More Data – Less Knobs! About Tracker Music Remakes

Two old Amiga music legends have recently decided to re-make some of their olden goldies. Lizardking and Mantronix made melodic synth music, somewhere inbetween … Koto and Jean-Michel Jarre? German space disco meets Italo Disco? As cheesy as some of it is, it’s kind of hard not to like it. Atleast when you’ve been brainwashed by it when you were young. In the Amiga scene this style is known as doskpop.

After a new Facebook group popped up, with an amazing energy supplied by Slash who started it, plenty of old tracker celebrities have been showing up. Moby finished some old songs, for example.

Many of us have probably wondered what tracker musicians could’ve done with more powerful technologies. Some people seem pretty convinced that it would automatically be better, because there’s “more possibilities”. Let’s move back to the 80’s first, when Rob Hubbard made synth-versions of his songs before programming them on C64. Let’s look at One Man and His Droid. Listen to the first version here recorded with various synth gear (among them TR-606 and TB-303!). Then listen to the C64-version below.

The first version is much more rough than the second one. Understandably, of course, since the first one is a sketch. But if we look at other music that exists as both tracker music and “synth music” (in lack of a better word) it’s not unusual that this is the case. I’ve heard it in most game musicians who “re-master” their old songs to sound more modern, for example. The tracker versions are just more detailed, intricate, ornamental. Anal? Crazy? Yes, perhaps.

Check the original version of Act of Impulse by Tip & Mantronix, and then listen Mantronix’ 2012-version. The new version is better in many production-wise ways, like clarity and punch and bass and all that. But one thing is, atleast to me, better in the old version. The melodies. It’s a lot more expressive. In the original mod-file you can see all the effort of the composer with setting custom vibrato, glide and volume tweaks for individual parts, and even notes. That’s sort of a pain in the ass with modern DAWs, but in trackers you were encouraged to do so because otherwise it looked empty and “sounded lame”. The more the better. Aesthetic maximalism, as I’ve called it before.

I have a similar feeling with Lizardking’s re-makes of his own songs. It’s miles better than all the generic SID/MOD-remixes that are out there, but I still miss some of that tracker trickery that is so characteristic of tracker music. It needs to sound more “data” like we say over here in the Swedish scene. Less generic knobs, more detailed numbers. No more synth! hehehe

Ok, well, this might be the most grumpy-old-man post I’ve made so far, so I think it’s better to just stop here. But just to clarify: this is not meant to diss anything. I love the data-sound, yes, but most people obviously prefer knob music. My point is that the newer software sort of brings us away from these “hand-made” solutions that were more common before, and drives us into a different kind of sound. Because even these “unlimited” platforms have a sound to them, don’t they?


6 Responses to “More Data – Less Knobs! About Tracker Music Remakes”

  1. Linda Says:

    Can you maybe give some more info on with what tooling these remixes are made? “DAW” is new terminology to my ears and it seems it ehm, could be anything. I thought “remixing” would be taking the old track in its old quality and then cut&paste&throw filters on it and add other stuff. What I hear from soundcloud sounds imho “redone”: no original sound have left, (core elements of) the composition (are/)is reprogrammed in a different tool with a different sound engine?

    Could I put your data vs synth sound like “within limitations (either the real hardware or emulated)” vs “simulated sound but with all technical advantages (new/more extended) software platforms can provide you with”?

    I’m sorry, I don’t know if I’m making any sense. This topic might be going a bit over my head. Would be interested to have a post on some modern “data” musicians. :-) and perhaps some further definitions on it. Personally, I share a preference for hearing the computer behind the composition if that’s what you mean with “data” :)

  2. goto80 Says:

    DAW is, the way I understand it, an all-in-one platform for music making, usually with a piano-roll logic. Trackers are not a form of DAW, and a single software synthesizer is not a DAW either. If I can guess, they have used a DAW (Ableton, Logic, Cubase) and just recreated the original song from scratch. Whether that is called a remix, cover or reinterpretation or sth else, is up for debate I guess.

    The key difference between trackers and DAWs for me is not about sounds, but interface. Trackers encourage a different kind of composition. It’s easy and quick to add details, and to some (me) it looks empty if you don’t. So then you do all these intricate ornaments in e.g the melody with a few keystrokes, while in a DAW you might have to find the right sub menu, click around, find MIDI CC-codes, etcetera.

    There are professional musicians who still use trackers. In my thesis 4mat talks about how he uses trackers to sketch songs, because no other software is as quick to work with. Jeroen Tel, an even more famous game musician, afaik still use Renoise to make music,

    If you’re up for it, my thesis might give you some more pointers too:

  3. Linda Says:

    That piano roll interface does get me the punch card feels :D

    I’ll finally get around and read your thesis, promise. But I think I’ve had a poor word choice after all: by modern I meant new, recently noticed artists. 4mat and Jeroen Tel are dinos; they have so much experience that I’m not surprised they favor the tracker as composition tool. :-)

    Thanks for responding so fast!

  4. goto80 Says:

    Even faster reply then: a good example of a “new” tracker person might be Venetian Snares. He makes really detailed music, and afaik he uses Renoise these days. But well, he’s not exactly new. Machine Drum, Brothomstates, Bogdan Raczynski, similar things I suppose. Maybe you can find sth of relevance here:

  5. Linda Says:


  6. Matt Says:

    Tracker songs tend to have a cohesive feel to them because of the “all-in-one” nature of the writing process. It’s different than tying together a bunch hardware synths with midi, or a bunch of vst plugins, etc. if that makes any sense.

    I personally think that writing music with trackers is brutal for the most part. I have been fascinated by tracker music and culture since I first stumbled across it, but despite working with dozens of trackers across many platforms I never got particulary skilled.

    I think generally musicians are at there best with what they learned on. My first experiences with writing music was with the first version of Ableton live (no midi), reason 2, and a korg em1. To this day I still use Live and Reason, and I still also love groove boxes and step sequencers. My point being those musicians music will probably always write their best music when they are on a tracker, even the ones who have since abandoned them.

    Whoa, that was a little long, sorry.

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