COMPUTER MUSIC PIONEERS
With the revolutionary SID synthesizer chip and the sophisticated Commodore C64
homecomputer as an interface for this synth it became possible for the first time to
generate some 'real' music (meaning more than just 'BLEEP') with nothing else but a
computer in 1983. Sounds could be designed and songs could be programmed or arranged
via a screen which presented a completely new way of creating music - a way that is
100% established today and for most of us actually the only way we know of for
electronic music production. But twenty years back the situation was quite different:
there were no nice sequencer programs around, no plugins, no VST and no softsynths.
And - very important - there were no people with experience in this sector around
since the whole thing started only then and the path was yet unpaved. Interesingly
enough computer music started off in the entertainmant sector with games and only
later became a 'serious' bussiness - just as many other innovations like the one
So this is about the people who made the first experiences with computer generated
music, developed the first arranger routines (the pre-predecessors of CUBASE, ABLETON
and LOGIC), came up with endless innovations over the time that have an impact until
today and stretched the very limited resources of the SID to the boundaries and
beyond. While producing tons of unforgettable game music, sounds and effects on the
Ron Hubbard is a legend among the SID pioneers who wrote an endless number of classic
sids for many classic games. First of all he was a superb composer and musician, able
to make tunes with an amazing diversity of styles that simply hit to the aim
everytime you hear them. But Hubbard also was an expert to make music that constantly
walked along the clear defined line of the limitations of the SID technology and to
finally step over that line. Perhaps the biggest limitation of the chip were the
meagre 3 channels that can be used, but most of his songs appear to have four, five
or even more instruments going.
A major factor in his success was furthermore the music routine he wrote by himself
and then used to produce the tracks. This superb routine, written for the very first
tune that was released (Confuzion), was well in use for quite some years, only to be
changed slightly over time and turning out many hits like Monty on the Run, Crazy
Comets, Commando, Chimera, The Last V8, Battle of Britain, Master of Magic, One Man
& His Droid, Thrust, International Karate and many, many more. Although the routine
is really tiny - a mere 900 or 1000 bytes of code, there are some amazingly complex
concepts in it. Click here to get a glimpse at the source code itself or here to read
how the routine works! Most of it is highly technical but in any case you get a good
impression of the way musicians worked with a computer twenty years back and what
skills were necessary then.
Martin Galway is one of the best known SID musicians, mainly because he has a highly
unique musical style, straightfoward and experimental at the same time, and many
games he did the music for were just revolutionary games in themselves that turned
out hits (mostly for Ocean Software). Probably the best-known of these is ARKANOID,
the mother of all Breakout versions you can find now in almost every mobile phone.
His tunes support the addictive gameplay perfectly.
But lots of credit is due to him for the innovations he did with SID music. So he
discovered that the SID can be used for synthesizing speech and 'sampled' sounds, a
thing that had tremendous impact on all computer generated music that followed! The
use of 'digitized' drums (like in GAMEOVER or MIAMI VICE) became his trademark,
greatly adding to his already unique style.
Many of his tunes (and in-game sounds!) remain among the alltime favourites of
gamers (check out PARALLAX, STREETHAWK, RAMBO - First Blood Part II or Microprose
SOCCER) and also his opening theme for the PC game WING COMMANDER is still a
milestone in gaming history.
Ben Daglish is a true child of the C64 era. He started to produce game music at an
age of about 18 and continues until this day and his musical style is the true
manifestation of what we associate with 'game-music'. While most of his tunes have a
great atmospheric soundtrack quality (check BLOODVALLEY) they are full of driving
melodies and harmonies that will haunt you for quite a time and that bring out the
full force of the SID sound (listen to the solo in COBRA!).
His alltime classic is then THE LAST NINJA, but tunes like FUTURE KNIGHT, Greg
Norman's ULTIMATE GOLF (listen to the drums!), H.A.T.E., DOGFIGHT 2187 or DEFENDERS
OF THE EARTH are still absolute highlights!
Interestingly Ben Daglish was also present at the launch of Jeff Minters light-synth
at the Planetarium. ("Man - that was a night. Details not for publication I'm afraid,
but anybody who was there knows what I'm on about. 'Specially back at Jeff's house
afterwards..."). This light-synth turned any musical input into visuals and was
basically an early form of the well-known visualisation plugins today popular with
Winamp or the Windows Media Player.
Chris Hülsbeck is a key figure in the later years of the 80ies. Living in Germany he
produced many tunes for games by the German Rainbow Arts software company. What sets
him apart from many other SID musicians - aside from being a great musician - is the
unique sound of his tracks. Chris Hülsbeck is an absolute expert when it comes to the
use of digitized sounds and samples in his work. He completely revoltionized the
whole sound and feel of SID music with his approach and did things with the C64 that
nobody thought possible before. Infact, the sample playback feature in the C64 is an
'undocumented feature', the feature is a built-in one but at the time of the SID's
creation nobody knew (or dreamt!) about it!
Since most of his tunes feature sampled drums they are absolutely
kicking and rocking
in a nice, intense 8bit way and in a sound that many will remember from the tracker
programs on an AMIGA 500, only that he achieved this sound with a computer made 10
years before and actually not made for sample playback! The best-known Chris Hülsbeck
classics are then KATAKIS and THE GREAT GIANA SISTERS, but you should definitely
check out JINKS, CHIP WAR, ANTICS, BAD CAT (a raw electro track!) and TO BE ON TOP.
There's also a nice cover-version of Human League's BEING BOILED around which he
doesn't like himself but which is nevertheless a fine piece.
In the DOWNLOAD section you will also find a VST synth for free download done by him!
Of course there are many more highly talented and highly influential musicians who
had a huge impact on computer music in this era but to write about them all would
take pages and pages. If you want to listen to ALL SID tunes of that time, watch ALL
the screenshots and play ALL the games, simply install the incredible C64 GAMEBASE
from GB64.COM and get the complete SID collection from www.hsvc.c64.org! Extremely
recommended for endless hours of rocking 8bit mayhem and classic gaming!