Clares Rhapsody II
Software for Archimedes
If you're looking for computer scorewriting, Rhapsody could be what you need - as well as helping to save the Archimedes from musical oblivion. Ian Waugh gets to know Clare and Archie.
Although it has the credentials of an excellent music computer, the Archimedes is suffering from lack of software support. Can Clare's notation and voicing programs turn the tide?
Acorn spent several years and not an inconsiderable amount of cash promoting the Archimedes computer as a music machine. But music programs for the Archies have been rather thin on the ground and even Pandora's Inspiration (reviewed MT August '91) which took almost three years to write isn't all it could or should be.
The shame of it is that the Archimedes, particularly the new A5000, is an excellent piece of equipment, well suited to music - and virtually all other computer applications. However in the commercial world, software developers like some assurance that anything they develop will sell. Unfortunately, the Archimedes is running so far behind the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and PC (and possibly the Spectrum and Commodore 64) that most developers (apart from the ubiquitous EMR) consider it a nonstarter.
But about a year ago, Clares launched Rhapsody. This was followed a few months ago by Rhapsody II and, more recently, by two utility/accessory programs. All at budget prices, too. Music on the Archie could be looking up.
Rhapsody isn't a sequencer in the normally-accepted sense of the word. Rather, it describes itself as a music notation program. Notes are entered on the stave in traditional music notation using the mouse, although you can record from a MIDI keyboard. You can print out the score and play the piece using the Archie's built-in sounds or via MIDI.
Rhapsody (review v1.23) will run on with 1Meg of RAM and runs under RISC-OS. It's not copy protected (high marks to Clares) and can easily be installed on a hard disk. If you want to use it with MIDI instruments, you'll need a MIDI interface - Acorn's interface costs around £75.
A single score can hold 24 staves and up to five scores can be held in memory, which allows you to transfer parts from one score to another. The staves can be joined in piano or orchestral format and each stave supports two voices, which should suffice for virtually all popular music and most classical music.
Most options are accessed from a main menu which is called up in normal Archie fashion by clicking the middle (menu) mouse button over the score. One option is to Show Panels. These two Panels are the hub of the program's operation.
Panel 1 contains notes and symbols which are selected by clicking on icons to cycle through the symbols until the one you want appears. There are icons for notes, rests, accidentals, duration modifiers (dots, ties and triplets), bar lines, accents and ornaments (more about these in a mo) and text and miscellaneous functions.
Rhapsody I employed a rectangular cursor for placing notes and symbols on the stave. This moves under control of the mouse or the icons in Panel 2. Having positioned it, you enter a note by clicking on "left of", "right of" or "on cursor" icons in Panel 1. It's not quite as awkward as it sounds but it can be rather time-consuming. Note durations and symbols can be selected with function keys (a function key overlay is supplied). Rhapsody II also lets you drag notes onto the stave, which is far quicker. This is one of II's major updates which will be welcomed by Rhapsody I users. However, if all the symbols were on show for selection with one mouse click, it would be faster still.
One of my major disappointments is that the program doesn't align notes across the staves. It has a fair old bash at it but it's quite possible to insert, say, several quarter notes on one stave in the same "space" as one half note on another. Bar lines have to be inserted manually, too. This is exactly the sort of area in which music software could and should help.
Staves can be added to the score as you go, although if you're well organised you can lay them out and set them up before you begin. Each stave has a number of attributes which are set up from an Assign Stave Data menu. These include a MIDI channel to transmit on, a MIDI Program Change number, a transpose interval and internal Archie sound, stereo position and volume. The staves can be named (ten characters) and the spacing between them adjusted.
You can also assign a number of sound channels to the stave. This is for use with the Archie's voices as it can only simultaneously play eight. There's no such problem via MIDI, of course.
Rhapsody II supports multiple MIDI Outs - if your MIDI interface has them - and you can insert a program change at any point in the music. It's worth noting that it doesn't support MIDI bank change messages (which have been around now for well over a year) which many new synths and expanders use. There's also a MIDI Thru function, which is useful if you're using a synth and expander.
Music can be entered from a MIDI keyboard using real-time Capture mode. Truth to tell, it's not particularly sophisticated (the manual admits as much) and if you're over-ambitious you may lose notes. It helps if you record slowly, too.
Rhapsody II can transmit the metronome tick via MIDI, and the Transcribe window, which converts your recording into notation, has triplet quantise settings. You can also record in step time, selecting note durations from the Panel or with the function keys. Triplets and chords are supported although velocity data is not recorded. While not being particularly sophisticated, these do offer alternative methods of putting notes into the program.
"Most operations can be performed while the music is playing, although sometimes operation may be a little slow."
Volume changes can be inserted (using pp and ff marks), as can tempo changes, including programmable accelerandos and ritardandos, although these are shown numerically rather than graphically as hairpin signs.
Editing functions include the use of markers to copy, clear, delete and transpose sections of the score. You can swap the direction of note stems, make and break beams and adjust the spacing between notes. Sections of music can be merged, too.
Most operations can be performed while the music is playing, although sometimes operation may be a little slow. It's interesting to know that the program was developed using Silicon Vision's RiscBASIC.
One novel feature of Rhapsody is the ability to create your own ornaments. You'll find these under the Trill Definitions menu called from the Accents icon in Panel 1. There are six definable ornaments (the symbols are selected and placed from the Accents icon), each with four stages of "development". These include the starting note, the "shake" below the main note and the trill itself followed by the "turn". You can also set the speed of the trill. Fascinating stuff - although of more relevance to classical music than pop or rock. These ornaments play via MIDI, too, which is reminiscent of pseudo (MIDI) events found in more upmarket programs (principally on the ST).
While not wishing to detract from an excellent idea, the scope of the definitions won't allow you to construct all classical ornaments, which may vary in interpretation depending on the tempo of the music and their position in relation to other notes. And if it's classical scores you're interested in, it's worth noting that Rhapsody can't produce phrase marks, which are an essential part of most classical music. However, ScoreDraw can (coming up).
You can also define the length of staccato and marcato symbols and these, too, will be interpreted over MIDI.
You can insert text anywhere in the score, although only 13 characters at a time. Text isn't tied to any notes so for lyric entry you have to do the positioning yourself. Not ideal.
One of Rhapsody's main purposes in life is to print scores (Cambridge United 4 Liverpool 0). This requires a printer driver which is compatible with your printer. First stop will be the drivers supplied with your Archimedes (on the Applications disk) although the program should work with any driver.
Score format settings in Rhapsody II are stored as part of the file. You can set margins and alter the spacing between the staves, there are seven sizes of print and you can select portrait or landscape orientations. Before printing, the score appears in preview mode where you can add or insert bars to adjust the layout.
The only problem I discovered was that the program doesn't like to play music while you're messing about with its formatting (would you?), and it quit on me (wouldn't you?).
Rhapsody II's printout window gives more information than Rhapsody I and offers multiple copies. The sprites have been redefined using Mode 19 for higher printout resolution, although they are still bitmapped images. Another problem is the misplacement of some symbols. Beams may overlap the stems they join and some ornaments overlap the stems instead of sitting above them.
Printing takes time: lots of it. The program's not clever enough to recognise blank lines and each line takes the same amount of time to print whether there's anything there to print or not. For example, one page on an Epson FX printer using a hi-res printer driver took 18 minutes. Multiply this by a score with ten or more pages and we're talking an afternoon printing. Time to get drunk and sober up, too.
Also, printing takes over the computer so you can't print and work on another score at the same time. I've yet to investigate use with a printer buffer.
"Rhapsody's ornaments play via MIDI, too, which is reminiscent of pseudo (MIDI) events found in more upmarket programs."
Archie users will have realised that Rhapsody has certain similarities with Maestro, the music application which comes free with RISC-OS, even though Rhapsody is more powerful. However, the programmer has maintained file compatibility so you can load Maestro files into Rhapsody, making it an ideal upgrade if you want more power and flexibility.
Rhapsody also supports MIDI File format, which will stand it in good stead for compatibility with existing and future music programs.
The disk includes 20 demo files; there are excellent examples of Rhapsody at work, although I hesitate to think how long some of them took to construct. Well, scorewriting can be a pretty time-consuming business. They include 'Apres Une Reve' by Faure, 'Vocalise' by Rachmaninoff, Debussy's 'Golliwog's Cakewalk', Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer', 'Fame' and several pieces by Bach and Grieg.
ScoreDraw is a separate program designed to improve Rhapsody's printing. It converts the score into Draw images, giving greater control over the layout and improving the print resolution enormously. It interfaces with Rhapsody beautifully. Instead of accessing the normal Format menu you access the ScoreDraw menu which formats the score in Draw format.
It has several additional options which let you change margins, page size, scale and orientation. There's a zoom facility and you can decide whether the title and stave names are printed on each page or just the first one. You can select fonts for text, the title and dynamic markings. One oddity: some of the lines in the staves appear double width on screen. Peculiar, although they print correctly.
You can save the entire score or just the current page and load it into Draw. This isn't completely automatic, although the manual suggests which scales and grid sizes to use to facilitate editing. Also, some scores saved from ScoreDraw wouldn't load into Draw. Again, most peculiar.
In Draw, you can edit the notes and symbols, add phrase marks and so on. The positioning of some symbols is improved and the beams appear correctly but you'll still have to do some manual editing. Several music symbols, such as hairpins and phrase marks, are supplied in Draw format so you can drag them into your score and place them.
Screen redraws are slow (as they can be in Draw), as is printing. However, the quality of the output is superb.
Voxbox is another Rhapsody utility which actually consists of four programs - VoxBeat, VoxSample, VoxSynth and Perform.
The Vox programs are concerned with sample creation and organisation and share many features. For example, you can play them from the Archie's keyboard or via MIDI, even during editing. Over 40 samples are provided and the programs can handle the three most common Archimedes sample formats.
VoxBeat was designed to create samples for a drum kit. You can assign different samples to each note in an octave, although you can only play back one at a time. You can use up to seven VoxBeat modules at the same time, too. You can edit samples in the VoxBeat window and a useful Fade Out function lets a truncated sample play out naturally.
VoxSample creates samples based on the Sample + Synthesis principle although in this case both sections are samples. Basically, it uses the attack portion of a sample for the initial transient (this has the most effect on our perception of the sound) and then you select a section for looping.
The theory is that you shouldn't need a sample more than half a second long. In practice, a little trial and error is required to find a good looping point (the computer should help here but doesn't).
You can shape the sample with pitch and amplitude envelopes. The envelopes only have two stages but each stage can have six nodes which can be adjusted by clicking and dragging.
VoxSynth is the most complex of the programs but also the most fascinating. You can create waveforms by drawing them by hand and specifying the amplitudes of their harmonics. Drawing by hand is of limited use as many older programs of a similar ilk have proven, but the ability to create waveforms from harmonics (additive synthesis) is both practical and educational.
"There's no getting around the fact that even at its new price, Rhapsody is a cheap notation program for any computer."
A single voice can be made up from two waveforms and you can use an "inbetweening" process to transform one into the other over a specified time period. Fascinating stuff indeed. I'd have liked to have seen both waveforms side by side; as it is you have to toggle between them. A real-time display of the waveform during interpolation would have been useful, but perhaps that's asking too much.
Additional parameters facilitate modulation of one waveform by another - a primitive form of FM but interesting. You can drag a sample into VoxSynth and it will analyse it and display its harmonic structure.
Apart from its educational value (I can see this being very popular in the classroom), an eight-voice VoxSynth module is only 5K in size.
Perform is a stand-alone program which will play Rhapsody and MIDI files and samples. To insert a file into the running order you simply drag it into one of the 12 slots. The program doesn't load the actual files (which means the performance file you save is quite short), rather it remembers the pathnames.
It can load other Performance files so one can call another and it will *Run other files so you can load a particular set of sound modules before loading a music file. It also has a small tape transport control window which lets you move through the performance list.
RHAPSODY I HIT the streets at £49.95, which was a veritable bargain. The price hike to Rhapsody II still makes it an excellent buy, although it would have been commendable had existing users been rewarded for their loyalty by being allowed to upgrade for the price difference. Existing Rhapsody owners should return their program disk only with the upgrade fee. Rhapsody II simply consists of a disk and a 20-page Addendum. New users, therefore, have two manuals to contend with.
Rhapsody originally made much of its notation and score-printing facilities and some may be disappointed when they realise they have to fork out as much again for ScoreDraw in order to produce quality scores - and then you still have to adjust symbols and contend with the odd quirk. The total price for quality printouts is not quite budget.
However, for those who need it, ScoreDraw will certainly produce quality output. For those who don't, Rhapsody scores are reasonable. The Draw file format is the standard for line art graphics on the Archimedes and scores can be imported into DTP programs. Who'll be first to produce their own music book?
If you use Rhapsody with the Archie's internal sounds rather than MIDI and enjoy messing around with samples, then VoxBox is for you. The programs could have been a touch more friendly and some worked examples would have helped newcomers get into the programs more quickly, but they are essentially straightforward.
It's a shame there isn't a public domain run-time version of Perform so you could pass your music onto other Archie-owners. Perhaps it will come, or perhaps some enterprising programmer will write a similar utility.
There's no getting around the fact that even at its new price, Rhapsody is a cheap notation program for any computer. The discerning user, however, will notice that Rhapsody lacks the bells and whistles of more dedicated scorewriters.
While it may not quite cut the mustard for professional users, if you like working with the dots, fancy something more powerful than Maestro or want a budget program with MIDI capabilities, then Rhapsody fits the bill. I can see it having great appeal in education, where Archies are beginning to take over from the BBC micro.
If you're already using Rhapsody then I can certainly recommend the upgrade. If you want something more sophisticated than Maestro, then Rhapsody is the only thing between it and a full-blown MIDI system.
Prices Rhapsody II, £61.95; Upgrade from Rhapsody I, £15.50; ScoreDraw, £61.95; Vox Box, £61.95. All prices include VAT.
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