An Interview with Martin Galway

by Neil Carr

I like the quote from Chris Abbott when he said Martin could make the sid chip sing. His unqiue style and sounds made him one of the most respected musicians of that period. His work includes: Parallax, Wizball, and the famous ocean loader just to name a tiny selection.

Real name: Martin Galway
Born:3rd January 1966
Nationality: British

Which other C64 Composers did you like?

Rob Hubbard & Fred Gray.

Martin Galway
What C64 tune are you most proud of?

Don’t know offhand, no one tune sticks out from the rest with superior qualities that the others don’t have. There are quite a few that I’m fond off for one reason or another but that also have weaknesses that I’m not happy about. For example the Wizball title screen tune has a great sound but doesn’t last long enough. I think that’s the biggest trait of all my tunes that I’d like to improve – their length. The Arkanoid title screen tune needed better drums of course but had a great heavy quality to it. The Short Circuit title screen tune was probably my most accurate pop cover. It took 4 weeks to put in the data. The Street Hawk title screen music (an adaptation of Tangerine Dream’s TV show theme) (and not heard by many since the game was cancelled) has quite a few nice sonic textures, as the various types of SID sounds are exploited together. So… it’s a mixed bag of an answer, I’m afraid.

What other C64 tunes did you like?

You mean by other composers? I didn’t hear too many of everyone else’s stuff, I was usually busy working. I liked Thing On A Spring, Monty On The Run & Commando (the latter not being a sonically true copy of the original, but a completely different funky arrangement which I thought was a very efficient way to solve the problem and get bang for the buck) – I also like Jeroen’s Cybernoid 2 theme tune. Fred’s Bounces music. I didn’t like Peter’s music much at Ocean, but now I’ve been re-listening to some of those old tunes (now regarded as classics) I reckon I like the Tai Pan pieces, they were pretty inventive and had good arrangements.

Is there a SID tune that wasn’t your own that you would have liked to have composed yourself?

Absolutely, they’re usually Rob’s!!! But I suppose I was simply wanting ot use his program to get all that percussion. I wouldn’t have minded having a go with his software and doing music in my style with his percussion. Perhaps we should have swapped drivers for a game just to see what we could have come up with. Or perhaps, collaborated on the same tune, each other’s driver contributing simultaneously (heavily pounding the poor ol’ SID chip, I’d assume)

Is there a Remix of one of your tunes that has really impressed you?

The Instant Remedy Comic Bakery and the Wizball – Catellite Lives are two that I’ve been playing a lot recently. My lifttle boy loves to dance to the first abovementioned. It’s amazing how differently these tunes can come out.

Chris Abbott has worked with Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Mark Cooksey amongst others will you ever be contributing to the Back In Time CD’s at some point?

Not bloody likely! Just kidding. I don’t know if I’ll ever contribute, I’m not in a musical equipment frame-of-mind these days… it would require a lot of my time to become comfortable with my gear first, before I could really start working musically again. I do have ideas about how the old tunes could be re-iterated and/or expanded, and in many cases there’s a lot of sound design involved, which may be a reflection fo the amount of time I’ve spent studying film sound & music, and game sound-effects.

What are your thoughts about the Bitlive Event?

I say good luck to them. What do you want me to think? Your question’s a bit vague. I suppose it has not really clicked with me how big the whole C64 revival thing is. Once it is on the BBC then I’ll believe it. Like, if I see Rob standing behind a C128 on Top Of The Pops, banging away on the keys like it’s some sort of instrument as the sync track plays… looking like JMJ on some weird worldly location concert… then I’ll believe it.😉

The C64 music scene is still alive after so many years. Why do you think this is?

Well you gotta admit those tunes are catchy. Catchy tunes will prevail. Modern game music is too obsessed with being like a film… meaning something really heavy all the time. There ought to be a game or two where the music is playing just for the heck of it, just for cool music’s sake. The C64 game era had a lot of music like that.

How do you feel about your music being re-made with modern day sounds?

I’m fine with it. Going hand-in-hand with those re-makings is the expansion & lengthening of some of the tunes. I don’t agree with all of the expansions I’ve heard but now and again one will play that really mirrors what I would probably have done. Jogeir did a couple like that. Now and again, I hear a tune that is, sadly, nothing but a load of shite, and the cover-person will just have to learn to do it a bit more.

You are considered by many as a hero. How does this make you feel?

Well sure, it is a good feeling. I don’t think there are any folks out there that revere me the same way that rock stars are revered. Hopefully anyway. The bubble would burst quite quickly if they got to meet me. I’m just a normal guy who was in the right place at the right time back in 1984.

What exactly do you do at Magic Anvil?

I’m the Audio Lead on a PC game called Freelancer. It’s about a Han Solo-type character who can wander about space having battles and taking cargo from planet to planet. He can custom-improve his ship as he goes. Pretty much a day in the life of Han Solo type of thing. Mix that with a Dune-like political landscape within the universe you’re flying around, and you get the idea. My job is to acquire all the sound in the game, and to make sure it’s top-notch quality. So instead of creating all the audio, I merely tell other creative individuals what to do. This is not a climb-down from my days in the 80’s… there is simply much work to do for one person to contribute all forms of creative audio content (not to mention the voices of actors, which of course, I can’t perform myself). So I’m at the top of Freelancer’s audio creative tree, so to speak.

Microsoft isn’t a popular company. Does this bother you?

They’re pretty popular with me, since they drop a fat wad o’ cash into my bank account every 14 days! You must be talking about unpopular with someone else. Yes I know they have their fair share of detractors, and I find myself cursing their software all through the day, but they are #1 because of superior products and sound business strategy, which any other company would do if given the chance.

Will we ever here another tune from Martin Galway, in whatever form, be it a new composition or a re-arrangement?

As mentioned above, there are one or two unreleased Martin Galway tunes… the cancelled Street Hawk and rejected Microprose Soccer loading music come to mind. (the latter was a cover of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Fanfare For The Common Man – a cover of a cover, if you will). I do plan to create original music some time in the future. It‘ll sound more like film music I think. Less plinky-plonky, blippy-bloppy-catchy. Can’t say when though.

There has been a little commercial activity with the c64 music, ie. Zombie Nation. Do you think that c64 music can make a breakthrough in the commercial world?

Absolutely, though it would have to be heavily modified, as with Zombie Nation. There’s no way that original C64 music will be featured on Top Of The Pops. (famous last words?)

Your music on the c64 was unique when comparing to other composers, did you purposely try to be different, or was it quite by chance?

I wasn’t trying to be different from the rest, because frankly, I was one of the earliest composers! I tried to exploit different features of the SID chip first, and this helped paste over cracks in my composing abilities. I had no problem presenting a lot of my music with a sound design bent, rather than a percussive, dance-able feel, as I have always liked analogue synthesisers, and enjoyed stretching the SID to its utmost.

You did many covers on the C64. Did you prefer to do covers or original arrangements?

About equal in preference. Some covers I didn’t particularly like the original tune(s) – for example the Short Circuit music. And often, when asked to create original music, I just couldn’t think of anything - or if I did, I ran out of juice quite quickly (Wizball title screen music, Insects In Space title screen music to name two).

Chris Abbott in his interview said Rob Hubbard brought and entire orchestra to the c64, but Martin Galway made the SID chip sing. How would you describe your music style?

Hmmm, I suppose I allowed the SID to show how beautiful, flowing and smooth it's tones could be, like the gown of a lost princess, floating through a fog-laden forest in slow motion (heavy analogy there!).

Was there a c64 tune, that you wished you could have arranged better?

Lots of them had inadequacies. Let’s see… well, not to name names, I suppose most of my problems lay with the lack of polyphony and lack of development time – ie., I could have done better tunes if I’d had a chance to fiddle with them more. Most were pushed out the door as soon as they were typed in with no chance to sit back and ponder them.

What were your likes/dislikes about the Sid Chip?

1) The filter of course. I met Hal Charpentier once when he was visiting Origin Systems on behalf of Ensoniq, and, straining to remember 1982… he recalled that while he was not the one working on the sound chip (that was Bob Yannes – but I was still on my knees with humility since Hal had helped create the 6502 while at Mostek before Commodore!), they had hardly any time to work on that part of the SID, and they thought that they were adding such esoteric capabilities - in the name of a long feature list for Jack Tramiel - that no-one would ever use all those things to the fullest, so they never debugged them. (Well as we know now, BOY were they wrong)
2) Certain ADSR settings totally screw up and play too early – as I recalled it was with long attacks and long decays. The key-on/key-off circuitry had a problem, evidently. I called it the school band effect and simply had to stay away from certain ADSR settings, which was a drag sometimes on original works.
3) I liked the feeling that I had never exploited every possible thing about the SID. I’d just have to keep going and improving. As it happened, I ended up getting burned out and resigned, disillusioned.

Did you design any other music on a different format?

I did some Amiga music in 1990 which never made it into any games. I also did some work on the PC (Strike Commander and Wing Commander 2) and some Game Boy, NES and SNES games while at Origin.

Mostly when I loaded a c64 game that had one of your arrangements, my jaw dropped. Did you purposely try to get that effect when composing your music?

I wasn’t setting out to make people’s jaws drop, but I guess, something similar… I wanted to simply create sounds that hadn’t been heard before. For example the very beginning of the title screen music on Rambo: First Blood Part Two.

Later the introduction of samples came into many and some of your work e.g. Arkanoid. Did you think that this added a little extra something, or did it just detract from the main tune itself?

Of course, it added a lot. I wished I’d had access to some sampler equipment, and indeed a little (or any) knowledge of sampling theory. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been pasting the opposition all over the place. As it was, my samples sounded like farts and burps.

Is there a Martin Galway tune that hasn’t yet been covered that you would like someone to remix?

Well I don’t know which ones haven’t been covered! You’d have to give me the list.

How do you feel about the current state of music in modern PC games?

Complicated. It is on new frontiers, with the extremely high quality of pre-mixed music thanks to tools such as the Gigasampler, and also with sliced-up digital clips and other attempts at interactivity e.g. Imuse, Direct Music, EA’s Pathfinder, etc. However, marring music in games is the massive ignorance by development team heads, who seem to low-ball the amount of programming time (one of the most expensive resources in game development) given to sound and music. This leaves a whole load of creative data-makers sitting around with product that the computer can’t play, or plays badly. Sounds like a job for someone who can create the audio AND do the programming… what a concept!!😉

What are your fondest memories of the C64?

Listening to my own music over and over like a vain bastard.

Jeff Minter, Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, David Whittaker
Why did you leave Ocean for Origin?

I left Ocean because I had been working too hard for too little money, and even though they offered me a big pay raise to stay, the damage had already been done. The offices stunk and never got a proper cleaning, had no A/C (and were way too hot to work in during the summer), and I guess their overall management techniques were as much in a state of infancy as the output of the rest of the staff, i.e., the games. Sensible Software came and went next, and then Origin offered me a job so I said fine by me!

Is there a Martin Galway tune that many may not have heard – possibly because a game was never released?

Yes, as I said, Street Hawk. Only a cassette of that music ever saw the light of day. The code itself is buried inside my Atari ST development system and, floppy demagnetism notwithstanding, should become a proper recording and a .SID file at some point in the future.

What in your opinion should a remix sound like to give the original tune some justice?

I have no idea how to answer that. The cover artist has to have some creative influences of his own to bring to the table. He has to be a competent musician with decent equipment in order to avoid the amateur hobbyist sound. I suppose, the cover artist should showcase his selected elements from the original music in such a way as to allow his contribution and skills to be obvious. If he simply does a copy, there is not that much creativity, or point!

Finally what do you like/dislike about the current c64 remix scene?

Well, I don’t know that much about the current scene. I suppose… the radio show in California just stopped. There isn’t enough drive space to house everyone’s MP3s. Original copyright holders are not being consulted when their works (stretching to include arrangements of arrangements) are being are being published on the web for free download. (getting into the whole Napster thing there, which I hope everyone reading this understands is a pretty obvious case of mass copyright violation… but that’s another discussion)

Martin has plans to make music again oneday. But when, well even Martin doesn't know. For me i will never forget the jaw dropping hollowness to his music towards the end of some pieces, Namely Comic Bakery and others.

- Neil

Interview date: 28.03.2001