Atari ST Software
Organising song files seems tedious - until you can't find the patterns you need. Vic Lennard boots up a program which makes housekeeping Creator/Notator files easy.
Unless you've got an eidetic memory or a miniscule song repertoire, you'll know the frustration caused by errant files and patterns - and the potential value of SongRep.
Remember that great drum riff you programmed last year? Now, where did I use it? Two hours and 137 song disks later you finally find it - you think. As for the creativity which you had at the start of the session...
How often has that happened to you? It happened once too often to Nigel Hooton of Computing Resource who decided to write a program which would sift through all of the information that his C-Lab Creator sequencing program uses in a song file and print it out in an orderly fashion for reference purposes. The result is the SongRep(ort) piece of software.
By specifying the information that you wish to incorporate into a report either as a disk file or output to printer, SongRep will search through a C-Lab Creator (or Notator) song file and create a report. Most aspects of a file can be reported on and selections are made by moving through data fields onscreen.
SongRep uses a small start-up program in an Auto folder which checks the status of the system; if you're running from a hard drive, it logs the partitions along with the current version of TOS for the host computer. While the use of this program is not essential, it forces you to type in the current date and time which will then reset the Atari's system clock. Any alterations to disk files from this point on will write the correct date and time to the file; a useful point when you start looking for files at some time in the future.
SongRep only uses one main screen which is split up into five main areas. The right-hand half of the screen is the Window Display box which shows information that you request - the list of songs, monitoring the report run and so on. And the 17 lines by 40 characters display makes it easy reading.
On the extreme left-hand side of the screen is the Action Field column from which you select what you want SongRep to do - display songs or disks, run the report and so on. You can also invoke Display Help which then brings up an onscreen help file (in the Window Display). The column next to this has the Option Fields from which you can designate what aspects of the song file will be reported and how it will be outputted (disk file or printer with the latter's characteristics).
At the foot of the screen are two lines. The upper of these, Edit Field, allows you to input and change names and numbers when required. For example, you would use this line to set the file path for the current disk (disk drive, folder and file name) or to select a pattern number. The bottom line of the screen is the Confirm Field where you answer Y(es) or N(o) to the various decisions that have to be made.
Now you're asking why I haven't mentioned the ST's mouse - that's because the mouse isn't used. Instead, all movements around screen involve the four cursor keys and the Tab key. While most programs use mouse-driven screens, a well-written, non-graphic program doesn't need them. The actual working of SongRep doesn't suffer through this lack of the rodent, and it benefits from the writer having carefully thought out the default Y/N values for option answers; moving around and selecting options is very swift as executed from the keyboard.
If you're running from a floppy disk drive, then the SysLog program in the Auto folder causes no problems; you simply copy all of the contents of the SongRep disk to another floppy and use this as your working copy. If you're working with a hard drive, then there is a problem. By placing the SysLog program in an Auto folder on the hard drive, it is accessed every time, and the date settings it creates have to be saved to floppy - there is no option for saving to hard drive, and if you try to ignore its request for a floppy, the program crashes. Consequently, you're better off ignoring SysLog if your ST uses a hard drive.
All options have "hot keys"; From the Action Fields, S, L and D take you to Display Songs, List and Disks respectively. Trying to access any of these immediately after loading will give you an empty screen since you have to direct SongRep as to which disk (and folder on that disk) to look at to find C-Lab song files. Hitting the F key takes you to the Song File Spec option where you set the path in the form: a:\folder\name.son
If you're working via hard drive or floppy disk B, then the letter for the disk drive needs to be changed. If you want to print a report on all songs in a particular location then you can use *.son instead of name.son. It would be useful to get a standard File Selector up to search through for song files; by using a file path, you have to know exactly where your song files are kept. Once typed in, the right-hand window details all songs at that location. By then moving to A (or Add Song List), the disk that you accessed can be named and added to the internal list (the name of the disk is saved to the disk as a special file called SR-DISK), as can the songs you have detailed.
Once the songs which have to be reported on have been selected, you must decide which details you require the report content to hold. This takes you to the Option Fields where you can isolate the particular aspects that you need information on, the choices are as follows:
Song File Data: File name and size in bytes, date and time created and disk name.
Song Global Data: Tempo, time signature, time format and resolution.
Notepad Text: Up to 16 lines x 64 characters of text.
Arrangement: Arrange Mode and 16/32 patterns per mode (Global). Position, name, pattern name/number, upbeat, transpose (per entry).
Pattern/Track Data: Pattern number/name (per pattern). Track number/name, port, MIDI channel, filters, loop, transpose, ghost pattern/track, event data by type (per track).
Drum Map: The drum assignment for each MIDI note.
Instruments: MIDI channel name/number/port (per instrument). List of program change numbers and track names used.
Additionally, you can print out lists of Song Disks and Song Files which have been included in the internal list and a Global Instrument Summary for all included songs. This is useful if you're listing all songs from an album and need to ensure that you have all the necessary MIDI equipment for the final mastering at a different studio.
There are a few other Y/N choices concerning pattern and track options:
Pattern Zero: Most people simply leave this as the default C-Lab end pattern. If this is the case, you would not want it printed out each time.
Empty Tracks: If you have merged data or simply trashed a track, it will still have a MIDI channel and port assigned to it. Again this would not be needed in a print out.
Hidden Tracks: You have the option of printing the information for these or not.
Unnamed Tracks: Similar comments as for Empty Tracks.
Track Events: If you have selected Pattern/Track Data, you can select which type of events are to be listed. For instance, you may simply choose note on/off events or even text events; C-Lab pseudo-user (P-User) events are also supported.
Finally, you have to select the type of output; file or printer. This is one area where SongRep is limited. If you select "printer", you then have the options of ASCII, Epson FX (nine-pin), Epson LQ (24-pin) or IBM ProPrinter - there's no mention of any inkjet, bubblejet or laser printers, although some of these may be able to emulate one of the four choices. Page size can be set as 66 lines (continuous printout) or 70 lines (A4 sheetfeed).
Having made all selections, and saved the configuration to disk to make life easier next time, Run Report sets SongRep into motion.
If you choose to save the file to disk, SongRep keeps you informed of the current position in the file - an admirable attribute as the writing of the file to disk can take some time if you have included the printing of track events and the player was a manic pianist. The file I created from a single pattern with two such tracks of piano was 390 KBytes long.
Printing directly to a Hewlett Packard LaserJet III as ASCII left far too large a left-hand margin, which could not be adjusted. There's no option to set printer commands (which are stored in the preset SONG REP.PRT file) such as margins and character spacing and size, but the way around this is to save the file as an ASCII file to disk (which SongRep saves as a *.TXT file), load it into a word processor and then print out from there. The character spacing needs to be set to Elite (78 characters per line).
The printout has been well arranged. It starts with a block giving info such as program version and serial number and follows this with the Selected Report Options which basically tell you what was selected for printout. This includes the selected patterns and which tracks were selected for those patterns. Next come the Song Disk and Song File lists followed by the individual song reports with the various chosen aspects.
The layout is in tabular form and easy to read, but there is one alteration that I would like to see made. The positions of MIDI events in tracks are given in bars, beats, 16ths and 768ths as in the C-Lab display, but while the display can be altered to show events in milliseconds, SongRep cannot. I would think that this is due to the fact that C-Lab data is always saved in terms of bars and beats and that SongRep is simply printing out the translation of that data.
Following on from this, a Sync Reference is created when Creator or Notator are locked via SMPTE and the Unitor box, and this reference gives the Song Start Time from which the MIDI events take their timing. It would also be useful to have a print out of MIDI events with their respective Sync Reference times; a friend of mine required this for a project where much of the mix information had been put in via text events.
Songrep is a unique program and only came about through one person's frustration with a particular program - it certainly isn't the kind of program that the software manufacturer would have spent time on. However, it works well and is certainly one of the most stable programs I've seen in a while. It didn't crash once during the two months or so I used it. While the mouse-less user interface will not be to everyone's taste, it is perfectly functional and very fast to use. At £99 it may be a little pricey, but that depends on your point of view.
Now, who's going to write a similar program for Cubase?
Price £49 including VAT.
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Review by Vic Lennard
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