Trackers from 1981 and 1983

It is common knowledge that Soundtracker or Soundmonitor were the first trackers. But it’s not necessarily true. In the 1960’s computer scientists and Fluxus artists made things that were rather tracker-like (here, here) and there are probably precursors from hundreds of years ago.

But talking computer software, we can have a look at for example Muzix81, released in Hungary in 1983. This was a CV sequencer for the tiny ZX81, and was apparently used for a few mainstream record releases. The manual reveals that Muzix81 has a similar layout to eg Soundmonitor, with a list of hexadecimal instructions. At the top left, “1. 0B” means duration 1, octave zero, note B. “+” means sharp and “*” means accent.

Muzix81 has many similarities with a tracker, but it uses explicit duration. The user sets the duration of each event instead of using a fixed time for each step (like a step sequencer). Most trackers don’t do this, but there is a strain of trackers with explicit duration that are sometimes called editors. (note that Muzix81 has a step sequencer for drums though)

Irrlicht Project recently told me about a similar program, released even earlier. Electric Duet for Apple II came out in 1981, and was made by Paul Lutus in USA. It uses the same basic principle as Muzix81: on each step the user sets duration and note.

elecric-duet

What makes this tracker-like, as herr Irrlicht himself notes, is that it uses a vertical time line (not sure if Muzix81 does?) and that it has text notation rather than sheet music. These two factors taken together, means that it is as much a tracker as the myriad of C64-editors from the 1980’s and 1990’s are. But this is from 1981.

Following this terminology, we could say that Muzix81 is a hypertracker (as the musical output depends on the settings on the external hardware) and Electric Duet is more of a soundtracker, since it simply plays the data that the user has typed in. But I’m not sure if that makes sense.

If you know of other early tracker-like software, feel free to send us a fax!

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