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Nota Musica Sequencer- by Christopher B. Wright
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Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Richmond, VA area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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MIDI Station Sequencer

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Summary: While it's integration with VoiceType Dictation is innovative, overall this is a very lightweight product, especially when compared to its powerful big brother, Nota Musica. All but the most casual dabbler in MIDI will find this program a bit restrictive.

Nota Musica isn't a sequencing program, but Nota Musica Sequencer is. A bare-bones sequencer intended to create rough tracks that will be imported into and refined in Nota Musica itself, it sports few features and is not suitable for many kinds of MIDI sequencing. It works well with Nota Musica, however, and it's innovative use of OS/2 Warp 4's VoiceType integration makes it easier to manage your takes.

Installation, Documentation, Support

Nota Musica Sequencer uses a command line install routine to set up the file directory and create the program object. If you already have Nota Musica installed, the program object will automatically appear in its folder. If not, it will create one on its own.

The documentation (an electronic file in .inf format) seems somewhat hastily thrown together, but it is complete and will tell you what you need to know to use the program. The fact that it seems sparse reflects more on the feature set of Nota Musica Sequencer itself rather than the thoroughness of the documentation.

User Interface

If elegance is simplicity, Nota Musica Sequencer is the epitome of elegance. Nota Musica Sequencer consists of one program screen and one settings notebook -- both of which are fairly self explanatory and can be used with little prompting. A more interesting aspect of the UI is that Nota Musica Sequencer uses OS/2 Warp 4's VoiceType dictation to allow you to create spoken shortcuts to use the program while keeping both hands on your keyboard ("Play." "Rewind." "Record.") This feature is activated in the settings notebook and you can assign your own phrases to each command. For example, you could replace "Play" with "Go, Cat, Go", and "Stop" with "Dig it, Man, Crazy."


Recording MIDI Tracks in Nota Musica Sequencer is simple. You start the program, you press the "record" button, and you start playing. When you're done, you press the "stop" button, and you either close the program or press the "next movement" button to move to a fresh track, where you repeat the process.

Unfortunately, simplicity comes with a price -- and the price you pay is: 1) an inability to configure your MIDI instruments through software, and 2) a general lack of information when it comes to trying to figure out what is going on in the music you're recording at the time.

Nota Musica Sequencer acts basically as a multitrack that can only record one track at a time. All it does is record signals, so you can't use it to assign instruments to the various channels in your tone generator. If you want to hear different instruments play on different tracks, you have to set those up from the hardware itself, which can be very, very annoying depending on the hardware you're using. For example, while my MIDI keyboard can choose what channel I play through, it can't assign a specific bank to that channel. That has to be done on my tone generator. This means that instead of being able to configure all my instruments from one software panel, I have to mess with the settings two hardware devices. If you use more than one MIDI instrument you will find this a very, very frustrating process.

Further, the longer and more complex your musical piece becomes the more frustrated you'll get at the lack of track information. Currently, all Nota Musica Sequencer will tell you is the total length of the piece and where you currently are, time-wise, within that piece. What it doesn't tell you is which track is currently active, and in what order all the other tracks are arranged. The main problem with this is that in a piece with more than five or six instruments, it will be relatively easy to lose your place if you need to keep jumping back and forth between instruments.

However, one of the tools that makes using this program so interesting is it's use of VoiceType Dictation as kind of shorthand for commonly used commands. This can allow you to effectively "punch in" the middle of a track, record for a bit, then "punch out" with a fair degree of accuracy. It's convenient not to have to fumble around with the mouse when you're in the middle of recording, and it's nice to be able to keep both hands on your keyboard when you're working on a musical piece.

Still, the simplicity of Nota Musica Sequencer is pretty restrictive. You can't really edit your work unless you import it into Nota Musica. You can't quantize or loop tracks, and you can't really play with any stereo effects. Nota Musica Sequencer is very much a bare-bones sequencer, and without Nota Musica, it's not terribly useful.

Final Thoughts

Nota Musica Sequencer is an interesting program, and when used with Nota Musica it can be useful. However, it's inability to assign instruments to your MIDI hardware is frustrating, and the fact that it doesn't display any real information about the music itself -- what track you're currently working on, where in the track you are, and other such data -- is doubly frustrating. While the use of VoiceType is innovative, and could make using a full-featured program much easier to use, it is overkill in a program like Nota Musica Sequencer. At the moment, the sequencing counterpart to Nota Musica is too simple and confined to make full use of this feature, and it's lack of configurability will frustrate many musicians used to being able to see the tracks individually and program the instrument settings from within the program itself. Although it is almost half the price, you'll get a lot more use out of MIDI Station Sequencer. In time, Nota Musica Sequencer could grow into a useful tool, but at this stage in its development, it still has a ways to go.
Suitability:2 * *
Ease of use:3 * * *
Stability:4 * * * *
OS/2 Leverage:4.5 * * * * -
Overall:3.5 * * * -

Nota Musica Sequencer

by Johannes Martin
download from BMT Micro (1.3M)
Registration: US$17

Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
October 1, 1998