Archive for the ‘history’ Category

The First Megademos?

January 17, 2021

I’ve always liked the term ‘megademo’. It hasn’t really been that popular since its demise in the early 1990s, but my group Hack n’ Trade has kept the tradition going. Why? Well, the megademo form comes with some pretty convenient advantages:

  • It doesn’t need a theme. What comes next can be a complete surprise in design, sound, text, etc.
  • Megademos require user interaction: the user has to press a button or key to get to the next part.
  • The viewer tolerates a break between parts (loader/decruncher, a loading part, a menu).

At least that is the way many see it today, and how we saw it in the mid 1990’s when we did our first megademo. “It’s easier than making a seamless trackloading demo without interruptions”. But I’ve come to realize that not everybody agrees with this idea…

The Early Days

It looks like the megademo word was first used in 1987. Janeway’s megademo category lists four Amiga productions from that year, and they describe the very bare bones production Megademo Disk by United Software Rebels (West Germany) as the first Amiga megademo. Since it was released just a few weeks after the Amiga 500 was launched (!) it seems like a reasonable assumption.

At the end of 1987, Sodan (the Dane who pioneered demo coding on the C-64) and Magician 42 released Techtech Demo. It’s a pretty great demo with several disparate parts like a typical megademo, but it also has a track loader (loading the next part while the current one is playing to minimize pauses for loading). So from a technical perspective, Janeway could have categorized this as a trackmo, like they did with Sodan’s Star demo from earlier that year. The third demo on the list, Some Demo Codes, could have been categorized as a pack disk rather than a megademo, as they mention in the comments.

For my purposes, the current categorization of demos are less interesting than what they were actually called back then, by the authors themselves. Now, I haven’t read through all the scroll texts from 1987, but there is one Amiga demo explicitly named and introduced as a megademo: Megademo by Antitrax 2010 from December 1987 (with music by Karsten Obarski). Interestingly, it supposedly competed in a specific megademo competition at the FCS-ECC copy party. That sounds unlikely to me but I can’t confirm or deny it with the links at Demozoo or in the invitation letter, courtesy of the lovely Got Papers? project.



To my surprise, the C64 has several explicitly titled megademos in 1987, judging from a search at CSDb.

All of these have several disparate parts with breaks. Most of them are essentially several demoparts/intros linked together, many of them including ripped game songs that you can browse through. Finland Cracking Service (FCS) stands out from the rest with some fairly impressive code and custom music (self-composed and hacks/remixes of game music). A slightly absurd detail that I appreciate is that you don’t exit the parts with space like in other megademos, but each part has its own specific exit key. In the demo, FCS sends some “comments” to Fantasy Cracking Service (FCS) in Germany who organized the party mentioned above, about stealing their acronym.

Does this mean that megademos were first popularized on the C-64? Well, not really. The chart below compares the amount of megademos on the Amiga and the C64 (ie, releases in Janeway and CSDb that have ‘megademo’ in the name). 

As you can see, during the so called golden years of the demoscene in the late 1980’s, megademos were clearly more of an Amiga thing. It is possible that the term first appeared on the C64, but it is also possible that the first megademos on the Amiga haven’t been preserved and archived.


Megademos became the new norm on the Amiga and 1989 saw one of the most iconic megademos on the Amiga: RSI Megademo (see below). I like Scoopex’s Megademo from the same year, which has a similar vibe of acid house rock. 1990 saw another one, called Budbrain Megademo. All of these used a specific loader part while loading the next part, but they never interrupted for loading/decrunching. To many, this became a defining feature of megademos.

When you remove the loading part (like Sodan did in 1987 already) and use a track loader for seamless progression, it makes less sense to call it a megademo. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in Scoopex’s notorious demo, Mental Hangover from 1990:

Even so, the term was sometimes used for seamless track loading demos (trackmos). King Fisher just told me that he called Red Storm (one of the earliest C64-trackmos) a megademo, for example. I suppose it was a way to separate it from the majority of demos on the C64, which had interruptions for loading/decrunching. On the Amiga, it made more sense to separate megademos from trackmos, because they were both popular at the same time. Scoopex didn’t want people to call it a megademo, because it was “better” than that.

I’m not sure. This certainly requires some more digging into by the global megademo research community. In any case, megademos gradually faded in popularity and status and a few years later they were predominantly ironic, funny or “fake” productions.  Luckily, that’s when me and my group Hack n’ Trade stepped in and started to dominate the megademo world. In 1996/1997 we were almost alone in using the term. What a success! 

Expanding The Norm

What I like with the megademo concept is that it’s not seamless. It’s chopped up in confusing bits that don’t really make sense together. It’s rough, it’s weird. And if you follow that train of thought, then perhaps our latest demo Essentials can be seen as a form of megademo. Parts are loaded randomly, they score very low in the rational sense making tests, but they also contain tools and music software? Yeah, have a go:

Panoramic Designs masterpiece Psykolog from 1991 has a similar spirit, and particularly the end part that starts about 16:30 into the video. 

Okay, that seems like a good ending to this post. If you have any information or ideas on the megademo topic, please let me know. Especially if you know things about other platforms than ye ol’ C64 and Amiga.

Unknown Chip Music Album From 1999 – Or Not?

March 4, 2020

If someone asks me when the chipscene began, I say “around 2000”. At that time chip music was mostly a thing in the demoscene, just like it was mostly a thing in the games industry before that. To be brief. But in 1999 something else started to happen. In the timeline we can that

  • was formed
  • Bodenständig 2000 released an Atari-album
  • Role Model released an Amiga-album
  • Alec Empire released a Gameboy-album
  • Nanoloop appeared

Three die hard chip music albums, a new Gameboy music software (that was not a tracker), and a brand new online community for a community that didn’t even exist yet. Pretty wild! The previous years, as far as I’ve found out, don’t even come close:

  • 1998: Bodenständig 2000’s Atari-album Hemzärmelig
  • 1997: Horn of Fanyulo’s abstract multiplatform album Chatarra Informatica
  • 1995: The Electric Family – a compilation with SNES Mario Paint music

That’s pretty much it, for the (becoming) chipscene, anyway. There were other things like a myriad of Amiga-made gabber/hardcore music that was not chip music, there were songs and tools in the demoscene, game soundtracks (on the Gameboy, for example), and so on.

But okay, getting to the point: I was surprised when a friend (thx Margaret Montreux) showed me a chip album from 1999 that I didn’t know about: Attract Mode by COiN. So even more chippy things happened in 99? Behind the name is, well, another name: Thermos Malling. He had been playing drums for Bob Log III in various constellations and then, almost out of nowhere, he releases a chip music album in January 1999. Play the video – it’s the full album.

The first thing you hear is a jingle from Arkanoid. Sampled. Yes, COiN sampled C64 game music, cut it up, manipulated it and added other sound sources like drums and Apple’s text-to-speech for vocals.

THAT’S FAKEBIT I can here the chipsters roar. Well, it’s certainly not the most authentic form of chip music. Back when this was more of a purist blog, this album wouldn’t have made it into the timeline. Maybe it would have made it onto the badly named plagiarism page, though. There you can find die hard plagiarizers like Laromlab who performed, sold and promoted other people’s songs as his own. But there’s also artists like Monotrona who sampled old 8-bit songs, mangled it and added her own work to it. That’s not plagiarism in my book.

So is COiN more like Monotrona or Laromlab? To be honest, I didn’t actually recognize too many C64-songs in COiN’s material. I thought that maybe he played around so much with the original material that it became unrecognizable? I needed to compare it with the original C64-songs so I decided to turn to a higher power: the CSDb forums. It didn’t take long until JCH, demoscener since 1986, replied. He actually identified one of his own songs in there – and then plenty more. Check it out.

00.00 Arkanoid subtune by Martin Galway

00.14 & 00.39 Knackdick by JCH

06.51 Hawkeye by Jeroen Tel

06:56 Scroll Machine (subtune) by Yip

11.08 Bodyslam jingle by Tim Follin

11.15 Turbo Outrun subtune by Jeroen Tel

11.45 Hotrod subtune by Jeroen Tel

Here JCH was fed up with it, but other people chimed in with:

14.41 Clystron subtune by Thomas Detert

15.15 Another Turbo Outrun subtune by Jeroen Tel

18.30 Another Clystron subtune by Thomas Detert

The list will surely grow longer, but we can already conclude a few things. First of all – I was wrong. The original C64-songs haven’t been mangled, mixed and mashed together. But COiN has clearly cut and edited quite a bit to rearrange the songs themselves and to insert parts from other songs. And of course, there’s plenty of added material on top as well. Secondly, COiN is not just sampling game music as he claims, but also demoscene music. Remember when Timbaland sampled a demoscene song and said that it was from a video game? Yeah that stuff can get you in trouble…

Ok, so does that mean that COiN should be listed in the main timeline? Or will he be handed over to the plagiarism page of doom? And what about Monotrona? What will it beeee? Well, I need to sleep so I’ll just leave you hanging but if you have any ideas, feel free to comment. :——)

Btw, COiN’s second album, Architects of Character, is also available in full on YouTube:


A Small Computer Plays Some Samples Of Mozart’s Dice-Composition Music

February 25, 2020

Here’s a pretty great find of early mini computer music, released on vinyl in 1967. It was made by T.H. O’Beirne on the SOLIDAC computer that was produced and used at Glasgow University. The “samples” are of course not sampled sounds, but generated music based on Mozart’s piece.

Utz, who pointed me this way, shared a link to an article about this work and information about the music software that he wrote for the SOLIDAC. You can read more at Physical Impossibility whose images and sounds I’ve linked to here.


Early Amiga chiptuneries

July 15, 2019

The terms chipmusic and chiptune was sparsely used during the 1980’s and started to become popular on the Amiga around 1990. It seems like it referred to both synthetic Amiga music (hypertracker “soft synths”) and sample-based chip-modules made in soundtrackers.

I came across the Dexion Megademo from 1989 the other day, and it has some interesting examples of songs that are both synthetic and sample-based. This was common in the early years of the Amiga, before soundtrackers became the dominant standard. But perhaps some of these songs were made in soundtrackers? In part 3 it sounds like a typical soundtracker technique of setting an arpeggio on the first step of a sound, but leaving the rest of the sound clean.

Maybe this can add to the history of chip-modules? If anyone is up for some detective work to find out which software the music was made in, let me know what you find.

Trackers from 1981 and 1983

July 30, 2018

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.


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!

The First LSDj Artists

May 31, 2017

I’ve started to dig through the first years of LSDj, the Gameboy software that is still being developed today, 17 years after its first alfa release. LSDj was not the first widely available Gameboy music software (Nanoloop, Trippy-H, MusicBox, Carillon, etc) but LSDj had a huge impact on the new chipscene that was forming at the time. That’s one of the reasons why I’m now working on a compilation for protoDATA with music from the first years of LSDj.

Many of the early users are still well known today. People like Bit Shifter, Bud Melvin, Cornbeast, Covox, FirestARTer, Lo-Bat, Mark DeNardo, Nim, Nullsleep, Produkt, Puss, Role Model (duh), Vim, Yuppster, Zabutom, and yours truly.

Others have been forgotten since. But now it’s time to remember!

Who used LSDj during 2000-2002? If you have any ideas, and contact information, I’d appreciate a comment or an e-mail (infogoto80⚫com).

I’m thinking about people like Aonami, Blasterhead, Cemik, Chesterfield, Cow’p, Digigig, DMG Plantlife, Firebrandboy, The Hardliner, Hex125, Keiichi Hirao, Kplecraft, Maak, Magnu3, Pasan, Pharmacom, Piano Busters, Pepparkaksninja, Tobiah, Zalza, etc.

And the people active on the LSDj-mailing list at the time seem even more tricky to reach. Smyglyssna, Daniel Viksporre, James Bernard, Tim Prezzano, Barter System of Music, Simon in Canberra, Casey McGonagle, Mangey from Holland, J Ruddy, Ryan (, Virgile Iscan, Anxious Times, Erik Wiese (pxli?), Bohus Blahut…

Any help appreciated!

1989 Appearance of the Chip Music Term

March 14, 2017

Who first started to use the chipmusic term, when and where? I once wrote that 4mat’s first chip music disk from 1989 could be one of the oldest mentions of the term. But nobody knew where that music disk was. Until now. Exotica found it!

It’s a music demo called Chip Music, for the Amiga. Since the Amiga pretty much only plays samples, it doesn’t have a sound chip 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 custom player to make this chip music. In the scroll text of the release, it reads:


Sounds good. But the thing is that all of these songs were actually made in Soundtracker. Using samples. 4mat told me he changed the labels in the Soundtracker player, as a bit of a joke. Maybe it was a wink at the die hard future composers on the Amiga who used C64-like hypertrackers rather than the new era of soundtrackers. 4mat and other early pioneers proved that it was possible to make chiptunes in a soundtracker, as well.

This production hints that the word chip music was already in use at the time, and it seems to have meant “synthetic” Amiga music. It’s also symbolizes the change of the meaning of the term, to mostly refer to chip modules – sample-based soundtracker music – for the next decade or so. At least from what I’ve been able to find out, but would love to hear alternative facts on this!

Yeah, and then McLaren and the early 2000’s chipscene decided that real chipmusic was made on PSG soundchips and forgot all about the 1990’s chipscene. But that’s a different story.

Obvious disclaimer for the obvious disclaimees: This is not to say that chipmusic per se did not exist before 1988, only that the term wasn’t used yet.

Celebrating ST-01 and ST-02

February 13, 2017


1987 was a good year for amateur music makers. The E-mu SP-1200 sampler came out and was a crucial element in the golden age of hip-hop, because of its reasonable price, decent interface and the characteristic crispy 12-bit/26.04kHz audio quality.

In Europe, a different technology spawned a sample-based revolution in music: The Ultimate Soundtracker for the Amiga. Thousands of kids started to make music using the sounds from the two floppy disks that came with the program: ST-01 and ST-02. They were packed with samples from synthesizers like Roland D50 and Yamaha DX21, and were so heavily used that they became “the sound of the Amiga” for several years.


Soundtracker was later hacked and modified to be less buggy and more user-friendly, most noteably by Mahoney & Kaktus’ Noisetracker in 1989. The tracker standard was set free, and spawned a sort of remix culture where open source mod-files were spread around the world for free. This was a thriving movement through the 1990’s and beyond, leaking into electronic genres such as gabber/breakcore, IDM, UK hardcore/drum n’ bass, and so on.

Meanwhile hip-hop had a different development since it relied on record labels to release music. It was vulnerable to copyright mongers and money makers who crippled the use of samples, and today you need serious money to sample famous recordings. The “tracker scenes” never had problems like that since it used its own distribution channels, and was never as $-relevant as hip-hop. Pretty much everything was free.


ST-FM is a celebration of this culture, and the original sounds of the ST-01 and ST-02. I invited old legends and fresh talents to make new songs based (to some extent) on the original ST-sounds. It comes as an online music disk (“the computer equivalent of an album“) and as a cassette available through Bandcamp.

ST-FM includes early pioneers (4mat, TDK, Enzo Cage, Omri Suleiman) and younger talents (Linde, Firedrill, Svetlana), modern performers and sceners (Vim, Tero, Ingemar, Zabutom, Qwan, me), and two italo disco Amiga heroes (Dr. Vector, Balboa).

It’s released on protoDATA, a new sublabel to Data Airlines, run by me and Dubmood. You can expect more juicy releases in the future, be sure of that.

Can’t get enough of the sounds of ST-01 and ST-02?

Here’s some weird suggestions:

Listen to songs by Karsten Obarski, who made The Ultimate Soundtracker and ST-01 and ST-02.

Soundtracker-songs at Modland (not necessarily using ST-01 and ST-02)

Download wav-versions of the samples at (but do read the comment first) or use Chipslapper or Chipsounds in a modern DAW.

Mazemod – the online Amiga radio with a careful selection that includes some ST-smelling tracks.

Some 90’s eurodisco reminds me of early tracker aesthetics, like Getaway by Maxx.

The soundtrack to Liquid Sky was made with the Fairlight CMI, and sometimes sound like dorky Soundtracker experiments.

I once managed to get some ST-sounds into an indie movie soundtrack. Check the end credits in ANGRY.

This Atari ST-game with MIDI weirdly has some ST-vibes.

New Recording of the First Computer Music

September 26, 2016

The Guardian reports about the first recording of computer music, created by Alan Turing. Or, well, it’s actually not the first time that a recording of this computer music appears (BBC, 2008). It’s not the first computer music. And the music is not made by Alan Turing at all, as the Guardian also points out after the clickbait.

Nevertheless, it’s a good listen. Especially because you hear the voices of the women operating the electronic brain. They’re laughing and talking about the interruptions in the music: “The machine’s obviously not in the mood.”

Two kiwi scholars restored the recording, which is interesting because the previous recording of the Mark I that appeared in 2008, was also revealed in New Zealand. Both use the same BBC recordings as source material. Did the BBC ship all their archives to New Zealand, or what gives?

The music was reportedly made by a Christopher Strachey, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few uncredited women involved as well. After all, computing at the time was a field for women. In fact, as far as we know, the first computer music was played in 1949 by a Betty Snyder (later Holberton) who also created COBOL, the first computer manual and the UNIVAC console. But her story is lost in his story, naturally.

More examples of early computer music in the timeline.


Ancient Trackers

March 13, 2016

orchestrion - Baud_museum_mg_8461

The roots of trackers is normally traced to the mid 1980s with Soundmonitor and Soundtracker. That was the genesis, The Root, the big bang. Boom! As if trackers appeared out of thin air. But where do we look for the precursors to what became known as trackers in the 1980s?

First of all, let’s define a tracker as a vertical step sequencer with alphanumerical symbols where positioning controls time but not pitch. They are either absolute (for soundtrackers) or referential (as in hypertrackers). Although there are other types of trackers, this covers the bulk of them (read more here and here).

Secondly, we need to distinguish between the materiality and the language of trackers.

Materially speaking, trackers work more like step sequencers than as piano rolls. Each event has a set duration in time, usually with a rather crude quantization. In piano roll sequencers the composer positions the stave to set the pitch and defines the duration, with a quantization that often has a higher resolution than trackers do.

More than 1000 years ago, persian inventors were automating the playback of music: ie, programming music. In the music box each note has a timeline where the composer inserts events, like in piano rolls. In the 20th century, player pianos built further on these ideas and became quite commercially successful. In these media there are individual timelines for each note. One timeline for C, one for D, and so on. Raymond Scott’s Circle Machine from the 1950s instead used one single timeline where the composer could set the pitch on each step. Many modern analogue sequencers use the same logic. In the 1980s, trackers brought this logic into a coded computer environment.

In a tracker, the composer can program each step to set pitch, timbre, volume or various kind of modulations. Right next to the note column there is an effects column. In Soundtrackers there are preset effects and the composer sets the intensity of the effect: 1XX for pitchbend up, 3XX to slide the note, 4XX for vibrato, AXX to fade the volume, and so on. In hypertrackers, the effects refer to a table of data elsewhere, so you can program your own effects.

lejaren hiller knobs 1970

This is what I mean with the language of trackers. Each step in a tracker sends instructions to the soundchip about what it should do. Tracker songs are like a list of instructions, and the palette is much bigger than in traditional notation. In the 1960s, Lejaren Hiller (almost the inventor of computer music) and a Japanese Fluxus-guy made musical instructions that looked similar to what tracker songs do today. Vertical text-mode lists of instructions to control the music, although not for computers.

In trackers (for PSG-soundchips that don’t use samples) each step can, in theory, contain any instruction that the soundchip or the computer can understand. Even non-musical instructions, like sync points to visuals (a popular trick in the demoscene). Trackers usually don’t offer this kind of freedom but the C64-tracker that I use, defMON, does something along these lines. While other trackers make a clear cut between what an instrument is and what a modulation is, defMON doesn’t discriminate. Everything is everything.

Sheet music are also a list of instructions, and could be called software. Or, with a gigantic stretch, even the more fashionable “algorithm”-term could be used. But imho, tracker music really is deserving of the software term, both materially and linguistically. A tracker song contains both the composition and the style of the performance. All the author genius, all the funk, all the style. It’s all in there. The instructions determine the performance almost completely. But it is not the performance. It is not a documentation of the performance, like recorded music is. The performance always happens in real-time as you play the file, and it will sound slightly different depending on the hardware you use.

Historically, economically and politically it has been – and still is – important to categorize music as either performance, recording or notation. Who wrote the song? Who owns the recording? Who gets the money for performing it?

I’m still fascinated by the materiality of tracker music for this reason. There is much more research to be made about the precursors to trackers, both as an interface and as a format. The history sketched above is just one suggestion, and I’m looking forward to the criticism! Be my guest to check out صفی الدین الارموی‎’s musical notation from 800 years ago based on numbers and letters, Braille music, ancient numbered musical notation in China, and klavarskribo which is a vertical notation sort of like Guitar Hero.