Passport Designs' Encore
Software for Apple Macintosh
Passport's Encore Mac scorewriting software aims to optimise music entry, playback and printing in one program. Mike Collins checks out the dots and the dot matrix.
Passport's Encore scorewriter aims to give the Apple Mac the best combination of on-screen composition, score printing and playback. Is it a winning compromise?
ENCORE USES THE Sonata music font from Adobe Systems Inc. The screen fonts are provided with the Encore program and if you are using the Imagewriter printer, these screen fonts are what you use to draw onto paper. If you are using a LaserWriter, you have to buy the Sonata printer fonts separately from Adobe (through your local Apple dealer, or by mail order). If you do not have these fonts you can still print out on a LaserWriter, but the printing will not be as clean as if you used the correct LaserWriter fonts.
When you're working in Encore's edit window, you can view a representation of a sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper when you choose Preview from the Windows Menu. On my Apple 13S monitor this preview is still quite small and difficult to read, so I would like to see some kind of feature which allows you to use a bigger screen area to display this preview, or a zoom feature, or whatever. Normally, using the default font size three, you are limited to 12 three- to four-measure staves per page. This is OK for standard piano music, lead sheets and the like, but for larger scores you may need more staves, or, alternatively, bigger note sizes on the page. It's very easy to change the number of bars or measures on a line using the Measures Per System option in the Change Menu - you just click in the margin of a staff to select it, and then go to the Measures option and enter a new number, say five. Every staff in every 'system' will now have five measures. It's equally easy to insert or delete a 'system'. In case you were wondering, a system in this context is a group of staves arranged one above the other, joined by a vertical bracket at the left, and containing barlines going across the page to the right margin. If you use more bars per line, or 'measures per system' as Passport's terminology would have it, you may need to reduce the font size, which again, is easy to do, using the Staff Sheet dialogue box from the Windows menu. You can set font sizes differently for different staves, which is a useful feature for some types of score. Finally, there is a Reduce option in the Page Setup dialogue box which you can access from the File menu before you do your printing. Using an Imagewriter II, you can print at either 100% or 50% of normal size, but a LaserWriter allows you to print anywhere from 25% to 400% normal size.
If you wish to print parts out separately, you just copy a stave to the Mac's clipboard, close your file and open a new one, paste in the stave you want and print it out. These options are reasonably comprehensive, but not really as good as the options provided in Coda software's new Music Prose program, which also allows you to create PostScript files which can offer more advanced printer control, and Encapsulated PostScript (EPS) files which can be imported and exported to and from applications that support EPS. You'll find this type of file compatibility highly desirable if you need to do professional publishing and printing work.
MOST MUSIC PROGRAMS make use of MIDI File formats which can be used to exchange data between themselves and any other music programs on any computer which supports MIDI Files. To transfer between different computers you will either need suitable connecting cables, or a modem connection between the computers. Unfortunately, you lose a lot of the page formatting information if you attempt to transfer an Encore file into, say, Finale to take advantage of its superior page layout facilities, for instance. Consequently it's a pity that Encore does not support PostScript and Encapsulated PostScript file formats which would allow you to transfer formatted pages to other programs for further work to be done.
When you import a standard MIDI File into Encore, or sequences created in one of Passport's other programs (such as Master Tracks Pro, Jr, or Pro 4), Encore has to analyse the file's MIDI data to determine the durations, locations, and beaming of the notes it imports. The data is initially displayed as raw data with dots on the stave to represent the pitches of the incoming notes in their correct bars. You then have to select the bars individually, or in groups, or all at once, and use the Guess Durations command from the Notes menu. This will automatically get most of the durations correct, and the idea is that you then "spot edit" the score to get the tricky bits right (such as glissandos). I quite liked this approach, having had terrible experiences when using MOTU Composer in the past with pages which needed prohibitive amounts of editing before they could be used. Encore will "guess" most things right first time, leaving you with just a few awkward parts to get right using other methods.
"Real-time entry is one of Encore's features which may persuade you to fork out £450 for this program instead of £250 or less for other programs."
You still need to quantise your sequencer files sensibly, and possibly extend note durations in your sequence files to occupy complete note values in order to get readable music in any notation program. This is really a limitation of conventional music notation, which demands that you make educated decisions as to the best way to notate any music, even hand written copy. If you wish to notate note lengths extremely accurately, for instance, this can lead to decreased legibility when it comes to reading the music. Also, for many purposes it is not possible to notate the actual sound which comes out of your instrument. This could be due to the nature of the instrument - such as a piano whose notes ring on - or due to reverberation in the room or in the recording which keeps the note sounding after you've finished playing it. When you create your MIDI sequences, you will probably take these factors into account subconsciously, by playing the note durations which sound best on the instrument you're using for the part, but you do have to be aware that these may not represent the wisest choice of durations as far as the notation is concerned.
It certainly helps if you have previously had a lot of experience in notating music by conventional methods before you try using a computer program like Encore. Beginners will be able to use the program, and will probably find that they start to learn a lot about notation by using the program. But it's unlikely that anyone with no experience of using conventional music notation will ever get the best out of notation programs. This is not a criticism of this program, just a general comment about computer-based notation software.
APART FROM IMPORTING sequences or MIDI Files, there are three main ways to enter music into Encore: step-time entry using the mouse, step-time entry using a MIDI Controller (such as a synthesiser keyboard), and real-time entry using a MIDI Controller. You can mix all these methods freely. There is just one palette of notation "tools" available, which may be switched between a Clefs palette, Notes palette, Graphics palette, Dynamics palette, or two separate Marks palettes. To use the palettes is a breeze - just click on any icon within a palette and the cursor will turn into that icon. Clicking on the staff with this cursor places that object where you click.
It is very easy to shift bar-lines to make more or less space available between individual bars by clicking on a bar-line and dragging. Used in conjunction with the Measures Per System command this allows plenty of flexibility while laying out your score. There are also rulers available to help you line things up. You can also change the vertical and horizontal size of a staff by changing the size of the font in which the staff is displayed. For instance, you could change your staff sizes temporarily while you are working on your score, or just for the final printout.
Once you have your notes entered, you can change the distance between the note heads and beams, or change the angle of the beams simply by clicking and dragging, and you can change the distance between staves in a similar way. No need to enter complex dialogue boxes as with some other programs. You can move notes or even whole chords in the same way, but I did find it difficult to place sharps, flats, and naturals properly because there didn't seem to be any very effective individual control over the positioning of these on the stave. I found step-time editing to be fairly speedy and relatively painless, either using the mouse or a MIDI keyboard. Using MIDI, you first click on the point in the score at which you want to enter a note, then choose the note or rest duration you want using the palette, or from the Mac keyboard, and then play your notes in one at a time. Chord entry is also easy - just press and hold the first note you want, then play the rest of the notes, releasing them as you please. When you release the first key you hit, the notes will all be entered as a single chord. This system has the added bonus of allowing you to enter chords which you would normally find it difficult to play.
"Encore's number one features have to be the real-time MIDI note entry facility and the fact that the program is intuitive to use, and consequently easy to learn."
THIS IS ONE of Encore's more advanced features, the one which may persuade you to fork out £450 for this program instead of £250 or less for other programs such as Music Prose or DeLuxe Music Construction set. Again, it is very simple to set up and use this feature. You choose either an internal Mac click (which wouldn't work on my review software) or an external MIDI click, and set your keyboard to transmit on MIDI channel one. Then you press the Record button at the top of the edit window and start playing. The notes appear on the screen as you play, without stems or beams. There is an option to split notes into different staves, such as right-hand and left-hand piano parts, which is very useful. You can also record Program Changes, Pitchbends, Channel Pressure, Controllers, and Modulation data, but this will not appear in the score, although these will play back via MIDI. The display scrolls as the music plays, and a marker appears at the start of each new bar to help indicate where you are. This is useful when you are playing back to check where to make your edits. You then have to guess the durations and beam the beats as with other forms of entry.
THERE ARE TWO reasons to "voice" notes in Encore. You may wish to have a staff with more than one independent line of music, say for four-part choral music, or whatever. Another reason would be to allow you to assign separate voices to a staff so that you can use a different sound for each voice or part. Each staff can be assigned to one of 32 MIDI channels (using both modem and printer ports) and you can also divide the music on each staff into as many as four voices each assigned to a different MIDI channel. You can then highlight these parts separately if you want to edit them, such that everything but the selected part on the stave is greyed out. This is very useful when composing your music and making alterations. The Notes menu contains a Flip Stems command to allow you to have stems on different parts going in different directions on the same stave - very useful. Using the Staff Sheet window you can enter a MIDI program change number for any staff or voice you want. Unlike some of the better sequencer programs which offer fancy customisation options for program changes, you are limited to using the numbers 1-128, which may not be the way your synthesiser numbers its patches, although it is not too difficult to make the translation - just tedious. The Staff Sheet dialogue box also allows you to enable or disable a staff from playback, or to solo one or more tracks.
AMONGST ENCORE'S OTHER features there are reasonably flexible text entry and lyric entry options, X in the time of Y tuplet options, various clef types, and a useful selection of the most common notation markings such as trills and accents. These markings do not affect the MIDI data that Encore uses to play the music, however, which seems a shame. The dynamics palette contains eleven markings from ppp to fp, which should suffice for most applications. Staves may be quickly transposed using the Key function in the Staff Sheet dialogue box, and intervals are identified both by name and by interval number. You can also mix (merge) the data from staves by copying one staff into the clipboard and then using the Mix Data command from the Edit menu. There are also Nudge commands to move notes up, down, left, or right, although rests can only be moved either left or right. You can also set measure numbers to appear either above or below the staves.
MOANS FIRST: THERE are several areas in which I think Encore could be improved: I'd like to be able to click on a note and hear it play over MIDI while I'm editing the score, and I'd like to see EPS files available along with more flexible printing options. It would be useful if some of the MIDI data (modulation and pitchbend) could be notated in some way, although I realise that there are practical problems with this - such as what exactly is the modulation modulating, and how much is the pitch bending. I would like to see something like a standard Notation File format, like the MIDI File format, so that you could swop files between various notation programs, just as you can swop files between sequencer programs, without losing all the formatting information. The manual is OK, but only just OK - certainly not as good as Music Prose's excellent manual.
So what do I like? Well, the number one features have to be the real-time MIDI note entry facility and the fact that the program is intuitive to use, and consequently easy to learn - both important points for people who may not use this program every day of the week. The program is optimised for music composition more than for publishing and printing, which is not a bad thing, just something you should be aware of when deciding if Encore is the program for you. And finally, Encore is not copy-protected, which is a brave move on the part of Passport, for which they should earn the praise of all serious users of their music software. I look forward to the day when software copy-protection is completely discarded, as it causes more problems for the users than it prevents piracy. Nice one Passport.
Price £449 including VAT.
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Review by Mike Collins
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