cTrix makes his (official) SuperByte debut in 2015 and it’s been a long time coming! J3WEL recently caught up with the man himself as part of our artist spotlight series.
*Photo by Chiptography
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from and how long have you been writing music for?
Hello!! I’ve been using a C64 since I figured out how to climb onto a chair and put a disk in the drive. I used “music composer” when I was 3 or 4 to make random-note noisecore but was also obsessed with cracktros and simply listening to game soundtracks. This carried to the Amiga / PC and naturally led me to the demoscene and tracking MODs for the Amiga. Much later in life I moved to hardware sequencers producing live techno / house until my trusty MC505 lost it’s memory the night before a show. So I brushed the dust off my ancient Amiga stuff – and just for fun – played a short oldskool set which people seemed to enjoy. So I got a second hand Amiga 1200 and started writing MODs again! All the excitement of working with low polyphony and a limited sound palette just came back to me. That was around 2004; and soon after I came across a “chip scene” which was just about the music. Since then I’ve circled the world multiple times and have played Blip’s, SquareSounds’, Soundbytes’, Pulsewave’s and even commercial music festivals and club nights.
I’m still actively in the demo scene and run a party here called Syntax which hosts the Melbourne chip music, pixel and demo competitions. I’m super lucky to be surrounded by a ton of technical people who constantly share intricate knowledge about hardware with me.
How do you make your music, what software/hardware do you use to make your signature sound and why?
Brace yourself for a long answer! 😛 I write for a few machines: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis, Super Nintendo, Gameboy DMG01, Atari Lynx, Vectrex, CPC, C64, Commodore Amiga 500 / 1200, GP2X, Atari 2600 and Spectravideo (pre MSX). I particularly love the Amiga because it has a banging phat low end and a super digital high sparkle which just shimmers. Also, AMIIIIGGGAAAAA!!
Software wise I work differently depending if the tune is for a demo (raster time / memory constraints) or if it’s for on-stage use (max out resources!). For a stage performance I often break out left / right splits to dedicated channels on a DJ mixer to part mix on-the-fly and use “live modes” / loop points where I can. Software: Goat Tracker, AtariXMod, OpenMPT, Protracker, Deflemask, custom tools (SNES, Sega Genesis, Vectrex), LSDJ, Piggy Tracker and ArkosTracker. Then there are tools which flash carts, program EPROMs and essential tools like Kick Assembler / VASM / NASM, etc. For sample prep I use Cool Edit Pro 1.5. I also have a hardware EQ for the MegaDrive / Genesis to “undo” some of it’s filtering to make it sound brighter.
Flash carts wise: Vectrex Multicart, C64 1541u, Gameboy Drag ’n’ Derp’s + EMS ones, Atari Harmony Cart, both Sega and SNES Everdrives, the Saturn Satisfier (alpha 0.1 ver… announcement soon!), an EPROM burner plus / soldering iron and various CF adapters / HXC for the Amiga. Flash carts are THE reason we can do anything on old hardware and I take my hat off to the developers of these carts.
As far as the “signature” sound… add together a love of techno / house / psy / drum’n’bass events… then layer on top a love of fusion jazz… then multiply that by 20 years of watching cracktros / demos that have inspired me to push the limits. And that’s me! I’ll make a house chip tune but drop a funky breakdown in the middle with a massive solo section. Quite a lot of my tunes are syncopated with a funk feel because of being a drummer / bass player in a metal band when I was a kid. I also like to maximise my polyphony – so if there is even a bar where a channel is laying dormant, I fill it with something! That of course leads to fun-times™ when I want to add another “layer”. There’s a lot of prioritisation to parts coming in and out. At least 50% of writing chip music (for me) is about technical considerations and rearranging an idea to work within the limitations.
For the SNES – it’s actually sample based. But (unlike the Amiga) with super short samples because of the tight memory limitations in the APU. I’ve sampled from the DX7, Korg Triton, MC202, Sequential Circuits Prophet, BC16 and even a TB303 (on loan!) but often single cycled them. Many of the original SNES games used sample libraries provided by Nintendo; but I’m choosing to often use my own samples. That leads to the comment “it doesn’t sound like a SNES!”. Fair observation – I’m using the full 64kb of APU RAM and the 8 channels all for the tune. Memory / channels for sound effects? Don’t need em!
The SNES dev journey with ferris^elix (lead coder) has been amazing. It’s been so hardcore that ferris wrote an assembler from scratch especially for the SNES APU… and when you’ve built a piece of software from opcode level, you learn about the registers / CPU cycles / block diagrams / original documentation. So it’s great to be premiering this stuff at Superbyte. The SNES has certainly a fuzzy / fluffy filtered character that no other console has.
Who are your main influences (if any) and what/who sparked your passion for creating music?
Chip music wise: the original C64 wave of Rob Hubbard, Chris Hulsbeck and Jeoren Tel. Later on guys like Blaizer^TBL (who also wrote the music for Pinball Dreams), purple motion / kb / fleshbrain and a ton of demoscene tunes have also influenced me hugely. I came across the chip scene after listening to artists like virt, x|k and trash80 – which brought me to 8bc (RIP) and peeps like littlescale, 3ddjjdj3djdj3dj <3, derris-kharlan, ultrasyd, Radlib, bryface, hizmi, bitshifter, tony thai – this list could go forever!
Outside of the chip sphere I’m one of those hi-fi wankers with a valve amp and balanced turntable. I have shelves full of progressive rock, fusion and acid jazz records from the 70’s like Colosseum II, Return to Forever, Gentle Giant, early YES, Focus, Miles Davis, Brubeck, Coltrain, etc. But also 80’s house / dance like Technotronic, Snap, Coldcut, The KLF and Inner City. Love synth stuff like Com Truise, Mitch Murder, Rolly Mingwald and MN1984. Even though I write a lot of techno / house inspired tunes – I mainly only hear that music when I’m out partying. Luckily the chip community seems very open minded; so it’s lovely to be able to perform music that is influenced by a wide range of styles.
How are you feeling about performing at SuperByte this year?
Performance wise – nervous at fuck! I’ve no idea why I went ahead and announced I was doing a “Sega vs. SNES” set before I’d gotten the real hardware and confirmed everything worked. Probably because announcement deadline.
To cut a long story short I’ve had a few setbacks – like hardware going missing in the mail repeatedly and faulty power supplies. I finally got a Sega flash cart two weeks ago and hit play on a test tune. It fell apart with crashes / tuning issues / timing problems and it was muffled and distorted with everything was playing at reduced tempos and randomly changing tempos. Given some of my tunes have 1 or 2 meg of high-bit-rate samples that’s probably not surprising but it (of course) worked fine in the emulator. I resolved most of the issues last week – but it was a heart wrenching moment where I considered ditching the whole concept of battling the two consoles. But fuck that – I bought a slab of beer and got the Sega working eventually. The SNES has also been challenging because we’re still working on the software as I write tunes. So I’m breaking things during composition, and bug reporting / getting fixes on the fly. Although ferris has done an amazing job of making a stable program / play routine – so I trust the SNES will work. So yup – super excited – but it’s been a journey.
At the end of the day it’s about bringing a fun and dynamic show that goes against the norm. Which brings me to the most important thing about any chip festival – and that’s the people who attend. The fun times on the dance floor, amazing conversations, smiles, hugs and uncoordinated high fives is what I’m looking forward to most. I can’t wait to walk into that preparty, check out a ton of open mic talent and spend three days hanging out with the raddest people on earth. Bring it oooooon!
ps. was this supposed to be a short interview?!