Friday, 14 July 2017

Of Blobs, Scratches And Other Musical Deviations

I'm in the process of writing up a new song, "Vote For Them". So far I'm working on a fourth tune for the song ... the others turned out to be unsatisfactory for one reason or another. This one has promise and will probably end up being the one. This has been the first song I've written up using the new score writing program, Dorico. Until a couple of weeks ago it couldn't handle writing chord symbols, so wasn't much use to to me, but now ... 

Since the 1980s I have used computer programs for writing out my scores - my handwriting being illegible and the ease of being able to print copies as required being really handy. If I go back through my notebooks I can find scores printed out from Steinberg's Pro-24, C-Lab's Notator, Logic (from C-Lab days, through the company's metamorphosis into E-Magic and on to being sold to Apple), Hybrid Arts' very neat and barely known program, EZ Score, Steinberg's Cubase (even in its early form when it was called "Cubit" or "Cuboid" or some such) and others I've forgotten. There was one called something like Music 24, which looked great as a sequencer, was on show at very loud volumes at all the trade shows for a time, was purchased by many schools in Essex and which crashed every time I fired it up to have another go at trying to use it. At least the idiosyncratic Hybrid Technology Music 5000 system didn't pretend to offer score writing ... although wasn't there a Yamaha connection at some stage or am I thinking of something else? I remember dongles and cartridges being involved with a special Yamaha keyboard and a monitor with a blue screen?

Eventually I needed something with more functionality and better-looking scores and Finale seemed to be the industry standard solution. It turned out to be a musician's nightmare. Enduring the horrors of Finale for too long and having to work on each project with its five manuals (!) always on hand, I switched to Sibelius, which had, after some years, finally reached a level of functionality (not to mention its eventual migration beyond the Acorn environment!) that satisfied me. I have been using Sibelius as my score writing program of choice for twenty years or so.

Yesterday I gave the latest version of Steinberg's new dedicated score writing software, Dorico, a trial run. I tried it a few weeks ago, but abandoned the project and had to go back to Sibelius, because I need certain functions which weren't in Dorico until a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, though, I discovered that using Dorico for writing lyrics and chord symbols in particular is rather elegant. Now if I can get used to inputting notes the Dorico way it may soon be time to consign Sibelius to the "thanks for the memory" tray (Sibelius stopped being fun the moment it was sold to Avid anyway - and I refused as a matter of principle to upgrade to the subscription version, Sibelius 8).

Some of you may know that when Avid bought out Sibelius one of their first actions was to sack the team that built it and lose the vision that drove the program. Steinberg brought those gifted people back together a few years ago with a view to producing the new score writing software from scratch. I've never been a big fan of Steinberg in the past, but things sometimes change ...

Naturally there going to be things I don't like about Dorico, but that may just be down to being unfamiliar with the environment. Having to switch tools to perform certain functions seems a retrograde move, although the experience is nowhere near as awful as my encounters with Finale. A manual, specially one of the quality of Sibelius, would be a very welcome development, and plans are afoot for that. Yes, the online video tutorials are pretty good, but looking up something in a handy manual is much quicker and interrupts the work less. A manual also allows me to save some of my precious monthly data allowance for watching cat videos (only kidding!). I'm also not at all convinced, that editing note pitches in Dorico should require two key presses (Alt+up/down arrow when Sibelius just uses the much more logical up and down arrows), but that may be something I can configure within the program options ... (Edit: I have just reconfigured this in the Preferences window and can now alter pitches by using the up and down arrows <happy dance>) Importantly for me, Dorico does not yet have the functionality to write percussion parts properly, which is necessary for several projects, but this is promised in an early future upgrade. I can see myself migrating fully over to Dorico as the functions improve.

I am not sponsored by anyone (although I could be tempted with the right offer ... ) so this little essay is completely independent of thoughts other than my own perspectives and prejudice. However I'm going to go out on a limb and point out that there is a time-limited trial version of Dorico available, if this kind of thing interests you. It has only taken thirty-plus years for version 1.1 of a score writing program to be usable without total loss of hair. Just as well, since I have little more to lose. The portents seem quite positive at the moment.