Trackers - what's your story?


#1

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.

Trackers

… 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 …

The demoscene

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.


Openness
The History of "P-Locking"
#2

Have you used HoustonTracker 2? It’s pretty rad and sounds awesome!


#3

I have a TI-82 in a drawer that I bought for HT alone, but I never got the damn transfer cable.
So no, but I want to! It sounds incredibly harsh and great:


#4

before getting into cubase on my bro’s atari I tried usin Octamed on the amiga, without a manual. Needless to say it didn’t go very well.
so sadly I missed out on trackers having gotten used to side scrolling sequencers. till renoise which I got into in the last few years.
woulda loved to have grown up with trackers. but I found the MD n mnm about 10 years ago too tho, so I’m happy :slight_smile:


#5

I came late to the party, started on Apple Logic/Mainstage then went right to Octatrack. I was rockin some heavily fx laden guitar for years before the transition though and would “play” the fx knobs as part of my style so the electronic part was not unfamiliar to me and in a way I was playing some electronic music with a guitar as my synth…

Now that I’m here though I find myself very interested in the history of electronic music devices, composition, and whatnot. I never even heard of a tracker until I joined this forum… Curious and interested though…


#6

Ah same story with me and an 83 that sat in a drawer waiting for me to buy a transfer cable, finally bought a cheap 84 locally for the USB. It’s really fun to use in a public place and think about how it looks to be furiously pressing buttons on a graphing calculator with headphones in :rofl:


#7

Jeskola Buzz changed my life in the 90s.


#8

I tried Jeskola Buzz but couldn’t catch on to it. This was when I first started my musical journey in the early 2000s. I didn’t have the patience to learn it or wrap my head around it. I preferred using Reason at that moment in time. If I had more time, I wouldn’t be opposed to learning a tracker.


#9

My musical journey started when I started hanging out with a small demoscene group. The guys introduced me to trackers and my first rig was a tracker and a pc speaker which was piggyback wired to a 8 ohm home stereo speaker. It sounded gnarly as hell!

Although I never became a “trackstar” and moved on to DAWs and hardware ages ago, I still have big respect for tracker musicians. One og scener I know still makes jawdropping music with Renoise and DIYed vst plugins :diddly:


#10

Trackers!!!

I love them!!

I’ve gone through my software and hardware cycles (of every shape and form) over the years. Analogs, digitals, computers, all manner of DAW, etc. However, trackers remain to this day a favorite of mine. I don’t get to use them quite as much as I’d like, but I still do once in a while.

I actually discoverd FM Composer about a year ago, proceeded to make about 10 tracks or so, and then haven’t touched another tracker since. I imagine I’ll discover, or rediscover another one anytime now. I think FamiTracker might be next up for some NES music. :smiley: (I’ve always wanted to make Megaman 3 style music for example)

The first tracker I ever touched was a Jens Christian Huus “JCH” of Vibrants editor on the C64 in the late 80s I believe. Followed by NoiseTracker on my Amiga 500. Then I went through all the popular ones on the PC later on, Screamtracker, Fastracker, etc.

I made a lot of tunes on them, but I wasn’t as much into working with samples back then. I did it, but it wasn’t really my thing. When I tried out FM Composer last year, it blew me away because I could make FM sounds in the tracker, then track them. (then right around that time I got my Digitone) The FM Composer dev is a really nice guy. He implemented a couple of features that I asked about, and put one of my tunes in as a demo. I’d really like to pick it up again sometime soon. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a tracker to play with, and like FM.

Don’t get me started on the Demo Scene. I’ve been watching since 1986 :smiley:

Here’s a few of the tunes I whipped up in FM Composer:


#11

Oh.

It’s time for Elektron Facts™

Trackstar was one of the name suggestions for Octatrack, and it actually came close to being named that.


#12

Loopzifier!! :monkey::notes:


#13

Yes! Although that was more of a working name… or the more demonic ‘Loopzifer’ that exist in some early sketches.

And being on topic, many have called Octatrack ‘Ableton in a box’, but the real comparison is of course Octamed in a box.


#14

I nearly forgot about Octamed. Slide that one in between NoiseTracker and the PC Trackers in my post. :smiley:


#15

I used LSDJ for ages as well, really fun tracker! I think it primed me for understanding Elektron machines, the process was pretty familiar.

What Gameboy were people using? I had a Color but it sounded like shit. Seem to remember the others having various issues as well unless you mod them.


#16

Fast Tracker was the one me and some friends used. Truly a fun software.


#17

I started on Soundtracker and moved to OctaMED when it was still only MED. Now you know how old I am. :slight_smile:

Even used OctaMED to sequence MIDI gear. Still do, occasionally.


#18

SoundTracker on the Comodore Amiga back in 1988 was my first introduction to making music on a computer. All the years on the amiga there was different versions and generations of trackers being released and the Noise tracker 2.0 was, at least for me, the pinnacle of trackers. Never got any better.

Switching over to PC computer in the early nineties I left trackers behind and software like Cakewalk and Cubase VST took over. Once in a while I start up an Amiga emulator and Noise Tracker and get all nostalgic.

Never really tried trackers on the PC platform, kind of strange because there was (and is) some really nice alternatives. (Like Renoise)


#19

Digitakt - Noise Tracker in a box. Parameter locks, sample pool, sampling.


#20

kind of off-topic but I’ve used Chuck quite a bit as a MIDI recorder/looper/generator with my MnM. A tracker-style interface would be killer. I’ve since found out that Monome’s teletype module features something like this.