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Music editors

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Music Editors for Small Computers

source Creative Computing, Februari 1981

by Rebecca T. Mercuri, RCA, David Sarnoff Reasearch Center Princeton, NJ 08540


  • An abundance of music editors for small computers have recently appeared on the market. At RCA's David Sarnoff Research Center, where I an involved with computer music experimentation, I have had the opportunity to compare these systems. The presently available music editors appear to fall into three categories: -Text editors which enable the user to directly enter a music file in a program like format. -Editors which display musical notation, but require the user to enter the notes using an ASCII keyboard. -Graphic editors where entry of notes directly on the music staves is made possible by cursor manipulation.

Text-Like Editors

  • The VIP's system could be called a machine-language editor since it requires the user to directly input hexadecimal codes for each of the notes, each hex word specifying both the pitch and duration of one note. Musicraft and Orchestra-8O both take this idea one step further, and permit the user to input notes as they would be read aloud from conventional music. For example, A3H would indicate a 440 Hz half note.
    music editors
    Since both of these systems are similar to standard text editors, features have been incorporated which make it easy to manipulate the music program. Insertion and deletion procedures can utilize line numbers, and looping, segmentation and external calls to other portions of the program are processes available to the user. Both Musicraft and Orchestra-8O require compilation of the music program before playback, but an interesting feature of the Orchestra-8O editor allows the tempo to be changed during play by depressing number combinations on the keyboard. This feature enables the piece to be heard at various speeds: These may be adopted into the program text at a later time.

Display With ASCII Input

  • The MMI and Atari systems use ASCII input information similar to the Musicraft and Orchestra-80 systems, but provide a visual staff display for editing and playback. MMI utilizes a full four-voice display and requires that all notes in each chord be written vertically during editing. In the display-and-play mode, the score is scrolled from right to left, and note durations may not always be sounded precisely. In the play mode, there is no video display, but all rhythms are correctly performed.
    music editors
    Atari permits the independent writing of up to nine separate phrases. The arrange mode enables the user to insert these phrases into any of the four voices. In addition, the volume of each phrase may be changed each time it is called. Looping can be used in order to implement repeats or rounds. The color display used in editing assists the user in specifying the octave for each note. On playback, only one voice at a time may be displayed, the display voice being selected by the user.

Display With ASCII Input

  • Considering the rapid development of the personal computer industry, it should soon be possible to construct music editors which bear a striking resemblance to printed music, and can also be used in real-time performance. My photograph of the "ideal" music editor demonstrates the high level of readability which is presently possible using the Apple II graphics display. Notes were input using a light pen, and sufficient space is available between staves to permit insertion of text and dynamics markings. The black-on-white display further enhances the similarity to printed notation. Let me remind the reader that this editor is only in the development stage and is not commercially available.

Display With ASCII Input

  • KL-4M, Supersound, ALP, and Mountain Hardware all offer music editors which permit cursor manipulation and note insertion directly on the musical staff. The Visible Music Monitor provided with the KL-4M DAC Board permits fourpart harmonic input for PET ICBM Computers. The notes are displayed horizontally, but grouped into chords with small lines. The cursor can be moved up or down to change the pitch of notes, and may also be moved right or left for insertion or deletion purposes. Due to display requirements of the PET, the notation appears much like that used in medieval music, but this does not detract much from its readability. Persons familiar with the VIP system will recognize the Super Sound name in reference to the four-channel music player. At RCA, an experimental prototype music editor for the VIP was developed. The VIP four-channel Super Sound has the same music-playing features as the prototype Supersound editor. The major difference is that with the VIP, notes and measures must be handcoded into memory, while the Supersound editor permits graphic entry of notes. Another feature of the prototype involves the use of the note cursor. As the note is moved up or down in halfstep increments on the staff, the pitch is also heard. Future availability of this editor will most likely depend on user interest; information may be obtained from RCA Customer Service.

The ALF system

  • The ALF system is similar to the two editors I mentioned previously, in that it permits cursor manipulation directly on the musical staff. In addition, it incorporates many of the features of the text editors such as subroutine calls and recursiveness. Meters, key signatures, envelopes, volumes, and tempi can all be redefined at any point in the music, thus providing the capability for inventiveness and flexibility in musical interpretations. The pitch of notes is heard as they are entered, providing immediate auditory feedback for the user.
    music editors
    In addition, measure bars are automatically inserted by the editor. Notes which exceed the measure boundaries are tied over into the subsequent measure. The ALF system resolves the problem of real-time music display by utilizing a set of horizontal bars. As the notes are played, a small rectangle moves across each bar, and its position relative to middle C may be viewed. The color of the rectangle is dependent upon the volume of the note. It is my understand- ing that ALF is now marketing a single nine-voice board which has a six-(rather than eight-) octave range, and a 28 db dynamic range (instead of 78 db for the 3-voice board).

Mountain Hardware system

  • The Mountain Hardware system utilizes 16 oscillators in order to obtain high-quality polyphonic instruments. Instead of specifying a monophonic voice, the user may select one of six instruments which have been preset. Of course, the number of notes played at anyone time must not exceed sixteen. This editor permits single or double stave notation utilizing the treble, bass, tenor and alto clefs. A wide range of dynamic and tempo resets are also available, which may be inserted throughout the music.

A light pen

  • A light pen (which is provided) may be used to access the menu. Version #1.1, which I viewed, did not provide the software support which I understand will be available in future versions. For instance, it is not yet possible for the user to create his/her own instrument tables in order to augment those that are supplied. It may be useful to review this system again at a later date when more software becomes available. I regret that I was unable to obtain a picture of Mountain Hardware's unique display.
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a 37-point comparison of eight available music editors

  • The following chart is a 37-point comparison of eight available music editors, a VIP-compatible editor prototype, and what I feel would be the "ideal" music editor. The music editors in this chart have been listed in order of increasing complexity , and grouped according to the categories mentioned above. Increased complexity does not imply that these editors are harder to use; in fact, the reverse is often the case. I have avoided subjective factors (e.g. which is best?) so that the reader will be able to peruse that chart and determine which system suits his/her present needs. It is important to note that the cost listed for each editor can be deceptive, and should therefore be considered only in conjunction with the list of the equipment required. Some of the less expensive systems demand extensive hardware support; but, on the other hand, a number of the systems have special circuitry which cuts costs for the user. Although all efforts were made to com- plete this chart, not all needed information was available. Where no information was available on a specific topic "NI" was used. "None" was only used if the product did not incorporate a particular feature. There were also occasional discrepancies between information presented in user's manuals and by the software representatives of the various music editors (or by the editors' performances alone). 0

  • music editors  chart

  • music editors  chart

  • music editors  chart

  • music editors  chart

  • music editors  chart

posted : 20 oktober 2002

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