Contrast Software
Tony Rickwood
Utility: Music
ZX Spectrum 48K

Jon Bates, Graeme Kidd
Chris Bourne

Composer appears to have been written more for someone who already knows about music. The program presents a bit of an intellectual challenge to the user, in that you can write and 'music process' tunes but not in the conventional notation used for music.

The cassette inlay gives a brief summary of the modes used by the software, but the full instructions are presented on screen in one long chunk - which can be printed out, admittedly. The inlay states that full screen instructions can be recalled any time, but in use there didn't seem to be any help function which could be called up for advice on what to do next. Without a hard copy of the instructions in front of you, it was easy to get lost in the program, and it wasn't easy to write a tune into the computer to begin with.

Composer uses a numerical notation, by which the duration of a note is entered as a fraction of a second rather than by note names - crochet, quaver etc. From the musician's point of view this is an added difficulty, and non-musicians could also be put off. Tunes written into the computer are not displayed onto a musical stave, and as a result it would be very hard for a non-musician to copy in a scored piece of music.

A tune of up to 199 notes or events can be entered into memory. One useful feature worthy of comment was the facility which allows you to hear a note once it is selected, and before it is entered into your growing composition, which allows you the option of changing your mind!

Overall Composer has the feel of a nice idea poorly executed. The displayed keyboard, for instance, has the keys labelled for the notes they represent - but the labels are out of alignment; the program is far from user-friendly, coming up with unhelpful error prompts like 'out of range, retype' rather than actually reminding the user of the range of acceptable values before requesting 'retype'. Composer presumes the user knows all about music before sitting down at the Spectrum, it doesn't help you get into the subject or the software, and then proceeds to present a new form of musical notation on the screen.


Some alignment problems; is blue text on a blue blackground ideal?
Apart from the numeric notation, there seemed to be a slight timing inaccuracy in the demo tune which was repeaqted.
Screen layouts were not self-explanatory and a help function could have made life much easier. With a printed set of instructions in front of you and the patience to get you into the program, no doubt quite rewarding.