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The life and times of james Hart: his family, his music, life in Luton and his occasional escapes onto the internet.

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Friday, 25 June 2010

Retro computers and... er... music!

I've mentioned that my younger brother Dave and I have had some fun Monday evenings together playing with musical instruments. We've not quite finished anything yet, but spending time with him playing with different sounds has certainly inspired me, and I've certainly not let the dust settle on the kit, despite the busy nature of modern life.

We've both long shared a passion for old computers, too, and on Sunday - as a Father's Day treat from our families! - we spent the afternoon at Bletchley Park (a fantastic museum as it is) enjoying the Vintage Computer Festival which was being held there. It was a historic haven for some absolute gems of computer kit, including some rarities that I'd never even heard of, let alone seen, including three out of the five prototypes that were built of a 'business' version of the Dragon 64!

As we ambled past row upon row of carefully preserved and customized pieces of computing history, and attended a performance of a work called "Obsolete?" by an artist known as Pixelh8, crafted from samples of computers and systems based at the museum, it became clear that one afternoon simply wasn't enough to take in all the delights, so I'm hoping we can have a 'day pass' for the next time there's a Vintage Computer Festival!

There are more photos of geek heaven in the gallery.

A ZX81 on top of an Atari STFI could easily bore you with a list of the classic home computing kit that Dave and I share, but it's fairly extensive and quite tedious (so perhaps it merits a separate blog entry!) However, I have a lot of affection for the first computer we ever had as a family - the Sinclair ZX81, and was really pleased that Beth was able to buy one of eBay that still worked. Using a piece of Java software called TapeUtils, I was able to turn tape 'images' of software for the computer into WAV files that I could load onto my iPod Touch and play them in through a slightly modified audio cable - they worked perfectly, and I could play such classics as Galaxians and Catacombs. Yeah, you can play both of them on an emulator (like "EightyOne") but it's more fun plugging it up to a real television - although modern flatscreen TVs have a real problem with a black and white UHF modulated video signal!

I also have a lot of affection for the Atari STF which was kindly donated to me by one of my university housemates in our second year at University of Kent. The children have enjoyed playing the very basic 16-bit games, but my favourites were always Virus (based on the amazing Zarch for Archimedes) and Wizball, which I have come frustratingly close to completing on a number of occasions, but never have because I didn't have the right combination of colours on the final level(!)

One Saturday morning last month, I had another go at completing it - the children were intrigued by the basic graphics but ingenious gameplay (modern Flash-based games are much more colourful, but are thay any more interesting?) - and very much enjoyed hearing the unique timbre of the computer generated music through my studio speakers. Inspired, I sampled a number of the sounds from the game and made a rather lo-fi but quite fun 'techno' remix of the theme using nothing but sounds from the game and some wizardry inside Logic Audio. It might not be to everyone's taste, but here it is in all its glory:

jamelopoeia - Wizball Theme (zappy techno lofi remix thing [1:52]

Posted by james at June 25, 2010 10:56 PM

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