Back in our March issue Pete Connor reviewed The Music System from Rainbird, and he liked it a lot. It was certainly way ahead of the competition at the time, and none of the music packages since have really done anything to change this. Not content with merely having the best music product on the market, Rainbird have brought out a new improved version for disk users. They call it The Advanced Music System, and I'd say that 'advanced'is the word for it.
Rainbird have added two new modules to the original system: as well as the music editing and playback section, the advanced package has printout and file-linking modules. These beef the system up a great deal, and that's no mean feat considering how thorough it was to start with.
USING THE SYSTEM
You'll notice the extra features as soon as you start using the package. After the loading screen you face a new control screen, with icons meaning link, edit/playback and printout. To start with, the linker is highlighted. You can move the highlight to either of the other modules by hitting the space bar, or select the highlighted module by hitting enter/return. This is the system used throughout the package for selecting icons, so owners of the original system will immediately feel at home.
The first thing you'll want to do is create your piece of music. For this you'll need to select the edit/playback module. This is essentially the same as the system reviewed in March, but it's worth a quick look at it again.
EDITING AND PLAYBACK
The edit/playback screen is dominated by the Voice Monitor Window, or VMW. There are three voices - three separate parts to your harmony - but you can edit only one at a time. You can scroll through the score for each voice, adding and deleting notes as you see fit. The use of a scrolling window makes editing very easy indeed; i: is one of the system's strengths that its competitors would do well to emulate.
Editing options include just about every feature a piece of music can have: dynamics, accents, accidentals or whatever. These are all easily accessible from pull-down menus, and there are quicker key combinations you can use once you're more experienced. You can set the system to insert barlines automatically, or you can put them in by hand if you have a taste for irregular time signatures. The only serious omission is triplets, but that's not exactly crippling.
Recording was a unique feature of the original system, and is still something quite unusual these days. In recording mode, part of Arnold's keyboard behaves like a piano. By hitting different keys you can play tunes, either recording them or just practising. Recording a piece of music doesn't just store it for playback it actually writes your tune onto the stave for subsequent editing or printout.
Once you've written or recorded your tune, you'll want to play it back. Here there is a really nice option: you can set your score to scroll through the VMW, a note at a time, as the system plays it. Unlike in edit mode, all three voices are displayed at once. It's an impressive and entertaining feature, and a great way to track down that elusive wrong note.
What's really nice about the playback system is the way it behaves like normal music. Accidentals affect subsequent notes in the bar, for example, and the first note of each bar is accented. This sort of thing adds to my impression that the package really can offer something to serious musicians, as well as the enthusiastic amateurs most packages cater for.
The separate printout module is well thought out, and will prove invaluable to musicians everywhere. It can print up to six voices on one stave, displaying dynamics and even allowing you to add a line of lyrics or additional directions.
The ability to handle six different voices is very impressive, but it does cause the odd complication. After all, the editor can only handle three voices and music fiies only contain three voices. To get a six-voice tune then, you have to edit and play it as two three-voice tunes. You can then switch to the printout module, load the two separate music files you've created and then print all six voices out.
Adding lyrics is very straightforward - just type them in underneath each bar. You can use only one line, though, and some users may find they need to save this for additional, non-Music System directions like legato or andante. The lyrics come out in a small, rather poorly defined typeface but are perfectly readable. It's a shame they couldn't be slightly more legible though - of a quality to match the notes - since the system has obvious uses in music teaching.
The module can drive a wide range of dot-matrix printers, and can cope with continuous or single-sheet paper over 80 or 132 columns. It can split bars at the edge of the page or wrap them onto the next line, cut out individual voices or even clefs, and string separate files together for printing lengthy works.
The need for that last printout option stems from the main shortcoming of the original system: the small amount of memory-available for your tune. There's room for a maximum of 1000 notes in memory, and that has to be shared between the three separate voices.
To write longer works than this limit would otherwise allow, you have to use the advanced system's new linker module. This allows you to load in up to 13 music files at a time, with an upper limit of over 6000 notes total.
Having loaded the files you can then build them up into a playing sequence a list of files to be played. You can repeat movements or entire pieces, so that the sequence itself involves many more than 6000 notes. You can have up to 99 separate entries in the sequence, and that will be more than enough for most purposes. The whole sequence can be saved to disk, loaded in later and played as a concert or simply as one enormous composition.
The main section of the system looks every bit as good now as it did six months ago. The linker goes some considerable way toward solving its space problems and as such is a welcome feature of the advanced system.
But it's the hard-copy facility that really earns that extra £10. The addition of the printer module gives the system a whole range of uses it didn't have open to it before. You can now record a piece on the keyboard, edit it in the VMW and dump it to your printer as a finished score without once having to pick up a pencil.
If you want to arrange a piece for an ensemble and then print each instrument's part separately, the system can do this quite easily. Choral arrangements would need a little more work to cope with differences in the lyrics of separate parts, but the system would still be an enormous advantage.
The printout module makes the Advanced Music System a useful musical tool, as well as the entertaining and easy-to-use program the original system was.