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If you were a software house (and who knows, one day you may be) and you needed some music in a hurry, then you would be straight on the phone to Computer music supremo and ex-New Romantic David Whittaker. We talked to him about Specs, Bugs and Rock 'n' Roll.

Dave Whittaker - a story

David Whittaker

I was in a band called Beu Leisure - it was sort of New Romantic Pop. Actually we were quite well known in Altrincham. Then I started playing around with a Vic 20 which lead me via some games programming for Mr Micro to music programming since my stuff was better than the other programmers.

Eventually I was doing music full time. Then I went to Terminal software who sort of turned into Binary Design.

OK then. What's the one thing that the Commodore has got that the 48K Spectrum doesn't more expensive games? Well yes but something else. Fewer sprites on screen? OK, but something else. Curiously blocky graphics? Yep, but something else. Much better music. That's the one. Spectrum owners though supplied with infinitely more original games (first) and often more detailed graphics have suffered in the sound department.

No longer. With the 128K machines Spectrum owners have a sound chip which is capable of funking great musicial soundtracks. It's taken a while but now you can get down to the sound of the Spectrum. In this special feature we talk to Dave Whittaker author of some brilliant soundtracks including Glider Rider and The Tube.

Technical stuff

David Whittaker's synth

I use my own music driver. It runs on a Tatung Einsten. It lets you write in a stream of bytes which represent either musical notes or effects and arranges those phrases into patterns - it's like a machine code sequencer. It means it's comparatively simple to write in single-channel chords, vibrato and various other special effects. Did you say single-channel chords Dave?

Yes, the chord of C major is the notes C E and G and get the machine to play those notes in succession very quickly - an arpeggio really - and it sounds like a chord is being played.

With regard to hardware, the only thing I use is a Yamaha CX5 computer synthesiser to work out the notes. It's wonderful.

Musical styles

What doesn't work at all well on the Spectrum 128K is copies of real music particularly if it is slow - you just don't have enought channels to waste one on one long note. Far better is fast stuff oartucularly if it can sound a bit japanese because the standard sound chip in the 128K Spectrum can only produce square waves on the oscillator - these have a definite twangy quality. Short fast little notes are ideal.

How to get 25 instruments on three channels

I try to get bass and drums on a single line so the music might go bom da bom chak where the first three are bass sounds and the fourth is a drum beat. At a later stage I may find that there are odd 'holes' in the track where I can slip in the odd high-hat beat.

Special effects

I think if there is one thing that makes people know a soundtrack is one of mine it is probably a kind of echo effect I've developed. It works by taking the current note and every so often for a fiftieth of a second playing that notes an octave higher. It isn't really echo but sounds a bit like it.

Other music programmers

I don't list to them, though Rob Hubbard uses my music driver.

Ambition

My ambition is for somebody to put a really good sound chip in a really successful computer something like the CXS chip would probably only cost 10p or something.

Software companies

What they ask for varies a lot. Mastertronic usually rings up and says "the game's being mastered tomorrow just give us something fast and pacey". That's fun because I can do more or less what I want. Other companies sometimes come to me with all kinds of definite ideas about what they want and sometimes what they have in mind just isn't possible.

Daves fave raves

I used to be a Bowie fan before he got all successful and American. Other than that I like stuff that is good musically and technically - people like Kraftwerk and Yazoo.

Coming up

I've just finished the soundtrack for The Living Daylights the new James Bond game from Domark and I'm also at this moment doing Grand Prix Simulator for Codemasters.


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