Zoë Blade's notebook

C-LAB Creator

Atari ST running C-LAB Creator
Atari ST running C-LAB Creator

Creator was a MIDI sequencer for the Atari ST, made by German company C-LAB. The first version was released in 1987, and the last version was released in 1992. It was then replaced by Emagic's Notator Logic, a ground-up rewrite and fully fledged DAW that was eventually bought by Apple and became Logic Pro.

Most sequencers (and, later, DAWs) are based on the concept of tape, emphasising how music consists of several tracks that store sequences of notes. In contrast, Creator is based on digital step sequencers, emphasising how music can be divided into discrete patterns, each consisting of several tracks that store sequences of notes, allowing the user to switch back and forth between patterns, and loop tracks within patterns to build up polymetres. It's arguably an approach more from the point of view of an electronics engineer than a traditional musician, and it lends itself particularly well to repetitive electronic music.

This viewpoint seems to have largely been forgotten between the introduction of rival Cubase, and the much later introduction of Ableton Live, which appears to be influenced by Creator.


Because the timing of computers is so precise, a whole generation of musicians is growing up, whose timing expectations are quite different from the days before these advanced sequencers were around. Modern "high-tech" musicians have come to regard quantized timing as the norm, and human timing as somehow below standard, such that even technically-proficient musicians have felt that they needed to quantize their playing via a computer in order to be able to compete. The downside of this searching for perfection is the loss of much of the human feel that went into the original recording of the notes.

Notator/Creator SL 3.1 owner's manual

I particularly like the real-time track parameter editing on C-LAB; being able to change things like delay, velocity and transposition in real time is, I think, the main reason why C-LAB gets used so much for dance music.

— Steve Hillage, System 7, 1991[1]

I think [Creator] helps speed things up, actually. I can access stuff quicker than on my [Kawai] Q80, and I can put more information in it, also. I think Notator makes things simpler for me. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I feel like I get more done than I did working with the Q80. I think that sometimes the way I arrange things on Notator is a lot quicker. I used to find myself doing a lot of cutting and pasting with the Q80, which was a tedious process. It's a lot quicker on the Atari.

In the past when I've done stuff in the studio, I've just run it all the way through and then done my mutes on the desk when I was mixing it. But now I use Notator's arrange mode to arrange where I want certain things to come in and out on the computer. It gives me the flexibility to do that, and it saves me time 'cos sometimes I may forget that I wanted something to be muted at a certain point, so now I just do it within the arrange mode.

— Larry Heard, 1992[2]

We've also been going into a live mute situation on Creator, and recording all the mutes, 'cos that can give you a really weird structure. It can get quite messy, but it has something to offer. You might have written a hi-hat pattern which is quite continuous, and you can just drop-mute it at weird points, which gives it quite a scatty feel, so things are always different through the track.

— Garry Cobain, The Future Sound of London, 1992[3]

I think I might change from C-LAB to Cubase, now. The thing I didn't like was having to go up into a menu to transpose - you know, transpose... how many?... OK... and if you didn't like it, go back up, do it all again - whereas C-LAB always had that little block on the side. But the new version of Cubase has that little block on the other side, so there's nothing to stop us, really.

— Paul Hartnoll, Orbital, 1993[4]

Cubase is much better for arranging: you can get an overall picture so much easier. They tried, with C-LAB, with that block arrangement, but I do like to be able to see an overview.

— Phil Hartnoll, Orbital, 1993[4]

By next year, they seemed to change their mind:

We've used it ever since we had a computer, which is about four years. I've always wanted to try Cubase with its arrange window, 'cos that's how you tend to visualise music — left to right and linear — but now I'm not so sure, because I know this system so well.

— Paul Hartnoll, Orbital, 1994[5]

It looks like track transposition was a dealbreaker for Orbital. Their music has a lot of parts that are always playing major thirds, so it seems likely that those consist of one track ghosting another in Creator, set to four semitones above it. This was probably much easier than playing major thirds manually, and quicker than carefully detuning a second oscillator.

Cubase is a song man's program, and we're not song people at all. A lot of the tracks we do are very loop-orientated, and Creator is designed to be used by people who like working in loops. So we started using that and it was just like using a drum machine, which we were well into — using the R-8 as a sequencer gave us our first lesson in Creator, almost.

— Sean Booth, Autechre, 1994[6]

Notable users

See also


  1. "All Systems Go" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Oct 1991
  2. "Larry Heard" Simon Trask, Music Technology, May 1992
  3. "Past, Present and Future" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1992
  4. "The Magic Circle" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jun 1993
  5. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  6. "[Unknown]" Simon Trask, Future Music, Aug 1994
  7. "Mixing Lessons" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Nov 1988
  8. "Scratch & Snatch" Simon Trask, Phaze 1, Jan 1989
  9. "What's That Noise?" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, Aug 1990
  10. "Classic Tracks: Fatboy Slim 'Praise You'" Tom Doyle, Sound On Sound, Jan 2017
  11. "Future Talk" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1994
  12. "Deep Vibrations" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1991
  13. @iamclintmansell Twitter, Apr 2020 "Headache music..my rig was MC-303, with AKAI S1000, an Atari 1040 running Creator which would become Logic. As far gear went this was my set up, & a Roland JV 880. I'd had a Nord Lead too but it got burned out when lightning hit our building & I couldn't afford to get it fixed."
  14. Music Producer Teddy Riley - Pensado's Place #169 Pensado's Place, Jun 2014
  15. "Waxing Lyrical" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Sep 1991
  16. "Tune In, Turn On, Chill Out" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, Jun 1991
  17. "The Orb" Mark Prendergast, Sound On Sound, May 1993
  18. "The Rhythm Method" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jan 1992


Creator V1

Notator/Creator V2.0

Notator/Creator V3.0

Notator/Creator V3.1

User groups




Atari ST software: C-LAB Creator | Caged Artist 4-Op Deluxe | Dr. T's Tiger Cub | Intelligent Music M | Intelligent Music Realtime | Roni Music Sweet Sixteen | Steinberg Cubase | Steinberg Pro-24

MIDI sequencers: C-LAB Creator | Dr. T's Tiger Cub | Intelligent Music M | Intelligent Music Realtime | Roland TR-909 | Roland W-30 | Roni Music Sweet Sixteen | Steinberg Cubase | Steinberg Pro-16 | Steinberg Pro-24