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C-Lab Notator/Creator V3.1
The latest update to C-Lab's Creator/Notator adds graphic arranging, support for tape recorder transport control, and a host of other assorted new or improved features. If you still haven't upgraded from a pre-3.0 version, now's the time to do it, says Dave Lockwood.
Just over a year after its Version 3 update, C-Lab has again upgraded its renowned Notator and Creator MIDI sequencer programs for the Atari, to V3.1. Version 3 was not exactly received with universal acclaim; despite a number of powerful new features it also introduced a degree of incompatibility with TOS (the Atari ST operating system), which caused trouble on older machines. V3.1 not only fixes this, but also addresses some rather more long-standing problems and peculiarities, as well as offering three major new operating facilities: Graphic Arrange Mode, where the arrangement listing is exchanged for visual representations of the patterns as vertical bars; Fostex Mode, which allows remote control of suitably equipped tape recorders; and 32-Track View which makes the old '32-Tracks-Per-Pattern' mode a little easier to use.
Graphic Arrange Mode (GAM) is really the core feature of V3.1. It is somewhat like a Cubase display turned through 90 degrees, with the beams representing patterns rather than individual parts. The primary advantage is obviously that the size of the vertical block indicates the length of the pattern, whereas in the conventional arrange listing a 1-bar pattern occupies as much space as a 32-bar pattern. The four arrange levels — 'a', 'b', 'c', and 'd' — are maintained, and you can edit beams in an intuitive manner, dragging them into position and pulling at the bottom right-hand corner to extend their length. A bar number display down the left-hand edge of the screen interacts with a moving Song Position Line to show the current time position.
Clicking the Zoom function stretches or compresses the display between 2.5 bars at maximum resolution up to 51 bars, although on displays of over 35 bars only every other bar is indicated. Therein lies the problem with GAM, for me; the lowest resolution only just about gives me the number of arrangement bars that I want to see at one time, but the display resolution is then far too low to do any detailed work. Rather than spend time zooming in and out, it makes more sense to flip back to the conventional Arrange listing, where numeric data allows ultimate precision. Experienced C-Lab users, I believe, may find little practical use for GAM, but then I rather suspect that it wasn't included for their benefit.
The GAM's graphic display of Upbeats and Cuts as shaded areas may help some users come to terms with this extremely powerful, but potentially complex, aspect of the program. A new Audio Scrub Mode adds to the location facilities, and you can manipulate the Song Position Line directly in order to hear selected portions of the arrangement.
One of the minor facilities is, for me, among the most valuable: by Shift clicking in the bar-ruler you can easily enter positions into the left and right locators for quickly cycling sections that do not correspond to Arrange segments.
The old Pattern Delay display has been rationalised into Pattern Position. This is far more logical and intuitive to use, for you no longer have to calculate actual position as an offset from the nearest bar division when odd pattern lengths are used. Arrangements, in either Graphic or List form, can now also be independently saved to disk.
As in Cubase, when a Notator/Creator system is synced to timecode on tape, it is now possible to remotely operate certain tape transports from the sequencer. Switching to Fostex Mode (shifted F) puts the on-screen (and keyboard) transport controls into a 'local off' mode, where they no longer operate the sequencer directly, but rather trigger the output of MIDI data. Recorders with a suitable MIDI interface, such as the Fostex R8 (via the MTC1), G16/S, and G24/S, can interpret these commands as remote transport instructions, and respond accordingly — press 'play' on Creator and the tape starts rolling. Only when the tape enters play, and timecode is therefore seen at the synchroniser (preferably Unitor) input, will the sequencer actually run.
The system is not confined to just the basic transport functions; cycle modes are recognised, although, naturally, there is a delay while the tape rewinds. In Fostex Mode, Start behaves as in the normal Continue mode, playing the tape from its present position. The double-stop routine that normally resets the sequencer to the top of the track has also been implemented, causing the tape to rewind to the start — very sensible use of a procedure that will already be instinctive to C-Lab users. Entering from play the tape fast-wind modes (via the double-chevron icons which normally advance the sequencer by a single bar) allows use of the Fostex's cue monitoring facility, whilst the triple chevrons locate to a specific arrange entry, as normal.
Apart from the sheer logic and convenience of controlling both elements of a combined system from one device, another significant operational advantage that will be greatly appreciated is the ability to locate tape accurately to specific bar/beat references. Remote Track Ready/Record switching is incorporated, which therefore enables preprogrammed dropping-in, and simultaneous MIDI and audio recording is also possible.
This facility represents another step in the ever-increasing integration of MIDI and conventional audio recording into a single coherent system. For a more detailed examination of the potential of such a system than present space, allows (albeit with specific reference to Cubase), see the full review of the Fostex MTC1 in the November 1990 issue of SOS. Tascam owners can now obtain similar facilities via the Micon Audio LMTC. This is supplied complete with the necessary C-Lab program revision (V3.147) which appropriately amends 'Fostex Mode' to 'Tape Control Mode', and adds the necessary Tascam control features.
C-Lab's normal 32 Tracks Per Pattern mode simply ties odd and even numbered pairs of patterns together in parallel. The slave pattern was never visible in the arrange list; you just knew it was there, and could access it for recording or editing in the normal way. 32-Track View, the new '32-T-P-P' mode, now simultaneously displays all 32 tracks within the one pattern. The extra tracks, however, still actually use tracks 1-16 of the adjacent pattern. Nevertheless, all the tracks of the 'super-pattern' are active and most pattern-based processes will operate on all 32 tracks. Exceptions are mainly those which rely on MIDI channel definition, such as Demix/Mixdown All Channels, plus New Pattern and Multi-copy which, obviously, require you to be in the correct half of the pattern.
As before, 32-track patterns occupy two adjacent arrange levels, so only columns 'a' and 'c' are available in this mode, maintaining the system maximum of 64 tracks. Graphic Arrange Mode confirms this with double-width column entries. 32 Track View is a useful addition, although it might have been an idea to have left the previous 32-track mode as as option for those who might find the half-size tracks a little too small to manipulate accurately. Although in theory you never need to look at the slave patterns, if you do you will see something rather curious. Not only is there a duplicate of the bottom half of the previous pattern, but there will also be the data from the top half of the following pattern. This seems to be of no practical significance, but I can see no logical basis whatsoever for it being there, and always find that rather disconcerting.
The facility to store Arrange Mute groupings via 'Shift-Alt-F3-10' is a particularly valuable addition, especially as their recall (via Alt-F3-10) can be recorded. Mute combinations have always been possible via individual programming, but the point about the new facility is that it allows so much more creative freedom to experiment in real-time. This is a particularly effective way of working on repetitive dance material; once you have stored a useful set of mute groupings you can just stick the system in Record and 'perform' on the function keys. This procedure is actually 'cleaner' than its equivalent in conventional audio muting, for if you un-mute just after the start of a note then that note will not appear at all — do that with audio and you will generate either a very unmusical entry or an audible click.
Mute groupings can access all tracks in 32 Tracks Per Pattern mode but, curiously, can only actually record the recall of the upper 16. To access the lower block in record, it would appear to be necessary to be in the appropriate (top) half of the slave pattern. This, and a few other quirks, make the new 32-T-P-P mode a bit of an enigma; there is more incentive to utilise it now, but it is still all too evidently something of a compromise.
Some of the other improvements should probably come under the heading of fix-ups; using the Continue command when in external sync now automatically selects Internal sync, and Cycle Mode is automatically over-ridden in external sync (at last). The Notepad still sometimes scrambles its left-hand edge, however, as it has done from its inception.
INSMODE (Insert-Mode), the edit facility which allows whole blocks of data to be easily moved whilst preserving their relative positions, has been moved to a more prominent position. This makes sense to me, because the results of inadvertently editing a song having forgotten that Insert-Mode is on can be disastrous; however, I feel it would be better still if INSMODE defaulted to Off every time you entered the event editor.
The notation enhancements in V3.1 address directly many of the long-standing limitations which users have encountered, particularly regarding the program's ability to deal with sections that do not conform to the generally most appropriate display format. An expanded Note Attributes box allows the definition of an 'independent note' with its own parameters, irrespective of those applied to the rest of the track. As these can be miniaturised and receive a grace note slash across the stem, they represent a considerably more elegant way of handling grace notes than the previous method (via track polyphony).
A non-MIDI 'graphical note' is now available, either for cue notes, or grace notes that will not be transmitted, whilst the Process Note Attributes facility is a real time-saver, allowing an attribute, such as a staccato dot, to be applied automatically to all notes in the track which fulfil the conditions you set. One thing I would particularly like to have seen which is not present on V3.1 is the option to make repeat signs local (rather than global) in function. The global application of these signs, although logical, is a limitation when attempting to prepare a number of individual parts from the same song file, with each one in the most condensed possible form on paper.
There are a number of minor printing enhancements, too numerous to list in full, but most users of this aspect of the program will particularly appreciate the new facility for directly accessing pages in Page Preview mode, via the numeric keypad. You still need to scroll the first time, but subsequently any page can be selected instantly. Proper page numbering has now been included in the print facilities, and the inclusion of a printer driver for the increasingly popular Canon BJ10e will certainly be welcomed.
Another interesting development is the ability to save prepared score pages as .IMG files, ready for importing into other GEM applications. (.IMG files store 'bit-images', in which a picture is defined by the status of every pixel on screen.) Desktop publishing programs, and even some word processors, should be able to import these files, as of course should dedicated graphics programs. Once imported, the score could be cropped or resized, although as always with bit-images, you cannot enlarge an image very much without obvious loss of resolution.
There actually seems to be a slight problem with .IMG file export at the moment, in that files that appear to have been saved correctly do not always load successfully into a different program. I found screens either scrambled (Calamus) or completely blank (Timeworks, Hyperpaint). In fact the only program into which I have successfully loaded a Notator .IMG file is GST's First Word Plus. At the time of writing no information was available on when this bug might be fixed.
If you didn't bother with the V3.0 upgrade (and it seems to me that a surprisingly large number of users still haven't), now is the time to get your program up to date. You will have to pay the combined upgrade fee, however. V3.1 is C-Lab back at the top, restored to its position of joint pre-eminence among Atari ST sequencers. Once again it seems to be the model of stability that, pre-V3.0, it always used to be. It is now also rather well-documented, with a comprehensive set of extra pages for the ever-improving manual, and a new Tutorial disk for the notation side of the program. Don't feel tempted to miss out this upgrade; the enhancements and corrections it offers are more than worth the modest upgrade fee, for both Notator and Creator users.
C-Lab Notator/Creator V3.1 upgrade:
From V3.0 £20 inc VAT.
From a pre-V3.0 program £60 inc VAT.
Sound Technology plc, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Lockwood
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