An Interview with Chris Huelsbeck

by Neil Carr

Chris started his career with Shades. It didn't take long before the industry took note and chris went on to produce countless classics. Classics that Chris still produces to this day. A long and notable career which has propelled him to a level of stardom enjoyed by the big British composers.

Real name: Chris Huelsbeck
Born: 1968
Nationality: German


Chris Huelsbeck

What other c64 composers do you like?


Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Ben Daglish, Jeroen Tel

What other sids do you like?

I always loved the synth sample demos (was that Hubbard?;)

What tunes that you have composed are amongst your personal favourites?

C64: R-Type Title, Starball

What were your likes/dislikes about the sid chip?

The SID Sound is absolutely unique and can't be accurately produced by
any other Synthesizer that I know. Specially the pulse-with modulation
is the holy grail of its power. There was not much to dislike, besides
maybe the SID chip / C64 filter design, which caused each machines
filter to sound almost unpredictably different.

How do you feel about people covering or remixing your old sids?

As long as there is no commercial usage I have no problems with it.

Why did you start making c64 music?

I did music using organs and synths for a while already and one of the
reasons I decided to get a C64 was the SID chip, since I didn't own
any synthsizer myself. I became interested in programming and when a
friend who programmed a game needed music I was 'in business". My very
first music player was pretty basic, but I learned fast and the sound
got better.

What are your fondest memories of the c64?

The day I bought the machine (with some financial help of my grandma)
I felt like being in heaven.

What do you miss most about the c64?

The whole system was so manageble, specially when I learned
programming. I felt like really mastering the machine, not like today
where computers have so many complicated (though also more
sophisticated) parts and software. I feel much more like a normal user
today than like an administrator.

Most of your c64 music was not heard outside of your native home country for many years. Did this disappoint you?

Well, I had most success in Germany, because the games I worked on
where done mostly for the german market. But I had fun and didn't
think about it that much.

Shades, To be on top, and Great Giana Sisters are possibly your most popular tunes from the c64, why do you think this is?

Shades was my first published tune and got a lot of attention, because
it won a competition in the biggest selling C64 magazine at the time.
That helped to establish my name and basically also got me the job at
Rainbow Arts, the first big german games developer. To be on top and
Giana Sisters did become very succesful titles for the company and
all that helped to spread the word.

It seems that many of the old famous C64 musicians have left their origin countries to go to the US. I.e. Rob Hubbard and David Whittaker at EA. Martin Galway at Magic Anvil/Microsoft, and your goodself at Factor 5. Why do you think this is becoming a trend?

Specially in Germany it is hard nowadays to develop high profile
games, because investors don't like to take risks like they do in
the US. So besides some companies who focus on media and advertisement
software there are not much game developers left in Germany.

For those people who do not know of Factor 5, could you explain who they are, and what you are doing currently with them?

Maybe it's best to recite from the Factor 5 website:

-----
Factor 5 is a software development house originally founded in
Germany in 1987. At that time, there were five friends and computer
game enthusiast, today the company has grown to 25 people from all
around the world, among them programmers, graphic artists, level
designers, musicians and sound designers.

In addition to original and license-based game developments for
publishers as diverse as LucasArts Entetainment, Konami, Hudson Soft,
and Nintendo, Factor 5 has developed sound and music tool technology
under the name of MusyX, which is exclusively licensed to Nintendo for
all Nintendo game systems. Factor 5 also was involved early in the
design and implementation of the Nintendo Gamecube next-generation
hardware.

Factor 5´s German localization department has been established in
1994. Included in the list of projects are titles like X-Wing vs. Tie
Fighter, X-Wing: Balance of Power, and a number of Electronic Arts´
sports titles.

Originally located in Cologne, Germany, Factor 5 was offered in 1995
due to close collaboration with LucasArts a move to Northern
California. In May 1996 the staff moved to San Rafael, CA (Marin
County). Factor 5, LLC remains to be a privately held company with no
outside financial involvement.

How much of a different world is it composing with real instruments when comparing it to the c64?

The basics of a good song remain the same: good melody, accompaniment
and a strong and interesting arrangement. All other elements like
sounds and recording technique are exchangeable.

Your new Album Chris Huelsbeck - In The Mix, what can you tell our readers about this album?

I was approached by a DJ and producer who works with ZYX music, which
is one of the larger independent labels in Germany. He asked if I
would allow him to do a remix of Giana Sisters and after some time
he told me that ZYX was even interested in a whole album. It was an
interesting prospect because ZYX has worldwide distribution and a
strong marketing. But unfortunately I had not much time since I was
very busy working on Star Wars Battle for Naboo. But they told me they
would produce most of the remixes and it would become a very professional
product. I feel fine with the album but I didn't like their single
release of Giana Sisters. The remix from Tom Novy is quite sad and
they didn't let me hear it before the release. That learned me a
lesson for the future to be more careful and make contracts that
warrant more control on my side. But the album came out quite nice and
I was very surprised when I even found copies in our local Tower
Records shops... ;)

How much of a demand have you found for the C64 mix cd's?

They are usually not selling enough copies to be interesting for the
regular CD market, but there are a couple of thousand fans out there,
who over time maybe order one, so little labels like our own synSONIQ
Records can survive. But the profits would usually not pay our rent...

What do you look at when composing a new tune?

That depends on what the music is used for. If it is a game, I look at
the concept, artwork and in the best case play the game itself if it
is already far enough developed. That gives me ideas about mood, speed
and character of the music. Even if I compose music just for fun, I
like to have a basic concept about sounds and style.

I have noticed that you have worked on many formats producing game music, but I have never witnessed an Atari ST production. Is this correct, and if you haven't what were your reasons?

I have done a couple of Atari musics, like Gem'x and Jim Power for
example. But since I used my own custom player and the games where not
very successful I don't think anyone ripped those tunes.

Why do you think the c64 has such a fan base?

At the time it was introduced it was a multimedia wonder that almost
anyone could handle and even program. There was nothing like it before
in the world.

Have you ever thought of remixing a c64 tune from another composer?

Not really, I have enough of my own music in my head... ;)

What are your thoughts on modern day game music when comparing it to the c64?

It's very professional nowadays and it is very close if not as good as
film music. But in the C64 days music didn't need to match a game, it
could even stand out and it had a revolutionary charm.

How did you feel when you first saw your name on the credits of a game?

I was proud as hell, though from todays standpoint it was a lousy game
and didn't really matter. What really made my day was the competition
in the magazine that I won.

Chris Huelsbeck with Fabian del Priore
What Equipment/Software do you use?

Here is a list from my webpages:

Sampler & Synthesizer:
----------------------
KURZWEIL K2500S (66MB RAM, SMP-K, P-Ram, All Roms)
AKAI S1000PB (26MB RAM, SCSI)
Clavia Nord Modular
ensoniq SQ80
E-MU UltraProteus
Roland JV1080
Roland M-OC1 Orchestra Module
Roland M-SE1 String ensemble Module
KORG 01R/W
KORG Wavestation A/D
Waldorf PPG Wave 2.v (virtual wavetable synth)
Waldorf Attack (virtual percussion synth)
reFX QuadraSID (virtual SID synth)
reFX TBL (virtual bassline synth)
rgcAUDIO Square I (virtual synth)
Native Instruments Pro 52 (virtual synth)
MAZ-Sound Vsampler (virtual sampler)
G-media M-Tron (virtual Mellotron)
Propellerheads Rebirth (virtual synth & drum-machine)

Mixing:
-------
YAMAHA 02R Digital recording console (40 Channel version)
ensoniq DP/4
Lexicon LXP1
BOSS SE-70
dbx Project 1 Microphone Processor 286
Cubase VST Mixer
lot's of plug-ins for VST and DirectX

Recording & Periphery:
----------------------
DAT SONY DTC 57-ES
CD AIWA XC-500
Surround Amplifier Yamaha DSP A2070
Mackie HR824 Studio monitors * 5 (for surround mixing)
SONY Headphone MDR-7506
SONY Headphone MDR-CD 270

Computer, Periphery & Software:
-------------------------------
Notebook IBM Thinkpad T21, P3-850, 384mb Ram, 32 gig HD, USB Midi, Win98
PC AMD Athlon 700, 256MB, SCSI 20 Gig, 32xCD/8xDVD, Win98
Egosys Wami-box PCMCIA Audio interface
external SCSI-Minitower w. 640 MOD & 4xCD (for the Kurzweil)
TripleDAT Harddiskrecording, Cubase VST5/32, Wavelab, Soundforge
Soundblaster Live
Opcode 8Port/SE Midi-interface (8 individual INs&OUTs)

If there was one tune you wish you could claim as your own, what would it be and why?

No idea.

If you could turn back the clock would there be anything you would change?

Maybe there are some things that I would have done different, but who
knows how my life would have developed then. Maybe I did everything
right and doing something different would have had worse
consequences... it's very fictional.

Has there been a remix or a cover from one of your tunes that has impressed you?

There is a nice Katakis megamix from g2 and an impressive Turrican 2 Title
remix/cover from Nebularia. I like them so much that I featured them
on my mp3.com page (www.mp3.com/huelsbeck) and on my new album in the mix.

How did you become part of the Back In Time CD?

Chris Abbott contacted me a long time ago and told me about his
project and I first thought he is one of those people who talk alot but
don't do anything further. But he did it and it became a really nice
product.

Do you follow the c64 Remix scene at all?

A little bit, but I don't have the time to check out everything.

Do you think that C64 music can make a real impact commercially?

I don't think it will go mainstream, but now and then there will be
quite successful tunes with C64 music elements. It's just an
outstanding and unique sound.

Lastly, What would you like to say to the C64 community?

Keep it rolling!  :-)


Crikey, not only does Chris still amaze us with his great tunes. But just look at that equipment. I doubt i've interview many that even come close to owning as much as Chris. End of the day of course talent rules extreme, and Chris has that in abundance.

- Neil

Interview date: 18.06.2001