REVIEWED BY CHRIS MANY
Since the first days of Atari, there have been music programs. I spent hours hunched over a membrane keyboard and using the original Atari Music Composer cartridge, entering the computer equivalent of music notation into my old Atari 400. While I got a kick out of playing duets with my computer, I found it tedious typing in every note from my computer keyboard. I wish that I'd had Activision's Music Studio then. For both novices and experienced musicians, Music Studio is an easy to use music composer that will have you playing songs on your Atari within minutes.
Separate versions of Music Studio have been released for 8-bit Ataris ($34.95) and for the ST ($49.95). The 8-bit version uses a joystick instead of a mouse, and the ST graphics are far superior. But the most significant difference is that the 8-bit version has no MIDI option. This is unfortunate, because the software could easily have been made compatible with Hybrid Arts' MIDITRACK hardware interface for 8-bit Atari computers.
Music Studio consists of five screens from which to compose, edit and playback music. Entering music is very easy: select the type of note you want to enter with the joystick, and place that note on the staff by pressing the button. You can enter a lot of music quickly this way, and you hear each note as you move around the staff. Entering other music notations such as sharps, flats, rests, time and key signatures, etc. is done the same way.
You can even have lyrics to your songs. Up to three lines (or verses) can be added to scroll right along with your musical score. Is the key or range too high or too low? No problem. Music Studio transposes the entire song to a new key. Other features include inserting, copying and moving moving blocks of music--much like working with word processors.
Since not everyone can read standard musical notation, Music Studio has a fun option which allows you to write music in a graphic representation called the Music Paintbox. You "paint" your song on the screen using different colors. The duration of your notes is indicated by the length of the color bars you use--the longer the bar, the longer the note and vice versa. Then Music Paintbox converts your musical "picture" to notes. Kids just love playing around with these colorful patterns.
You have a choice of 15 instruments, ranging from flute to bass to snare drum, and though you might be hard pressed to hear the difference between the Atari harmonica and saxophone, you still have plenty of distinct sounds to chose from. There are other options which expand the musical playback beyond the sounds provided with Music Studio. One is called the Design Instrument screen, with which you can graphically manipulate the Atari voices.
Although many factors go into creating a given sound, some of the basic components can be edited easily. Using a graph onscreen with the vertical axis representing the volume of a tone and the horizontal axis showing the duration, four key parameters can be changed through the use of control sliders. These parameters affect the sound dramatically. By experimenting with the Attack, Decay. Sustain or Release of a tone you can change a fuzz guitar into a bell-like piano or a mellow flute. You are dealing with the internal voices of the Atari, so don't expect to create a complex harmonic sound like a Steinway grand piano. But it's relatively easy to create something new and different. Other features on this screen include selecting the range for the instrument, naming, copying and saving sound files.
I've saved the best for last. The Atari ST has two MIDI ports. You can enter the world of MIDI through Music Studio's MIDI Parameters screen.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) allows synthesizers to communicate among themselves, or a computer to communicate with synthesizers. For example, if you had two keyboards MIDI'd together, playing a note on keyboard 1 would trigger the same note on keyboard 2. This way, you can chain many synthesizers together and create thick sounds by playing one keyboard.
Additionally, MIDI has 16 separate channels. Much like a telephone cable which carries hundreds of phone calls at once, MIDI can carry separate musical information to synthesizers tuned into specific channels.
You will need a synthesizer with MIDI capabilities to use this feature, but there are many available at reasonable prices, such as Casio's CZ-101. By hooking up your synthesizer to your ST, you can play your Music Studio songs through these powerful musical instruments.
Music Studio comes somewhat configured to work with the CZ-101 and provides sound modifications for this specific synthesizer. You can enter notes directly from your music keyboard into Music Studio, which makes life much easier for musicians. But you'll still need to change the note duration manually. MIDI channels (1-16) can be assigned to each instrument, so that if you have a multiple synthesizer setup, or a synthesizer that plays more than one sound simultaneously, you can have different instruments playing separate lines.
Although this program is not really geared toward the professional musician, it is a fine addition to the growing list of Atari music programs for home use. It's easy to use, and its variety of options makes it one of the better home music programs available.
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