Being a Bedroom Musician in the Tracker Age

Beginnings

Writing music in .mod format has been a part of my artistic expression since long time; while not musically trained in the canonical way -beside some of the typical flute lessons and the basics of note reading in middle school; when in 1983 i bought my first computer, a ZX Spectrum, the sound was driven by a beeper built-in inside and was able to do just a note at the time of pitch and length decided by a BASIC instruction; so not too much field for tune making there, at least until the first advanced music routines appeared, and were published on RUN, an italian cassette driven magazine; that made me experiment with some pieces (tried to redo the hang-on theme) but that was it. Then in 1988 i bought my Amiga 500 and finally got my hands in some music software: at first Sonix, where i did learn the ropes on basic music making, then in 1989 a mostly unknown tracker from LinEL, called SoundFX, where instead i did learn the basics of tracking.

Around the same time was introduced ot music rippers, but since did  not knew about mod files, i mainly used those programs to get sound samples and then re-use it in SoundFX after converting them in 8SVX format; little later got introduced to Noisetracker, a soundtracker free clone – but able to work with non-original ST disks, as the original Ultimate Soundtracker, if i remember correctly, used a ST-XX volume name system for sample disks that prevented to read from other sample disks;  Noisetracker worked that around by just the need to use a ST-00 volume, not even always the same disk, just same name.

As for finally getting in “the field”, as i said in the Powder Diaries, got in touch with Thomas and Filippo in doing graphics and music for Quazar, and then also for Nicola under the Nike name;  those were simple songs, with most of the instruments coming from the ripped mods or from “RAM scanning” after a reset with Audiomaster.

The involvement with Quazar and the Powder game made me deal with the problems of providing a good audio experience with little memory space; the songs in Powder, excluded the main theme, had a set limit of 75k, that luckilly reached rarely; other projects, such as the ARZENAL utility disk, were having a much smaller footprint (guess not even 2k) and so complex instruments were not an option; however in 1989 i stumbled on a intro that was using what i used to call “micro instruments”; that was the easiest way some people found to do chiptunes using soundtracker: using very little chunks of samples is possible to obtain pretty pure waveforms and small size drums; did some experiments with it but none of those were published.

 

Music: Amadeus (cover) – 1993 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

This music uses microsamples to obtain chiptune effect.

 

Had also occasion, together with Marco Maltese, to do soundtracks for its CGI animations, including a local TV program opening, three local TV advertisings and three animations ptrsented at Bit.Movie and Pixel Art Expo; plus other unfinished ones. Doing music for those is a different deal from doing it for video games and demos; since there are no big memory constraints samples can and must be the best possible, and sound need to be richer to mask the limited capabilities of Amiga hardware.

Music – Deimos (v3.2) – 1994 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

An example of music for a (unfinished) animation of Marco Maltese.

 

 

 Being a “lamer”

In the demoscene culture,and in particular on the tracking scene, is – or was – considered a lamer he who rip mod files ,harvest samples and reuse it in its own compositions. I was almost the only amiga user for a while in my town and for sure the only mod composer in my area: up to the half of nineties could not afford a sound sampler not to mention a CD player so all instruments I had forcefully got it through ripping; so according to your point of view and seen literally might I be considered a lamer?

Ripping modules has been, as said, both a way to replenish a starving sample bank but, also, a way to learn to use the tool: when i used see an intro or a demo or play a game and hear some nice sound effect or transition i wondered: how did they do it? Vibrato? Arpeggio? playing with pitch?

And then you find yourself in front of the file and you can see the magic going on: for a while that has been my only documentation on how to use the tracker: songs themselves; and so i did learn to use the basic effects: the arpeggio, the pitch up/down, speed, jump  and the volume; following i also learn portamento and other effects; but to learn the Protracker stuff had to wait the online documentation built in, was simply too much.

Sampling vs pure tracking

I am pretty convinced that most musically oriented people can take advantage of Paula and its four voices at the most of its capacities but, being honest, the BEST way to use paula channels is not the MOST clear; whoever analyzed mod files knows that some of the most impressive use several samples for several instrument states or play styles, and at least two or more chords (multiple note samples).

Coming from a linear music composing program like Sonix, the idea of composing music using samples of music to insert was, at least in the end of eighties, antithetic to the approach that instead Sonix was proposing, like using instrument to create melody and rythm; and having a self-learner approach to music making did not help concerning chords, that are still a bit a black beast of mine beside the usual min (C-E-G#)and max(C-E-G). the concept of using sampled pieces of base drum or a bassline or a piece of sampled melody seemed like cheating; of course with the growing in popularity of House Music and Hip-Hop things started to get a different approach but, at least for the first three-four years, there was this idea that to do music i had to try hard using instruments and effects; however, the more ran into other people mod files and try to understand their secrets, the more i got the clue that to get the best sound impressions, a mix of instruments and samples were required.

 

 

About writing music for games

I might say that my pro career as musician mostly started with powder and essentially ended with Powder; also because in the end of nineties trying to do tracker music on a power mac was close to impossible: the modplug tracker was far from operational and pretty impractical to use, at least for me. Most of the gigs – if we can call it so – were coming from Marco Maltese work in the video publishing service: i was cheaper than a licensed musician Furthermore, after the split with Maltese, that was my main provider for track requests either for its animations or external works like local TV commercials (two), had no more requests for soundtracks; from the other side, inspiration slowly faded away.

Only recently, thanks to Milkytracker on PC I restarted a bit to do some music but until now is essentially for my own leisure. Wish to compose soundtracks for some of the retro revival games around; if anybody wants me to just drop me a mail – actually got busy with a pretty (unpaid) big project so hold on it, but you can still contact me for later projects 🙂

By the way, my mod files are actually stored in the AMP site and i have encoded most of my tunes in video format so that are visible in my Vimeo profile.