Quick Introduction to Modules
What are modules?
Modules are a family of music files, which all originated back on the computer known as the Commodore Amiga.
How did modules come about?
It all started when Karsten Obarski created the Ultimate SoundTracker in 1987. This opened up a whole new world of music which you could create at home on your computer! Many modern trackers are still based on the concepts behind Karsten Obarski's work.
Why are they called modules?
Modular design. Samples + Playback data in one file. If you're familiar with MIDI files, it's a tiny bit like those, except the instruments come bundled with the module file so no matter where you play it - it will always sound the same (unlike relying on MIDI wave-table samples, which vary between sound cards).
What is Tracking?
The process of composing a module.
Why is it called Tracking?
The reason they are called this is because the music plays using the bundled samples on multiple audio channels - tracks.
What is a Tracker?
They are the programs that allow you to create all these wonderful modules. Thankfully, Trackers were not only created for the Amiga, they also spread to DOS and Windows with pioneering programs like Scream Tracker III, FastTracker II and Impulse Tracker.
Is Tracking still relevant today?
The world of tracking is a growing place with a large community across all age groups. Modules are not just for geeky hobby composers who code their own trackers in their spare time, they appeal to anyone who enjoys creating their own tunes, including professional composers.
With a large community comes a large variety. There are modules and Trackers for everyone, for every need, for every taste. Simple, complex, advanced, niche, you name it, there will be a tracker for you. The current third-generation trackers are more powerful than ever, and can easily serve as a Digital Audio Workstation and replace an entire studio.
How does a Tracker work?
Tracker modules contain both song data (arrangement) and sample data. In comparison, MIDI only holds the song data. This allows modules to be played the same way on all sort of devices, including not only computers but also iPods, PSP, PDAs, mobile phones and so on.
For a more comprehensive list, see also the players article
XMPlay contrary to its name, can play a wide variety of module formats and is accept by the general tracking community as the benchmark player.
Popular applications like Winamp are able to play the major module formats (XM, IT, S3M, MOD) in a similar method to the way you would play an MP3. However, Winamp in particular is unable to accurately play many modules and is thus not recommended. It should only be used if you replace its in_mod plugin with a better plugin such as in_openmpt.
There are a number of players on Linux too, for example:
- openmpt123 (player based on the OpenMPT code);
- MikMod (source, but binaries are also available from linked sites);
- Open Cubic which originally started as a DOS player;
- XMP, which also supports a wide variety of formats.
Mac OS users shouldn't feel left out either, as there are a couple of players available on this platform too, including:
CocoModX, a player for OSX which can play the major formats;
This is in no way an exhaustive list (see here for more). Also, a good final thought to bear in mind is that nothing plays a module like the program it was written in, especially of the more "modern" formats, such as IT (Impulse Tracker). Although the IT tracker itself is too old to work except in emulators, modern ports such as Schism Tracker should work.
This article was contributed by Kevin 'Gopher' Chow, and Eagle. July 2007