This is part 2 of an interview with AY Rider, Yerzmyey. Please look here for part 1.
Y – Actually I don’t like very much my own music. If You ask me about music, I simply prefer AY-RIDERS’ albums. It’s good to gather a bunch of various people to get various and diverse album(s). Then it gets much more interesting. As for myself, I mostly try to fight with the AY’s limitations. :) It’s damn hard to force it to generate some _interesting_ synthethesized sound. All we get is only square waves or some acid noises. In contrast to the Atari ST, we use only original hardware posibilities or AY/YM chip, so the work is harder. Anyway, if You want to listen to good ZX Spectrum music, then don’t listen to my crap but go quickly and download AY-RIDERS albums. :)
LB – What inspired you to start writing music? Was is a particular song or game or person?
Y – Hmmmmm. From the music side in general, probably it was electronic music. Marek Bilinski’s art creativity or KOTO’s stuff… Also Vangelis, Jarre, Kraftwerk… Hm. From the game-music side, it was ZX Spectrum stuff, like “Agent-X”, “Chronos” or “Raw Recruit”. Generally – all the incredible stuff from Tim Follin. We used to say that they’re NOT games with musix but – musix with some games attached :)musix with some games attached. And for demo-scene inspirations, surely it was Ziutek from ‘Ethanol Soft Inc’ group, as well as Hacker Kicia (with his demo songs for SoundTracker 1.1 ZX AY editor).demo-songs
LB – Bearing in mind how fragile some of the hardware is getting, what are your thoughts on something like Chipsounds by David Plogue?
Y – Seems like that’s the project I was talking about, where Megus/AY-RIDERS was helping in. Anyway. It’s good that such projects are being developed. It’s great. However I must admit, I will make chiptunes as long as I have at least one working ZX Spectrum or Amiga or Atari ST. It can be in form of Minimig or Sprinter computers – label/factory isn’t so important to me. The machine counts, itself. So in my case – only oldschool hardware.
LB – What hardware would you recommend for someone interested in experimenting with the AY sound?
Y – Surely the easiest way is to get a ZX Spectrum +2, +2A/+2B or a +3. They have a built-in AY chip and a good keyboard for contemporary users. However – they’re mono. Also a divIDE mass-storage would be required, only a few disk-systems have SAVE option. If anybody prefers PC, there is Vortex-Tracker with perfect AY emulation. It’s a comfortable solution, I suppose.
LB – What do you think of Vblanks AY/YM synth kit?
Y – I didn’t know about this specific device before, however I was aware people make stand-alone, small AY/YM based chiptune synthesizers.
I think it’s a cool idea. Sadly, as far as I know (from Megus/AY-RIDERS who supported a similar project) – there are problems with MIDI connections. Our “two sounds in one channel” trick (square wave + hardware envelope) doesn’t work with MIDI control. Such synthesizers would work better with a custom tracker. I wonder if this kind of “kit” can work with Vortex-Tracker (instead of its emulated engine). Hm. Or with emulators themselves. It would be cool. One could make music on any ZX prog (of the hundreds of available ones ) on emulator and still hear real the AY/Ym sound, rather than the emulated one.
LB – You mentioned the “”two sounds in one channel”” trick, could you tell us a little more about this?
Y – There are 2 ways of playing two different sounds in one channel, on AY/YM.
1) One is a common and standard method. We have 3 tone-generators PLUS a white-noise-generator. But only 3 channels. Hence we can turn the white noise on/off regardless of whether the square is playing or not, in the same channel. I usually use for example arpeggio-chords and hihats (close/open). Most people do that kind of thing.
2) I discovered another trick a few years ago. I mean – every ZX musician knows that AY can play square OR envelope OR evnvelope+square. But in the last case people usually used the same note for square and for envelope (to make the sound more rich). However I was experimenting with de-synchronizing the square wave and the envelope to achieve two different musical tones/melodies (lead stuff and bass, for instance) playing in ONE channel. It is pretty hard and perfect tuning is very important so I don’t use it too often but – it works. (Some time ago some an Amiga chiptuner was trying to do something like that on AY but only ugly noise came out).
So now – combining two above-mentioned methods, I managed to play 5 channels of sound on AY (without any CPU activity) by properly synchronizing (or should I say _desynchronizing_) the AY’s ‘buzzer’ effect. I made several 5-channels songs playin’ in only 3 channels, but the first was “5th channel”5th channel” that starts exactly with the one channel playing two different things (bass and some ‘melody’) and with examples of the trick later in the track.
LB – Are there any other tricks with the Audio of the AY over the years that really helped composers?
Y – I don’t know if they helped composers because not many musicians use these “AY-tricks” while making music. People usually like a comfortable way to compose, so they use mostly squares and standard envelope-basses (or some ‘acid noises’ at most). However I must admit I actually don’t like AY’s sound – therefore I do everything to make it more interesting than it’s in poor standard sounds.
So the best tricks are based on mixing unsuitable suitable squares waves and envelopes. If You mix the suitable ones, then the effects is boooooring. But You can make also some crazy merges, with – for instance – square waves in 7th octave (they only squeak, alone – by themselves, but with addition of some envelopes – they generate some pretty cool weird sounds), with some fluent slides of square (or vibrato). Then You can get something new and unusual on Spectrum. The problem is with tuning such things. Actually you don’t know what you compose until You listen to it – because in those cases I use square only to “steer” the envelopes, so as I mentioned, the notes on tracker are only some high noises but they make a melody only with envelopes added. So often I “compose” AY music not by putting special notes into the tracker but – by changing commands/attributes. Which is rather torturous. ;)
Another trick that people use, is hiding some instruments among others, to achieve the effect of “many channels”. AY’s sound isn’t very diverse. It’s a pain BUT – it can be used as a trick because people don’t notice that some instruments are playing “one-by-one”, they will think they play simultanously.
LB – Did any AY tunes surprise you with their of technical depth?
Y – It depends what you mean by as “technical” term. If you mean a way of using AY/YM, then I like C-Jeff’s stuff because he’s not afraid of weird sounds ;) and his music is subtle, with cool usage of volumes. In contrast to that, my music is crude like a sledge hammer because I prefer a more powerful sound myself.
If You mean “technical” as a technical skills of composition, then I always admire TDM and C-Jeff the most, and all the AY-RIDERS in general (except myself :) ). It’s obvious how they work on their compositions to make them as perfect as possible, while for me it’s only toying with sounds. Also I like digital AY songs, when they’re well-done. But (almost) nobody makes such songs nowadays which is a pity. But in 90s it was popular. Like this one.
LB – What are you into outside of chipmusic/demoscene?
Y – Generally I listen to electronic music and metal. Lately it’s mostly metal actually. Sabaton, for instance. Check dis out:
As for electronica, it would be classic stuff, like I mentioned above. However also I love EBM and darkwave/gothic electro. Like Deine Lakaien.
LB – What are some of the most outstanding moments for you of your 20 years of demoscene/chipmusic involvement?
Y – Probably 1996 year when I discovered, after several years break, that ZX Spectrum is still alive and kicking. :)
Also, I must admit, all demo-parties I attended and all concerts we played as AY-RIDER, are real adventures. Meeting people, hard-drinking :) , watchin’ demos, playin’ games. ;) Parties rule. :)