An Interview with Holger Gehrmann

by Neil Carr

Holger jointly founded RE-LINE where Holger became the musician. These days however he tends not to compose as much. Though you can still hear is work on BIING.

Real name: Holger Gehrmann
Born: 1968
Nationality: German

What other c64 composers did you like?

There are too many to list. I guess Rob Hubbard was the first one who had a constant quality and used features of the SID (e.g. ring modulation) that most others didn't at this point of time.

Holger Gehrmann
What sids did you like?

Besides the classics Commando, Gyruss etc. I liked Floating Point Action, a song only a hardcore programmer can compose (same as the name of it).

Why did you start writing music on the c64?

Hmm, funny question since I even wrote music for the old VIC 20... 😊

What were your likes/dislikes regarding the sid chip?

I loved the filter and the ability to change the aspects of the square wave form. The SID could have had more channels, and sometimes short attack and decay times caused strange internal timing conflicts, I have no idea why. What I disliked most was that they changed the filter algorhythm. Composers want their songs to sound exactly the same on all systems.

What would you consider to be your best composition?

Maybe Hollywood Poker.

What are your fondest memories of the c64?

When I look at my PC running Windows I really miss the short booting time the C-64 had. 😊 I think at the time when the C-64 was on the market, programmers did anything to push its hardware to the limits. In fact it's amazing to see a multi layer scrolling game with 32 sprites or more on a machine that is based on a 256 character set and 8 sprite channels. And for some reason one memory is about punching a second read/write hole in the 5 1/4" disk covers so that you can store data on the other side too.

How did you become part of reLINE?

I founded it together with a friend after I already made some games with him before (e.g. for Golden Games). He did the graphics, I did the programming (and the music). Same at reLINE.

Do you still compose music ?

Rarely. In the last years I composed some CD audio tracks, e.g. for BIING!, but mostly for myself.

What role do you have now at reLINE, and what does this entail?

I mainly program user interfaces, script languages and run time optimized subroutines. Lately I started with DirectX and Direct3D. I also do quality assurance jobs for companies that sell professional applications that are not game related.

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

Karsten Obarski composed some great songs for the Amiga that I converted to the C-64, e.g. the Oil Imperium soundtrack. I also loved his Centerbase soundtrack that I made a CD audio version of. I think they were milestones.

While listening to your sids I spot a resemblance to some early sid music by Chris Huelsbeck, would you agree with that?

In a way. Chris and I seem to have a similar taste about music. I love some of his pieces, but when I composed on the C-64 I didn't know him. We got in contact much later when the Amiga was released. He composed for Rainbow Arts, and they had the same publisher as we had.

How different is it composing on modern instruments as compaired to the sid chip?

It's a big difference to use samples instead of analogue sounds. So it was a bigger step from the C-64 to the Amiga than from the Amiga to synthesizers.

Have you ever wondered what your sids would be like, if they was composed on real instruments?

Yes, but it's still the composition that counts. Even the old great James Bond soundtracks written by John Barry would sound great on simple sound chips. I tried that by making a remix of the JB theme on the Adlib-chip and Amiga/Soundblaster in Dynatech. You can't reproduce the atmosphere a real orchestra creates, but it still sounded great. He is just a good composer.

How do you feel music in games has progressed since the c64?

Nowadays people who buy a game expect a movie soundtrack, not just some nice little songs. Today you can play MP3s in real time, so why should anyone compose 3 channel analogue songs? I think it's OK this way. When you buy a car racing game you want to see realistic 3D graphics that would have been impossible 10 years ago. And you want state of the art sound too. Looking back on the old times of music is nice for old guys like me, but the kids want other stuff.

An arranger named Plough has arranged two of your tunes, have you heard them, if so what do you think of them?

I haven't heard them yet. After reading your question I made a quick search and tried to download a remixed Top Secret soundtrack made by him, but for some reason it didn't work. Maybe you could email them to me.

How do you feel about people remixing your old sids?

For me it's an honour to see that people like my compositions and take the time to make remixes.

Do you have any interest in the c64 scene at all?

When I have time I surf the web and download SID collections or remixed MP3s of old songs. Sometimes I download some old games too, but to tell you the truth, when I see them now I am kind of disappointed since they looked so much better in my memories.

Have you worked on any other formats other than the c64, if so what was your favourite and least favourite formats?

I always created my own sound formats, and I never used any common sound formats at all. On the VIC 20 I wrote just simple BASIC programs to play music stored in DATA lines, on the C-64 I made Soundcontrol and a sound programming language called SOPROL which I also used on the Atari ST. The Amiga version of SOPROL was used in early games like Hollywood Poker and Space Port, and the Amiga-Soundcontrol which allowed similar macros like Chris Hülsbeck's TFMX was used till BIING!. On the PC I wrote players for the Tandy and Adlib sound chips, later on for Soundblaster and General Midi cards. My least favorite one was the Tandy sound chip since it really sucks. It's like a 3 channel PC speaker...

Lastly, What would you like to say to our readers?

Thanks for reading. 😊

I'd have to agree with Holger about the Hollywood Poker tune being is best, though i still have fond memories of Top Secret.

- Neil

Interview date: 01.08.2001