Paper: Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995

Johan Kotlinski (aka Role Model, programmer and composer) wrote a paper in 2003 about Amiga music applications, which has now been slightly edited and translated into English. It is an accessible text that describes the two schools of Amiga trackers: synthetical and sample-based.

Johan Kotlinski (2009) Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995

As it was written for a technoculture-course at university, there is a relatively extensive historiography of the early demoscene and how it evolved from cracking. This means that the specific Amiga software part starts only half-way through the text. It starts with describing the brief birth of Amiga-trackers in the commercial sphere: Soundtracker didn’t  sell well but was reverse engineered and appropriated in the demoscene. It became the dominant software on Amiga, and set standards still used in contemporary trackers such as Renoise.

sidmonSIDmon pattern editor, screenshot taken from Exotica

Kotlinski states that, looking at possiblities, synthetical software (SidMON) is “clearly” more powerful than sample-based applications (Soundtracker). I think this means that although Soundtracker was more user-friendly, where SidMON offered a higher level of flexibility. I am not sure though. For example, in a previous post I concluded that sample-based software enabled and encouraged more complex handling of note duration/volume. It would be great with some elaboration.

It is obvious that Kotlinski prefers synthetical trackers. At the point of writing the original text (2003) he was developing LSDj and making music in Musicline Editor: both rather unusual trackers in its own ways. Maybe LSDj shouldn’t even be called a tracker, as Kotlinski once argued, due to its 3 sequencer-screens rather than 1 or 2 as commonly found in trackers.

Anyway: this text is obviously based on good research and is an excellent historiography. Enjoy it. I host it on, so if you are reading this a million years from now it might not be available anymore. But WordPress will survive forever!

22 Responses to “Paper: Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995”

  1. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH • Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995 Says:

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  2. Johan Says:

    Thanks for hosting!

    About synthetic programs being better. I don’t think they were, otherwise the tracker clones wouldn’t have been so dominating. But certainly I think they are more interesting and varied. The synthetic ecoflora was very rich. I hope you will learn and present all existing programs in your master thesis. :)

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  4. yonxUP Says:

    “..I concluded that sample-based software enabled and encouraged more complex handling of note duration/volume. It would be great with some elaboration.”

    I think your conclusion would be just right if you make the distinction between samplebased trackers and chipbased trackers instead.. Remember that all trackers on the Amiga are technically speaking sample-based (even the synthethic ones) which allows for sample-exact modification of volume. In the case of the Amiga it is possible for the programmer to alter volume/frequency of a sound ~22000 times / second.. Even if you use an 8-speed player on a C64 you could “only” alter the volume of an instrument 400 times / second.. More importantly, on a chipbased system the programmer is limited to the features of the soundchip while in a sample-based system the programmer is only limited by the CPU. While the interface of the chipbased trackers often have a very tight connection to the hardware, the samplebased ones can use totally different concepts for handling volume/duration since anything is possible if you can fit it in one frame CPU-wise.. A good example of this is f.e Musicline which plays both chip-waveforms+full-length samples and offers 2 different types of ADSR envelopes, channel volume, instrument volume and master volume as well as step-specific volume (+slides) in the arpeggiators..

  5. chipflip Says:

    yonx: i’ve been thinking about a good classification of trackers since synthetical and sample-based is not very clear. your distinction between chipbased and samplebased is perfect in this case. but in other ways, e.g music line shares more with the soundmonitor-school of trackers, rather than the soundtracker-school. things like modulatable instruments, channel-by-channel arrangement.

    one way is to say that trackers are either based on soundchips, samples, or soft synthesis. they are not mutually exclusive, but it might make sense.

  6. robotski Says:

    Thanks for sharing!

    I am still somewhat confused about the proliferation of the soundtracker software. Scene musician Mark Wright wrote in his “Karsten Obarski Retrospective ” (1998) that EAS released the source code to the public domain after realising that they weren’t able to market this “unhandy” internal production tool to hobby musicians. Can anyone confirm this? (Since it would shed a different light on the “reverse engineering” efforts of scene tracker pioneers.)

  7. chipflip Says:

    mark langerak is sure not easy to track down. have you been in touch with him?

  8. Johan Says:

    I haven’t. But he’s on linkedin:

  9. chipflip Says:

    ok, i finally joined linkedin and contacted him, and here’s what mark said:

    “With respect to the source code of Soundtracker — I was not even aware that it became public. The mods that I made were done by patching the binary directly.

    So I’m not sure as to the reasons for releasing the Soundtracker source. It is possible even that the source was ripped off/leaked rather than released deliberately? As I remember it was rare for source code to be released and shared around in those days.”

  10. Johan Says:

    I agree, it sounds unlikely for the time…

  11. robotski Says:

    O.k. so the “reverse engineering” theory seems more plausible, plus considering that the source never appeared on the old release disks (in contrast to the source of the replay routine which was included by standard).

    There is another paper on tracker music by Vincent Diamante (2006). He states, that EAS released the software to the PD (not the source) but he doesn’t seem to use new sources of information, so this is still not verified:

    Click to access 558-01-d.pdf

    I’m not into Amiga disassembling practices from 1988, but following Mark’s information I think we can regard the Amiga Soundtrackers (along with the modified SEKA assemblers) as true hacks.

  12. chipflip Says:

    Thanks for posting that tracker-paper, didn’t see it before. I will ask Mark if he remembers anything about the PD-status of ST aswell.

  13. Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995 - Data Airlines Says:

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  14. putrid/FCG Says:

    The paper doesn’t really address the question, and omits stuff like StarTrekker and especially ProTracker 2 (chipmusic started with the ability to draw your own waveforms, that was ProTracker 2, while StarTrekker had a simple synthesizer built in) on the Amiga. Synthesized music was the breadbox (pun intended) and butter of Commodore 64, of course Amiga musicians had to make good use of the new tools; compared to the analog warbling of the C64 SID-chip, we had a new cool tool.

    Of course, some of SIDs worst problems were used to the maximum, unsteady filters and such, you can’t beat it. But sampling made that moot. I still like the ProTracker (from SoundTracker legacy) command for filter on/off; you could actually give out a message in morse code using the Amiga’s power-led, which for some reason was tied to the audio filter. And the sound effect was really nice too.

  15. The Most Popular Tracker Ever? « CHIPFLIP Says:

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  16. Chipmusic Festival, 1990 « CHIPFLIP Says:

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  18. Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995 by Johan Kotlinski | SID Media Lab Says:

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  19. Amiga Music Programs 1986-1995 by Johan Kotlinski (in English) | SID Media Lab Says:

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  20. 1989 Appearance of the Chip Music Term | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] in the traditional sense. What people did was to synthesize sound in software, with SIDmon and other programs. As you can see in the screenshot, “playroutine by 4-mat” indicates that he made a […]

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