First, some backstory
Around the age of 14 I got into making music. What spurred this was simply an article in a Swedish gaming magazine called ‘Super Play’, it was a piece on chiptune music and its tools.
Prior to this I had dabbled with demos of Fruity Loops (as FL Studio was called at the time) that my friends recommended, but it didn’t stick for some reason…
… Actually, my experience with Fruity Loops on my laptop made me think a lot about portability and medium. To me, the laptop at that time didn’t feel like a good instrument - it was clunky, required a big charger and not something you would just throw up on a commute and rock out with. I remember distinctly thinking that it would be great if you could just make music with a Game Boy. (This might sound weird (and it is), but I actually loved the sound of that thing. I used to just listen to the tracks of the games sometimes)
Fast forward to the article going into great depths about how there is a music software for the original Nintendo Game Boy handheld system, and how many artists world over were using it, forming a big scene around music made with video game hardware. This was a revelation.
I wrote down every single little thing in that article and went home to download all I could find on our horrible dial up internet, which was even horrible at that point in time, 14 years ago.
… Is a term I was introduced to that evening, a type of music software that I had never seen before. A long list of numbers and letters that somehow spat out lovely bleeps and bloops when you finally found the shortcut for ‘Play Song’.
Little Sound DJ became the first tracker, and even the first music tool that I got deeply invested in. It’s a music tracker that runs natively on a Game Boy, and it’s how I made all of my music for a very long time - something that quickly occupied all of my free time.
But LSDJ is a relatively new piece of software in the long line of trackers, and while it’s release year of 2001 sounds old now, it’s a lil’ baby compared to Ultimate Soundtracker which was released in 1987 for the Commodore Amiga.
In 1987 this was a revolutionary and handy way to make music on a computer.
In 2001 this was a niche and nerdy way to utilize a specific hardware for music.
The difference is that Ultimate Soundtracker was made as a means to an end - a tool to compose 4 channel music for games while LSDJ was a hobby project from a scene that emerged from the home computer boom of the 80’s, called …
This is where trackers changed from being a mere tool to an art form.
The demoscene grew out of the availability and popularity of computers. Back in the early 80’s you weren’t greeted by a nice chime and a window manager, you got booted straight into Microsoft BASIC (or a variation thereof) and learning how to program became a natural interest to many.
Seeing what a computer could do became something to explore for hours on end, and the demoscene is called just that because people started making ‘demos’ that showed off certain things a computer could do, and what no one thought it would.
And of course the demos needed music, and the tools of the trade became trackers. They evolved and lived on, became essential tools for some, and the first piece of music software for many, and inspired functionality in a lot of software and hardware available today.
As a matter of fact,
Elektron was formed by a bunch of sceners
… In 1998 when a couple of students of Chalmers university in Gothenburg decided to go all out in a course about programming a PAL chip.
They all hailed from a wide array of demo groups, but the one person you probably have heard a lot about is Daniel Hansson, also known as Matrix. (Who tragically passed away in 2007. Rest in peace Daniel - we’ve never met, but I’m sure we would get along.)
What does this has to do with trackers? Well, the Machinedrum can be seen as a sort of reverse tracker - a tracker with a sequencer interface. See, a tracker typically has the ability to enter commands for each step. I don’t think their ties to the demoscene and its tools is a coincidence for the birth of parameter locks. Wow.
And this leads me to the question:
What about you?
A lot of people I know that are into electronic music first got introduced to it, and its tools, via the demoscene or just trackers alone. For many, Fasttracker2 was their first memory of making music electronically, and they still hold dear to that experience.
For me, I recently got back into trackers and started using Renoise. It’s so much fun and provides a very unique workflow that in many ways topple modern DAWs. But, my absolute favorite tracker that I lost all my sleep to in high school is called LittleGPTracker. I just played around with it the other day after many years of hiatus, I still know it better than the back of my hand.
I wonder how many of you here in some way share mine and many others journey, and what is your relationship to trackers today? Maybe you’ve never tried one? Perhaps you should give it a go!
There is much more to electronic music than step sequencers and piano rolls. Let’s talk about it.