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Interview with LGPT creator Marc Nostromo pt2

lvptThis is the conclusion of Monday’s interview with LGPT dev Marc Nostromo. We talk about the history of Piggy Tracker’s development, possible future features and some information on the excellent netlabel/band of hooligans Hexawe

LB: So how did the idea for Piggy come about?

Marc: well, I had been using LSDJ for a while and even tho I was in love with the program, I longed to have the same flexibility with another type of sound generation. No matter how you like the Gameboy sound, there is a moment where you get tired of it, especially if, like me, you do your tracks without mixing techniques, synths and so on. I wanted to have something similar for samples and midi. I remember having a few chats with Starpause and Firestarter about it and we all got very excited about the perspective. So I went for it.

LB: Did you plan to work on the GP32 from the outset or were you deving on PC without a particular platform in mind?

Marc: It’s always been the main goal to do a hand-held program and to stick with the LSDJ interface. I was looking at a couple of options possible at the time: DS, PSP and GP32. The home-brew scene on DS & PSP was already pretty strong but it was constantly moving, so rather than trying to base myself on moving ground, I decided to go for the GP32. Especially that the idea of a company distributing an open platform like Gamepark did was great so I was happy to jump on that boat

LB: Yeah the Gamepark ethic is simply awesome. Do you have any thoughts on the Wiz or the Pandora?

Marc: The wiz looks very good for portability. It’s not really out yet. The pandora is a great project but I’m afraid it’s taking so long and I’m a bit suspicious of the build quality… but for both of them it’s to early to judge, time will tell.

LB: Did you know Johan before the LGPT project?

Marc: Yes. I had met him a couple of time, here in Brussels and also played once at mikrodisco in Stockholm. He’s a cool cat. I was thrilled he was ok for me to rip blatantly the LSDJ paradigm since I didn’t want anything else.

LB: He is a pretty nice guy by all accounts, did you share any code or did you build the interface from scratch?

Marc: I rebuild it from scratch. Programming technique available for hand-helds these days are really hi-end, which is great for me and allows me to cover a lot of platforms without too much hassle. As far as I know, LSDJ is written in assembly code making it locked to that platform. I really admire the guts it takes to write a program like that in assembly code, I couldn’t do that.

LB: LGPT is on I think 5 platforms now? What order did the ports come in?

Marc: First were the GP32 & PC. The PC version was in the beginning just because it was a lot easier to program and debug there rather than the GP32 ; but it would also guarantee that there was no platform specific lock in. Then came the GP2X, MAC, Debian and just recently the PSP. I did try the DS at some point and got a bastard version to run but the hardware is too limited, it could run painfully two channels; no more.

LB:  I might be reading this wrong, but were you kind of reluctant to do the PSP port?

Marc: At the very beginning I took the PSP as an expensive toy for people with too much cash and I didn’t like sony’s attitude about preventing home-brew. Although Nintendo’s not different, at least the DS had an interesting design and was cheaper. These days it made sense to port it because game park stopped doing the GP2x and the price tag of the PSP went down a lot. Now, it is easier to find them in second hand shop. It would be silly of me to diss the easiest platform for my users to go to so I did it..

LB: I use the PSP port personally and I am sure many others are glad it happened. Do you have any idea roughly how many downloads each port has had?

Marc: I have absolutely no idea. It’s a weird thing.

LB: This might sound like a strange question, but where did the “piggy” nickname and the logo character come from?

Marc: In the very beginning, Starpause told me he always read LittleGPTracker as LittlePigTracker. We started getting a little delirious about it (as we do) and the piggy was born. The logo was some very low res pic we found on the Internet ages ago, I have no idea where from. Jordan designed the ‘louis vuitton’ background which is hilarious I find

LB: I agree, I notice its the background on the PSP port which is nice.

Marc: Yeah, it made sense to put it there.

LB: One a related note, what does “m-.-n” mean? and how do you say it?

Marc: It’s a nice little graphical contraction of my first name ‘Marc’ and nostromo which has been my email for years. At the time I wasn’t doing music or anything, I was just looking for a nice graphical representation for my emails and I never pronounce it :).

LB: On the changelog, the first version listed is “0.52a stable” was this the first public release?

Marc: The first one was 0.1 or something. That change log, like a lot of information on the piggy, is totally outdated. I’m really bad at keeping documentation up to date. The wiki is mainly the work of other people, because they know how much I suck at that. Once I got a feature in, I always start on the next one, rather than checking if everything’s up to date. For example, the main page of the web site still says “If you’d like to see the piggy wiggling on your PSP, you can try donation too” (n.b. I actually corrected it now)

LB: I was going to ask about the numbering system but I guess I could skip that question then! I am always amazed at the features piggy has, I wondered if there were any you are specially proud of?

Marc: Yeah, there a couple of them. I’m super proud of the “oscillator” mode because it’s so darn simple but it works like a charm. It’s really surprising nobody did this yet. I’m generally pretty stoked by the sounds you can get out of it nowadays. Some people think it’s just a “sample” tracker but although it is correct, the synthesis options allow for a lot of bending. A lot of the ideas came from other synth tho, so I got a lot of ‘help’ through inspiration. Like for example the feedback line came directly from realising how awesome the Evolver’s architecture was. I love synthesis. I’m always looking for some new interesting options

LB: I have often lusted over Dave Smith gear. Are you into hardware synths as well?

Marc: Yeah the last years or so I’ve been into them. I like the physical contact. There are tons of very impressive VST’s out there but I can’t develop a serious relationship with them. I need something real to pat. I’m trying not to get too much gear so I spend quite a bit of time before I decide to really buy something.

LB: In your previous question, you mentioned piggy is more than just a sample tracker, how would you describe it?

Marc: It is a sample-based tracker for sure. It’s just that the options to mangle the samples are good enough to be categorised as synthesis. So it’s a sample-based synthesis tracker ! I remember being amazed by the fact that although the Gameboy has the dullest waves ever (two pulses, a wav and a noise), modulating their parameters through commands and tables brought a whole range of tones barely imaginable. At the time I thought that if it worked so well with basic wave types it could only be more using samples (I.e. custom wave shapes). Sometimes I think the ‘chiptune’ sound is not really related to the synthesis capabilities of these old school machines but rather at the techniques people used to get something out of it

LB: “Sample based synthesis tracker” seems good to me. Do all of the versions of Piggy have the same feature sets?

Marc: At the core, yes. Some platform are a little late on feature like MIDI out because I didn’t do a driver for them, but it’s pretty much the same across the whole line. The good thing about developing with cross platform in mind is that porting a modification across the platform is just a matter of recompiling. At the moment, the only platform a little behind is Mac because I don’t have one handy.

LB: You mentioned MIDI out, is PSP midi out looking possible?

Marc: Yes it is. Although not completely straightforward as I hoped. But it’s still looking like it could happen.

LB: That’s awesome news, were there any features you wanted to add to Piggy but wern’t able to for any reason?

Marc: So far not really, if I bailed out on anything it was more because of me not knowing yet how to implement it but I’m getting on a tight line for some features because I’m afraid of performances problems. The most important things is the operation you do for every sample, those will drain rapidly the resources if you don’t pay attention. For example I would love to add some kind of channel compression but it would mean quite a bit of additional treatment so I’m not sure it’s worth it. I have to start paying attention to those things now

LB: So where is piggy going next?

Marc: Hehe, it’s always hard to commit to that because it’s depending a lot on my own needs. The ‘Big’ changes planned so far will include a mixer screen with the possibility of routine instrument to each of the mixer channels and ‘master effects’ ; the possibility to have more than one sound playing on each channel and rewire implementation for PC & Mac. The last one excites me quite a bit because it should mean being able to work on a song bit in the bus and the hook the piggy to Ableton live for additional treatment.

LB: Wow, that would be pretty awesome, I noticed the poll on the LJ community, are most of those features, ADSR, new filter, polyphony, likely to make an appearance at some point or do you have to choose fairly carefully to save on CPU runtime?

Marc: Most of what I proposed should be doable without too much impact. But we’ll really know only when it’s there. Polyphony could be driven to an extreme that some machine can’t handle, vibrato might also be pretty hungry… it’s just a matter of not using all the options all at the same time

LB: I have a couple of questions about Hexawe, how did the group come together?

Marc: It’s all Starpause’s doing. Basically excited by the idea of publishing songs and their source project. I’m lucky to have a great deal of enthusiastic people amongst the user. Hexawe is a typical result of this.

LB: I think its a wonderful group. Have any of the Hexawe releases (or any other releases for that matter) surprised you in how people used piggy?

Marc: Of course. It’s always interesting to see how the people end up using your software. I think the fact that LGPT supports quite a bit of synthesis opens for a lot of different styles. And Hexawe is a perfect demonstration of this. It’s funny because most trackers end up with a collection of songs that ranges from techno to .. techno. I don’t think I ever heard one straight techno track from anybody using LGPT. The Hexawe compilations ‘Casio Crack’ and ‘Drunk NES funk’ are just amazing.. I love listening to them. Every track’s got soul.

LB: How did the idea of the compos start?

Marc: Compos aren’t specific to littlegptracker, they are nearly “normal practice” in the tracking world. For me the interesting point with those two is that the sample set was quite small so people had to rely on the ‘synthesis’ technique to achieve anything, it drew them to a more ‘personal’ result

LB: One of the early Hex tracks by Smohm, really opened my eyes, it was kind of smokey Jazz. Not what I expected at all. You have Disco Dust, and a few tracks on Hex/compos but are there any other releases anywhere?

Marc: There are a few tracks here and there but nothing organised. I’m talking with Steve at the moment about releasing a set of LGPT tracks through his new label s18. I’m quite excited because he’s a great guy and it’s going to be interesting to get some LGPT tracks out there

LB: Changing tracks,  I noticed on your blog, you were interested in the open sourceish stompbox from Line6. Did that go anywhere?

Marc: I’m pretty much interested in anything that I can tweak to put my own code in it. The Ardunio piano and the line6 work is in that line. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to dig the line6 yet. Mostly because the environment is a bit of a bitch to set up. I’m really enjoying these times where small hardware boxes becomes available for people like me to abuse. I’m dreaming of building a real physical synth in the next 5 years or so

LB: Do you mean a modular synth or something completely scratch built?

Marc: I mean something that would run software I wrote. Let’s say the most boring version would just be a board (like the beagleboard) with a usb midi controller hooked one while the most exciting would be a combination of digital algorithm and analogue filter. I love those sounds that sit in between the harshness of the digital and the grooviness of the analogue; I hope to find someone that will be up for designing some hardware around it tho.

LB: That is an excellent idea. I don’t have any more questions but is there anything else you would like to mention that I missed?

Marc: I don’t think so, it was a very nice round up I think. I just want to say that I’m hugely thankful to all of the piggy users, they have been an amazing support and motivation to get to where I’m now. I couldn’t have done it without them

LB: And I would just like to say thanks on behalf of all the piggy users and myself for the amazing software and your continued and active support of it!

Marc: My pleasure !

LB: Thanks very much for the time for the interview, I enjoyed it a great deal and learned a lot.

LGPT – http://www.littlegptracker.com/
m-.-n – http://www.myspace.com/discodirt
Hexawe – http://www.hexawe.net/

Lazerbeat is the working name of Tokyo based retro tech musican David Adams. More info on his music can be found on his website.

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