Editorial - July 2003

To SID or not to SID?

Chris Dealer Pricing Abbott (that's me!) this month looks at a subject which has been taxing our greatest minds... and leading to a few discussions on the boards.

Also, Dr.Future has written his review of his monumental Back in Time Live Germany! Woooo!
Chris Abbott

There's on ongoing debate in the remixing community about how much of the original tune you should leave in a remix: not only for C64 remixes, but also for Amiga ones.

Recently, Seth Sternberger (8-Bit Weapon) produced a free CD for people to download: it was meant to be a commercial release, but frankly the licencing was too tough, primarily focusing on US games.

Seth's idea was to leave the original SID largely intact, and enhance it, with drums, and a synth or two to add some groove: his own approach to the problem was if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

It was reviewed for this very website, and scored 6/10 on the remix64 reviewing scale.

Now, Seth read the review, and suggested that the review was at odds with the score, in that it read like a 7 score, not 6.

Andrew was complimentary about most of the album, though he suggested that it wasn't the most innovative album. However, it was unusual, verging on unique, since obviously there aren't any other comparable albums out there.

A 7 score for 8-Bit Weapon would give it the same score as a number of other remix CDs: somehow that seemed odd to me for an album which largely leaves the SIDs intact: 8-Bit Weapon scoring the same as Karma64?

Then I started to ask myself why I was thinking along these lines, and came to the conclusion that the Remix64 rating was largely based on the amount of apparent work that went into an album, or the technical difficulty of its creation (which encompasses things like originality).

It's a narrow criteria to use, but what else can you do? If you're applying a score to a piece of music, then that score will necessarily be different depending on the reviewer. So if you need a mark with any vestige of reliability, then you have to use pseudo-objective criteria, such as sound quality, amount of change from the original SID, quality of arrangement, etc.

Unfortunately, the reading public (generally, not just the remix community here), expect a mark at the end of a review, just like a dessert at the end of a meal.

Somehow it seems a bit off when the reviewer doesn't tell you what to think!

So, what's the problem?

Well, if a mark is based on the amount (and how well) a particular SID has been changed, then it is automatically biased against remixes or CDs where large parts of the original have been left in or converted in some way. It's impossible to give Seth's CD a mark greater than six, despite the fact that there are almost certainly people who prefer it to the classic remix CDs: because they like the raw sound of unaltered SID with a couple of contemporary grooves: known in a more derogatory sense as SID + drums. I myself have complained about this type of remix in my own reviews, and my rating system was pretty much geared to the same criteria as Remix64's. So we have a voting system and a review mark system, both of which appear to be biased against the use of SID. This undoubtedly encourages people to work harder, but is it inadvertantly discouraging homages to the very chip that started it all, and the work of the composers we revere? I think it is. Remix64 as a community is very coloured by the fact that the vast majority of the active members are musicians, wannabe musicians or other creative types. As such, if a remix appears like it could have been created by anybody, it will be marked down. I myself think like this: if I hear a remix that I could have done in half an hour, I don't have a high opinion of it. But what if people enjoy it? After all, we're all SID fans. We all are supposed to like the sound of SID: what does it matter if a remix was done in half an hour if it brings a smile to the face? The concept of how much the listener might enjoy listening to a remix is one which has been largely ignored by the voting and reviewing systems: OK, you get a nostalgic impression, but enjoyment is the one factor that would lead a tune to become a favourite. You might get excited by a highly technically advanced tune: but does it bury itself inside you and give you warm feelings? It might: but then there are a large number of worthy remixes that I wouldn't listen to ever again, simply because I don't enjoy them. And that's just a reaction between me and the music: a complex dance of familiarity, technical accomplishment, nostalgia and general warm fuzziness. It's folly to pretend that you can objectively review music, except in a purely technical sense (bad mixing, poor choice of instruments, deficient scoring, etc). It's therefore folly to pretend a review is definitive. In isn't, and never can be. The R64 review system for RKO successfully gets round this by having named individuals leaving comments. That's a great thing. I think it's time to invite extra reviews of CD tracks as well. As for the marks out of 10? Well, I'm not sure it's particularly helpful, in the same way that I think the chart position on RKO isn't terribly helpful. How on earth does the difference between 83% and 85% affect your enjoyment of the piece? They're both orange smileys, and both pieces are excellent pieces of work (or, at least, very good!). In future, Remix64 will use more of the smiley system for its reviews. The smiley system is a good one. Any icon that has a smile indicates that the remix will in some way bring a smile to your face, even if only a little one. Lack of a smile indicates that it won't. I like that system, because the differentiation between two remixes is an emotional and enjoyment one. As in all of life, it's the quality of the smile that counts  :-) If your remix brings a smile to people's faces, it deserves a smiley. Even if it is SID + drums, and even if it is a 1:1 cover with no structural interpretation. The main problem with most SID + drums is that there are so many talentless wannabes out there who think that just adding any old dance beat to any old SID produces art, and who are only submitting their work to RKO to see their name in lights: and yet there are talented people out there who think about their work, and who produce groovy things. Their remixes would probably be rejected by RKO, not on quality grounds, but because the talentless hacks would flood the RKO system with inferior copies if you just let one through.

And so the many ruin things for the few.

Anyway, so here's a summary of what I just said:
1) Remix64 should have more reviews of the CDs
2) Remix64 marks out of 10 should be replaced by smileys

Oooh, controversial!!

And here, for no apparent reason is someone who should make you very scared indeed!

Back in Time Live Germany: a report from Dr.Future!

Wow! Wow! Wow! What a great party. BIT Live Germany, held on June 21st in Wedel/Hamburg has been a huge success and an unforgettable gathering of nice people out of the remix-scene, whether it’s C64 or Amiga or anything else.
BIT Live Germany - June 2003 Hamburg

But let me tell you the chronology:

It started on Friday the 20th, when the first guests arrived. I spent the evening with Jan Zottmann (Immortal 2) and his girlfriend Alex, the 2Klang-Team (Micha & Alex) and Matthias from the Shooters staff.

It was very cool to meet these well-known people (I talked a lot with Jan on phone and the same goes for Micha, the winner of the Theme-Competiton, but never met them before).

We drank a lot, got some nice food and ended in my flat for some more talking…

Later the 2Klang-Team decided to make a trip to Hamburg and left. But when I drove Jan & Alex to their hotel, the 2Klang-Team was already there and sleeping ;-)

Ok, starting Saturday morning the heavy hecticness begun. Because Shooters had regular opening on Friday, we had to do all the work on Saturday. So I met with André (the audio-engineer) and the friendly 2Klangs at 12.30 and gave some instructions how to and where. Than I had to leave cause the TV-Team of RTL2 was arriving at 13.00.

When I got home, Jan Zottmann and his girlfriend were already there and we did some more talking…they left at 14.00, and just then RTL2 (3 persons: reporter, camera-man and light & sound), Marcel Donné, Mike Gommans and Markus Schneider arrived all together. It was a little narrow than in my flat, but who cares? After some coffee and cleaning out everything in my studio we begun to film.

Man, you have to imagine this crap: Me, sitting in front of the c64 and playing Commando, than moving over to my PC, sampling this tune and immediately doing a fat remix, hehe. Then Marcel entered my room by accident (?) and we started some silly dialogue (Hi Volker. Hi Marcel, you here? Yeah, and this is my new record. Ah, your new record, let’s see…), hehe.

Then Marcel was helping me out with remixing and turning some knobs while playing some great chords. OMG!

During the shooting (which took about 3,5 hours!) Markus and Mike were sitting in the corner and having a lot of fun, they also contribute some cute comments ;-)

After some single interviews with me and Marcel (Marcel, you wanna make some commercial profit with your CD?) the 1st part of the RTL2 session ended and we ran over to Shooters again to finish the build up.

And, believe it or not, building up was finished just in time (ooops, nearly in time) at 19.15 while we opened at 19.00…

Everything was working fine, the C64’s were running with their games, the beamers were working, the mics and music were working, and the DJ…the damned DJ! Where the f**k…? Arvid has been there at 18.00 already and has left for a short dinner…. I had no idea what short means for a berlin guy ;-)

Ok, later that evening Arvid arrived again and as you all know he did a marvellous job. At 20.00 there was the keynote with all the infos you had to know to have one of the greatest nights of your life. After that, we started the party with 2Klang’s winning Theme Dropout (great track Micha), followed by the best remixes on this planet…

The RTL2-Team popped up again and did some interviews with the guest (very funny sometimes…). At 21.00 the game-competitions started, as you may know already, Mat nuked the competition and got all the 1st prizes. Man, this guy really knows how to gamble (he got some nice standing ovations when he succeeded the ball-deflecting sequence in IK+).

None of the Commodores had any problems up to the moment, when one of our female visitors tried to do some Sex-Games. The c64 reseted. Was this a sign? I don’t know…

At midnight we changed from remixes to 80’s and a lot of people left the place. What a pity. But some of them wanted to drive home that night, and luckily all arrived home safe…

Most of the people (about 200 guests have been there) enjoyed the night very much, and so there has already been the question if we do it again. Well, I can not promise this right now, time will tell…

Hope to see you all in Brighton,