An Interview with Martin Galway

by Claudio Sánchez

Hello, I'm Claudio Sánchez, member of the forum of Lemon641, a site
dedicated to the Commodore 64, one of the most known computers in Europe and USA in the eighties. Also, webmaster of The C64 Inventory2, a site with the goal of having an inventory of all existing C64s around the world. In both places you will find me as "Tokafondo".

Here we have an interview with a C64 music legend, Martin Galway. He is one of the most known music composers for that machine. His work is seen in many games for that machine, and today in modern PC games like some titles of the Wing Commander series. Today he is working for "Digital Anvil", a company that has a deal with Microsoft for producing games under that company's seal. After reading a lot of them available in many sites, and seeing that most of them have the same questions, I tried to have a different approach to the life and work of this man, whose name is one of the first that arises when people talk about C64 music.

Real name: Martin Galway
Nationality: British

Martin Galway
Do you remember what did you want to be when adult, when you were a child? (policeman, fireman, medic...)

There were only two on my list - an engineer in a recording studio, commanding a big mixing console, or flying a fighter plane for the R.A.F.. I forgot about them once I got into computers. Oddly enough my job now involves commanding a big mixing console some of the time, so I almost got my wish. If only I could weave in flying a jet plane, things'll be perfect.

Martin, as seen before, you started composing music for the BBC micro computer. Did you have a previous music experience as playing piano or other musical instrument before programming music for computers?

I played piano, that's about it.

Which is a better statement and why?

  • I liked computers and I became music composer because it was easy to create music there and that brought out my music vocation.
  • I liked music and I choosed the computer as music instrument because of its posibilities and ease of music creation.
  • Music creation and computer programming came out togheter and one thing without the other is not possible.

The first one is the closest. When I got into computers, I never thought that music or audio would be involved, it was a very mathematical sort of thing. However once I noticed you could do that stuff, I gravitated towards it faster than anyone else around me, simply due to my musical background. After a while, that was all I was doing!!!

You have worked in several areas: as music composer, as sound investigator, as sound creator, all of them part of the sound & fx work. Which of them do you feel most identified with? Which of them do you think it is the heart of your labour?

Most identified with? I suppose, out of the small section of the populace that have heard of me, they're most familiar with my 80's work. I have of course produced nearly 15 years of work since stopping Commodore 64 projects, but I'd usually sought to keep myself out of the public eye, despite working on a lot of big, memorable games during that time.

But once you stopped working on the C64, and that way in on the SID, you had to get new sounds or recreate music instruments on the new platforms, along with composing music. If you had to choose one of these areas (music composer, sound investigator, sound creator) which one would you get??

Sound investigator - figuring out new ways to make better sound. Interactive music & recording actors for digital speech were all tasks I worked on in 1991 for example.

Did any of your tunes came just from certain sound you developed? (i.a.w.: You found a new and exciting sound and you said: I HAVE to create a music for this sound.)

The Miami Vice on the streets tune was more of a sound design exercise than a composition. The very end of the Parallax title screen tune was really a crazy experiment that I knew I had to wrap up somehow (and I managed to, I guess) How 'bout that? Everything else that comes to mind was really music in my head that I implemented on the computer. I never really did too much sound experimentation by itself - without creating music at the same time, that is.

I've seen in some interviews that you came into that experiment after being boring on what to do with the music in that point just before the silly melody. But if you say to a C64 gamer tell me a tune of Martin Galway, it's for sure that he/she will answer: Parallax. This is another case of the work of someone which is not very happy with it but everybody thinks it's a masterpiece. Have you ever tried to refinish or rework this (Parallax) or any other work of you, some time or years later, with new inspiration? (Tubular Bells I,II,III ... of Mike Oldfield, Oxygene 7-13 of Jean-Michel Jarre comes to my mind now).

Hmmm, a couple that come to mind include the Streethawk tune, of which a complete version was done in 1985, and then that was augmented with new music and driver features in 1987. You'll perhaps hear the difference between the older and newer tunes some time this year. Also, I added the digital drums from Game Over to the Arkanoid title screen tune, after both of those were released. The latter had a mix of digital drums and the synthesised rhythm sounds. No-one's ever heard it except me. Perhaps it will come to light some day.

Do you consider that you got from SID all that is possible to get from it?

No, I would have wanted to do more sample playback work, which was really my answer for a rhythm department (I was never any good at using the SID for drums like Mr. Hubbard)

Do you think that you found anything in the SID that you believe original designers didn't knew they put in?

Well sure, the sampling, though I didn't find it, strictly speaking, I analysed other software and saw what it was doing. I did determine a way to apply a volume control to a voice using pulse-width modulation, which I typically used to emulate the effect of applying an LFO to the volume of a sound on professional synthesisers. This sound is heard in the walking around and game over tunes in Parallax, and in the never-released Streethawk title screen tune. That was a genuine discovery I suppose!!!

Does any of the sounds/effects you created rely on bugs of the SID design?

The discovery I mentioned above is probably something the designer would call a bug, unless the fact that it's not mentioned in the manual means it's an undocumented feature. All the other bugs of the SID were hassles for me, not things I relied on!!!

It seems by your work that you really liked to work with the SID. Did any of the later sound systems/computers you worked with made you feel so comfortable like SID did?

I liked the Amiga and played around on it quite a lot, but didn't get into it enough to reach professional, commercial standard. But the SID has the most personality of any system I've worked with. I looked at the Atari ST but never finished the driver program (Parallax was under conversion for it at one time). I knew how the AY8912 sounded because it was also in the Amstrad CPC464. Pretty plain-sounding, in fact downright crusty at times. The BBC probably falls off your range of systems since it came out a little earlier I think - but its TI SN76489 was sort of a little cheerful chip that wanted to be cool, but would never reach the fat quality of the SID. I liked working on it primarily because it was my school's system that I learned on.

Do you think you control and take the power out of any of the modern sound/systems computers like you did with the SID?

Not at all, since I'm not doing the programming. Modern game development is basically a fight with the project producer for audio programming time. Usually there is no sound programmer on staff and the ones doing it have very little passion for it. On the PC, you are working with Windows 98/XP-type stuff and DirectSound, which has a very low quality of audio output - choppy, high CPU usage, etc., etc.. I may move to XBOX work soon, whose sound stuff is definitely more enjoyable (though I still won't be doing any programming)

In all the games, you had to deal with the graphics and code the available memory of a machine to produce the music and sound effects. Did you created any time at least for personal interest a tune with all the memory available, to see what it happens?

Sort of... at one time I tried to create compilations of tunes where there was one player and lots of game tunes all loaded at once. I kept coming up against tweaks that I'd made in different games, that meant that one player was very slightly incompatible with each new tune. Never really finished fixing it all up. But I frequently thought about a 64K SID tune and how long it could be!!!

Vangelis, the famous greek composer and musician, seems to not to like the modern sound technology because it limits the creativity of the composer, instead of giving the freedom of innovate with sound. With all your experience with controlling the SID as you did, do you agree with Vangelis affirmation?

Oh yeah, me and Vangelis, we're like that... (showing fingers tightly crossed together  :-) He sure uses a lot of synthesisers for someone that doesn't like the modern sound!!! Or unless you're talking about modern synths v. older synths - well, what you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts. If you want to stick with older synths in order to keep control, you'll have a smaller palette of sounds to work with. If you use the newer synths, with all their presets, you get a wider palette of sounds (because you can still use the older sounds as well) but you end up with sounds on your album that other regular bands are also using on their albums, so you lose some individuality. I begun to think this when he released his Direct album, which has a very digital, un-individual feel about it. Compare this with albums like China, Soil Festivities and Mask (and his Blade Runner soundtrack) and you'll hear a smaller range of sounds, but the music is partly borne out of the sounds themselves, and thus is more individual because of that.

Now I will go with some questions about your present work. Do you think you have the edge on your buddies not only for being almost 20 years on the bussines but also for have worked with the Commodore 64 and the SID?

The edge? Sure, I've got THAT edge. But I don't get to use THAT edge very much  :-) There are plenty of very talented staff in the business with a lot less experience than me. The one thing that counts these days is keeping a level head during crunch times. When you can ruin profits on a game that has cost $20,000,000 all by yourself (by delaying the release date, typically), it takes a lot of willpower to keep your sanity. Years of experience helps with this immensely.

Have you tried to get a SID specific sound, at least with sampling, for any of your works for the PC, SNES, Gameboy or others?

I used the fast arpeggiation technique (which I would say I invented, but it seems like such an obvious thing to do that calling it an invention seems like overkill) on the SNES and Game Boy, as I recall.

Is there anything you haven't found in modern sound systems and the SID has?

Well, it's a digitally controlled analogue synthesiser built right into the computer... and there aren't any of those these days. But realistically, at some point you have to stop comparing the SID with modern machines, because modern machines are all playing compact-disc-quality streamed digital audio!!! Sounds a helluva lot better than the SID and you can put any number of synths into the soundtrack that you want.

What do you think what job you would be doing today (related to music or not) if you hadn't shown that demos to Ocean and that way you didn't got into computer music world?

And assuming I hadn't continued trying to get into computer game development any OTHER way... I have absolutely NO idea what I would be doing now. My previous plan was to go to Salford University and get a degree in computer science, with which I would probably have gotten some boring computer job. I would have still been eye-ing the music recording world, or flying planes. It's hard to tell. So many things in life happen by co-incidence, and often due to the actions of others, not your own.

What can we expect of your labour in Freelancer, your current project at Digital Anvil? I mean: will we hear say from you: This is the best sound / music I ever created, or something like that?

Since sending me these questions3, Freelancer has been released, and I have already said that it contains the best sound of any project I've ever put out. (like all projects, some parts of it stink - don't get me wrong - but the rest of it is damn cool) The music narrowly beats out Conquest which was my previous favourite. The sound-effects are great, and the game has an early attempt at mixer AI which is the next unconquered frontier in computer game audio. You'll hear a lot about mixer AI in the coming years.

Please, if that is not a company secret, tell me a bit more about mixer AI.

Fundamentally the only thing that is affected by Mixer AI is the volume of elements in the mix - sound-effects, music, dialogue. Each is usually set at one level and left to play at that level from then on, unless, say, all three are fading out or fading in. Varying these individual elements beyond their fixed, set relationships gives you a very emotional jab - it's done all the time in movies. Finally it will control the range of volumes across the whole mix. Currently a game that is thrilling to play at home on big loudspeakers is usually too difficult to hear at your office with the volume turned down - the quiet bits are too quiet to hear. Mixer AI will balance out the volume differences, so that all moments in the game (the bits that would have been louder, and the bits that would have been quieter) are easy to hear when you've turned down the main volume of your speakers. (when this feature is in operation, typically you would not turn the volume UP as everything would be very loud then!)

I've readen that your little boy likes to dance some remixes of your own music. Do you think he will continue your work? Would you like it happen?

Hmm... can't quite figure that out yet. It's always nice to think about one's offspring doing the same thing as you, and the way things are going with games, anything to do with game audio seems like a decent career.

How do you see yourself in another 20 years?

Well, I'll be 57. (oh my GOD!!!) Hopefully retired...

Now a question from Gaz, a Lemon64 forum buddy: Could you do me a favour and ask him if he will ever find his Street Hawk music and release it.

I can say with great confidence that it will be released in 2003, and you will get to hear it.

And finally a last question for this interview. If someone, professional or amateur, ask you for collaboration with music and/or sound, no matter how little it could be, with an emerging C64 game, would you help him?

I help lots of people all the time, it all depends upon how much time I've got. With regards to the actual composition, I haven't done too much collaboration, but it would be fun. I used to imagine a scenario where the big C64 composers would collaborate on a tune, with each composer supplying one of the three channels and drum track. Or, perhaps each composer would supply whole sections of the tune. Somehow working it out, anyway, to where all the composers were featured - that would be the goal.

Well. Thanks for you answering these questions. I hope your career will go better and better with the time and you will not to fall in "dark ages" like you were some time ago. Claudio Sánchez __________________________ 1 2 3 October, 2002 - CS

Interview date: 10.07.2003