|Over the past couple of years, apart from the odd snatch of a tune in games software, very little attention has been dedicated to the development of goo music utilities. Composer and electronic designer Adrian Wagner checks out five of the latest packages available to see if the wait is worthwhile.||
around this problem ... and the answer's
in the software. First, though, let's review
the present situation. |
ON BOARD OPTIONSYou've got three basic parameters to play with in order to make music, and they can all be found in chapter 19 of the Spectrum manual; they are, of course: BEEP - the frequency or pitch of the note; PAUSE - the time before the next note; and duration - the 'on-time' of the note. Circumventing the need to get too musical, the Spectrum allows the pitch to be expressed in numerical terms, with middle C at '0', concert A at '9' and the C below middle C at '-12'. Duration of the note and pauses are expressed as '1' for a one second burst, '.5' for a half a second, and so on. By using a look-up table, it's
quite simple to create a program that's an
easy-to-use musical sequencer (See Tuning Up this issue. Ed.).|
There are a number of musical utilities on the market and I've chosen five which purport to extend the musical capabilities of the Spectrum. It's best to have a good idea of what you're looking for in a music package - do you want to learn how to write music, play pretty tunes, or both? As you'll see from the five packages I've looked at here, they do vary quite dramatically in their musical awareness, and if you imagine that they've had the same programming dedication lavished on them as on much of today's games software, you're in for a shock!
Please be extremely careful when choosing the right program to buy - some can be really disappointing.
|As I'm speaking among friends, we can all admit that, musically, the Spectrum's not up to much. But although its sound capabilities are certainly limited, they can prove to be very usable. Trouble is, the Spectrum itself doesn't come prepared, either from the hardware or software point of view, to make beautiful music. But, of course, there's a way|
I N T O|
T H E
M U S I C
Supplier: Malan Associates, xx xxx nnn, xxxxxxxx, xxxxx xxn nxx.
This package offers little instruction on its use other than the blurb on the badly printed paper index card. This is a shame, because I found it quite easy to use - the only exception being that A Green (the programmer) decided to use a 10-line stave instead of the five line standard. As much as we need innovation in the world of music, I'm afraid this only adds to the confusion.
The screen information was enough to help me to store notes with ease but, unfortunately there's no facility to introduce sharps and flats! This, of course, makes the program musically unusable. But even worse, on playback it turns out that the notes are not what they say they are; for instance, a scale of C turns out to be a row of semitones starting from C and ending with G!
I think A Green would be well advised to take some music instruction before attempting any more music programs!
Supplier: Hilton Computer Services, xxxxxx xxxx, xxxxxxxxx, xxxx xxn nxx.
This software package comes complete with a seven-page manual, which tells you that the Play program plays tunes entered as a series of BEEP and PAUSE Basic statements. The question is, why was the program written at all?
Having loaded the cassette, you're asked how many sharps and flats are required; the problem here is that your
key signature will contain either sharps
or flats, but not both! After you've
waded through a couple of screens giving
you information on the pitch card and
how to cope with metronome markings,
you're in for a real thrill. The program
breaks out and asks you to type your
tune in Basic. What all this means is that
after you've shelled out your hard-
earned money for this package, you're
told to type in the equivalent of what
appears in chapter 19 of your Spectrum
manual. Out of interest, I tried writing a
tune and altering the musical parameters,
but it made not the slightest difference.|
The other program in this package is Music Typing and Transposing which is much the same as Play - tedious and boring.
Supplier: Romantic Robot, nnn xxxxxxx xxxxxx, xxxxxx xxn.
This package contains a very fast and easy-to-use non-real time sequencer that can process up to 16 tunes in memory. The writing and editing facilities are slightly easier to use than on Spectune, but then they're also musically more precise. You're even able to use complex timings like triplets and staccato notes with this package.
But the exceptional part has got to be the notation - it has to be seen to be believed! The way Music Typewriter prints up musical notation on-screen puts many expensive professional computer music systems to shame. The notes are tied together when necessary and, when in play mode, the music's printed out as the piece is played. The accuracy, even at fast speeds, is
Reviewing our musical
software is modern
composer and electronic
Wagner. Adrian can
claim four LPs to his
name - Distances Between Us, Instincts, Inca Gold and
Disco Dream of the Androids - all
featuring his own compositions on the
But, unlike his great-grandfather Richard Wagner, Adrian's not just concerned with writing music, he's also heavily involved with the production of synthesisers. Adrian was instrumental in the invention of the Wasp and Gnat synthesisers and, at present, he's working with Francis Monkman (ex-Sky and Curved Air) on a long-term project that they hope will revolutionise the synthesiser as we know it today.
Music Maker: Not one of the most brilliant pieces ot coding I've come across, but then it's one of Malan's budget range for just under two quid! Sad graphics and poor use of colour are the first things you'll notice - but this is nothing to the lack of musical awareness shown by the program's designer; for instance, how many sheets of music manuscript have you seen with ten ledger lines? Altogether, a very confusing program and not really worthwhile if you have musical aspirations. 1/5 Peter Shaw
Music Typewriter: This is certainly one of the most professional music editors I've seen! Out of the five packages here, Music Typewriter sports the best musical notation (the graphics are excellent!) and speed, plus a very easy-to-use editor that incorporates a full error-check of the length of each bar. It also comes with a keyboard overlay - which isn't much use if you've got a replacement keyboard or a Speccy+, but it's a nice thought. 4/5 Peter Shaw
The program contains three pages of menu: Page 0 provides facilities to play, repeat, write, edit, and print; Page 1 changes key signatures, time signatures and tempo; and Page 2 catalogues the tunes with their respective titles and length.
The supplied manual comes complete with a keyboard overlay - which does help when you're playing the Spectrum as a musical keyboard. It would have been nice to see a demonstration program (like the one in Spectune), but you pay your money and you takes your choice. For me, though, the advanced musical notation definitely gives this one the edge.
Supplier: Bellflower Software, n xxxxxxxx xxxxxx, xxxxxxxxx, xxxxxxxxx.
This program comes neatly packaged with a helpful index card; the instructions have been well-written and are very easy to follow. Unlike some of the other packages in this review, the programmer obviously has some knowledge of music - which I do feel is important!
The screen has been quite well laid out; the only problem here being that it displays only one bar at a time while you're inputting notes. Staying with the process of writing your tune on-screen, the program won't allow you to delete more than one note back - and even then, it has to be in the same bar. This means that if you do make an error, you've got no choice but to start all over again. On playback, it first prints the notes on the screen in non-real time and
then plays them back in real time.|
Music Maker allows you to add to the existing melody and store it on to cassette for later use; if you possess a printer, you can also obtain a hard copy and alter the speed of the playback.
Overall, this program's pretty good - but it should have included a suitable editing facility.
Spectune converts the Spectrum keyboard into a two and a half octave musical keyboard that can be made to record, recall, edit, save, merge and print. The instructions explain concisely how to change the length of each note, the tuning mode (which re-tunes any note for interesting scales), selecting key signatures, time signatures, writing and editing, and so on.
Diving straight into the teaching part of the software, a user starting from scratch can learn the basic techniques of playing and writing music in very simple terms. Using an on-screen keyboard, the relevant keys blink in red and an explanation of how music is printed follows. When you've had enough of the demonstration program, you're then ready to load in the main operating program.
You're offered three options from the on-screen menu, the first of which is a learning game to help you sort out exactly where you are on the keyboard. A note's printed up on-screen and you've got to find it on the keyboard within three lives. It's fun and a useful learning aid - something other programmers should take note of. Returning to the main menu, the second
option - edit/write mode - is very easy
to use. Having selected a note and
specified its length, it's entered into the
sequencer. If you change your mind, you
can go straight into the editing mode and
change any notes by scrolling to the left
or right to insert, delete or alter any part
of the composition.|
The last option on the menu is the play mode. You're now programming music in real time and the sequencer's recording exactly what's played, including your mistakes! But, even if you have entered your tune in real time, the editor still allows you to remove or change any unwanted notes.
Spectune allows up to 26 different tunes in memory at any one time; these can be merged together in any sequence in the final composition. You can also make a hard copy of your tunes on a printer.
Overall, Spectune is a very well- written program, and one that I can recommend. It's a useful educational tool that's fun to use.
OUT OF TUNE?Here at YS, we have piles of software flung our way by various suppliers - some good, some bad, but all worthy of mention. Trouble is, once the review copy came back from Adrian, we realised that no-one had the slightest idea where XORsoft is based and how much its package, Spectune, retails at. Standing up to its first test, the YS filing system broke down completely - so now it's up to you! If you've heard of XORsoft and can tell us where the company's based, give Trouble- shootin' Pete a ring on nn-nnn nnnn. It's a pretty good package, and deserves a little more than anonymity.
Play, Type and Transpose: Either I've missed something crucial, or there isn't anything in this program that couldn't be explained better on paper. After the program's loaded, you're asked to type in the key you want to play in and the speed you want to play it at. Then, instead of diving into some all-singing, all-dancing music editor, the program stops and asks you to type in the relevant BEEP statements for yourself, providing a 'pitch card' on-screen for reference purposes. Try reading the Spectrum manual and save yourself some cash! 1/5 Peter Shaw
Music Maker: This is a good program, although slightly overshadowed by the standards of Music Typewriter and Spectune. The graphics have been quite well designed and the package is very easy to understand - but if you want to type in tunes of any length, then tedium soon sets in. Although the screens seem very 'busy' to begin with, the control keys are kept to a minimum to stop things getting too confusing. This program would be of most use to the musical novice (unfamiliar with the piano keyboard) who's keen to type sheet music into the Speccy. 3/5 Peter Shaw
Spectune: OK, so I'd never heard of XORsoft (Who has? Ed.) but that didn't stop this from being my favourite package of the five I play-tested. It was the only one of the programs to let me use the Spectrum's keyboard like a true piano synth (playing each note for as long as you hold the key, and then playing it back in real-time). The program was a little let down by the clumsy use of graphics and the confusing layout of the control keys. 4/5 Peter Shaw