Clive Grace writes a few notes on this sequencer for the Amiga and the Mac
Cheap Music packages are hard to find - Cheap, Good music packages are even harder - Clive Graced looks at one such item from Electronic Arts
When it comes to writing down music, the first thing to do is check out how complicated your music is likely to be. I know it may seem a strange thing to say, but when you are planning to notate your music you can basically go two ways - in the last issue of MM, I looked at a program from Dr-Ts called Copyist, a very good package for the IBM PC that enables music to be transcribed from IBM PC keyboard to synthesiser with the minimum of fuss - but it still offered word processing-like facilities in that there were a lot of keyboard commands to remember.
Whilst Dr-T's had the right approach for the IBM PC - without the necessities of Windows or GEM to use as an interface, they had to rely on some pretty low-level graphics, there is, as far as I'm concerned, always scope for more., ahem... graphically-orientated music packages.
Deluxe Music Construction Set (DMCS) is by no means a new entry into the field of notation packages, only a very cost-effective and friendly way of writing music on a computer - especially if that computer happens to be either a Mac or an Amiga.
I have been happily using the Amiga version of Deluxe Music Construction Set since January 1988, although the latest version has taken the bold step of moving onto the Mac environment with relative ease, and with a few minor modifications to the Amiga version, this package has, over the past year (and what a fast year that was!) turned out to be by far one of the most flexible packages that I have yet seen and for 69 quid. I reckon the people from Coda Software - the people who wrote the £1000 Finale (reviewed in the next issue - Ed) should take a quick look at how well this package is written and put together.
DMCS boasts full staff notation capability - that is quite a tall order, and if you don't expect violin symbols, grace notes and similar eccentricities on the printed manuscript page, then yes, I suppose DMCS does have all of the notation forms one is used to using.
For example: I listen to music when writing, at the moment it happens to be a piece of early music, and providing it doesn't happen to be for choral works or for guitar or lute then the chances are that I could stop the CD, play back a bar or three and accurately rewrite the notes perfectly on the page - that's with early music such as Bach or Purcell or even early stuff like Praetorius' recorder works from the Terpsichore - all early forms could be converted to the Amiga or the Mac with great ease.
The truth of the matter is that DMCS is almost embarrassingly cheap - I print out using an Apple LaserWriter (when I can lug the Mac into work that is) and when I hand out sheets to be played from, some people often wonder what typesetting system was used to put together the pages - that's not bad going for probably one of the cheapest packages reviewed in this magazine!
DMCS has a few nice facilities when it comes to connecting the Amiga to MIDI instruments. There are no special software patches to be called into operation, no special notation forms to be used at the beginning of the music and DMCS is happy enough to play music from either a MIDI network or using the sampled sounds inside the package - either a IFF files on the Amiga (so you can use your own samples if you like) or using the TIFF equivalent files on the Mac.
Unlike other notation packages for Amiga (such as the simplistic Aegis Sonix), there is no synth editor - the built in sample sound okay on the Amiga but they are very weak on the Mac, being very quiet and hard to hear - don't bother combining the built in sounds with MIDI triggered synth sounds as you will probably not hear the quiet tones of the Mac. The Amiga packs a punch when it comes to running the sounds through the monitor output, so unless you are transcribing Music from Motorhead, then I think the Amiga will be loud enough!
DMCS has two file formats on the Amiga, firstly the SMUS format (simple music file) which is basically the same as that on the Aegis Sonix package, in that there are no slurs and very limited tie facilities, and basically it is a simple Note on/off information system with pitch and instrument changes, there are no fancy signature changes whilst a piece of music has started which is a shame, but, by adding these limitations, it does mean that you can transport music files from one application to another - not necessarily a music package - it could be a Video titling facility.
The other file format is the DMCS file system - this stores all of the necessary note change information as well as the proper slurring, beaming and other associated note information that is necessary to run the program.
DMCS has automatic note beaming, slurring, stem reversal, and a novel, but thorough use of key signatures (not having to specify a sharp in order to obtain a natural!). There is better control of the dynamic range of an instrument even accepting "dolce" in the form of a screen option!
There is a style option supplied which adds funny slurring patterns to music, for example Classical music such as fugues and other rigid styles of music can be totally messed up and changed for instance adding a jazz feel to a piece of music - if there 'aint no jazz in the music, the effect is weird to say the least - try adding it to the national anthem (in your head and then listen to what the DMCS option thinks is jazzy).
The Grand Staff Editor really is rather nice - with a good clear layout of the screen, it offers erasers, note placements, forte, pianoforte, mezzo and all other major dynamic notational forms including the often wanted, but never obtained slur over ties and bars effect that is so commonly used in Schoenberg.
The page layout can be altered. This does not affect the overall size of the individual crotchet or quaver, but it attempts to cramp the notes together so that they're very hard to read at times.
There is no attempt to resize the notes on the screen to the size of the page. Usually I select the size of the page to be around eight or nine bar widths. I then use the staff editor as a spreadsheet-type program whereby the notes are entered in rows and columns.
Copying notes is a little clumsy, certainly more clumsy than Dr-T's Copyist package, if a little time consuming. I got to grips with the editing system on the Amiga within ten or so minutes - the Mac version took less than five to master.
Changing notes over to their slurred equivalents is easy (a bugbear of mine) with DMCS, all you have to do set the pointer icon to active and then box in the copy that needs to be slurred - as simple as that! So if you need a whole section of four bars slurred, then all you have to do is do it in one go.
Boxing notes is certainly the most important editing feature there is on the Amiga version of the software. This operation forms the heart of most of the block operations that the Mac/Amiga software have - thankfully the Mac and Amiga versions do not leave out odd notes in a sort of computer moderated version of notated music.
I have never really got on with printing with the Amiga, it is slow and clanky at the best of times, and at the worst of times, the Amiga is virtually rattling itself to bits - although I was able to get some music dumped out using the Epson FX-80 II printer with the NLQ ROM fitted and active - the results were comparable to an Apple Imagewriter, but took about twice the time to print!
With the Apple Mac version of the software EA have supplied the standard Postscript Adobe font for the output of data to laser printers and typesetting machines. I have laser printed using the software on the Mac and I must admit to being amazed at the quality of output with such a small outlay - after all, 69 quid isn't even going to pay for the licence of the adobe fonts to an end user!
DMCS is a great piece of software to write with - I found a number of features that you will either love or hate! I found them annoying, but I grew to like the editing facilities almost as much as I like writing with the computer and certainly it beats the hell out of tipp-ex and erasers, but at the price, I think the biggest problem EA will have is convincing the rest of the world that DMCS is a good package for the price - in fact I would go as far as to say that the software is probably the best value software I have ever had in my collection.
One thing though, with longer pieces of music, you will find that the program gets progressively slower all the time. Remember this before you start your 3 hour epic and try to cut it up into manageable chunks like, say, 200 bars or so - with the correct repetition signs placed, you will find that the music will easily take up 15 minutes or so within 200 bars!
A good package, the Mac and the Amiga versions both use all the most popular MIDI interfaces for their respective machines, and I could find neither of them at any serious fault - heck, even DMCS-Mac worked under switcher!
Available from Electronic Arts at £69 inc VAT
Gear in this article:
Review by Clive Grace
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