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TCTD Interview with AY-Riders’ Yerzmyey

This week TCTD talks to Yerzmyey, organizer of AY Riders, producer of awesome tunes, lover of the z80 and generally all round amazing guy. So thanks very much to Yerz for being so generous with his time and lets get down to business!

Lazerbeat – Where are you from?

Yerzmyey – Ah, well. I come from Rubber Planet. ;) A place where all computers have rubber keyboards. ;) Well, actually that’s not exactly true. :) ZX Spectrum was highly popular in PL, in 80s and early 90s, however, somehow it stopped suddenly and now literally only a few people support the machine here. Cry, cry! As for geography matters ;) , my mother’s family came here from Czech and Austria (in that time it was connected with Hungary) and my father came here from Lithuania.

LB – It looks like you have been active in the Demo scene for for over 20 years. How old were you when you founded H-PRG? Why did you start it?

Y – First programs we made with Mr Hangman about 1987. We were 12 years old or so, in those days. :) We were only making games (just occasionally some simple pseudo-demos, haha). The games were not that bad actually :) – ugly but playable. Sadly in those times the only thing we had for saving the progs – was a tape-recorder, so the games didn’t survive to the present day, heh. Our the earliest programs that have survived come from 1989, so I took the date as a beginning of the HOOY-PROGRAM group. :)

And what is funny, it wasn’t me who started all of this, it was my younger brother (who isn’t very interested in 8-bit nowadays, after all) who met Mr Hangman – and HE started making ZX games with him. :) I only joined them. But then my brother lost interest (well, not in playing games but in making them :) ), and I stayed. In this way we founded a team. ;)

They were funny times. :) I remember that we had to be very careful and save our programs very often because every time Mr Hangman’s refrigerator/fridge turned on – then ZX Spectrum got reset, hahaha. :)

Also, while loading (from tape of course) everybody was forced to leave to room, so as not to disturb the loading process.

LB – I think you are probably most well known for music on the Timex 2048 / AY interface. What attracted you to that particular sound?

Yes, mostly I use Timex 2048, but I also very often use a ZX Spectrum 48K (The Rubber) or even a Spectrum 16K with the 32Kb Ram-Pack. But actually, like I wrote above, I started with games as a teenager.  So I was attracted by the machine’s hi-res graphic (no huge bricks pixels), all the colours from the palette accessible at once on the screen, and finally the colours were nice-looking and “alive”, I could say.  No dead people on da screen.  Also – all the same games as on Amiga500/Atari ST but for a lower price, heheh.

First time I heard ZX Spectrum with AY-interface connected wasn’t until around 1990, I thing. I remember I was pretty shocked by the sound – because the interfaces were often sold with SoundTracker 1.1 (and its demo songs) as well as with some demo-scene production for use with the editor. It has what released in 1990 in its final version, it was a real revolution for a ZX Spectrum AY music.

Let me be more vivid:

This is more or less how ZX AY music sounded BEFORE SoundTracker 1.1:
Yerzmyey-Spectrum_in_80s_(a_joke) via

That’s the sound of The Music Box (AY version) for Speccy 48 and AY chip.

And that’s what can be done with the SoundTracker:
http://8bc.org/music/yerzmyey/RUBBER+PLEASURES/

Then more and more trackers appeared, based on the SoundTracker 1.1. But I’m too old to learn new things, so I stayed with the old humble ST 1.1.

Also, the AY itself has very deep bass. True, it doesn’t have any filters (sadly) but its sound and synthesis possibilities are not bad. Also it doesn’t have any problems with tuning like other famous sound-chips do, which makes it more “user-friendly”.

LB – Your site lists music on A500, ST and Atari XL/XE. what other hardware have you tried? What did you think of some of the non AY based chips you have composed on?

Y – Well, on other machines I make mostly MODs. I use Amiga 500, Atari ST, Atari Falcon and recently – Atari XL/XE.
I tried to make something for 264 series (which is Commodore Plus4 / Commodore 116 / Commodore 16) but their music-editors are too hard for me to learn, heh. A pity. I am thinking about making some chiptunes for Atari Lynx console but at the moment I still don’t know the tracker well enough (a cross-platform program, for PC).

Years ago I made several songs for Game Boy, as there was a cross-platform tracker for PC the tracker project has been abandoned for years and now nobody can even convert the songs back from PC to Game Boy. :(

I like all 8-bit machines as well as oldschool 16/32-bit machines.

LB – The Eastern Europe scene doesn’t seem to be that well known in Western Europe in the states. A friend recommended “Nik-O” who I think is absolutely amazing. Who are some other artists you think Chipmusic fans should check out?

Y- Yes, The Eastern European ZX scene became very powerful (and in fact – most powerful) in mid 90s and late 90s, in the ZX Spectrum world. Actually people in Central Europe (Poland, Czech, Slovakia and so on) even didn’t know too much about the strong ex-CCCP scene (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and others) until the internet came and made things much easier.

As for myself, I actually thought in 1994/1995 that ZX Spectrum scene was totally dead. But it wasn’t – Eastern people were still were producing a great deal for Speccy. They were developing software and hardware, better CPUs for Spectrums, new sound-cards and so on. As I can read Russian – I knew where to search on internet, so for several years I tried to popularize their achievements within Central and Western Europe. However I focused on people from Spectrum scene, not chiptune-scene in general, so probably that’s one of reasons the Eastern Europe creative activity doesn’t seem to be that well known in chiptune community in Western Europe and in the States. However it has changed fast, during last few years, I’d say.

I think the scene is less well known in the US because ZX Spectrum wasn’t so popular there (it’s still a European computer, isn’t it). Well, Timex company did a good job in the States but also made several major mistakes (like not making US version of Spectrum fully compatible with the original machine – to use all the existing software without problems people had to buy additionally a cartridge with hardware ZX emulator. Also – the AY chip is mounted on different ports in Timex Sinclair 2068 than on later ZX Spectrum 128K – hence Spectrum’s music software wouldn’t work on TS2068 after all (not without hacking).

American Timex on the right, ZX Spectrum 128K on the left, between – a hybrid: my the only love, European Timex from Portugal. To make things more confusing: on the left screen there is some stuff from Commodore Plus/4, hahah. :) After all, USA still had some a ZX scene. My friend Bruno showed us these photos from Indianapolis in1987, where a big meeting of US-based fans of ZX81 and ZX Spectrum was held, check it out, feel the 80s atmoshpere. :)

Anyway, as for the best active Eastern musicians I noticed, I like Megus and C-Jeff the most – that’s why I asked them to join our band AY-RIDERS. From Central areas I like z00m, TDM and Factor6. Actually from the Western regions I know only one very active and natively ‘spectrumish’ ;) AY musician that is Gasman. (Well, some years ago some aged chiptune guy from UK appeared but it’s rather kinda fleeting phenomenon, I suspect).

Of course there are a lot of active AY/YM musicians on Spectrum so it’s impossible to mention all of them, heh. :) But there are many good chiptuners.

LB – According to the AY Riders site you guys have played in the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Poland of the last few years. How did the gigs go? Any fun stories? The pictures look like a lot of fun.

Y – The concerts were very good. We had a lot of fun, sometimes even fighting each other with the toy He-MAN sword or something like that, hahah. :)

We still hope to play in other countries too but I must admit it’s hard for events’ organizers to find money for our travel-costs because we come from so many different countries (Czech, England, Russia, Poland). Still, if anybody’s interested in our gigs and wants us to play – then let us know to yerzmyey AT interia.pl :-)

LB – How did the crowds react to the shows? Do you guys have any plans to play outside of Western Europe?

Y – Actually the real crowds were only on in Warsaw and in Bratislava. The Prague concert was more chamber/cameral. However all of them responded really well, they had fun, they were dancing even, hehe. :)

As for “outside of Western Europe” plans, I understand You mean the USA. Well, would be cool but it will not be easy – like everytime when politics cross over with real life. :-\

Visas and all da crap, You know (not for everybody but still). My own region “we have covered”, hahah, but I suspect we would like to play for a change in Eastern (Moscow? Kiev?) and Western Europe. If anybody invites us – we will do our best to gather and come. ;)

LB – Did you have any problems using the older hardware live?

Y – Sadly – yes: that’s a considerable risk. Some of us play gigs from a ZX Spectrum 48K (produced 1982) and some use Spectrum 128 (around 1986), so such hardware-problems are common. Also last time we were using some 80s toy-keyboards too, and they like to cause trouble as well.

I remember, during our first concert some drunk girl was dangerously leaning (almost laying) on my Timex 2048 and she was talking to us about something through the noise of the show. I was really afraid the computer would not stand the weight and reset while playing music, heh. ;) However it ended well and no harm was done, luckily. ;)

LB – AY Riders have been a little quiet recently, anything awesome on the horizon?

Y – Well, that’s true in the albums’ meaning however we still play concerts. As for the new album, I think finally I’ll kick myself in arse and will finish compiling the stuff. (Seems like too many projects for me lately, heh). So. This year? Maybe? Hm. Would be good. Hehehe.

Part II can be found here.

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