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Author Topic: A little dip into the old-school tracking  (Read 32170 times)

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Oliwerko

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A little dip into the old-school tracking
« on: December 11, 2008, 07:28:48 »

Hi lads,

I am pretty much familiar with the methods of modern tracking and its techniques.

However, even after some intensive search, I am still missing some points about the old-school tracking:

I love the C64 music. I tried to search for some C64 VSTis so I could use them in Renoise, but these had usually only some "partial functionality" or how to say it.
Is there a way to re-create the C64 music? Which software to use? (PC only, sorry)
Or am I just half-dumb saying that these VSTis have half-functionality? Are there any of them that can be used to create fully-flegded C64 music? I simply don't believe that the VSTis and samples is the way to do it.

What about Amiga?
Same things there, how to re-create the sound? Through samples, VSTis, emulators? What to use?

Maybe some of you know the old adventure game called Beneath a Steel Sky. It was available for DOS (on floppys, later the talkie version on CD32) and for Amiga. The music in them was a bit different (PC music in itsounded pretty different than Amiga music). For me, this is the second best soundtrack (after Turrican series) and would love to know some more info on how it was created. (If I am not mistaken, the Amiga music was made by Dave Lowe and the PC one by Dave Cummins)
Anyone? Do you know anything about it?

This info is pretty much hard to find by me, hence I was born in 1990, so I have pretty much no first-hand experience.
I hope someone can tell me more.

I really appreciate your effort.
Thanks in advance.
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raina

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2008, 14:00:34 »

For cross-platform SID (C64) composing, try Goattracker. ("Tools" section at http://covertbitops.c64.org/)

Trackers started on the Amiga and you can use many of the current PC/multi-platform trackers to save MOD files. In MilkyTracker, you can get a pretty authentic Amiga sound and save compatible files although you still need to pay attention to things that would break compatibility. Ask further instructions if/when you're ready to go there. The basic guidelines are: 4 channel polyphony, 8-bit samples max 128kB each.

Sure we know BaSS, it was actually available on PC CD-ROM as well. And currently it's released as freeware so you can freely download and play it using ScummVM. The music on PC is MIDI and how it sounds can vary greatly on what MIDI synthesizer hardware/software you're using. The way you've probably originally heard it, would have been through the Yamaha OPL2/3 FM synthesis chip on some Creative SoundBlaster board, de facto standard of PC sound of the era. Nostalgia is one thing, but wavetable synthesis does wonders to the score. The music on the Amiga side comes from a custom player, probably very similar to MOD trackers/players because of the Amiga sound hardware, capable of playing 4 digital sounds samples simultaneously. I'm not sure which came first, but if I had to guess, Lowe probably rearranged Cummins' score for the Amiga.

Oliwerko

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2008, 16:58:30 »

Thanks for reply!

I surely check that link out.

I have already been poking around in Milky and got an idea of chiptune creation, white noise snares and wave drawing. But I have been wondering what was the differences between the C64 and Amiga and PC and modern trackers. Simply how did they compose music back then. Sure, it was similar to MOD format (reminds me of prefixes on amiga music ?). Did they draw their own waves with the limitations you mentioned?
Or did they have say 20 different waveforms ready, which they could not edit?

I get the idea of how different hardware affects how the music in BASS sounds. Does this mean that you have one MIDI track that you can play on different hardware and the same track actually sounds differetly then? And how was the MIDI created?
I've first heard the BASS music version that comes with that free download you mentioned. I have also found some recordings that sounded differently, however (probably the Amiga ones - downloaded from http://www.exotica.org.uk/wiki/Main_Page - prefix file format again played using DeliPlayer). So the PC version is MIDI and Amiga is tracker-based?
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raina

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2008, 18:55:46 »

On the C64 you have the the SID chip, which is a synth providing noise, triangle, saw and variable width pulse waves plus you have the filters and ring modulation for that extra bit of sweetness. At first, people just straight up programmed the computer to produce tones, noises and ultimately, music. I gather the next step would be programming an actual editor for yourself to write music and finally coming up with something that would actually be usable enough for other people as well. C64 music editors have started to look more like Amiga trackers much later, after the UI style was popularized on other platforms. Before that, a typical SID editor screen would resemble (or BE) a hex editor even more.

I never had an Amiga as a kid nor did I use it back in the day, but knowing the Paula chip has its characteristics just like the SID does, and there being a butt load of these "custom format" Amiga tunes floating around the tubes, it's straightforward to assume the development progressing similarly. With a custom program and the Paula chip, you could create music from digital sounds sampled from external sources (all the rage back then, made possible by the new technology) or (probably to a greater extent) synthesize (rather than draw) your own. Trackers started from the Ultimate SoundTracker by programmer/musician Karsten Obarski and it (and the horde of hacked versions of it) then popularized the MOD format. But even then, custom players/editors could be preferred by musicians because of more comfortable UIs or improved functionality/features.

You're correct about one MIDI track sounding different on different setups. A tracker analogy would be exchanging the samples of your module on different sound cards (and that's one of the reasons why modules could compete with MIDI on the PC at all: the music sounded the same on different setups). MIDI music is created using a hardware or software sequencer, for nearly three decades already. You are correct for the last part. UnExoticA archives Amiga music, BaSS music on the Amiga is technically similar to trackers and the PC version uses MIDI tracks.

A modern tracker, while still usually capable of sample playback, is nowadays used more like a traditional sequencer (triggering and controlling external instruments and effects) or an audio package with its integrated synthesis and DSP features.
« Last Edit: December 11, 2008, 19:02:50 by raina »
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Oliwerko

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2008, 20:50:45 »

With a custom program and the Paula chip, you could create music from digital sounds sampled from external sources (all the rage back then, made possible by the new technology) or (probably to a greater extent) synthesize (rather than draw) your own.
I don't quite understand this part. It's similar to SID having its own characteristics, I get that. What are possible external sources, how did they synthesize?

From what I've read so far, If I understood correctly:

C64 - realtime sound synthesis (no samples) provided by SID - limited cound of different ready-made waveforms you can more or less edit using modulation and filters.
Editors were custom made by the individual musicians and later started to look like trackers for their comfortable UI, while still keeping the SID characteristics and all that.

Amiga - realtime synthesis too (or was it also samples?), Paula chip with its own characteristics. Then the part I don't understand comes. Later, Ultimate SoundTracker made by Obarski - popularization of MODs continued and was followed by PC trackers (with sample-based synthesis?).

So basically the old tunes were small in its size because the limited options of the SID/Paula featuring only realtime synthesis and when sample-based synthesis came, it introduced sample-based music as we know it in modern trackers, thus incerasing the file size due to the samples.
And MIDI music is to music what vector graphics to graphics if I understood.
That means that you only tell what note is played by what instrument and when, but the sound depends on the sound of the instruments, which sound differently on different hardware.

And to the re-creation of the old tunes:
C64 can be most accurately re-created by the program in the link you provided?
Amiga - pretty much no way of any kind of emulation, you make that tunes rather by trying to stick to the Paula limitations. Are there custom drawn waveforms (Milky-like?)?
And MIDI can be made like it is made for ages - in a software sequencer. But what about the playback? How do you play it? You choose from a selection of chips available? Or?

P.S. Thanks for the invaluable info you're giving me here, again.
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Saga Musix

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2008, 20:58:35 »

Quote
Amiga - realtime synthesis too (or was it also samples?)
amiga uses only samples. the "mod" formated was created on / for the amiga, so it uses samples.
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raina

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2008, 21:44:57 »

I might have led you astray by comparing the Paula to the SID. Paula is all about the samples. And I wouldn't call it synthesis really, but playback. As I understand, any actual synthesis on the Amiga would have to be software based, waveforms calculated in a program and the results routed as digital samples to Paula's channels for outputting. That's how I think AHX works. (A little help here, Amiga peeps?)

Then there's chiptunes, which might sound like the music on older, 8-bit systems, but are actually sample based modules using tiny looped sample fragments to create sound wave forms. So, chiptunes and basic synthesis on the Amiga is actually the first wave of C64 nostalgia in music. "Real" sounding digital music came first.

Goattracker integrates a SID emulation engine, so it should be pretty close to the real thing. And sure there's Amiga emulation, in form of (Win)UAE. Just like you can run a C64 music editor in a C64 emulator on the PC, you can do the same with Amiga. But most people don't feel the need to as tracking already moved on to the PC in the 1990s, Amiga emulation requires a lot of CPU power which isn't available on older comps and portable devices and using native apps just generally is a whole lot smoother.

I think you got it already, but there's no difference between custom drawn waveforms and regular samples. Drawing is just another way of creating samples, a feature copied over from Fasttracker II, one of the most popular DOS trackers.

MIDI playback on PC depended for a long time on solely the sound card. For most people this meant the Yamaha OPL FM chip on SoundBlaster and Adlib sound cards which could be compared to the Sega Mega Drive (having another Yamaha FM chip) or the previous generation mobile phone polyphonic ringtones, you know before MP3s got there too. If nothing special was done, the MIDI music would be played with an FM approximation of the General MIDI bank. Some game developers/musicians would go through the trouble of coming up with a proper music drivers for the OPL chip and programming the chip's register to create custom instrument patches and as a result, more inspired FM arrangements of the score. A good example of this is the PC version of the game Dune 2. A lot of PC game music was optimally targeted for MIDI sound modules like the MT-32 and Sound Canvas manufactured by Roland but the cheaper all-in-one consumer solution, SoundBlaster, is what most people had. As the OPL chip was the prominent music source in PCs of the first half of the 1990s, the demoscene got there too. There are plenty of trackers for that synth chip too, but that action is about programming the OPL registers and has nothing to with MIDI.

On the other hand, demoscene people got their taste of MIDI music with Wavetable synthesis when Gravis released their Ultrasound sound card and gave them away to people at demo parties. But the scene people would be more interested in the digital sound mixing that the card was able to do itself without taxing the CPU. So, soon we had demos with digital tracker music played with high sound quality and visual effects running on the screen blazing fast thanks to the sound card having taken the sound mixing load off the CPU.Wavetable synthesis is what you hear on a run-of-the-mill Windows PC today, although the default sound bank in DirectMusic (a Microsoft DirectX component handling MIDI music) is low quality and pretty effin' horrible.

Lastly, I understood you essentially asked how a musician chooses or dictates what their MIDI music sounds like. Well, they don't. As MIDI is only musical information, the sound of the playback always depends on the hardware/software setup.
« Last Edit: December 11, 2008, 22:58:17 by raina »
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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2008, 22:50:52 »

I might have led you astray by comparing the Paula to the SID. Paula is all about the samples. And I wouldn't call it synthesis really, but playback. As I understand, any actual synthesis on the Amiga would have to be software based, waveforms calculated in a program and the results routed as digital samples to Paula's channels for outputting. That's how I think AHX works. (A little help here, Amiga peeps?)

Correct
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Oliwerko

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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2008, 07:39:11 »

Oh, that means that there's practically no difference between Amiga music made on Paula and modern tracking (aside from the limitations you mentioned)?
That's why emulation is not needed?

I didn't know how huge was the jump from FM cards to Wavetable synthesis.
So MIDI music is controlled by a part of DirectX no matter what sound card do you have? And what can you do when it's crappy, buy some old MT-32? Or just some kind of software emulation?
I've also found the BASS soundtrack on one website divided into two categories - MT-32 and Soundblaster AWE 64 and man, the differences were big.

Oh, and I've found some HW SID sound cards being produced. Why, when we have software emulation? Because there's no way to have 100% accurate emulation?
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Re: A little dip into the old-school tracking
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2008, 12:46:18 »

Oh, and I've found some HW SID sound cards being produced. Why, when we have software emulation? Because there's no way to have 100% accurate emulation?

SID chips aren't entirely digital. There have some analogue parts in them. Emulation, while it exists, often just isn't good enough because it has to be modelled and that leads to variances in place of the real deal, especially for purists. HardSIDs use salvaged SID chips from C64s.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2008, 13:32:28 by m0d »
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