A SID Adventure – Introducing Gaetano Chiummo, Hokuto Force / Samar Productions

Hello Gaetano! Welcome to iamretro.gr!

First of all, allow me to say that it’s a honor to have you here! Let’s start with all the usual stuff…Name, country of origin, age, studies, present status, all these tiny bits and pieces you’d like to share with us…

– Hello , I’m Gaetano Chiummo, I was born in Trani (Italy) where I live, and I’m 40. I’m a business consultant, I’m married and I’ve got one daughter.

Do you have any academic background as a composer?

– No, I haven’t; I’m a self taught composer, and I’m still learning! I only studied music at the intermediate school (from age 11 to 13), where I learnt to play the recorder. At that time, my parents gave me and my brother a music keyboard on which we composed some very simple songs; later, when we were  17, we bought a guitar. From then on, I composed my songs on the guitar mainly.

Although new to the C64 scene, you certainly managed to put your mark on with numerous fine releases. Starting from zero, could you present us the timeline of your C64 gaming / music experience?

– Apart from some adventure games written in BASIC, with my brother, which we never released, and some early SEUCK games which were recovered and put online by the SEUCK vault (and also on my website), I may say that my very first release in the C64 scene was a SEUCK game called “The Rocket Man”. It was made for the “Sideways SEUCK Compo” held in 2010 by The New Dimension. That game also featured my first ever SID music (apart from that old adventure game’s soundtrack which fortunately was never released!), made with GoatTracker; maybe, if it weren’t for that game, I would never have started composing for the Commodore 64!

My second SID tune was the “SEA Soft Loader”, which should have been the loading music for my next (SEUCK) games; in fact, I was already designing a game, “Il Mago”, which I later submitted to the Standard SEUCK Compo 2010. The game won the first prize, which consisted in some enhancements such as a High Score Table, a new title screen, and so on: this gave me the chance to compose a proper soundtrack for the game (and to draw a loading picture as well! It was my first one ever!).

In 2012 I started making another game, called “Sheer Earth Attack”, another compo winner, for which I made a complete soundtrack and a loading picture. Then, on the CSDb forum, I noticed a request for SID musicians willing to take part to the 20th birthday of Samar Productions (2013); I felt ready to compose something different from my usual game tunes, so I made “Acoustic Freedom” and sent it to Ramos. He liked the tune, and asked me if I could make another one; I accepted the challenge and made “Filtered Feelings”. It’s time for some trivia: the tune sent to Samar Productions was actually called “Filtered Feelings (v2)”, and featured no filters at all! In fact, the first version I made had filters, but when I accidentally switched the emulation from the 6581 chip to the 8580 one, the filtered part sounded very bad to me, so I decided to remove the filters… At the end of 2013 Ramos asked me if I wanted to join Samar Productions: he already had the ambitious project of a 3SID collection in mind, and asked me if I could compose some 3SID tunes. It took almost three months, and the first 3SID collection (containing “A Walk in the Countryside”, “New Adventure”, “SID Power Ballad”, “Waterfall” and “Arcade Memories”) was released.

I also composed another single SID tune for the “note”, but it was scrapped, so the tune was never released. In February 2014 I took part to the Forever party compo with a tune called “The Challenge”, a sort of hymn which was so ambitious that it almost ended at the last place! There was another compo at the Forever 2014, dedicated to the POKEY: Ramos asked me to study the ATARI sound chip and told me about the ATARI rmt music editor, which I used for composing “Be Strong”, my first ever POKEY tune, which finished at the last place in the compo…

The same year I composed (in this order) “Filter Experiment” (which was released a couple of years later, under the title “Living in the Future”), “The Last Hope” (title tune for my SEUCK game with the same name), “2xperiment” (released later, together with “Living in the Future”), “Cloudy Days” (for the Flashback Party 2014; ended third at the compo); “Summer Breeze” for the “Attitude” disk magazine; “History of Headaches” for the Tape Loader Music Compo, ranked #12; the cover of “Pixel City Moonlight” for the soundtrack of the C64 version of Pixel City Skater; and “My Fault”, another (stereo) POKEY tune for the Silly Venture 2014, which ranked #4. I also composed a short intro music for Uka’s entry for the Intro Creation Competition.

In 2015 I composed a new 3SID tune, “Happy New Wave”, which was meant to be released at the beginning of the year; a little tune without name, made in Matt Gray Tracker (coded by Slajerek for Matt Gray’s Reformation Project), followed closely; then I submitted a “stereo POKEY” tune called “Beyond the Stars” to the Riverwash Party compo. At the end of the year I made my first tune released under the Hokuto Force label, called “Press Space Release Power”. In 2015 I also co-operated with Joachim Wijnhoven in the Edelin Tales soundtrack; only two 3SID tunes have been released so far, and these compositions should be credited 85% to Joachim, as he composed the music and I only converted them to the 3SID format, without adding anything mine!

In 2016 I composed “Starting Over” for the “Non Standard Time Signature Compo” (ranked 6th over 20), and made a new 3SID collection (containing the already mentioned “Happy New Wave”, the new composition “Ramos 2016”, and “Hope”, a remake of an unreleased tune I composed for a project that has never seen the light), in memory of Ramos. This year I’m working (together with my brother, who did the most part of the work) on the soundtrack of a new C64 game which should be released soon!

Would you please name your favorite musicians from the past and the present and / or your favorite demo groups?

– From the “past”, my favourite SID musicians are Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Mark Cooksey, Fred Gray, Wally Beben, the Follin brothers, Neil Baldwin, Neil Brennan, Chris Huelsbeck, Jonathan Dunn, Matthew Cannon, Maniacs of Noise and Vibrants (especially Drax, JCH and Laxity).  As for the present, I really like Lft, Jammer, Lman, Aldo Chiummo

What “triggered” you to join the C64 scene?

– Well, I almost didn’t know anything about the scene until Ramos asked me to join Samar Productions at the end of 2013; I’m not very active, but I really like being part of “the scene”! To be honest, I got in touch with some “sceners” in 1999, when I was looking for some C64 games and music on the World Wide Web: I found the High Voltage SID Collection and subscribed to the mailing list. I submitted some STIL comments, bug reports, missing information and so on, and I got in touch with extraordinary people such as Jan Harries, still active in the “scene” and still a good friend of mine.

Hokuto Force’ and ‘Samar Productions’ are both two of the finest groups around. They certainly appreciated your talent and eagerness for perfection. When and how did this happen (for each of these groups)?

– About Samar Productions, Ramos simply liked my music and asked me to join! I think it was a bet for him, as I only released a couple of tunes until then; that’s why I’m so thankful to Ramos: he gave me one the biggest chances I’ve ever had in life, he believed in my talent and gave me the responsibility to work on such a bit project as the first 3SID collection.

Hokuto Force came a bit later; it’s an Italian group, so it was natural for them to ask me to join! Enrico Sturaro, in particular, liked my melodies very much, and thought the group needed some Italian melodic flavor.

SEUCK is a game creation system that sceners either like it or they dont. Even now, people still create games with it, although some others are just brushing those releases off. I believe you also released some SEUCK games. You also did the graphics! Which ones? Could you give us some short description?  What’s your experience from its use ?

– I (and my brother) made some SEUCK games from 1990 to 1993, which can be found here: http://www.seuck.retrogaming64.com/seasoftware.html

We were very young, so these games are not very good (except Super Bruno 3 maybe, and The Black Warrior). SEUCK was the only way we could make our own games without having to learn machine code: we did our best to study it, but we couldn’t find any books, and we gave up.

In 2009 we heard about a “SEUCK compo”, and we decided to make our own entries. The compo was about the “Sideways SEUCK”, a version made by Jon Wells. I had a good time designing “The Rocket Man”, whose title was inspired by the french band “Rockets”. The main character had to be called “Super Bruno”, a strange kind of puppet my brother and I designed when we were children, but I don’t like sequels very much, so I decided to scrap that idea! “The Rocket Man” was my first horizontal scrolling game, where the player takes the role of a robot who was imprisoned by the army of an evil dragon; he must escape from his prison, and reach the cavern where the dragon lies. There are three levels, each one with its own final boss. I had a lot of fun drawing the graphics, especially the sprites! To make sure the game was playable I asked some friends to test it (and it was quite difficult to play actually! It took a lot of time to adjust the difficulty level). Anyway, after the “redux” treatment, the timing of some events changed: it was not a significant change, but it made the game more difficult, especially in the third level!

My second game was “Il Mago”; I started working on it right after knowing that “The Rocket Man” ranked #2 at the “Sideways SEUCK compo”. “Il Mago” was a very ambitious project: I started designing it with some enhancement in mind, in case it would win the first prize. I carefully planned every level (except the last!), and made a lot of sketches on paper (they can be found on my website).

The game took a lot of time to be made (I started in may 2011, took a break that summer and kept working on it again from August 2011 to October 2011): I didn’t want to make an ordinary vertical shoot’em up, but I was thinking about designing some kind of “arcade adventure”, where the player could interact with the background too. Actually, the player can cast magic to heal the evil trees, to resize giant rats, to repair a broken bridge and so on. The most brilliant part in the game was the indicator at the bottom of the screen: instead of showing the player’s score, it would show the amount of each ingredient collected; the idea was that each ingredient would affect the magic in a different way. This was implemented in the “prize” version (where I had to put some extra cauldrons and remove the indicators, anyway), and worked very well, thanks to Richard Bayliss’ hard work! Getting all the ingredients granted the player the highest score, but the most effective magic would be only obtained by carefully dosing the ingredients… As for the music, I had some classical pieces in mind, and tried to recreate a middle-age kind of atmosphere. Unfortunately the instrument playing the arpeggio at the beginning of the in-game tune sounds awfully on the 8580, but I only noticed it after the game was completed…

Sheer Earth Attack” was made for the next SEUCK compo and it was a tribute to my favourite horizontal shoot’em up games of the ’80s (the title is inspired by a Queen song, “Sheer Heart Attack”, as many people noticed!), like IO, Zynaps, Delta, Nemesis and so on. The end of level baddies took a lot of work: I drew them on paper first, then converted the drawings into C64 chars; in the last level, the first two end of level baddies seem to fly toward the player as they were really made of sprites (or this is what I wanted to achieve!)…

This game was big, there were five different levels and even a funny end-of-game sequence. I also spent a lot of time on the music, especially the title track, which is inspired by Armalyte (at the beginning, which is the best part of the track) and Cybernoid. I also made an “Italo Disco” loading tune, which works very well I think.

The Last Hope” is my last SEUCK release. I wanted to do a sort of vertical Uridium, but the game was going nowhere and I gave up on that idea. I left the game for a while, and then decided to finish it, adding only two levels, of which the Uridium one was the second. The game featured a huge final enemy, which took the whole screen! The soundtrack was made the same day of the compo deadline: I was at home, recovering from a flu; but instead of staying in bed I sat in front of the PC trying to compose something on the GoatTracker

After “The Last Hope” I started a new game, but I still have to finish it! There’s just another level to complete, but at the moment I’ve got more important things to do, unfortunately!

Another unfinished game of mine is “Right Battle”, which you can read about here. It was the last game I made with my Commodore 64 in 1992 – 1993, but I left it unfinished. It should have been a beat’em up, but I didn’t like the way it was turning out, so I eventually gave up.

All in all, SEUCK is a great tool for designing games without knowing anything about machine code! It’s  very limited, so you can make very ordinary shooting games and be satisfied, but if you can also take the challenge and try to overcome its limits! That’s why I don’t like “enhanced” SEUCK games very much: it’s like cheating 🙂

You were seriously involved in composing some marvelous 3SID collections. I would like to personally thank you for that! You are the first musician to release a 3SID music collection, aren’t you?

– Yes, I am! When Ramos asked me to compose the music for the first ever 3SID collection I felt honored but also a bit scared! It was a challenge, and I also felt the pressure of being  the new member of one of the best scene groups… Anyway Ramos was a great leader, he knew what he wanted from people and he was able to get the best from them, so he put me at ease with his precious hints and suggestions. It was difficult at the beginning, because there wasn’t any tool for producing 3SID music; the idea was to compose the first two SIDs with GoatTracker’s 2SID versions, and the other one with the standard GoatTracker; then the coder (Don Kichote) would make a player and join the two files. The problem was that the 2SID version of the GoatTracker didn’t feature a specific filters/volume setting for each of the two SIDs; that’s why I decided to compose each of the SIDs individually. One of the pieces of the collection, “Waterfall”, also featured a double speed track.

“New Horizons” (2014) followed by “Enchanted Forest” and “Edelin Tales Theme” (2015)…What an eargasm! What gave you the inspiration for these masterpieces?

Enchanted Forest and Edelin Tales Theme were composed by Joachim Wijnhoven, for a PC game called “Edelin Tales”; he asked me if I could produce a 3SID version of his music, and so I did! The tunes are very similar to the original music I had to convert (as he gave me the original Renoise files), so the tunes are 85% Joachim’s work.

About “New Horizons”, the first piece I composed was “New Adventures”; I composed the main harmony on guitar, and then finished the tune and arranged it on Psycle, trying to figure out how I could use the three SIDs at their best. The most obvious thing to do was to dedicate one SID to the chords (this was a bit limiting, as I could only use three notes’ chords), another SID to the lead instrument and the bass, and another one to the drums. As for the lead instrument, I could use two tracks: one for the main instrument, and the other one for a counter melody or for some special effects, such as the “sync”. As for the drums, the snare and the hit-hat used two voices both, while the bass drum only played on one track: this made the arrangement a bit difficult, as I didn’t want to make any instrument sound “stopped”.

I wanted to try different genres, so I decided that the second composition (“A Walk in the Countryside”) should be an “acoustic” piece: I took the guitar and eventually found the arpeggio you can hear in the tune. Here I had some trouble with the filters: if I played the tune on the GoatTracker they sounded ok, but when I listened to the music in WinVice, they sounded completely different! I spent a lot of time adjusting the filter and the volume settings for each track to obtain the best result.

SID Power Ballad” was another piece based upon a guitar riff: another arpeggio this time, for a ballad which seems to come from the ’80s! Actually, the inspiration came from those emotional ballads by Roxette, Scorpions, Bon Jovi… I tried to recreate that feeling! My favorite part of this song is the solo which plays in the second verse.

For the fourth piece, I ran out of ideas, so I asked Ramos; he told me that I should do something in the style of Cyborg Jeff; he sent me some music, and I tried to compose something similar. The tune was developed on Psycle, and the melodic part was very complex, as there was a weird counter melody playing! Ramos also asked me if I could use some double speed instruments, which I never did! I had to do a lot of experiments before obtaining the right sounds… This time, the drums track featured some multiplexed chords and a weird glockenspiel which only plays at the beginning and which is absent in the original Psycle version. The lead part was the most difficult one, because I only had two voices to play the main melody (with some echo effect) and the counter melody. It was very tricky, and I also missed some notes from the original (I only noticed it after releasing the music!). Also, Don Kichote did a very good job on synchronizing the multispeed SID to the other two!

The inspiration for the last tune came from the arcade game “Zero Wing”, especially that noisy rhythm pattern! The song is very short, and features a very fast solo at the end which is one of my most favorite things in the whole collection. In the last part there’s a little joke: the tune goes “lo-fi” (only three rectangular waveforms are used), and some sound effects play along; this should give the idea of someone actually playing a game! If you listen carefully, you can figure out what is happening: the player shoots some alien robots, gets some power-ups and eventually gets hit! I had a lot of fun composing this part, as I had to design the sound effects too!

Is it really necessary to put some standards of how a specific stereo SID should be played back?

– I would have preferred to have all the three SIDs of my first collection play “mono”, as it was very difficult to decide which part should have been played on the left channel, which one on the right channel and which one on the front channel. This is due to the way they were designed: one SID contained the chords, another one the drums, another one the lead and the bass. On the other hand, in one of the tunes in the second collection (“hope”) I tried to simulate a “stereo” effect at the beginning, as the 3SID version of SIDWizard has already got a “standard” in the 3SIDs playback. So, I think this should be the actual “standard” for the future, though some tunes will always sound better in “mono”…

What is your point of view on mixing 6581 with 8580 chips in various stereo SID hardware setups?

– I think the 6581 is very unreliable, especially regarding the filters; if you want to make your tunes play the same way on different hardware setups, you should use the new 8580 chip, there’s really no choice.

Where may be the limits for multiple SID releases?

– I really don’t know! You’d better ask a coder! 🙂 I think it depends on the CPU cycles the play routine takes. The more SIDs play together, the more CPU power is needed… It also depends on the playback routine’s complexity…

Are you planning to release more of those excellent X-SID tunes? What are your future plans? What more can we (your fans!) expect from you?

– I’d really love to have some more spare time to compose new SID music, but unfortunately I’m very busy at the moment! I don’t have any plans right now, but I’ll keep composing music and release it as long as I think it’s good enough to be released! I’m still working on the Edelin Tales soundtrack with Joachim Wijnhoven, and we already did  the most part of the soundtrack. I also composed three tunes for “Planet Golf”, which will be released in summer.

Among all your fine collections and tunes, which ones are your favorites, and why?

– “Sea Soft Loader” is one of my most favorites among my early tunes. It could have better instruments, but I was still learning. It’s an “old school” music, with a happy riff, a lot of ring modulation and some nice melodies (there’s also a modulation near the end).

Filtered Feelings” was my second contribution to the “20 years of Samar” tribute; it’s quite short, and it also took a very short time to be written, but I didn’t want it to be boring or repetitive. I worked a lot on the arrangement (but the instruments could be a lot better, especially the snare drums!) and on the melodies, while the riff came out very easily (I just played it on the guitar and transcribed it on my sketchbook!).

All the tunes from “New Horizons” are my favorites, they came out quite easily, especially because of Ramos’ precious advices and feedback.

Summer Breeze” is also one of my best. I composed it on Psycle, and the arrangement was quite complex. This time I tried to work a lot on the instruments, and used many embellishments in the melody (especially in the main riff and in the solo). The melody took a lot of work, because I wanted it to be almost perfect.

History of Headaches” is another piece I like very much. This tune was composed for a Tape Loader Compo, and I wanted it to sound like Galway’s Ocean Loaders tunes, without using any drums and trying to have the bass playing the rhythmical part. I also didn’t want to “multiplex” too much, and leave each note play without being stopped abruptly by the next one. There’s also an “echo” effect on the lead instrument, which gives more depth to the sound.

Hope” is another SID which was not meant to be a 3SID at the beginning; I composed it for a project which is on stand-by. I tried to achieve a stereo effect at the beginning, and to recreate a perfect disco tune. It’s not perfect, of course, but I’m very pleased with the result!

Which were your most profound, personal milestones?

– It’s the first 3SID collection. I felt honored to be in charge of it, and I’m very pleased with the final result in term of votes, downloads and YouTube visualizations. Of course, without the hard work of Isildur (for the great graphics), Don Kichote (for the code) and Ramos (who had the idea of releasing the collection and put a lot of efforts to be sure it would be a masterpiece!) this would have never happened…

If you feel like deeply experimenting in making new sounds, which path would you choose in order to best express yourself ?

– Yes, I like to experiment with sounds, though I’m mainly focusing on the harmony. I don’t like using “presets”, so when I make a new tune I create the sounds from scratch. It’s very difficult to imitate real instruments with SID, so I usually try to combine two track (especially for drums) and use filters.

Which is your favorite music tool / your preferable trackers?

– In general, my favorite tracker for PC is Psycle, which also allows to use external VST instruments. When it comes to composing for the SID, my first choice is SID Wizard: It’s designed to run on a real C64 (though I use it under emulation), and has got a lot of interesting features which make it very flexible. My second choice is GoatTracker for Windows: it’s a bit more difficult than SID Wizard, but it’s the first tracker I used to compose my SID music, so I’m really fond of it; in particular, I like its filters handling, which is very different from SID Wizard’s.

I understand that your every day “work horse” is one mighty PC, isn’t it? Could you describe a typical day in your studio?

– Yes, I make SID music with my PC. As I don’t have much spare time, I usually start by picking the guitar and try to get a good chord progression; then I write it down on a sketchbook and I try to compose a nice melody. Most of the time I write the chords and notes in Psycle, as it helps me listen to them playing together. The next step consists in arranging the music: sometimes I do it on Psycle and then convert the whole work on the SID Wizard; other times I arrange the music directly on the SID Wizard.

You may probably know that I fancy looking at studio photos! Would you share some nice and crisp pictures from your creation room and/or your equipment with us? 😉

– I hope you’re not disappointed by finding out that my “studio” consists in a guitar, a sketchbook and a desktop PC 🙂 That’s all I need to make music, though I would like to have a good synthesizer to play with, and a powerful amplification system 🙂

Have you ever been involved into the 16bit music / demo scene?

– I did a lot of Protracker Modules with FastTracker (but also with other less known programs such as Whacker Tracker!) and later with FastTracker II, from 1993 on. I started releasing my tunes on my own website from 1999 (though the site may be unavailable now). This was a big step ahead for me, as I was really jealous of my music and absolutely didn’t want to spread my MOD files (I remember going mad one day when I found out that I accidentally left some music of mine on a floppy disk I lent to a friend!).

In 1994, when I got FastTracker, I composed two tracks (“SpaceShip” and “Game Over“,1994) I wanted to submit to some Italian software houses, but it didn’t happen eventually (and I don’t even remember why. Maybe because all the instruments were ripped, and I feared copyright issues). One of the two tunes became a proper song, but I prefer the .MOD version anyway!

I remember getting in touch with Jeroen Tel in the early 2000s, sending him a cover of his Eliminator title tune; he was very glad that I covered one of his tunes and told me that it was a good rendition – at least there were no wrong notes! Then I put my music on MySpace (it was a sort of Facebook for artists, I miss it very much… It also helped me find the love of my life!), and then on YouTube too… So I was never part of any “scene” until I joined the C64 scene.

What’s your appraisal for the rest of the 8bit “gang” and for their sound capabilities? Sinclair, Amstrad, Atari you name them…all these nostalgic IT dinosaurs. Would you like to compose for some other system as well? Me, whispering…”like on ‘Vectrex’ perhaps?” 🙂

– I’m not an expert, and I only had a listen to the Spectrum/Amstrad sound chip, and to the POKEY. I also composed something on the latter, as Ramos was a big fan of Atari 8 bit computers and introduced me to it. The sound is very raw compared to the SID, but there are some interesting features, such as filters, 16bit bass sounds, individual volumes for each of the four tracks… But if I have to choose, I would compose on the SID: it’s more reliable and it’s a proper synthesizer, not just a “sound chip”!

Speaking of  Vectrex, do you happen to know “Arkos tracker”? This is a nice tracker to compose music for the AY3-8912, a sound chip used in Amstrad CPC which also can be found on the MSX, Spectrum, Atari ST, Vectrex and many other computers from the 80’s golden era. How would you feel about using it, or to move on composing on some other legendary systems as well?

– Well, who knows? I may try to compose something in the future!

What do you want to say to Anonymous -DownVoters- Clan?

– It’s hard to say something to an “anonymous”: I don’t know who they are, I don’t even know if they are real or just a legend 🙂 I don’t care about votes very much, though they can let me understand if my work has been appreciated; I prefer some constructive criticism: that’s the only way to improve.

Have you setup any blog/web or Facebook personal page where someone can either reach you or download your tunes?

– I’ve got a YouTube channel named “rainstorm1977”, where you can also find some of my music; I’ve created a playlist where  I put my own songs.

There’s also a Soundcloud page, which contains more or less the same things.

Last but not least, there’s a ReverbNation page about my band, “Mongra

Do you have anything more to add, something of real importance I might have forgotten to mention ?

– I guess I already said a lot of things, and I fear people already get bored! I want to link a very peculiar performance of my band, which took place last year and featured a C64 playing with me and my brother

It’s us performing our band’s songs with two acoustic guitars, a flute and a C64 (there are 6 songs, 4 of them feature the C64).

I believe that Gaetano Chiummo is here to stay and to amaze! Am I wrong?

– I’ll try my best 🙂

You certainly gave me a great pleasure, by granting me this interview! I certainly owe you! Good luck to everything you’re planning to!…

– I’m very pleased too. Thank you very much!

geoanas

geoanas

I am an avid collector of retro hardware. I collect anything retro ... from calculators, to real arcade boards and home computers. Being a tech/craftsman (self taught by experience), I like tinkering with electronics. I believe that hardware engineering is a kind of an art form. I don't want to miss any chance to grab my trusty screwdriver and my precious soldering iron just to repair, improve or spice up with a ‘mod-flavor’ almost anything. I was familiar with retro scene world when...wasn’t retro at all (!)...

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