Passport Designs Encore
Atari ST Software
Already proven on the Macintosh, Passport's popular scorewriting program makes the transition to the humble ST. Ian Waugh likes the score and goes back for more.
Already a well-established and capable package for the Apple Mac, Encore has found its way onto the Atari ST - have its power and user-friendliness survived the journey?
Encore (review version 1.3.5) is a scorewriter - or music composing software as it calls itself. It began life on the Apple Mac and has since been ported to the ST and the PC. Its spec is impressive - it can handle up to 64 staves per page, each with four voices and it can play back the score over MIDI - over 32 channels if you have the Passport MIDI Transoft Interface (which plugs into the modem port).
But before you rush to the shops, you'd better make sure that your computer can handle it. You'll need an ST with at least 1Meg of RAM although 2Meg is recommended - essential if you use the Atari SLM804 laser printer. You also need a hi-res monitor and a hard drive with 2.5Meg free. If you only have floppy drives, start saving.
THE PROGRAM COMES on three disks and has to be installed before use. The process is virtually automatic unless you hit a snag, in which case you'll need to know something about GDOS and the Assign.Sys file. Encore uses GDOS to display special fonts on the screen (some DTP packages do likewise). Having said all that, you're unlikely to have any problems.
Encore prints files in PostScript format and it uses UltraScript, the PostScript interpreter for the ST, to do this. UltraScript is installed separately. If you have enough memory, Encore will run UltraScript for you and allow you to match up GDOS screen fonts with UltraScript fonts - another reason why more than 1Meg of RAM is recommended.
Passport have taken the brave and unusual step of not copy-protecting the Encore disks. No dongle either - 12/10. I don't know about you, but I strongly resent being forced to pay for a multi-dongle holder just to run two programs - especially when they're both from the same company. Even the key disk system is a nuisance when you're running from a hard disk.
YOU CAN ENTER notes in four ways - click them in with the mouse, play them in from a MIDI keyboard in real-time, enter them from a MIDI keyboard in steptime or import them from a MIDI file or from a Master Tracks or Trax file. You can combine any of these methods within a score.
Before you start it's a good idea to set up the basics, such as number of staves, clefs, key and time signatures. The default is a Grand Staff, 4/4 time and the key of C. There are two main windows on screen: the score window and the palette window. The score window displays the score (in case you were wondering) and the palette holds the tools you need to enter it. There are six palettes which you cycle through by clicking on the name: Notes, Tools, Clefs, Dynamics, Marks and More Marks.
The palettes are easy to use - click on the required object then click it into the score. Time to enter some music.
You can select the note duration from the Note palette or by pressing the numeric keys on the ST's keyboard. The program gives you complete freedom to plaster them anywhere on the screen. This is exactly what you don't want - not at this stage anyway. So click Auto Space in the Goodies menu and as long as you get the notes in the right order, the program will space them proportionally. You can enter chords by clicking in the same vertical space as existing notes. The notes play over MIDI as you enter them, and you can audition them before entering them by holding down the Control key. You can remove the last note entered with the Backspace key and delete any symbol with the eraser tool. Dots can be added along with a single or double sharp or flat or a natural.
Step-time entry from a keyboard is just as easy. You may find you develop a preference for one method or the other although both have their uses. If you can click durations with one hand and play notes with the other, you'll find it very quick.
THE CONVERSION OF real-time note entry into a score is probably every musician's ideal. But if you've used a sequencer for even a short while you'll know that its literal interpretation of everything you play is not conducive to a good score.
In Encore, music entered in real-time appears on the screen as "raw data" - just the note heads, no stems or rests. The Record Options let you filter out data such as program changes, pitchbend, aftertouch and so on. These are required for playback via MIDI only and don't appear on the score.
The next stage is to run through Encore's Guess Durations process. It may sound rather hit-or-miss, but it works quite well. You can select the whole score or just a part of it and Guess Durations will add stems, flags and rests. Complex scores score here (sorry!) as they can be handled a section at a time.
Of course, the accuracy of Encore's guessing is entirely dependent on the accuracy of your playing. After the Guess, you can edit the durations - the chances are you'll have to edit to some extent - using keys on the ST's keyboard or the Change Durations function. When the durations are correct you can beam the notes. You can beam them on the beat automatically throughout the score or beam a selected group of notes. By clicking and dragging a beam you can adjust its slope, straighten it out and adjust the distance between it and the note head. You can flip stems, too. If the notes or beams threaten to encroach upon another stave, you can alter the spacing between the staves.
"You can enter notes in four ways: click them in with the mouse, play them real- or step-time from a MIDI keyboard or import them from a MIDI file."
Undo and Redo functions help you rectify small problems, and the ability to change a section back into raw data can help you out of most big ones. However, occasionally after heavy editing you may not get back exactly what was once there, so the best advice is - as always - save before you start editing.
You can alter an individual note by clicking on it and dragging it. As you move it, the program senses if you're altering the pitch (vertical axis) or the spacing (horizontal axis) and locks you onto that direction so that, while adjusting one attribute, you don't have to worry about accidentally changing the other. Neat.
Encore can support up to four voices on a stave. Sheet music often uses two voices per stave. Classical pieces rarely use more than three so you're well covered.
The voices are assigned to notes by highlighting them and selecting the voice number from the Notes menu - easy. You can view the voices on the score all together or individually, in which case the other voices will be greyed out. This makes it easy to edit individual voices.
EDITING FUNCTIONS INCLUDE copy, cut, paste and clear. You can add ties, miniaturise note heads to produce grace notes, and force slightly out-of-line notes into a chord. There are nudge left, right, up and down functions which move selected symbols by a small amount to help fine-tune the placing.
A Mix Data function will superimpose the contents of the clipboard (acquired from a cut or copy operation) onto an existing part of the score. You can change the length of a note stem and move an accidental associated with it further to the left. You can also change note heads to hollow and filled diamonds and a cross. This is useful for drum notation but a drum mapping facility would be far more useful.
Hidden under the Measure Setting menu (only mentioned in the Reference Section) are the repeat bars and 1st, 2nd and 3rd time endings. Trying to stretch an ending over more than one bar, however, is a somewhat convoluted affair not fully explained in the manual. Repeat marks don't have any effect on MIDI playback.
You'll have to hunt under the Measure Numbers menu to define an anacrusis (pick up) but this only affects the numbering of the bars - it doesn't remove leading spaces from the first bar.
You can split staves, add them, delete them, connect them - all the sorts of stave manipulation functions most users are likely to need.
ONE OF THE major problems you'll encounter is that of note spacing (this goes for virtually all scorewriters). Encore defaults to three bars per System - that is, three bars on a line - although this can be set to any value from one to eight. Using three bars, a first transcription containing 16th notes and accidentals will be cramped to the extent that the accidentals will be sitting on the previous note. Even an "average" use of 16th notes will require two bars per System for clarity. In fact, I found the overwriting of accidentals a constant problem. Even when using two bars per System, Encore delights in jamming accidentals hard up against the previous note. Ideally, on insertion of an accidental (or any symbol) the other symbols in the bar should be spaced automatically to accommodate it. If you have a busy and a quiet bar next to each other, therefore, you might like to share the space by moving the bar line.
You can adjust the size of the staves by changing the size of the font they're displayed in. There are four options - 14-point, 18-point, 24-point and 36-point type. The default is size three (24-point). Size two helps ease congested staves, although I found size one a touch too small for comfortable editing. Size four produces jumbo print.
PLAYBACK VIA MIDI works well - most of the time. The Staff Sheet, which resembles the track window in MasterTracks and Trax, lists the staves (tracks) and the MIDI channels on which they're set to transmit. You can solo a stave, give it a program change number, velocity setting and transpose it. Each of the four voices on a stave can have its own MIDI channel.
"Operational idiosyncrasies apart, Encore is capable of producing professional-looking scores, even on a dot matrix printer."
You can set the tempo for any specified range of bars, alter it by a percentage of the current tempo and program smooth tempo changes. This is only used during playback.
You can rearrange the order of the staves on the Staff Sheet simply by clicking and dragging them to new positions.
When editing, you must make sure that there are the correct number of beats in each bar otherwise the music won't play correctly (a beats-per-bar check would be handy).
A Measure Alignment function will change the MIDI data to reflect the notes shown on the screen - or vice versa. This is particularly useful if a stave contains more than one voice.
On several occasions after editing, some notes wouldn't play at all or they wouldn't play correctly, even though the durations were correct. I even copied one bar which played correctly to a bar I was having trouble with, but it still wouldn't play correctly.
Scores can be exported in MIDI File format, and on examination of one file the problem seemed to be related to a missing note-off instruction. I don't know how I lost that in a program which doesn't let you mess about with such things.
Encore didn't like being asked to record lots of data from an external sequencer and bombed out. I solved this by removing my TSR programs (patch fixes, mouse and GEM speeders and the like) but then it wouldn't do a Guess on what had been recorded - only 12 bars - and bombed out again, although it would Guess small sections at a time.
This was pretty busy stuff, so I suspect there were a few more notes than Encore is used to dealing with. The good(ish) news is, I recorded the piece into another sequencer, saved it as a MIDI File and loaded it into Encore and it handled it perfectly - playback, too.
It's worth bearing in mind that Encore is first and foremost a scorewriter - look upon MIDI playback as a bonus and not its raison d'etre.
PUTTING THE NOTES in is only the first part of creating a score. Unless you're producing music in busker book format, you'll want to add dynamics and other instructions. There are 11 dynamic markings in the Dynamics palette ranging from ppp to fff.
The Tools palette is used to insert text, lyrics and chord symbols. You can enter text anywhere on the score, select font type and size and align it left, centre or right.
Lyrics should be the last thing you enter as they can be spaced to follow the notes. Unfortunately, however, you're stuck with the note spacing you've been working so hard to perfect. The notes will not open up to accommodate long words as they do in some scorewriters. Unless you plan the whole composition, layout and lyrics meticulously and space the notes accordingly, the auto lyric feature is nigh on useless.
"Undo and Redo functions help you rectify small problems, and changing a section back into raw data can help you out of most big ones."
You can enter chord names above the staves from a multiple-choice menu. These will be transposed automatically if you transpose the notes. Both lyrics and chords sit on a line (visible only during entry) which ensures even horizontal placement. There's no provision for entering the guitar chord symbols you sometimes see on pop music.
You can enter slurs, hairpins (crescendos and diminuendos) and pedal marks although the pedal markings aren't the "Ped" and "*" symbols we're used to, but a sort of long Z on its side. You can also draw straight lines, boxes, oblongs and ovals and even select the line thickness.
There are two Marks palettes which include trills and ornaments, accents and staccato marks, fermatas and bowing marks. A curious omission - and quite a major one at that - is lack of DS, DC and Coda signs. Very odd.
THE ULTRASCRIPT DRIVER supports most Epson printers, HP LaserJet and Deskjet, IBM Graphics and Proprinter. You can extract and print individual parts from a score. What the manual doesn't tell you, however, is that the part is extracted to another file (window) and only four files can be open at once. So if you try an extraction with four files already open, you won't be able to do it. Unless you're aware of the limit you'll wonder why it doesn't work. There are options to design a title page and insert headers and footers. These can include the date, time and page number automatically.
The Page Setup window lets you select the paper size, the scale of the printout, the orientation (horizontal or vertical) and the type of output required. The scale of the output is selected as a percentage. If you reduce the scale, you'll scrunch the data into a smaller area. You can preview a page before printing.
There are three types of output. UltraScript and From Memory both use the UltraScript program. The first option exits the program and enters UltraScript (but takes you back on completion). The second prints from within Encore but you need lots of RAM. The manual suggests 4Meg but it worked on my 2.5Meg machine. I suspect this is left-over from the Mac manual - incidentally, the diagrams are Mac screen dumps, too.
The third option prints to a PostScript file which can be printed from UltraScript at a later date or sent to a bureau for a professional printout.
There are three print resolutions - 240 x 216, 120 x 216 and 120 x 144 - which must be set in the UltraScript program. Even the lowest produces excellent draft quality. The highest (as you can see) even with a 9-pin dot matrix printer, is superb although it does take an age to print. However, using my humble but trusty Epson FX80, the default settings wouldn't print the end bar lines of the Systems until I dragged them a touch further from the margins. This really shouldn't have been necessary.
Only the Lucinda and Crescendo (symbols) fonts are supplied, although you can add other Imagen proprietary (UltraScript) fonts and type 3 PostScript fonts. Encore has a Tiling function too: if a System extends below the bottom margin the program will print the page within the margin and a second page containing the staves outside. It assumes you want to paste the two together - like tiles - to create a longer score.
THE QUICK AND accurate production of good, clear music scores is the sort of function at which a computer should excel. However, it's a complex job and the software hasn't quite caught up with the computer's potential - although Encore tackles the problem very well indeed.
A function to tidy up and auto space edited notes (and lyrics) would be a great addition. This is an area in which scoring programs should really be doing all the work. I don't believe users want complete freedom to place symbols anywhere on a score - they want the computer to format the score automatically so it looks like professionally-set music. At the moment Encore expects you to do a little too much work, especially on complex scores, although this is true of virtually all other scorewriters, too.
Operational idiosyncrasies apart - and omissions notwithstanding - Encore is capable of producing professional-looking scores, even on a dot matrix printer. If that's high on your list of priorities then Encore must be near the top of your shopping list. The output is simply beautiful.
Price £379 (including VAT at the old rate of 15%).
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Review by Ian Waugh
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