Musicator GS for Windows
PC sequencing and notation software
16-track sequencing and notation software for the PC. Especially for those who know the score...
A sequencer with a serious notation function at a reasonable price - PC owners might have cause for celebration this Christmas. Nicholas Rowland gets seasonal...
Before we start can I just say a great big Merry Christmas to Jo Brodtkorb up there in the frozen wastes of Norway! I feel it's only polite to return the compliments of the season which popped out of my review copy of Musicator, the sequencer which Jo has bestowed on the world of PC music.
It's nothing personal, you understand - I don't know Jo from Odin. He extends Christmas greetings to any purchaser of the product (whatever time of year you happen to buy it). With them comes a heartfelt message to treat Jo's 'child' with as much love, care and understanding as you would your own. It's a poignant introduction to a piece of software which has a similarly endearing personality.
Musicator GS for Windows, to give it its full title, is a 16-track sequencer-cum-notation package which is remarkable chiefly for the way it seamlessly integrates the notation with the sequencing. Many sequencers which offer a score-writing function (and not all do, of course) tend to treat the latter bit as a peripheral activity - something to dress up the music at the end of the process. But Musicator handles the business of processing raw MIDI data and turning out dots on the page with equal seriousness. You play, it writes: you write, it plays. More importantly, if you make changes in any one element of the package, all the other bits are updated as well. And all before your very eyes.
You can treat it as a sequencer pure and simple, a musical 'typewriter' or as a notation package which will play back your music as well as print it out.
Musicator (or MGW as we shall call it) has been around as a DOS product for a couple of years now. Former DOSsers might like to know that the recent transition to Windows has brought an all-round sexier look, plus a greater range of features - including the ability to deal with longer songs, support for all 16 MIDI channels, a piano roll editor, better support for drum parts and enhanced resolution (up to 480 ppqn). The package also supports all GS controllers, including a dedicated window for editing chorus and reverb patches on the likes of the Roland Sound Canvas range. (That's why it's got GS in the title, in case you were wondering).
Apart from Windows 3.1 (Windows 3.0 just won't do) MGW requires a minimum 4Mb of RAM and at least 2Mb of spare hard disk space.
Once installed and re-summoned from the depths of your PC, you are presented with a somewhat cluttered screen, made up of the three main windows - Notation, Roll View and Overview - with a controller window thrown in for good measure. Across the top of all this runs the write/edit toolbar including tape transport type controls for the sequencer. It's all rather confusing at first, although you can quickly set up and then jump between four user desktops configured according to your preferred method of working.
In default mode, the MGW is set up for melody/piano/bass/drums quartet playing in 4/4 at 100bpm. Anything different can be configured using the Part Setup menu which offers control over MIDI channel assignment, instrument/track name, transposition values, solo or mute buttons and the clef type (eg. soprano, bass, double/piano, alto, tenor and rhythm.) Drums are dealt with via a separate setup menu which allows you to match named drum types with the appropriate MIDI note numbers as well as determining the notation used for the various drum types. This information can be saved as a drum template, which when reloaded will list the drums by name within the roll view window. Sadly, percussion fiends like myself will immediately notice an absence of pattern or loop record modes. MGW is strictly linear and doesn't care who knows it.
Notes can be input in real or step time from an external MIDI device, or masochists can simply place notes on either the stave or piano roll grid using the mouse. When recording notation in real time I was impressed at the speed with which MGW turned the raw MIDI date into notation - even on relatively slow systems. It also managed to capture the subtle nuances of my human feel (aka dodgy timing) while still producing notation that was fairly 'correct' (ie. simplified and readable).
Editing recorded data is a breeze, thanks to the ease with which you can jump to specific bars and parts and also the speed with which the Notation and Roll View windows are redrawn.
Keeping both windows open at once enables you to make a speedy job of editing music and pure MIDI data simultaneously. You can shift notes, force naturals and accidentals and play around with quantize values and attack and release offsets (MGW's names for note on/off positions) to your heart's content, with all changes in one window being immediately recorded in the other (where relevant). Edit jobs, such as quantize or clock shift (up to 60 ticks forward or back) can be performed globally, on groups of notes or individually.
While tidying up how it sounds, you can also set about tidying up how it looks. Options include disappearing or minimising rests, flipping note stems or resizing bars so that notes aren't jostling for space. But these initial moves are only the tip of the conductor's baton. Groups of notes can be re-transcribed using different resolutions to make them visually more logical. You can take a polyphonic line written on one stave and then split it into a set of monophonic parts written on separate staves. Notes can be grouped, degrouped and regrouped to your heart's content - and if it all gets too much, the 6-level undo function should be enough to get you out of trouble.
Available from the tool bar is a pop-up track mixer giving you mouse control over the volume and pan level of each of the 16 tracks. Those with GS/GM modules can also make use of the dedicated FX controllers. Unfortunately, although you can change all the mixer settings as your sequence plays, you can't save these changes as part of the sequence itself. However, salvation is offered in the shape of the various controller windows where you can 'draw' this information in.
Files can be saved in MGW's native '.MCT' format or as standard MIDI files (which can also be imported). MGW will even keep the SysEx information intact so that all your modules will start playing using the right voices.
This is just another thoughtful touch in what comes across as a slick and well-implemented package, particularly if you prefer dealing with real notes on staves. There are weaknesses of course - I've mentioned the absence of pattern based recording, but the maximum of 16 tracks will also be seen as a serious limitation by many. Good as it is, the scorewriting falls some way short of the professional musical typesetting packages - but then again, so does Musicator's price. It also works on the premise that you are fluent in notation - there really isn't much point otherwise.
But these criticisms (more observations, really) pale into insignificance compared to Musicator's overall flexibility and speed. So once again, thanks Jo and have a mince pie on me.
|Ease of use||Musical literacy essential|
|Originality||An interesting combination of notation and sequencer functions|
|Value for money||Good, despite 16-track limitation|
|Star Quality||A creditable performer|
|Price||£295 inc VAT|
|More from||Arbiter Group PLC, (Contact Details)|
Review by Nicholas Rowland
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