Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Machine music

Today I came across a new publication from the makers of Retro Gamer magazine, The Amiga Book. I saw it on the shelf and snapped it right up. This magazine instantly brought a wave of nostalgia over me and took me back to my formative years and the start of my obsession with computer art and music.

Some of my most treasured memories of growing up are my early teenage years when I was pretty much inseparable from my Amiga computer.

The Amiga A500 first entered our house one grey day in 1990. And that day was a turning point – it set me on the course to go on to have a career in graphic design, create digital artwork and make computer-based music.

The Amiga opened up the avenues of music and digital art – I'll come back to art in a future blog post. Compared to earlier computers, where in-game music sounded as pixelated as the graphics, the Amiga heralded a new dawn for the computer game soundtrack, and no doubt in tandem with the music industry as analogue shifted to digital.

Not only did the Amiga boast the very best quality games and graphics on the market in the early 90s, but the in-game music was outstanding (well, most of the time!).

Electronic music pioneer John Foxx, (of whom I would later become a fan and run a website devoted to his work) emerged in the form of Nation 12 with Tim Simenon of Bomb the Bass to produce the music for the Bitmap Brother's Gods. The Bitmap Brothers had previously sampled Bomb the Bass' Megablast for the music to their classic game Xenon II – and in both instances, the music was fantastic; breaking new ground in game music quality.

However the benchmark for me was Chris Hüelsbeck, composer for German games developer, Rainbow Arts. I've previously blogged about Chris' soundtrack for the platform shooter, Turrican, but that remains my favourite game soundtrack from the Amiga days, and that music lives on today – so much in demand that in 2013, Chris launched a successful Kickstarter project to fund a brand new recording of the music.

When I wasn't playing the games, I would put a cassette recorder in front of the TV speaker and record all the various game music that I loved. Who needed the radio, when you had an Amiga?!

There were so many amazing composers working on the scene back then, such as Allister Brimble, David Whittaker and Bjørn Lynne, who are still producing great music today. I could go on listing games and composers – the point being that there was such a vibrant music scene within the Amiga circles back then, whether it was the game soundtracks or demo scene.

My first ever musical experiments would be on my Amiga 1200 in the mid-90s, when I got 8-track music programme, OctaMED. Although it would be some years until I turned my hand more seriously to music – all of that influence from several years of gaming obsession was ready to be regurgitated!

I might be AppleMac based today, but that influence from the Amiga days is still very much present and alive – and I think it is evident on my latest release, Sentient City.

The games I loved took you into another world, where you could explore and discover – all set to a brilliant soundtrack. And I'd like to hope I've achieved a similar thing with my own music.

Sentient City is out now on Bandcamp.

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