Saturday 12 July 2014

Retro Music - Why is it cool? Because Batman!

I remember fondly growing up with a Sinclair Spectrum +2, it's limitations were largely unnoticed by me.
Instead, it was a source of constant wonder and of all the things in Speccy gaming that I was the most impressed with was the music. Mostly the 128k music, but occasionally 48k music too.

In fact, any game which didn't have decent music was seen as inferior to even sub-standard games with good music.

One such game was a CodeMasters game called Death Stalker.
I'll probably do a review of Death Stalker at some point as although it wasn't brilliant, I believe that there were some truly visionary things in that game.
It's a pity that the actual gameplay was so unfulfilling in the end.
However the thing which I did truly love with Death Stalker was the music.

The music was written by David Whittaker, a musical hero of mine.

I love the way he overcame the 3 channel limitations of the AY chip to produce something very atmospheric and impressive. It kept me playing this game when all other senses told me to stop.

It is a shame actually that CodeMasters refused to make their back catalog available to emulators. The internet is littered with details of a great many spectrum games. However a lot of the older CodeMasters games are missing from this archive simply because people cannot find them to play on-line; instead relying on pirated versions or original tapes. These tapes are

Another David Whittaker masterpiece which stuck with me was the music for Trantor the Last Stormtrooper

This music sounds a little rough and Lo-Fi - however when you consider that this is played on a beeper without the aid of a sound chip. This is the Z80 processor going "hell for leather", "all-out" to render drums, bass, melody and pads. This is a technical masterpiece and I would love to remake this.

I recently remade the titles music for Robocop. The music was originally written by Jonathan Dunn - another hero of mine - and this music stuck with me for many years.
It was even used in an Ariston TV advert.

Remaking Retro music is actually quite difficult with modern tools as it's very tempting to over-do the composition.

It's important to remember that the original composers were working within a very rigid set of constraints. To do the tune justice, you should use a limited set of instruments and effects.

The C64 version of Robocop sounds similar but has some additional portamento effects, which work quite nicely. I personally prefer the ZX Spectrum version, but each to their own.

A great site to visit if you're interested in remixes of older C64 tunes is

So why is it cool?

Well, my opinion is that when faced with restrictions, we can often find amazing things within ourselves. We are at our most creative when the resources are scarce.

That's the deepest pit of human creative desire right there, and that my friends - is amazing!

In closing, I'll leave you with Storm Bringer.

Take it away David (yup Mr Whittaker again)

You're welcome... ;-)

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