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SIBELIUS SOFTWARE Sibelius 4 (Mac/Win)

March 1, 2006
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Sibelius 4 is the latest incarnation of Sibelius Software's well-respected notation program. This upgrade retains the comprehensive feature set and intuitive interface that have placed previous versions among the preeminent score writers available, and also adds at least two major new features and a number of smaller enhancements. Because EM has previously reviewed versions 2.1 (in September 2003) and 3 (in June 2004), I'll recap Sibelius's main characteristics and then focus primarily on the new features.

Sibelius is one of those programs that prove that professional features and a steep learning curve do not have to go hand in hand. When I first auditioned Sibelius in its original Mac/Win version (it had existed on the Acorn platform for years prior), I was literally up and running in minutes. At the time, its intelligent layout features managed to provide readable and good-looking parts and scores with minimal effort, but in many cases they did not offer enough flexibility for the user to overrule the program's decisions. With each subsequent revision, however, the program has become more amenable to user preferences.

FIG. 1: Articulations and other markings in Sibelius carry MIDI data that gives them proper playback characteristics. Redefining text markings is quite easy, but redefining articulations is more involved.

Its Flexi-time Record mode tracks your tempo as you play parts, taking real-time note entry to a new level of efficiency. Play easy parts quickly and difficult parts slowly, and Sibelius understands. Playback is equally intelligent, recognizing articulations and other markings. You can redefine the playback parameters of score markings and define new markings, but redefining articulations is a cumbersome process, as I discovered when trying to get a marcato to play back as a short jazz accent instead of a long orchestral accent (see Fig. 1).

Sibelius includes a modest but good-sounding sample library that is well suited to orchestral scores. Using a custom version of Native Instruments Kontakt for playback, the bundled Silver sound set offers 20 different instruments but lets you play only 8 at a time. If you upgrade to Kontakt Player Gold, then you get more sounds and can use as many as 32 simultaneously. You can also assign each staff to any hardware or standalone software synth in your arsenal, but Sibelius does not support plug-in instruments without a third-party plug-in host.

Picture This

New to Sibelius 4 is the Video window. You can now import a movie file directly into the program and score directly to picture. This is a great step forward for film composers. Instead of composing in your favorite sequencer (which has probably supported video for some time) and then exporting a MIDI file and importing it into Sibelius to create a score and parts, you can choose to work directly in the score from the start. It's the next-best thing to having a video window in your score paper.

Because Sibelius leverages your system's video player for the Video window, anything you can play in Windows Media Player on the PC or QuickTime on the Mac or PC can be played in Sibelius. The window is resizable and can even display full screen on a second monitor, subject to the quirks of your media player. Playback through a FireWire device is not currently supported.

Most common frame rates are supported, with the noteworthy exception of 29.97 drop frame. This means that, when working with standard NTSC color video, you'll have to use 29.97 nondrop, which will make the tempos in your score slightly inaccurate. Then you'll have to recalculate them before setting up the click track when you reach the scoring stage. Fortunately, a fix should be available by the time you read this. The Timecode and Duration dialog box lets you specify offsets, allowing you to start playback at a specific point in the score, or from a point other than the beginning of the movie.

FIG. 2: Sibelius 4''s support for video includes a resizable playback window and the ability to place markers, called Hit Points, in the score and parts to designate important cues.

You can create Hit Points, which are markers in the score or parts for visual reference of important cues (see Fig. 2). Change a tempo, and the Hit Points move accordingly. Unfortunately, you can't yet use Hit Points as locate points, nor can you jump directly to a specific frame. In fact, frame-accurate positioning is not currently possible. You can scrub the video only to a resolution of 0.2 second, or approximately six frames. According to Sibelius Software, though, the 4.1 update will feature frame-by-frame advance.

Although Sibelius's newfound support for video is a great enhancement, I was disappointed to find that I couldn't attach a specific frame to a specific bar and beat and have the previous tempo scaled accordingly. Instead, to make a Hit Point that heralds the first frame of the kiss at the first note of the violin cue, you must break out your calculator, old-school-style. The point of using a computer for a creative task is letting it do this sort of left-brain number crunching so that you can focus on the creative side. Sibelius hopes to add this functionality in a future version.

Sum of the Parts

To paraphrase Zeno's paradox (the one regarding the racecourse), the closer you get to the end of a project, the more you feel as though you'll never finish. This is due to the myriad details that must be addressed before you're actually done: expression markings, articulations, dynamics, large- and small-scale layout, proofreading, and of course the biggest obstacle — extracting parts. This last step is a ritual so fraught with exasperating pitfalls that some of my colleagues (who use another major score writer) actually bypass it in favor of copying and pasting from the score.

Sibelius 4's Dynamic Parts make part extraction a thing of the past. All parts coexist with the score from the beginning; if you add a staff to the score, a corresponding part is created. Every edit you make in the score is reflected immediately in the parts. Alternatively, you can enter notes in the parts, and the score will be updated.

FIG. 3: Dynamic parts coexist with the score from the start without having to be extracted. Note entry can take place in either score or parts, and other elements can be repositioned in the parts without affecting the score.

Notes are of course inextricably linked between parts and score, but the positions of dynamics and other markings can be fine-tuned within the parts without affecting the score. Once you've adjusted something in a part, it turns orange in the part to indicate its tweaked status (see Fig. 3).

The Parts window offers some welcome enhancements for dealing with part layout, most notably a function called Copy Part Layout. As the name suggests, Copy Part Layout lets you adjust the layout of one trumpet part, for example, and then apply those adjustments to the remaining trumpet parts. No longer must you endure the tedium of making the same tweaks repeatedly. Similarly, Multiple Part Layout allows you to individualize settings from the Document Setup, Layout, and House Style dialog boxes for subsets of parts.

Dynamic parts are contained within the same file as the score, making file management simple. In some circumstances, however, it may be necessary or desirable to have individual files for parts, so the traditional Extract Parts command is still available, although it has been relocated to the Parts window. I was at first concerned that dynamic parts would bog down my system, but even with a large orchestral score, I saw no performance drain.

Al Coda

Version 4 is rounded out by a number of additional enhancements, including a Worksheet Creator wizard, almost 500 new pieces of music, and easy copy and paste to Microsoft Word and Excel. Among the new plug-ins is a powerful but oddly mouse- and dialog-boxs-intensive process for copying and pasting articulations and slurs. A new font called Helsinki does a good job of giving scores an old-school classical look.

If you're already a Sibelius user, version 4 gives you good reasons to upgrade, regardless of whether you use it in a production or education environment. If you're not yet a Sibelius user, check out the demo and see if the interface appeals to you as much as it does to me. You will find no shortage of professional features, and you will find nothing lacking in terms of quality output and powerful interface.


Brian Smithers is a musician, composer, engineer, and educator in Orlando, Florida.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

SIBELIUS SOFTWARE
Sibelius 4

notation software
$599

PROS: Excellent output quality. Exceptional ease of use combined with exhaustive professional feature set. Video support. Dynamically linked score and parts. Intelligent playback of markings. Flexi-time entry follows tempo of user input.

CONS: Kontakt Player supports only eight simultaneous sounds. It's difficult to customize playback. Video support is not frame accurate in version 4.0

FEATURES 4
EASE OF USE 5
DOCUMENTATION 4
VALUE 4

MANUFACTURER

Sibelius Software
www.sibelius.com

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