couple of times, too - once while playing the demo tune with the internal sounds while accessing Quickscore - and the file selector was reluctant to let me change drives (using a hard disk), usually after loading Quickscore. These bugs need fixing - and probably will be soon.

Some menu options are only available in the Edit screen, possibly for reasons of association but I don't see why I shouldn't be allowed to change a Track's MIDI channel or name or perform track copy operations and so on from the Recorder Screen.

But Cub contains a considerable number of novel and unique features, all the more surprising in a budget program. It's a curious mixture of excellent ideas and strange limitations although none severe enough to cause much grief (except, perhaps, my personal dislike of the step-time entry system).

The publicity blurb bills Tiger Cub as "The music program for the rest of us". I wonder what the other 'alf use. But for all its pros and cons, Tiger Cub is no pussy cat - certainly a worthy candidate for your money.

Price £99 including VAT.

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

 

Music Technology - Nov 1990

Review by Ian Waugh

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