Music Construction Set

reviewed by Gary Sabin and Julian Bailey


Issue 11

Sep/Oct 84

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In the wake of so many graphics programs and utilities, the sound and music capabilities of Atari computers seems to have been ignored, but now Music Construction Set from Electronic Arts has put that to rights.

The screen consists of two staves (the Bass and Treble clefs) and a graphic menu. The menu contains a complete set of notes and rests, a time signature indicator, a time counter and nine symbolic pictures, or icons, representative of a certain command, e.g. a disk for disk commands. The approach is very similar to Pinball Construction Kit. The Hand icon is the most important as this controls the entire workings of the MCS. The hand can be controlled from a choice of controllers such as joystick and keyboard or the Atari Touch Tablet or Koala Pad.

The hand is used to control the speed, sound and volume, time signature and for manipulation of the icons and even to change the key in which the music is played. Most importantly, however, it is used to write music. By placing the hand on a note, rest or other musical notation such as ties, octave raisers etc., and pressing the trigger, the item can be picked up and placed anywhere on the staves. The facility is ideal for music development or copying from manuscripts.

In the middle of the screen are five gauges which give complete control over speed, volume and various instrument effects such as piano, drum, accordion and vibrato. The editing facilities are also extremely efficient using the 'cut and paste' technique. Bars can be cut out and replaced anywhere in the same piece of music or even another piece loaded from disk. It is also possible to print the music on a dot-matrix printer giving a full printout of the score.

There are drawbacks, however, to what is otherwise an excellent program. In the disk command mode, if load or save are not specified and the filename begins with F, the program will format any disk in drive 1 without chance of verification. Secondly, it can only take 70 bars of music from either stave in memory at once which is a little short and might not allow a full piece of music to be worked on at anyone time. Thirdly the controls area little coarse and take practice to operate correctly.

The MCS is set up to use only three of the Atari's four voices in order to give better bass notes but you can select four voices if required. It is not only the bass notes that sound good however, the whole musical quality must be heard to be believed.