A week in the life of a High Voltage SID Collector
This article originally appeared in issue 18 of News Press disk magazine in 1998, and has been re-published with Warren's author permission.
Hello there, I am Warren Pilkington (Waz of Zaw Productions) and member of the High Voltage SID Collection (HVSC) team. In this diary I will take you behind the scenes of what goes on with the HVSC team, and just how much fun you can have ripping SID music! The team are as follows:
The Shark (Ben Daglish’s #1 fan), Jan Diabelez Arnt Harries (Rambones/TST and now Flash Inc) - the two main administrators, and the rest: Adam Lorentzon (Windows Sidplay additional programming), Andreas Varga (mr.sid and Mac Sidplay additional programming), Darren Hagan (Bod/Talent), Gabriele Priarone (Solknight and Amiga music collector), Inge Pedersen (proficient Amiga ripper and PlaySID compatibility checker), Kristoffer Johansson (KJ - proficient in digi music conversion), LaLa (also SID Tune Information List (STIL) administrator), Michael Schwendt (Sidplay inventor, and therefore genius), Wilfred Bos (another proficient ripper) and me. There are also people who help out in other ways, mainly Laust Brock-Nannestad (STIL HTML converter and lots of STIL entries) and Chris Abbott (C64 historical info and bringing C64 music to CD!)
Monday 16 February
Gabriele has replied to my recent rip pack I sent yesterday, as he has known Allister Brimble for some time and may be able to get him to verify tunes. As well as the music from Spellbound Dizzy, there are various other games that I think he may have composed music for, so I compile a list of unknowns and let him have them. As an incentive to him, I recall that we only need one or two of his tunes confirming to have the magic five required for his own directory.
I also dig out my cassette original of Ancipital, and have a go at ripping the loader tune. It is a pain, due to the music routine being part of the tape loader. After a couple of hours, I eventually get it right: I have to actually work out all three voices’ pulse width, attack, sustain, decay, release and waveform values. Not a nice job. I take things easy and extract Dave Kelly’s music from Dragon Spirit (while simultaneously wearing ear plugs), and also the three tunes from News Press #17. The Commando remix by Agemixer simply has to be done, it is such a nice tune. I also tracked down Triad’s ‘The Unbits’ demo and rip three tunes by Kravin in there. Add another couple of rips I do, and I have a nice pack ready to send out. As well as sending this out to the people on the internal HVSC binary list, I also send the Triad tunes to King Fisher of Triad so he can place them on the Triad page.
Tuesday 17 February
I receive a single rip from Gabriele, which is the ingame music from Electronic Arts/Interplay’s game Neuromancer. He mentions in his text message that the digi intro tune is not rippable because of his size - well, that is the gauntlet truly laid. I spend four hours in total ripping the digi intro tune from this. The tune itself does not run under interrupt, so to convert it I am going to have to count the number of interrupts each sample plays, and get the timing in synch for the next one. Oh, and also make sure that the sample actually plays at the right speed too. I keep tweaking the rip until it sounds right and play it back against a real C64 to ensure it is as accurate as possible. With that done, time to sift through my demo collection and see what tunes lie around unripped. I go all the way through ‘Act Now’, the Anti-Nazi demo released at The Party IV, and locate several tunes. As they are standard init $1000 play $1003 tunes, they don’t take very long. Going through Oxyron’s ‘4 Years’ demo also locates some tunes by Fuben of Oxyron which need a rip, including ‘Gavelion’ one of my current favourites. Add to that a couple of music competition entries I find on an old disk, and I have another 13 tunes (lucky for me?) extracted.
Andreas also sends in some fixed digi tunes by JCH that he has been working on. Thankfully, they sound okay to me but I can see a debate ensuing from this, as Andreas had already thought these had been fixed… I’ll see what mails come in.
The Shark has also found one or two rips of mine which accidentally duplicate tunes already in HVSC. As he has been so kind to detail which ones, I can then cross check and reply with an explanation as to how those came about. I think one of them was due to myself and Adam ripping two different sources where the same tune appears (the intro one from Cool Croc Twins)..
Wednesday 18 February
I spend some time today on credit fixes. I feel it important to make sure that HVSC has accurate credits wherever possible and that they reflect the current rules. For the musicians that I am tackling in the \VARIOUS directory, it is a case of making sure their real name (then handle) are credited for author, the copyright year is correct, and indeed that the composer wrote the tune. So, I sift through all the directories from TBB all the way to Wuiti. What made my life easier was that The Shark told me of a dir command you could do which would output the filenames to a text file. With this in place, I can then just add the fixes I need to the standard he requires for the update data files. For those of you who are interested, the updatexx.hvs files in the DOCUMENTS directory is the standard to follow.
Jan also informs me that he received the latest binary from me. Due to his existing ISP’s server, he doesn’t always get them, but he wants to ask me about those Fuben tunes that I ripped. He seems to think Fuben and PRI are the same, but I inform him they are not. Some of the parts from Oxyron’s ‘4 Years’ demo were coded by Fuben with music by PRI, and the most likely answer is that they both have access to the same player. I think Jan will be changing ISP soon though, cos it isn’t just me who has problems sending him stuff.
I also spent some time preparing the HTML version of the Zaw Productions guide (a little bit of history on my tunes) which was easier than I thought. I just cut and pasted the original Word text into Netscape Composer, added some links, and a small JPEG image (part of a Rollins Band live pic, just a square of various grey shades as background) and it looked nice. Laust (one of the SID Tune Information List - STIL crew) is kindly putting it up on his HTML version of the STIL page, which is very good of him to do so.
Inge also praises me for my rip of Neuromancer, but queries whether I actually resampled the samples, as they were 2-bit to start with. Well, when I ripped it I played the samples at 4 bit which sounded fine, but also reminded him that you could play 2-bit samples in Sidplay anyway. I also explain the conversion process regarding the number of interrupts I had to count, too.
Thursday 19 February
Surprise, surprise! Jan has sent a mail informing everyone of his new e-mail address (am I psychic?) and as I suspected, he has changed ISP. It’ll be interesting to see if he receives my binaries now.. Jan also wants me to re-send my ‘Ode to Rambones’ tune that I did for him a while back (it was a birthday present) so I send it to him - it’ll be interesting to hear his thoughts on it, as it covers one of his Amiga tunes.
Jan also sends along a fixed version of a tune in the \DEMOS directory, that was called Superman Remix. It turns out to also be the music to Virgin’s old game, Dan Dare, composed by none other than Bogg! This means this is the second Bogg game tune we have located (the other being Spiky Harold). Rather nice it is too, for an old one.
Gabriele also sends along to me Firebird’s Gothik. He spotted that the original rip of this misses out some in game tunes, so I told him I would re-rip it and send it along to the musician (Gavin Raeburn, still working at Codemasters) so he can check it for me. As I don’t have the game myself, Gabe tracks it down for me to rip. This could be fun trying to work round this… as the initial ‘W-w-welcome-welcome to Gothik’ sample is just one sample restarted at various points, and doesn’t run under interrupt. Time to look at the source I used for Neuromancer.. Gabriele then sends out the music to Chase HQ II - I was going to include it myself in a recent rip pack as we co-ripped it, but I was waiting for Jeroen Tel to ask Charles Deenen if it was his or not (Tel has said it wasn’t his). I wonder if anyone else has any clues, cos the game credits the music to Maniacs of Noise.
Adam also sends along a great rip pack (strange how these things come in waves!) with some tunes by A-Man, Devilock, Flotsam, Lno and The Noise Arts. I quite like A-Man’s work, so spend half an hour listening to those tunes first. There are many reasons I like Adam’s rip packs, but the main ones are that the credits are as accurate and to standard as possible, and they’re bug-free with some nice tunes.
On the ripping front I also send out a new pack - mainly from tunes submitted to Tribute ’94, the game Return of the Lions by Karl Sommer, which has a cover of the Nemesis arcade music hidden away, and a really nice tune by Xayne of Crest from the ‘It’s Coming’ demo. I also spot that whilst ripping Red Devil of Fairlight’s ‘Heavy Tecno’ tune that it should replace an existing tune of his in HVSC, cos the old tune plays at the wrong speed and is far too slow. I am not usually this busy with rip packs, but seemingly going through these old demos this week have found lots of information. As I have had extra time tonight due to the British Sign Language course I am studying not running in half-term, it let me do this.
Friday 20 February
Jan sends a ‘run screen’ music selector which has the Chase HQ II music in it. It turns out to be by Link (his real name of Klaus Grøngaard is credited in the selector) and as this also has the loader music as yet unripped, one Gabriele or I will have to look at doing at some time.
The Shark is, I hope, feeling a little better after his nasty infection. It gave him some time however to check through all the SID music files on his hard drive and run the various tools he uses to check for repeats. He mentions to me there are around 400 Drax tunes (!) still to be added to HVSC, but as a lot of them are unfinished tests of a few seconds he wonders whether to add them, or just add the completed ones. As Drax is busy, he knows realistically he won’t get a response out of him so a common sense decision seems the best option. I mail him back later and suggest adding just the complete ones for now (and I bet there is a lot of those!) along with yet more credit fixes. I finished off all the remaining directories in \VARIOUS that I needed to (he told me to avoid doing Zyron - for now) and then tackled the four \GAMES directories. They were mainly just getting the consistency of credits correct. As I looked through these directories, I also noted that Ashley Hogg and Nigel Grieve have the magic number of 5 tunes required to give them their own main directory, so I also indicate which tunes need to be moved.
Gabriele sends along Threshold’s music demo ‘SIDWaves’, which he is a member of, and I am on the whole very pleased with his music contained in there. I think he will have converted his tunes for Sidplay format also, so this saves me a job. But a job or two is on the horizon.. The Shark has sent me (as I requested) a nice disk which has 100 Compod tunes in it. We both reckon a lot of them are not in HVSC so I will check them and rip them. I also download Reflex’s Brainbeat 1, 2 and 3 music selector demos and running them on my C64 (after a quick bout of disk transferring) brings lots of PVCF tunes not in HVSC either. I am going to have a very busy weekend of ripping, methinks!
Saturday 21 February
Get up early and start work on PVCF’s tunes. A lot of the earlier stuff are straightforward single speed tunes that don’t need modifying, and as they are simple init $1000 play $1003 tunes, they are not a problem. Infact, checking all three demos reveals to me that the extra file names on each disk contain the music data for each of the tunes. So, all I need to do is to copy these from my D64 disk images on the PC to my working C64MUSIC directory, add the header part with the info, and they are converted. That seems easy enough, and in around 20 minutes I have finished them. All bar four or five that need a speed fix.. so I get to work on these also, these are not too bad. However, Bladeswede is the real problem one. It has one call to $1003 and five to $1006 every interrupt, but I tweak it for Sidplay so that the play subroutine plays the tune at 2x speed, calling $1003 first interrupt and the 5x $1006 at the second. After a few experiments with other methods, this seems and sounds to be the best working option. I stop for an hour to watch Knight Rider (what else?) as I miss the old classic TV shows like that.
Now to get flat hunting.. I end up going round various flat agencies and end up with a nice A4 rain forest destroyer of lists. Sadly they are all too expensive. I eventually go into Manchester city centre and nip into Maplin for some 3.5" floppies and then down the road to Empire Exchange (second hand exchange shop) and pick up White Zombie’s ‘Astrocreep 2000’ CD for a mere £4.50, bargain. Something nice and loud to play while ripping is always helpful to keep your mind going, and as this CD has their best track ‘More Human Than Human’ on it, good enough reason to!
Back home, I set to work on the Compod tunes. I am going to scream. As the demo uses an IRQ loader, when I load the tune and freeze the demo with my trusty Action Replay cartridge, I have to switch my disk drive off then on so I can save the tune. Once I restart the demo, I can’t load another tune. So this means I am going to have to load the demo from scratch 100 times to rip all the tunes. Aaaargh. Some four hours later, the task is done (stopping briefly at 4.45pm to check the soccer scores, and luckily my favourite team Manchester City won 3-1 at Swindon Town today) and then I can transfer all the data to the PC. I had to use three disk sides to save all 100 tunes out, a horrendous task. Then, after adding the SID header with the file info, I take a listen. Two of the tunes duplicate what is in HVSC, so they can go. A couple I have to speed fix (they play at quad speed) but apart from that it was okay in the end - 98 new Compod tunes to be added. This already makes around 125-130 new tunes for my new rip pack, definitely my largest ever!
Jan asks me whether I have found out any more information on the Greg Holland saga. You see, I recently found out from a Beam Software employee that Greg Holland was only ever a graphic artist and not a musician, and having checked a few cassette originals, or instructions on Project 64’s website, it turns out that this is true. Although we would love to know who started miscrediting Greg, I feel that I need to ask my contact at Beam for more assistance, so I mail him. As Gregg Barnett was the main programmer for the old Melbourne House games that Beam programmed games, he may be the best source of info and so I ask my contact for any whereabouts information as well as plead for him to try and find some more game instructions with credits if at all possible. However, as Beam have moved offices 3 times in the last 3 years, this could prove VERY unlikely.
I start to work quite late on re-ripping Gothik. It seems easy enough, but the tune init routine is so lame I can’t believe it. It seems the original ripper only bothered to set location $80 to $01 rather than any other values. I try some other values by copying and then modifying the original rip, and I get two extra tunes (one of which Gabriele mentioned to me). Interesting..
Sunday 22 February
I finally finish re-ripping Gothik at 2am this morning. Getting the speech to do what it was supposed to took time and effort, but I am glad I got it right and added it. I send it to Gavin Raeburn when done, so hopefully he will reply sometime next week and confirm that everything is hunky dory. Not time for much sleep sadly, cos it is off to a car boot sale at 9am to try and find some C64 software that people may be selling, which is handy for credits info as well as playing them. Unfortunately, the car boot sale is cancelled (can you believe it?) and so I get home empty handed.
Meanwhile, The Shark has spoken to Reyn Ouwehand on IRC, and managed to prise some more information from him. While we wait patiently for him to verify all his tunes in his directory (I sent him a huge text file a few weeks back) we discover that three of the tunes in the \DEMOS dir are his, mainly ones he did for TRC. Jan also then forwards eleven Laxity tunes which he almost insists should be in the next update, and although they’re hacks of Hubbard’s player, the music is fairly good.
Time to consult my carrier bag full of C64 cassette originals (mainly just the cassette!) that I purchased three months ago to see what tunes need a rip. Going through Mean City means I come across an interesting find - a tune not in the HVSC rip. When I check the rip, it is again the fault of a lazy ripper who only set the LDA to 00 for the init - so the fix thankfully took around five minutes to sort out. I also discover that I have Rolling Thunder, Street Fighter re-release on Kixx (it contains the USA version, so different music to rip from the UK one), and Critical Mass to do. As Critical Mass was requested by a SID fan, I give that the attention first. My ears are hurting after hearing its 20 second cacophany for a while, and Rolling Thunder’s ‘music’ is even worse. I then track down an old disk of music rips I did way back, and find I have Betrayal and Terry’s Big Adventure music on them, so they can be added too. Add a few demo tunes and competition tunes from The Party V and I’ve got my largest rip pack ever - 143 new rips and that Mean City fix. Gulp. Well, as I said recently it was going to be my last rip pack for a bit due to real work pressures, I may as well do it in style...
I end up the week going on IRC and meeting both The Shark and Adam to discuss SID music, and other things. I also involve myself in a discussion with AMJ and Starchild about synths and their uses, and how everyone used Roland TR-303s once Propellerheads used them and the price shot up. AMJ seems to like a lot of the alternative techno I like (he even likes Autechre) and maybe one day I’ll get round to doing a C64 version of one of their tracks.. infact, composing on the C64 is my main priority over the next few weeks.
And that was the week that was - a busier one than normal for me, with lots of insight into just how we keep on top of the huge volume of great C64 music.
© Zaw Productions and News Press 1998