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Music-X & Notator-X; Sequencing Roundup

Amiga Notes
Published September 1995

Music-X & Notator-X; Sequencing Roundup

This month, Paul Overaa devotes the whole of his column to a roundup of the current Amiga sequencing scene.

With the Amiga about to be effectively 'reborn' during the coming months, there are likely to be plenty of musicians wondering how this computer fits into the music scene. Essentially, there are two types of sequencer available for the Amiga — tracker sequencers and MIDI sequencers. As the two types of software are so fundamentally dissimilar (in both use and purpose), it's worth spelling out the differences right from the start.

Trackers are programs used to compose and create sound sample‑based songs for playing via the Amiga's sound chips. Most musicians would not, in the strict sense, regard these programs as sequencers at all, but since the Amiga world seems to have adopted the terms 'tracker sequencer' or 'sample sequencer' for these types of programs, who are the rest of us to argue?

Over the years, tracker programs have gone from strength to strength, and nowadays the programs themselves are both powerful and user‑friendly. As well as using the Amiga's keyboard to enter note data, a few, such as OctaMED Professional, let you link up a MIDI synthesizer so that riffs, bass patterns and the like can be played in a more conventional way — easier for a musician than bashing away on the musically meaningless QWERTY keyboard.

True MIDI sequencers have a somewhat different brief, and, as you'll doubtless know, are designed primarily to record, edit and playback MIDI data. Even though most Amiga MIDI sequencers do allow you to play back songs using the Amiga's sound chips, the real software emphasis is still on recording from, and playing back to, MIDI equipment.

So what sort of choice is there as far as real Amiga MIDI sequencers go? Well, over the years, quite a few packages have appeared, including Passport's Master Tracks Pro and Steinberg's Pro 24 Amiga. Unfortunately Passport pulled the plug on Amiga software development to concentrate on other things, and Steinberg's offering, for a number of reasons, has created little interest amongst the Amiga community. About half a dozen lesser sequencers have also appeared, and disappeared, along the way. There are, however, a number of sequencer packages which really have stood the test of time...


The current Dr T's offering, known as the KCS Level II, provides the KCS sequencer, PVG, a Master Editor, Tiger (a graphics editor), QuickScore, and AutoMix. All of these components are integrated into Dr T's multi‑program environment (MPE). The track editing facilities are quite sophisticated — there is fully implemented cut and paste editing, pitch transposition, track shifting, track splitting, note duration and velocity correction functions, track rearrangement, multiple cue points, measure‑location, automatic new track muting (helpful when doing multiple takes), and some interesting note and controller splitting facilities. Other goodies include remote MIDI control of start/stop/record functions, support for the phantom SMPTE interface, controller chasing, time reversal, re‑channelling, auto‑correction, real‑time and step‑time editing, inversion, and the ability to protect drum parts from transposition. In short, there's little you can't do!

QuickScore is a module that analyses the data held in the KCS, and displays it in notation form. It just provides basic score/transcription and printing facilities, not proper score editing. One point that is worth mentioning, for those who need more sophisticated score notation and score editing facilities, is that Copyist DTP, Dr T's heavyweight notation program, is also MPE‑compatible, so a professional user can easily link both packages.

At its current price, the KCS package represents some of the best, and most cost‑effective, music software seen on the Amiga to date. Nevertheless, in terms of equivalent modern Atari ST/Falcon and Apple Mac offerings, the Amiga KCS package still looks pretty archaic, and it is not the Amiga's answer to Cubase by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, very reliable, and still probably one of the most favoured 'work‑horse' sequencers available to the Amiga‑based musician.

Music‑X & Notator‑X

One of the hottest Amiga products to arrive last year was an updated version of MicroIllusion's Music‑X sequencer, coupled to a score notation program called Notator‑X. With version 2.0, many of the original Music X facilities were improved, and ARexx control was provided, along with support for multiple serial port card use.

Notator‑X allows you to write, edit and print music scores using a maximum of 18 staves (by linking two tracks to each stave, the program can actually deal with 36 tracks — track 1 linked to track 19, track 2 linked to track 20, and so on). Repeat symbols, 1st/2nd and 3rd time endings, Segno, Dal Segno, Coda and To Coda, tuplets, signs, dynamics, accidentals, beams, trills, pedals, octaves and so on, are all allowed, and the score editing and printing facilities are, in the main, quite good. The program, incidentally, is easier to use than the (admittedly powerful) Dr T's Copyist program.

Both Music‑X and Notator‑X can run as stand‑alone programs, but if your Amiga has more than 1.5Mb of memory, you'll be able to run both programs together, and move music data between them. You can also use Notator‑X in conjunction with any other sequencer package that supports MIDI file import/export.

Bars & Pipes Professional

Blue Ribbon's Bars&Pipes Professional is as much a creative tool as a conventional sequencer, and the general sequence editing facilities are brilliant. There are also some very powerful song parameter options which let you define lyric lines, chords, keys/scales, rhythm data, global dynamics, and so on. The list of features just goes on; automated mixing via a MixMaestro utility, MIDI file, SysEx and internal sound support, timeline scoring (for video/film work), SMPTE facilities...

Bars&Pipes Pro is a terrific piece of software which, in practice, suffers from only one real snag — the amount of memory needed to run it. The package is massive, and although just about loadable on a 1Mb machine, a realistic setup for serious work would be a fast machine with around 2‑4 megs of memory, along with a hard disk — especially important if you intend using the multimedia facilities.

Sequencer One Plus

Software Technology's Sequencer One Plus is one of the few UK‑developed sequencers that has found a safe niche for itself amidst the rather awesome heavyweight Stateside competition. Sequencer One Plus offers all the basic functions needed for MIDI sequencing, and supports the use of internal sounds as well as MIDI‑orientated output.

Two editors are available, including a high‑level Bar Editor, which shows the arrangement of the song graphically, indicating the bars which contain data for each track. The main use of this editor is for viewing and creating arrangements, and carrying out block editing operations. More detailed editing is performed using the Step Editor, which provides a piano roll‑type display.

When Sequencer One was upgraded to Sequencer One Plus, one of the enhancements was the Juke Box screen. This allows song sets of up to 32 songs to be created and played using CD‑style controls. You can skip back and forth between songs, play in random order, pause, mute selections, and alter the delay between songs. Given sufficient memory, you can also have the sequencer load the next song as the current one is playing.

Sequencer One Plus has a proven track record as a robust and well‑supported product. For a middle‑of‑the‑range sequencer, it offers a surprising number of MIDI 'goodies', although it does of course lack many of the refinements found with packages like Dr T's KCS, and Blue Ribbon's Bars&Pipes. You'll find no harmony generators, score printing, or the more esoteric options like SMPTE or MIDI Time Code support, but it is nevertheless capable of, and suitable for, all but the most demanding uses. Best of all, it has a price that is not going to frighten your bank manager. In short, instead of trying to offer an all‑singing, all‑dancing package, Software Technology have concentrated on creating and supporting a 'workhorse' sequencer that offers the user just the basic facilities needed for serious use. The philosophy, needless to say, has paid off!

The Bottom Line

Both Dr T's KCS and Blue Ribbon's Bars&Pipes sequencers are now firmly established amongst Amiga musicians, and these companies do, incidentally, also offer dozens of other Amiga music packages... patch editors, notation software, librarians and the like. The excellent music composition program SuperJAM (also from Blue Ribbon), is another program that has helped make Amiga‑based musicians feel slightly more comfortable when confronting their Atari, Mac and PC counterparts. Music‑X/Notator‑X is also good, and, although it doesn't seem to have tempted many Bars&Pipes or KCS users away from their camps, it is worth recommending due to the notation facilities provided. At the lower end of the marketplace, Software Technology's Sequencer One Plus is clearly worthy of consideration — it is a well‑supported, useful, and very reasonably priced, entry‑level product, which now has quite a large user base.

As far as music sequencing applications are concerned, Amiga software still falls far short of that available for the Mac and the ST, and this is especially noticeable when it comes to things like notation software. The Amiga is slowly catching up, but most users would agree that there is still a long way to go.

In fact, given the current state of Amiga MIDI software, Atari ST, Mac and PC users are not, by any stretch of the imagination, likely to be tempted away from their machines onto an Amiga MIDI system. If, however, you have chosen an Amiga for other uses, whether playing games, Desktop Publishing, or video and graphics work, then opting for an Amiga‑based sequencer could make a lot of sense, since it would enable you to make maximum use of the hardware that you've ploughed your hard‑earned cash into!