Ever since I started making noises with computers* in the early 90′s I had been wondering how to make the process more tactile. The early days of using Octamed on the Amiga were fairly fiddly, and the feel was more akin to using a spreadsheet than writing music (especially since Octamed didn’t support MIDI well the version I had anyway). After a lacklustre dabble with making noises on the Amiga, I returned to playing games, and taking electronic equipment apart, like most normal kids.
A few years later, around ’98, I took a music tech’ course at school which got me interested in sequencing sounds again, and even writing what could be vaguely described as music in Cubase and Cakewalk (now Sonar). I was amazed at how you could play a keyboard and, via MIDI, have your performance saved in a format you could go back and edit. No more worrying about duff notes! Just go back and put them in the right place.Unfortunately my lack of keyboard skills limited my use of early midi controllers, which led to me devising other means of musical interaction. The first of which was an old QuickShot joystick with the springs taken out so it just flopped about instead of returning to the middle. I managed somehow to convert the joystick input into midi somehow and patch it into Fruityloops 1.7 via ‘virtual midi cable’ (it was a long time ago, I can’t remember the details. Fruityloops now supports joysticks by default via the XY controller if you want to try it yourself).
The result was one of the first electronic tunes I ever wrote, the The Joy of Stix (MP3 Download) (get it? huh?).
In this tune the joystick was linked to the frequency and resonance of a lowpass filter, and a drum loop patched through it. I liked te effect so much I wrote the whole tune around the joystick.
Coming up in Part 2: Java, graphics tablets and burnt fingers.
*Yes, noises. The tunes didn’t start for a long time afterwards.