// --------------------------- music for a 15 year old me / omri suleiman ------->
_track by track
// ------------------------------------------------------------------ idea --->
A collection of songs written with the intended audience of the version of me that existed some 20 years ago.
If the sound waves can somehow broadcast through the ether and little me can hear them, then this music will be (have been ? already ?) affected, and a feedback loop created.
In staying true to this concept and to help push the creative process I limited myself to using the technology that I used when I was 15 : two Commodore Amiga computers, and some 'tracker' software. The hardware has changed, but the software can provide an identical sound and interface. And to make it easier to slip through the ether, I also worked with the requirement that all the songs in the collection should fit on a single floppy disk.
And the concept worked brilliantly for me; the collection of songs I hope stay true to the sense of adventure, the lack of creative boundaries which I had back then. Knowing in advance that I would be limited in polyphony, using mainly 8 bit samples, using no effects was so liberating. I realised that recently far too much of the time writing music was focused on getting a 'big sound', while the actual blue sky creative creativity became an afterthought. Taking the music outside of the current context was equally liberating. As soon as I dropped the considerations around making it sound acceptable to current listeners and referenced against contemporary tastes and production, a whole world of possibilities opened up.
Probably for most people, the music around the time of their teens is held in special regard - I had 'hardcore', which encompassed pretty much anything electronic that you could dance to, and then it splintered into house and jungle, and there was Rush FM, and the Orb and the Future Sound of London and the KLF in the top ten. Then as now, 4mat was discovering what affordable audio technology could be coaxed into doing and pushing the edges of demo scene music, the classic computer game soundtracks of Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway were floating in the background, and Romeo Knight blew my socks off with the Red Sector megademo. There was whirly hippy man with a vision and the age of love and, ahh, Micky Finn's Some Jutice and Trip to the Moon. Detroit techno was just ramping up. They were great years full of possibility and uncharted waters. A half remembered article on Juan Atkins summed up the spirit of the time perfectly, with something like "it was like the moon landings, but that feeling of discovery can't last for ever".
Although I spent a lot of time trying to perfect every track on here, there are a few things I'm not 100% happy with, but after a year decided that it was better to put this into the world, avoid it getting over worked to the point where the original intentions are long forgotten and to clear mind space for new stuff. I'm not sure if it's evidenced in the music, but after a long break I was only rediscovering tracker software, and though there was a huge feeling of home coming, with music flowing from my mind via the computer to my ears instinctively, I was still picking up techniques and relearning things, so with some songs further along this process than others there is a lot of variety in technique. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but at times the album as a whole feels slightly disjointed.
I've used the word "created" a few times already, which is maybe slightly misleading; I'm with Borges on this; artistic production feels more like searching to identify something that already exists than creating something which never did.
The important thing is that the 15 year old me got something from it - just put a message in the instrument names or something to let me know man :)
If a 15 or 51 year old you gets something out of this too, even better.
peace and love
// ------------------------------------------------------------ technology --->
All songs were composed in a music tracker package called milkytracker ( http://www.milkytracker.org ) - it's a tiny download and simple install, available for most platforms. There are hundreds of thousands of songs out there to enjoy and learn from. As befits it's origins, the tracker scene is a very collaborative open source musical world, though prone to the occasional nerdrage.
It feels important to say here that the intentional limitations discussed in this section should in no way be considered reason for songs not being as fully realised as possible. These constraints should only be seen as additions, as inspiration and never used to explain a defective sound.
The modules, the files which contain the data and instructions that produce the music - are small - way less than 1mb and should run on any PC from the last 10 years, as there are no fancy interfaces, vst plugins, or large samples.
The functionality and style of Milkytracker is strongly influenced by the popular Amiga software Soundtracker and the many clones and iterations which followed it.
For people unused to the interface it can seem like a weird way to think about and control music, but for me, after spending some hours most days for a large part of my life using them, thinking in music this way it is second nature. The hexadecimal arithmetic automatic. Most music software packages scroll from left to right to signify time passing, where trackers go from top to bottom, maybe there are two brain types, with one set of people just seeing time as a top to bottom kind of deal. If you're familiar with Cubase or similar packages, imagine turning your monitor 90 degrees counter-clockwise, deleting your plug-ins directory and you'll be most of the way there.
What initially appears to be a very limited tool set, given some imagination and work provides a huge set of different possibilities and allows a degree of control which is hard to find or represent in more recent software.
Basically you have a bank of samples, which, because of memory constraints, were usually 8 bit. These samples are then triggered, sometimes with an effect. Each step of a pattern can alter that effect, and each channel of the pattern can play one note of one sample at a time.
In the beginning with Soundtracker only 4 channels (notes of polyphony) were available, though later Octamed and some others gave 8, and if I remember properly one Amiga tracker even gave 12 channels of sound.
There is a limited sample editor in Milkytracker which allows basic, cut, copy, paste, mix and re sampling. It does have a (sorry, but) awful sounding ineffective EQ and that is about it.
To create an echo, for example, each repetition of the sound to be echoed needs to be sequenced along with the new volume controls to cause a fade out. For a phase / flange style effect two identical samples are played with minor pitch adjustments. This is what vst and outboard phasers and echo boxes essentially do, just that they hide the details and provide a shorthand for control. In music tracking programs all of these techniques require polyphony; phasing a 4 note chord with 1 echo can often require 16 tracks.
These kinds of considerations felt inspirational rather than limiting in writing this collection. Writing songs became much more about getting the most out of what I had rather than adding more and more often unnecessary effects to compensate for or mask a less than ideal addition to the track. Musicality become more important. Pitch changes and melody development took the place of filter sweeps and synth sound manipulation.
Then, there is the technique which gives many of these tracks the distinctive 'chip-music' sound.
Some background : watery screen disolve : "it was...
Back in 1990, all Amiga software came on 3.5inch floppy disks, which often had some kind of copy protection. Hacking groups, like Paranoimia, Scoopex, World of Wonders, Oracle and Fairlight would find ways of obtaining software before it was released and work non-stop to remove the copy protection to then distribute the software.
To alert the people down the line who used the version of the software they had cracked, a small intro would be added to the distributed with the groups name, graphics, scrolling text and some music. This code had to fit on the same disk as that which contained the original software, so was usually placed in the first sector of the floppy disk which was officially unusable, and so usually blank (my technical knowledge of Amiga DOS is a bit limited, but this is my basic understanding). This first sector had around 10k (10,000 bytes / characters) of space. This had to contain the music, the graphics code, the message text, the music player routine, the sound samples and the loader for the actual cracked software - so the music modules had to be tiny. To give you an idea of how tiny; 10k of a low bit rate MP3 would contain less than 1 second of music. Far less than a single hi-hat sample used by current music production software.
A technique evolved sometime around 1990 where samples were looped in such quick intervals that they generated plain tones. If you take the first (about) 0.01 second of a bass drum and repeat that endlessly it gives a constant pitch.
Using the tool set of the tracker programs to then add vibrato and pitch slide and volume envelopes to these pure tones enough variation can be added to produce a very basic, yet superbly controllable soft synth.
Most of the synth noises in this collection are produced in this way.
Along with the crunchiness of mainly 8 bit samples another thing which adds to the distinct sound is the "interpolation" of the tracker software. As everything is sample based there is an option to try and kind of smooth out the artefacts which are heard when a sampled sound is played at a frequency other than that at which it was recorded.
Rather than use this option I decided to embrace the sound of the raw samples and use the artefacts as a feature. The kind of "steps" you can hear on some of the bass drum sounds are a good example of this. There is a sharpness it adds to the tiny looped square waves too which I can't see ever sounding right again without this.
One real challenge was getting the overall mixes to sound right and identifying what the heck "right" is.
Classic computer game music was designed to be listened to through a an run down old television, when we started getting a bit more serious with Amigas we put them through mixers and compressors and all that, but it was more about getting a good dance music sound.
That's not what I was after here, and so, this became a tricky part of the process. There aren't really many references for me to play these songs next next to. In Wheey Solo for example, some sections need to have a raw, rough digital sound to them to work, if those sounds get put in the place they would inhabit in a more traditional mix the songs lose their whole character and meaning. Goto80 and 4Mat were both really helpful here, so thanks for that mateys.
That there was no channel compression or EQ made getting a good mix very different to anything I've been used to.
The only other software used apart from Milkytracker was Ozone which the final mixes are run through. This felt conceptually consistent as there were some incredible bits of outboard gear available 20 years back, so the overall sound wouldn't have been impossible to recreate. In fact, taking a couple of Amigas into Vons with a skilled engineer would probably have resulted a far more accomplished overall sound.
// ------------------------------------------------------- track by track --->
_theme : 76kb 18ch .xm
One of the first tracks written, the intention is to set the feel for what is to come. The rough background swells were made in an FM synthesis tracker program with little 200ms looped chunks fading in and out. It started as an experiment to see if anything like natural sounding FM synthesis could be achieved with the purely sample based tracker tool kit. That failed, but I'm happy with the minimalism, weirdo structure and emotions this track evokes for me. It's probably fair to say that the Blade Runner soundtrack and Martin Galway's epic Parallax theme from the c64 had some influence here.
_empire : 66kb 8ch .xm
Also written early in the life cycle, and compared to many of the others happened pretty quickly. The first minute was done in one sitting, with the lead synth journey about half way through. Then for a month it just wouldn't go anywhere that sounded right. The aim was to get something Dancehall flavoured, but also like the main theme from a Rob Hubbard c64 track – Sanction kind of thing. The drum samples came from one of the classic "st-xx" Amiga sample disk collections, and as many are prefixed with "4mat" I'm guessing they were ripped from one of his modules. The wuh-wuh-wuh bass might sound like dubstep to the untrained ear, but is actually again influenced by the background noises in Parallax which indicated the presence of a level 9 droid and the possibility of mind controlling it ;)
_29ten48 : 105kb 10ch .xm
Is for my lovely brother and christmas and snowballs and priate radio.
_80s montage : 52kb 18ch .xm
This was mostly written in a night not long after my daughter was born, when we were giving her mum a night to sleep. Sat beside me in her pram dozing and smiling, finding it hard to take her eyes off the scrolling software that changed light with the music. It had to be written really quietly, so bits of it were still a mystery to me, but at 7am the next morning when I could turn it up just a little the results were a happy surprise. There's an innocence to it which really appeals to me, and the undisguised synthyness of the sound reminds me a little of early Kraftwerk.
_wheey soloy : 80kb 12 channel .xm
Arghhhh - this was the most difficult track to write by a long long way. It took on average 2 hours a day for 6 months to complete, but I think it's the one a 15 year old me would appreciate most. He probably would have written it in 6 hours though ! The inspiration came from one of the few tracks which survived from the old days, thanks to some altruistic curators of crack music "gonad's cracks" by Omri Suleiman still exists. The slightly fetishistic, unfortunate title comes from the name of the cracker "gonad". The other intention was to try and write something with only basic waveforms and only step sequencing which sounded, or, represented, a real band playing. This proved incredibly difficult and time consuming to do. It's one thing humming a guitar solo, but then getting the micro note bends and timing to feel right while still sounding natural was just a killer. The number of times sections were written and re-written and then shelved. It might sound simple, but there is some hardcore sequencing in there. One technique which I'll use again is the pseudo filter you can hear on the background of the drums section. I re sampled the whole percussion section and then changed the sample rate right down to save memory, but this also resulted in a muffled, almost filtered sound. There were many times I didn't think this would ever be finished, but maybe because of the complexity, right now it is one of the few that can listen to without it sounding like background noise.
_shallow : 300kb 24ch .xm
The biggest, most normalest sounding track on there, which started life as an entry to the quickphix hastycomp, so thanks for the samples guys. A few months after the deadline I decided to see if any structure could be applied to the happily looping 10 seconds and it started to turn into a Detroity workout. There was something about the sound which didn't fit conceptually with the rest of the tracks though, but then I was writing another, unrelated house workout, which wasn't going anywhere and decided to add it to the first track in the most memory efficient way (re-sampling the whole loop used around 1mb, way too much to fit, conceptually). In the end a small re sample of the bass and drums of the second track were incorporated, using the sample offset effect to phrase every bar differently. A minimal chord sample was also looped and the sequencing copied to provide the spirnkly bubbly washes which accompany the hectic jazzy sections. Still not 100% convinced the overall sound fits with the other songs, but the pace and attitude work well in shaping the peaks of the collection. Respect has to go out to Juan Atikins who's Deep Space album has had a massive influence on this track, most techno music and my life in general.
_mooch : 157kb 24ch .xm
Basic electro workout with the real name of "07 - mooch1x-mini4-1s-min6 - m3b" representing the number of alterations it has had.
_basic : 225kb 18ch .xm
Last minute inclusion which started out as a synth drum workout - was difficult to balance the desire for screechy lead synths with respect for my ears.
_plane : 159k 20ch .xm
Makes me dance, or at least half close my eyes and nod my head. All waveforms / sounds have been hand drawn or generated from basic primes (saw / tri / sin / noise) and the control over the drums being produced was great fun to experiment with. The main thing which I like about this track is the total disregard for the script - the 3.8 beat long fills, pitch changing drums, disjointed structures, no attempt to hide the basic raw synthic sounds.
_bonus level :109kb 20ch .xm
this started and maybe should have stayed an 8 channel 10kb 20 second loop. It is intended as a buffer between the more rhythmic tracks before it and the reflective mellowness to come. My excuse for the heavy reverb on the whole mix is that the bonus level is in a cave.
_cemetery : 100kb 22ch .xm
The other track on here which took an unreasonable amount of time to finish at around 2 hours a day for 3 months. There's something rough and almost folksy in the sound which I have no idea how to reproduce. That it has very little to compare itself to makes me happy. I feel it also does a good job of describing the kind of headspace I was in at the time, and sounds best when driving past mountains.
_digital water : 24kb 16ch .xm
Probably the most completely realised track on there. This was written with a 6 month old baby asleep beside me, providing the original inspiration - a song that a sleeping baby can listen to. It stayed as a 20 second loop for some months and then the idea of it representing water and the kind of infinity of it grew Adding some intentionality to the infinite tranquillity and it making ripples which the sun catches and that being beautiful for a while and the water eventually returning to the way it always was.
// ------------------------------------------------------- extended greetz --->
as was tradition back in the day, love and respect go out to
edoh, ruth & bro for making and shaping me, encouraging, inspiring, being playful and supportive and also letting me find my own way, no matter how silly, but never judging, insisting or demanding.
emily for your unending optimism and a level of happiness I never imagined existed. for teaching me imagination, making everything effortless, for rounding my edges and softening my soul. It's no coincidence that after 10 years of nothing these songs started to flow when you arrived.
graci for being strong and having faith and the love and care you give every day
ali nubz m, love you geezer. thanks for your quick and creative mind, the endless new ideas and philosophies and sounds and those many many evenings of great music.
cloggi for being brave enough to clear big heaving dancefloors by playing Detroit years before anyone else realised just how damn good it was. for telling it like it is and introducing me to all the best music i ever heard.
jammin for being outrageously talented and thinking way outside the box
and all them zero gravity types who made the friendliest happiest parties ever
dj stab for being what it was all about distilled into a human being. miss you.
hattie for being so quick witted and funny it was scary, and for not minding me being scared
aaron c for being very lovely, for 9:53, the b side of life and some great music. and for some of the best advice anyone ever gave me : keep facing forward
flirt for general fluffiness and great house music
shivs for all the positive energy, generosity of spirit, optimism, encouragement and beauty
sarah b for making me laugh till my soul bounced and helping me work out who i was again
sarah c for being the strongest most compassionate woman I've ever met, for always giving the best advice without ever telling anyone what to do, and for having the most insightful understanding of now for nearly 100 years solid
sarah m for doing magic, and the blade runner soundtrack, having a pointy head, honesty, all round lovelyness and even actually listening to gold users
sarah s for a smile which every few minutes lit up the whole town and made us all float in bubbles of happiness
sarah friday for your intelligence and the honest, egoless conversations which spanned everything, caused cogs to click in my mind, deep truths and that weird mist.
4mat for lighting the path, inventing a genre and innovating constantly for 20 years. for releasing hundreds of tracks any one of which would have been a great accomplishment for an entire lifetime. and of course for your help with these tracks.
goto80 for writing the blog that surprised me and hinted that chip music still existed and had grown into something beautiful. for your insights on what what we're doing and where we came from and parallels I wouldn't see in a 100 years, and for your advice and encouragement on this release.
ivan t for giving me my first roll-up and warning me of the dangers and sharing the good spots on Dartmoor and all those great teenage capers.
dan e for dimensions and letting me listen to the music from parallax all night long. and for being frighteningly excellent at everything you do and funny as hell with it.
karsten o & oskari t for making this music possible, and for all the effort coding with no thoughts of personal gain.
kath, gi, jen, higgins, helen & ian love, izzy, nick, rosie and james for all the inspiration, warmth, acceptance, motivation, lack of cool, belly splitting laughs, hugs, beauty and friendship. for the best company.
rosie l for your unshakeable loveliness, hugs, positivity and having the best club i've ever been to in your living room
busi for picking up the flag and sprinting with it, and being gorgeous of course
jamie s for encouragement and enthusiasm since we were little, and for packing up, moving to LA and living it. brave stuff man.
daisy m and & little lion for being two of the most lovely beautiful shining soulful people i've ever been lucky enough to meet. for the hugs and point break.
jimbo for being massively fun and having unyielding determination to enjoy every minute and still do what needs doing with energy and dedication
clive c for saying important stuff I probably didn't want to hear and for the best philosophical work I ever read : "it's all poetry" and for somehow taking little me seriously and trusting me musically,
farmer for being a cheeky monkey
sha for being so lovely i often wonder if you are from this world. and the river. and smelling lovely.
dimarco para todo - un inspiració
niki & jorma for all the growing up and living harmonious, counter-electric and beautiful.
jake architect w for being my best friend at school and sharing your lunch money
marcus oldschoolprovider b for thai chi in regents park and some great hugs
mick m for being my other bestest big brother. miss you man. and for ophelia and your strength and solidity and goodness and all the great gigs.
sune for autechre fluffy morning and conceptual conversational brilliance and bigilow salt shaker designs and the human impossibility for randomness.
youthfull alex v for your constantly evolving yet always inspiring friendship
mara bruiser for being the most beautiful woman any of us ever met and being far too lovely to notice and for inventing that sitting, building things techno dance
john and maddy c for all the gorgeous chud, cally road characters, top banter, great friendship and the many bottles of wine
robin & alex m for some of the best nights out in recent history, for all the care and support and wing-taking-undering
albertus m for being crazy busy doing so many brilliant things every minute, and never once looking stressed or unhappy. the real mayor of this town. and for your amazingly lovely family - looking at you for starters Angels.
mr malachy for hugs and for living in 20 different worlds at the same time and getting stuff done in each one.
and little me - thanks for making me what I am now.