Studio
Home Atari My Notator Universe

Notator is a high end sequencing software package from C-Lab of Germany. It has been referred to as the Rolls Royce of sequencing solutions back in the day and for good reason because of its nearly flawless performance, expandability, and professional features. It didn't matter much to me that some big name music groups were using Notator for controlling their synthesizer rigs, so it had to be good enough for me. I recognized its interface (in the few photos I found--there was no YouTube at the time) to be one that was beautiful and that would work for me in how I envisioned creating music with my synthesizers. I had already previously tried a few other Atari-based sequencer software packages, most notably Hybrid Arts Edit Track, and although they were sufficient for recording me playing some keyboards and programming drum parts, there was always something less-than-optimal in how I could get a performance, edit it, and play it back.

In addition to the software, Notator had a suite of MIDI expansion options that took your ST from its original single ports of MIDI in and out to a full blown system of 6 MIDI out ports and 3 MIDI in ports. These options were the Unitor and Export hardware expanders.

Notator

The star of this system is the Notator software. It could fit in the memory of any version of Atari ST, varying only in the number of notes that could be stored in any given song. There was already ample RAM available in the lowest ST at around 50,000 to 70,000 notes for a single song (the software allowed you to chain songs together, so you would have to have all the songs you need to be RAM-resident at once). If you had a Mega 2 or 4, your available note capacity jumped to over Notator main screen200,000 notes. Keep in mind, that the number of notes was actually the number of events that could be stored in memory; so if you had a lot of continuous controller data (called RMG or realtime MIDI - something) in a song, that could eat up your available RAM quickly. If you were doing volume adjustments on tracks, that could diminish memory quickly.

Fortunately for me, I didn't always use continuous controller data and most of my sequencing was simple note-on/note-off capture, which is only two events per keypress.

Unitor and Export

These are the MIDI expansion port accessories that are crucial to the "vastness" of my MIDI rig. When connected, Notator would automatically detect their presence and automatically enable them in the interface.

NotatorExportStarting with the Export, it sat on the serial port on the back of the computer and provided Notator with new MIDI ports named B, C, and D. Each, of course, provided 16 channels of MIDI output each. With the original port A, that brought the total number of MIDI channels to 64. It was an expensive addition at around $200 at the time, but my growing studio needed the expandability. It was purchased new directly from C-Lab, I think, who were still in production.

At this time, my studio's audio recording capability was growing with the addition of a Tascam 688 multitrack recorder. I discovered that I could synchronize to the 688 through a MIDI Time Code (MTC) variation called FTC

When I found out about the Unitor expansion a year or two later, I wanted it for was the two extra MIDI ports, ports E and F, again each with 16 MIDI channels each, since my collection of keyboards was growing and I wanted more separation of ports where I could control certain keyboards more discretely, which would help out my workflow. I knew of Unitor's SMPTE capability as well, but I did not know how it worked or how it would integrate into my Cubase-based DAW studio. Unitor was an even more expensive addition and I managed to find one; I don't recall whether I found a new Unitor or a used one. I don't think eBay existed back then around 1995, so I somehow found it to buy it.

When it arrived, I found that the Unitor unit replaces the cartridge dongle that originally comes with Notator. That was great, I thought, because now I could potentially run a second Atari with Notator (since I had a spare dongle). The first thing I noticed