snapshot of score of Invisible Cities


In the course of working on my Fractal Music software in the 1980s, I developed a pretty detailed understanding of how the MIDI File standard worked, whereby a piece of music recorded in MIDI form in one sequencer can be exported to and read by a different one. As a user of the Finale music notation package, it occurred to me that it might be possible to do something similar for notation, although with many differences of detail from MIDI data. During 1992–3 I set to work on the idea and came up with what I called NotaFile (which a waggish friend immediately dubbed ‘Not a File’ — with some historical prescience as it turned out).

Once I’d developed something like a complete standard I wrote it all up in a detailed document which I sent off to various software houses and computer music organisations. Although I got some serious interest, it was never taken up, for reasons which were never made entirely clear to me. Perhaps others had similar irons in the fire at the same time, and had better connections in the business. Nevertheless, I’m presenting it here as a historical curiosity for those with a sufficiently nerdish interest in such things.

All my files for this document were in the old PageMaker format, so the original layout exists only in my printed copies. Nevertheless, I have managed to extract the readable text from among the acres of garbled PageMaker code and more or less replicated the original using Apple’s Pages software. Fortunately I did have most of the original music examples in a usable form (EPS). I did think of presenting the whole thing here in web form, but that seemed a conversion too far, so the complete document is available to read on line or download as a PDF, with just the introductory explanation below as part of this page.

Although I have corrected the occasional obvious typo, I have kept almost everything as it was, complete with mistakes, as well as what seem now positively quaint historical references to computer hard- and software. I’m painfully aware that I left out a huge number of possible musical expressions, both text and symbols — but it’s potentially endless, so where do you stop? A few of the more obvious omissions and errors are, in no particular order:

So here, for your edification, is the Introductory section of NotaFile v 0.5, A Proposed Standard File Format for Music Notation:


Why not just use MIDI Files?

What kinds of software package would implement NotaFiles, and how?

The general concepts behind NotaFiles

How NotaFiles work (with reference to MIDI Files for comparison)

Download (or read on line) the complete PDF document