The Road to my First SID Tune in 25 Years

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Publishing my Computer Chronicles lately gave me a lot of positive response and it dawned on me how much the C64 scene still remembered and respected me for the editor and music I did back in the day. Not that I had been totally oblivious to it. That has been almost impossible on Facebook. I now have more than 750 friends there, and of course most of them have befriended me because of my past on the C64. I have been practically dragged into several C64 and Amiga Facebook groups, whether I wanted to or not. I just accepted it. Maybe there would be some nostalgia to check up on from time to time.

All these years, however, I always considered the C64 a thing of the past. A closed chapter. Now we have computers that are so much faster and produce so much better material, it’s not even funny. I considered the C64 a product of its time and instead spent my years making web sites and playing a ton of PC games. I had high hopes for some of the web sites and fan game sections I wrote, but none of them created much of a stir. It was pretty much letdown after letdown. There were a few dedicated visitors, but actually spawn discussions and spreading the word all around? Almost non-existent.

Just rolling tumbleweeds.

Especially my latest endeavor, the GameDeed web site, was almost always a major disappointment. I was actually arrogant enough to believe that a table layout would make it a strong contender among the likes of Backloggery and Howlongtobeat. Instead it immediately went for a small niche corner with less than half a dozen visitors per day. I even tried to fix this several times. Maybe if I added Steam synchronization? No? Perhaps if I added an export function? Still nothing? Then how about if I add a ton of C64 games?

Epiphanies

All these fiascos really got to me in the end and I finally decided to freeze all further development on the GameDeed web site. I played some more PC games instead and wrote a lot of blog posts about them, but again the feedback was somewhat sparse.

The hell with it, I then thought. Now I’ll do something for myself for once.

My Computer Chronicles, Part 5

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This is part 5 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.

Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

AdLib

At some point during 1991, I got a 33 MHz 80386 PC as payment for doing the Hugo sound work for SilverRock Productions. As soon as I got it, the C64 already started to fade into the background. It was cutting edge at the time, with a whopping 89 MB hard disk (my first hard disk ever), 5 MB RAM, a Sound Blaster card and of course a CRT color monitor on top of a hideous desktop box equipped with a digital MHz display, a 3½” floppy drive and a turbo button I rarely used.

I was instantly attracted by the Sound Blaster sound card and its AdLib FM chip. I wanted to code for it immediately. It actually didn’t take me long to learn how to code on the PC. Even though it was a 80386, everybody said that it was prudent to stick with 8086 code and that meant having to juggle with awkward 64 KB segments for code and data. For games this could be a problem, but it was good enough for testing how to code simple things and of course music players. For coding, I used Borland Turbo Assembler along with QEdit for editing the source codes. At this point it was all DOS mode only.

QEdit (Top)QEdit (Editing)

Getting hold of documentation about the Sound Blaster card was actually quite difficult in 1991. I searched for a long time before I finally got wind of a book in a small computer shop in a village further north on the island of Zealand. It was expensive and came in a box from which I pulled out sort of a small binder. It was unlike any other manual I had seen before for developing software. Things obviously worked differently on the PC. But the manual was a good investment. It had all the information I needed and soon I was testing the basic FM sounds of the AdLib chip. It also had data about programming the DSP on the Sound Blaster card for playing samples, something I would also make use of later.

My Computer Chronicles, Part 4

Read more “My Computer Chronicles, Part 4”

This is part 4 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.

Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

Snail mail

One of the best things about the C64 demo scene in 1988-92 was the way we swapped with each other all over Europe. Of course a ladder of recognition was in place. You had a much greater chance of swapping with the awesome guys if you had something to show for it yourself. Climbing the ladder and getting the best swapping partners meant trying to create better demos and smaller cracks. Newcomers (usually the youngest kids) that failed to impress anyone were often condescendingly called lamers.

It was something you wouldn’t want to be called, yet most of us started as one.

Being the network it literally was, getting the reputation of producing good stuff and being a nice guy earned you more connections. More people wanted to swap with you, improving the chance and speed of spreading your work. For the groups that prioritized cracks, it was about being the fastest and also having the smallest version of a game. The game might have a copy protection that was hard to crack. There was also some prestige in showing that your group can do that anyway. A smaller version meant having access to (or being able to code) a packer that could compress better than others. For demo groups, being able to break a new technical record or show a new type of awesome effect earned respect. A large part of this network was governed by this air of competition which by itself kept it alive and fast.

Snail Mail Letters

But the swapping also spawned camaraderie, giving it sort of a pen pal spin where nice letters were written, discussing everything related to the scene.

My Computer Chronicles, Part 3

Read more “My Computer Chronicles, Part 3”

This is part 3 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.

Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

More connections

My swapping friend Kim knew a mate from school that was a member of the Amiga group Channel 42, and soon I had also established connections with them. Although they were strictly demo coders on Amiga, they respected what the C64 could do. In fact, both Niels and Morten were both very easy going and observant, often pointing out the little details in demos on both computers. Morten would later turn out to be a skilled programmer, coding games on Amiga and consoles, while Niels was a graphics artist that knew how to draw inviting cartoon characters. They themselves broadened my connections further as they too knew a lot of other fellow wizards. Niels and Morten would also later be important as they got involved in computer games for Danish television. More about that later in this part.

Niels Krogh Mortensen
Niels in my room, probably around 1991. He later founded Krogh Mortensen Animation in 1997.

Kim, Scorpio and I created a C64 division of Channel 42 and I left Dominators to join it. Niels even created a few logos for C64 intros coded by Scorpio.

Towards the end of March 1989, I went to the Ikari & Zargon party in Slagelse. I had just converted a pop hit by Sandra to my NewPlayer on C64 and it was used in a demo by Ikari. This was a shared Amiga and C64 party, and the Channel 42 guys introduced me to Jesper Kyd. He was still learning the ropes at this point, but I noticed that he shared the same penchant for being observant and eager to learn when listening to MOD tunes on Amiga. He got hold of a new one at the party and it was interesting to see the way he immediately zoned in listening to it, concentrating intensely on how it was composed.

My Computer Chronicles, Part 2

Read more “My Computer Chronicles, Part 2”

This is part 2 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium.

Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

Stepping stones

1988 arrived and it would completely eclipse 1987 in activity and important events. First of all, I was jumping from one group to the next, typically together with a few friends such as Kim, to greener pastures. The first jump was from New Men to Galaxy in late 1987, then to 2000 A.D. in February 1988. After a very short stop at INXS in April, I continued to Jewels (joining up with Brian and their friends) the same month, then Wizax in June. Finally I settled down a bit with Dominators in August – at least for the rest of 1988. Most of these groups had something to do with cracks, but they had their demo divisions as well. I made a few demos along the way, like the wavy “Enjoystick!” for 2000 A.D., and I also made the last part for a disk loading demo by Jewels where I had two color-cycling scrollers across removed side-borders. Not totally out of this world, but good enough to prove that I knew more than just how the SID chip worked.

My “Enjoystick!” C64 demo from April 1988, playing one of my OldPlayer tunes.

The scene was constantly growing, new people popped up in new groups, and a lot of them turned out to be allies – new friends – but not all. Some were in direct competition with me right from the beginning and stayed that way for years.

One such person was Thomas, better known as Laxity.

My Computer Chronicles, Part 1

Read more “My Computer Chronicles, Part 1”

This is part 1 in a 5-part series about my computer chronicles, right from the beginning of the 80’s to the end of the 90’s. I’ll go into details about the computers I used, how I got into the C64 demo scene, created my music players and editors, and the experiences I had on the way until the turn of the millennium. If you’re not used to home computers and chiptunes, fret not! I have tried my best to intersperse the text with interactive question boxes to help explain the technical terms and jargon in passing.

“This is the shop where they have the Commodore 64, dad.”

It was shortly before spring in 1984. I was 18 years at the time and still living together with my parents in our old house in Rungsted, some 24 km north of Copenhagen. Money was definitely not my forte, but dad had finally promised to help me buy the Commodore 64 that I had been dying to get for so long.

We went into the shop and quickly found the shelves where they were showcasing all the popular home computers. Among these, they had a Commodore 64 and a Sinclair ZX Spectrum that we could type on. No monitors. Just checking out the keyboards. But the decision had already been made, so we found a shop assistant in a jiffy and asked to buy a C64.

Commodore 64

“I’m sorry, we just sold the last one and we can’t sell the demo model over there.”

The Early AdLib and Sound Blaster Music

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This blog post contains my early AdLib music from 1991-93. Most of it are conversions from SID tunes on the Commodore 64. These were painstakingly transferred using a basic converter program, after which I had to spread arpeggio chords into real channel chords since AdLib had three times as many channels as the SID chip did. In some cases I even added a tenth Sound Blaster channel with sampled drums.

The editing was mostly done directly in the assembler listings except for a few of my own test tunes which was done in a prototype music editor that would eventually become EdLib. You won’t need an emulator plugin to play the tunes – they have all been saved as MP3 for easy listening.

The Alibi (AdLib)
March 1992 C64
Converted from Laxity’s original C64 tune. This is the standard AdLib version.

The Alibi (Sound Blaster)
March 1992 C64
Converted from Laxity’s original C64 tune. This version features a tenth channel with digi drums.

Colgate – Title Music
December 1991
Converted from Drax’s original C64 tune composed for the game.

Lollypop AdLib Music

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In 1994, the side-scrolling 2D platform game Lollypop was released for DOS, and in 1995 for Amiga. It was developed by Brain Bug and released by Rainbow Arts, featuring music and sound effects by Vibrants.

lollypop_title_screenlollypop_main_menu

This blog post contains all the AdLib music made for the DOS version, saved as MP3 for easy listening. Most of it was composed by Thomas Mogensen (Drax) and Torben Hansen (Metal) in EdLib.

The peripheral tunes made use of all nine channels that the OPL2 chip supported. However, the level tunes only made use of five to make room for the sound effects in the remaining four channels.

Peripheral tunes

Title Tune
1993-94 Vibrants

Hiscore
1993-94 Vibrants

Congratulations
1993-94 Vibrants

My Favorite SID Tunes by Laxity

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Thomas Egeskov Petersen, known as Laxity in the European C64 demo scene, composed more than 200 SID tunes on the Commodore 64 from 1987 and up, most of them in his own music player.

Question: SID tunes? What's that?

SID tunes are chiptunes created on the Commodore 64, or an emulation of the C64 or its SID chip.

The SID chip in the Commodore 64 was quite advanced in 1982. It had three channels across eight octaves, ADSR, four different waveforms, pulsating on the square waveform, three ring modulators, and multi mode filtering. The music players written for it were usually called 50 times a second, quickly changing waveforms and frequencies to simulate vibrato, drums and arpeggio chords.

I’ve been listening through all of Laxity’s tunes in the latest High Voltage SID Collection which was at #65 at the time of publishing this blog post. I selected more than 180 tunes I liked and created stereo MP3 files for easy listening here. You could call it sort of “Laxity’s Greatest Hits” as compiled by JCH.

21.G4 Demo Tune #1
2005 Vibrants / Maniacs of Noise
One of three demo tunes Laxity made to test music player v21.G4 for my music editor.

21.G4 Demo Tune #2
2005 Vibrants / Maniacs of Noise

21.G4 Demo Tune #3
2005 Vibrants / Maniacs of Noise

My Favorite SID Tunes by JCH

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Wait, who is this JCH now? What a silly abbreviation. Just using his initials – how uninspired. Must be some kind of idiot. Anyway, it says here that he was active on the Commodore 64 from 1987 to 1992.

Question: SID tunes? What's that?

SID tunes are chiptunes created on the Commodore 64, or an emulation of the C64 or its SID chip.

The SID chip in the Commodore 64 was quite advanced in 1982. It had three channels across eight octaves, ADSR, four different waveforms, pulsating on the square waveform, three ring modulators, and multi mode filtering. The music players written for it were usually called 50 times a second, quickly changing waveforms and frequencies to simulate vibrato, drums and arpeggio chords.

I’ve been listening through all of my own tunes in the latest High Voltage SID Collection which was at #65 at the time of publishing this blog post. I selected approximately 200 tunes and created stereo MP3 files for easy listening here. You could call it sort of “JCH’s Greatest Hits” as compiled by… uh… JCH. Yes.

42nd Street
1989 Vibrants
The name refers to the fact that the tune plays for 42 seconds before looping.

Abstract #1
1989 Vibrants

Accident
1989-90 Vibrants
Cooperation between MSK and JCH. The bassline was taken from some pop hit by George Michael.