New to Diskmags? Just what is this?

A disk magazine or diskmag is a zine distributed in electronic format since the early 80's - traditionally on floppy. A diskmag usually contains articles, art packs, charts, news, music and coded intro sequences. This is how many demosceners and electronic musicians communicated pre-internet. Diskmags were distributed by either sending floppies via mail (usually steaming the stamps and sending them back) or by sending a disk image via a BBS.

This is part of an interview from Vandalism News issue 60, a Commodore 64 diskmag which has been running since 1991. It is currently one of the longest existing diskmags and is still published today. The latest issue released at Syntax Demoparty 2013.

Interview (partial) from Vandalism issue 60, Nov 2013 [C64 disk image here ]

(contains additional bonus pictures that didn't fit on the diskmag floppy!)

Q: Tell us about “A for Amiga”:

A for Amiga is an Amiga based music project which started life as an Amiga musicdisk for a limited release on floppy at a demoparty. The aim was to make tunes based purely on my original collection of samples from when I was 10 - 15. I used to scour swap meets in the early & mid 90's to find floppies of samples or MODs that looked promising. I had an older friend who ran a BBS and he would also pass me samples he'd found. I ended up with many sounds from the original ST-00 to ST-08 disks, the ST standing for “sample tracker”, which was one of the original Amiga tracker programs. Many early Amiga tunes were constructed from these ST-xx sample sets in the days before cheap sample carts arrived.

Those who could afford sample carts usually sampled from the radio, vinyl or cassette – often where a synth was holding a solo sound for just long enough that it could be crudely looped. Or maybe it'd be a drum sample or vocal stab from a break. However there was never enough crediting going on back between 1988 – 1995 to know where anything came from! I wish I knew where half the sounds started life – but then again, drum machines like the TR 909 or the LinnDrum had samples from real drummers and you don't see their names on the labels. (on this front, if there is something or someone obvious that I haven’t credited for some reason, please let me know!)

So I started writing tunes using just the ST-xx / oldskool samples but the tunes took on a very different sound to what I was expecting. In particular they had a deeper and bigger sound stage, more punch and were far more complex compositionally than I'd set out to achieve. As per usual, a project that was supposed to be a fast-and-fun concept had morphed into something that consumed hours of my time. A few of the tracks needed textures beyond what my floppies contained so I started sampling (in 8bit) short notes and chords from the old synths I'd grown up with. Synths like the Yamaha DX7, Prophet 600, Technics PR60 and Casio VL-Tone. So the concept had grown - but ultimately I kept it to 1980's home studio gear and every tune was still a Protracker 4-channel MOD that would play on every Amiga 500 … with no RAM expansion!

I finished a couple of tunes and played them at shows, notably Blip Festival. People instantly asked “when are you going to release the synthpop tunes?”. So I decided that I'd release the project as an EP. Also, by the 6th song, the file sizes meant I'd have to start “optimising” tunes to get them all to fit on an 800k floppy. It was also apparent that 99% of Amiga music disks were being uploaded and listened to on YouTube instead of an Amiga too – f**k that! So I figured I'd mix it instead. I began breaking the MODs into separate instrument groups so I could EQ it and add a little reverb here and there. But I had a major problem. Mixing on a 2013 computer running 16 cores at 3ghz wasn't in the spirit of what I was trying to create! That was breaking my rule of keeping it to Amiga 500 era equipment and samples.

So, in an effort to keep everything circa 1989, I decided to record and mix from analogue tape.

Attempt 1 was an old 4-track multitrack recorder and an old reverb effects unit. But it didn't sound that decent so I decided to try and find a better solution. At this point people had started hyping up my release and I felt a huge pressure to mix it properly. I also felt a few of the tracks were just fillers – so I reworked them and even dropped one from the release (but wrote DX Heaven to replace it!)
Right at the moment I was losing faith in ever finishing the project, I came across Sunshine Recorder here in Melbourne. Sunshine is run by an exceedingly passionate audiophile-grade electronics engineer who has collected and restored a ton of vintage gear. I didn't even put 1+1 together at first, being so in awe of the studio. It's everything that would belong in a multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art mixing facility back in 1985. The studio was (at the time) still under construction but it had a full analogue 24-track tape machine running 2” tape. The main console was a 64 channel modular mixing desk connected to a full patch bay. There were banks of classic 1970's compressors as used on all the classic releases of the 1980's. Racks of vintage hand-wired equalisers sat in such elite categories they used clicking knobs to select both the frequency bands and cut / boost ranges rather than using inferior potentiometers. Although the mixing desk had sweepable EQ to die for on all channels! There was a set of plate reverbs, chorus boxes and a rack of delay units including one with a tape loop in it. It was a collection of equipment where every piece of gear was the pinnacle of “spare no expense” during it's era.

I asked the studio owner (almost joking) if I could completely rewire the studio and ditch the computer workstation he had driving it. I wanted the 24-track tape machine to drive the whole session. And to his absolute credit, out came the soldiering iron, and we rewired the cable looms and patched the whole place for direct from 24-track tape mixing.

It was exactly as if it were 1985 (the year of the Amiga's release). We tested the setup so thoroughly we started finding a couple of faults in channels which meant hot swapping EQ and compressor modules: which in the 70's ad 80's was actually very common. Studios back then were so complex they needed constant on-the-fly maintenance and if channel 22 went on the blink, you grabbed the module from channel 62 and hot-swapped it over.


I employed Mark, an friend and engineer who was taught by one of Frank Zappa's engineers back in the 1980's. I've known Mark for years and have always hoped we could work on something together on day. I told him the back story of the Amiga, my highschool sample collection, my sticking to 8bit sampling of old synths and asked “could we mix the oldskool way?”. In between the laughter his eyes lit up at the opportunity to turn back the clock. His condition was “we should do it properly”. And I knew I had my engineer. In the end we briefly used a DAW stage at 96k to synchronise the MOD dumps (to save time and sanity) but once we had the 16+4 “separated” instrument groups, everything was dubbed to analogue tape in its raw form and we turned all the computers off. And turned the speakers up.

The mix session was epic. The sound became very warm, rounded and much more spacious than I could have expected. We used every patch cable in the studio and ran a ton of subtle dynamics compression layers and crazy effects chains to do what is now achievable with a single “plugin”. It was amazing discussing every element with Mark as we mixed it – his fresh ears were an amazing asset to have during the mix session. The entire multitrack tape slammed the needles into the red for all the critical instruments (bass, kicks, toms!) to keep things harmonically rich. The aliasing from the crude resampling methods of an early cheap DAC being replayed off a 2” tape is just eerie. The aliasing fuzz is very present throughout the entire release and defines A for Amiga. I doubt anyone in history has taken a set of 4 channel Protracker MODs and - without adding any additional layers - has split the raw outputs onto the same 2” tape technology used to record MJ's Thriller. But if I'm going to pay my respects to the Amiga team who managed to squeeze such a capable machine into a Commodore “budget” box - then I feel giving it's output the royal treatment is justified.

To answer the obvious session, yes, the tunes sound very similar if you fire up the MOD files on a real Amiga. They just don't sparkle and sound like a planet of sound quite in the same way the mixed release does. And yes, one day in the far future I may get around to optimising the samples and release it as an Amiga 500 music disk for the purists. And for my soul. Until then, I'll put up a comparison between the MODs and mix session for those who are interested.

(A demo of the software and a comparison is now up on 'tube... -ed)

Q: Who are Bleepstreet?

It's being released though BleepStreet which is a net label in Berlin. I've hung out with Ultrasyd at demoparties, previously remixed 2 of the artists and played with almost all of the artists in Europe, US or Japan at chip music festivals… So it made sense to align with these guys. The “label” is more a collaboration of artists than a traditional label structure and we all still have day jobs and do this for the love of it. It'll be a digital release (primarily Bandcamp and iTunes) for now. It'll be a few bucks to help recoup what I paid to hire the studio, pay engineers, take time off work and buy the 2” multitrack tape at $350 for a single reel!

People keep asking why it isn't just an independent release – but there is a simple reason. I'm a demoscener at heart which means once I've finished a prod, I like to pass it to the people, explain how I made it and then move onto the next thing. It's much easier to let someone else bounce around with the release excitedly so I can focus on what I'm doing next. That's exactly what Bleep Street are great at doing – taking little releases like mine and giving them a home to listeners outside the demoscene circles. And encouraging me to finish the release in the first place! Greets to Dan @ Bleepstreet if you're readin' this – I owe ya some beers.

Q: What are you working on for 2014?

No idea. But I'm guessing some of the following might be happening in 2014 (not in any order):

- A collaboration with another artist (50% chance)

- Something fun from 68Krue... a new Sega Genesis bunch I've joined ;-) (some chance)

- A release of a collection of LSDJ Gameboy tunes I thought I'd lost but recently recovered (50% chance)

- A completely fresh project using a largely untapped console (50%. If code works!)

- Something that also involves a real guitar (not sure about this yet! 25%)

- A gAtari release (30%)

- Something a little more disco (but still full of solos and melodies) for the Amiga. (100% chance)

There is a ton of stuff that's always on the cusp of being completed. I often move onto the next track without doing a final mix. And then it gets old in my head so I just release “live” lofi recordings. And up until now I've focused on performing. I guess A for Amiga has helped me focus on completing a release – so hopefully there will be more to come!


(cc) cTrix 2012