Music Construction Set

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Will Harvey's Music Construction Set
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Designer(s) Will Harvey[1]
Richard Plom (Atari ST)
Programmer(s) Will Harvey (Apple II)
Richard Plom (Atari ST)
Platform(s) Apple II (original)
Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, C64, IBM PC
Release 1984

Will Harvey's Music Construction Set (MCS) is a music composition notation program designed by Will Harvey for the Apple II and published by Electronic Arts in 1984.[1] Harvey wrote the original Apple II version in assembly language when he was 15 and in high school. Despite his only published software being an abstract shooter, Lancaster for the Apple II,[1] Harvey's name was included in the title. MCS started as a tool to add music to that game.[2]

Music Construction Set was ported to the Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64, and the IBM PC (as a booter), then later to the Atari ST. A redesigned version for the Amiga and Macintosh was released in 1986 as Deluxe Music Construction Set.


With MCS, the user can create musical composition using a graphical user interface, a novel concept for the era of its release. Users could drag and drop notes right onto the staff, play back their creations through the computer's speakers and print them out. The program came with a few popular songs as samples. Most versions of this program required the users to use a joystick to create their songs, note by note, which could be a lengthy and time-consuming process for a long song.

Hardware support[edit]

The program took advantage of advanced equipment for those who had it. For example, the IBM PC version allowed the user to output audio via the IBM PC Model 5150's cassette port, so they could send 4-voice music to their stereo system. The same program also took advantage of the 3-voice sound chip built into the IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000.

The Apple II version supported the expansion card Mockingboard for higher fidelity sound output. In addition, use of the Mockingboard allowed the musical staff to scroll along with the music as notes were played. Without it, the Apple II needed nearly every spare CPU cycle to produce audio, and as such couldn't update the display while playback was in progress.

The Atari 8-bit family has 4-voice onboard sound generation via their custom-chip set which is fully supported by the Atari 8-bit version of the program.


Electronic Arts ported MCS from the original Apple II version to the Atari 8-bit family, IBM PC, and the Commodore 64.

The version of Music Construction Set for the Atari ST was not a port and shared no source code with the original versions. It was written by Richard J. Plom for Intersect Software Corporation under the name The Orchestrator, it was acquired from Intersect Software by Electronic Arts and rebranded Music Construction Set in 1987.[3] The Atari ST version was the first version to support the new MIDI standard.

The program was completely redesigned for the Amiga and Macintosh, but under the name Deluxe Music Construction Set. This version had more features and better graphics than the other versions of the program. It also allowed users to type in lyrics for their compositions, though these were strictly for the user. It can also read and write IFF SMUS files.[4]

In 1986 it was ported to the Apple IIGS where it made use of its built-in Ensoniq wavetable sample-based synthesizer. The port was done by Randel B. Reiss;[5] it was never released, but its music engine was used for producing the soundtrack for the Apple IIGS game titles Zany Golf and The Immortal, both of which were written by Will Harvey.[1]


II Computing listed Music Construction Set third on the magazine's list of top Apple II education software as of late 1985, based on sales and market-share data.[6] Ahoy! stated that despite some limitations, Music Construction Set for the Commodore 64 "will aid both experienced songwriters and dedicated novices alike. It's a powerful music processor and a joy to use".[7]

See also[edit]

  • Pinball Construction Set - EA's first program with "Construction Set" in the title from 1983. The author's name, Bill Budge, is displayed prominently over the name of the software, much like Will Harvey's name being added to Music Construction Set.
  • Bank Street Music Writer - a 1985 music composition program


  1. ^ a b c d "The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers". 
  2. ^ "A Conversation with Will Harvey". ACM Queue. February 24, 2004. 
  3. ^ "Music construction set - 102715665 - Computer History Museum". 
  4. ^ " - is for sale (Bl 3nder)". 
  5. ^ Randel Reiss, Producer at the Wayback Machine (archived February 6, 2005)
  6. ^ Ciraolo, Michael (Oct–Nov 1985). "Top Software / A List of Favorites". II Computing. p. 51. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Davies, Lloyd (May 1984). "Music Construction Set". Ahoy!. p. 49. Retrieved 27 June 2014.