BassoonTracker - opensource javascript music tracker
February 1, 2019 9:11 AM   Subscribe

In a stunning display of programming virtuosity, Steffest of has released BassoonTracker to the world. Based on the old Amiga ProTracker, it supports both MOD and FastTracker ][ XM files, which it can load from the massive collection Mod Archive. Find the source on Github.
posted by kmkrebs (34 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
holy heck
posted by cortex at 9:13 AM on February 1

Wow (also, this is a subject I haven't thought about in 20 years)
posted by bdc34 at 9:17 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Oh YES. This is great, thanks!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:18 AM on February 1

On the one hand, this is fantastic. On the other hand, I'll confess to some disappointment that it doesn't replace all of the samples with bassoons.
posted by jedicus at 9:31 AM on February 1 [18 favorites]

Needs more Purple Motion. It looks like Screamtracker format isn't supported though.

For some 16-track Fasttracker mayhem, try Deadlock by Elwood.

The loading interface is pretty awkward, so if you want to play something from Mod Archive it's probably easier to browse the site and change the moduleid in the URL to match.

I've seen a couple of MOD players done in JS and I think even a tracker or two, but this one is clearly superior.

One thing to note: The box in the upper-left corner above the Play button that looks like some sort of timer, isn't. It's the "playlist" of patterns that make up the song -- 01:00 02:05 03:02 means that pattern 0 plays first, then 5, then 2. The up/down arrows change the pattern that plays at the currently selected position. You can skip around the song by clicking here, or using the scrollwheel while hovering.

(this is awesome)
posted by neckro23 at 9:57 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]

This is lovely. I'm amazed the web platform has gotten to the point where it can track music reliably. And super-nice job on the tracker implementation.

Just to be clear; this is 100% samples, right, no synthesis? There's a sample editor included!
posted by Nelson at 10:02 AM on February 1

I suppose someone had to do this bassooner or later
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:18 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

This site has the first JS mod player I remember seeing. Also in the 90s a few applet-based players. A tracker is very welcome though; it would be cool if it could emulate PSGs to do chiptunes also.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:20 AM on February 1

break out the gabber, and let the children rejoice.

I spent a /dumb/ amount of time with Fasttracker ][ in high school, making far-too-lengthy droning industrial tracks with no discernable musicality. It was hella fun.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:20 AM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Oh, and they have some Dune...perfect. He was always able to squeeze an incredible amount of atmosphere out of an XM.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:26 AM on February 1

Ravetastic level music from Tempest 2000

There's a sample editor included!

This seems very heavily inspired by Fasttracker II, which was an incredible little tracker program for DOS that also had a sample editor built in. (Also the Snake game, for the hell of it. This one seems to be missing that feature.)

And nope, all samples. It's possible to make tiny chiptunes (that one's 23kB) through judicious use of very short looped samples.
posted by neckro23 at 10:27 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

I've been looking for a bassoon all day and thought this would help but NOPE
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:08 AM on February 1

You youngsters...

I had to google "music tracker" to see what you all were talking about. Still not sure how a music tracker differs from a digital multi-track recording deal with MIDI and the like. These just use math and not actual tracks?

Anyway, sounds cool.
posted by Windopaene at 11:59 AM on February 1

So, trackers are quite similar to MIDI files, at least conceptually - they have channels, note-on and note-off events, volume and pitch information for those channels, all that stuff.

The main difference is that the MOD/XM format also includes it's own sampler within it as standard, and in fact that sample playback and control is the ONLY type of virtual instrument it can trigger (I'm sure there are some later implementations of tracker-like things that can control MIDI / VST).

They were first implemented on the Amiga 500 as far as I know, which had a 4 channel sampler-like capability built into its sound chips, so MOD originally was pretty much just a primitive sequencer to control the Amiga's sampler.

Anyone used to a DAW + sampler would probably pick up using a tracker quite quickly (though would, quite rightly, be incredibly frustrated at having to pretty much text-edit their music all of a sudden)
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:44 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Man, I started out with MED then Octamed (8 channels on a 4 channel Amiga, what amazing sorcery is this?) and could type sample slides in hex like it was a perfectly normal thing to be able to do. Record the resulting stereo mix on to 2 tracks of my 4 track Tascam Portastudio then guitar and vocal overdubs and then avant-garde pop stardom beckoned*.

(* I didn't become an avant-garde pop star)
posted by merocet at 1:40 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]

But seriously, trackers were my introduction to electronic music. Discovered one at an Amiga store (they once existed!) on Long Island and surreptitiously copied the software onto a floppy and took it home. I was limited to aping the sounds that came with other MODs and didn't have a way to save them individually, so most of what I ended up writing were soundalikes at best. To "sample" your own sounds at the time required a "digitizer" which was very expensive.

A recent foray into learning 6502 assembly gave me the head-exploding revelation that the reason tracker inputs are all in hex is likely because you are just writing directly to memory. So simple!

Also, as noted in a recent post, Aphex Twin used tracking software to make his stuff.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:26 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

Still not sure how a music tracker differs from a digital multi-track recording deal with MIDI and the like. These just use math and not actual tracks?

There are still tracks -- traditionally four because that's what the Amiga supported (two hard panned left and two hard panned right). It's mostly a matter of interface -- you could compose songs with just a computer keyboard. MIDI gear generally wasn't used.

As Amiga music modules (as they're called) got more popular in the early 90's, and IBM-compatible PCs got better audio capability, people started making module players and trackers for PC, too. This was a bit complicated since PCs didn't have dedicated mixing hardware like the Amiga -- you had to mix the tracks together in software. Since you're already doing that, coders started adding more tracks and features to surpass the Amiga's limitations. Two major standards emerged -- Screamtracker (S3M) and Fasttracker (XM, which is what this Bassoon Tracker supports).

This was popular enough that sound card manufacturers started taking notice -- hence the Gravis Ultrasound, which did the mixing in hardware (using its whopping 128 kB of onboard sample memory!) so the CPU wouldn't be as taxed.

Notably, Epic Megagames (yes, the Fortnite guys) used module-style music in most of their games in the 1990s, including the Unreal games. The original Deus Ex, which used the Unreal engine, also used this for its in-game music.

(yes, I'm omitting the demoscene from this little history because that's a whole other can of worms)
posted by neckro23 at 2:27 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]

Renoise is still around and actively pushing forward.
posted by bongo_x at 2:55 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]

On the other hand, I'll confess to some disappointment that it doesn't replace all of the samples with bassoons.

It's named after the effects that the music has on the time-perception part of the brain, which is known as Shatner's Bassoon.
posted by acb at 4:13 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]

All of a sudden I'm maybe 12 years old again. No Amiga, but the cover-mount floppy disc of free stuff that came with whatever PC magazine I was getting at the time (PC Answers, I think, here in the UK) is in my 386 and I'm reading their print article about MOD files and getting the provided software "installed".

No sound card in the computer at that stage, but the provided DOS mod-player software - for better or worse - able to send its output directly to the PC Speaker.

I am certain I am mis-remembering some of the details. But what I am pretty much sure of is that the first MOD file I ever heard, vomited through pc-speaker, was this one. And I'm fairly sure this was the second.

Blew my tiny little mind.

(Somehow across all the years and computer upgrades, I apparently still have the original files. Either that or I re-downloaded them many years ago. Either way, my inner child is utterly delighted.)
posted by BuxtonTheRed at 4:33 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]

likely because you are just writing directly to memory. So simple!

Yup, you're basically programming 4 virtual machines with a weird music-related instruction set in assembly!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:13 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]

The thing about trackers is it looks so different from a linear DAW interface that it feels like something completely different is going on behind the scenes. Until I was playing around with one many years ago and realized that's exactly what all DAW's are doing, it's just the interface that's different. But that can lead to creating something very different, just like I tend to make different things with Live than Pro Tools or DP.
posted by bongo_x at 7:53 PM on February 1

It's strange to think that Ultimate Soundtracker was a commercial product that professional musicians pretty much hated, it failed commercially, but was kept alive through warez sites. I remember trying to publish an article estimating how many copies were sold vs pirated: it was beyond my pay-grade at the time.

I used to correspond with Teijo, the author of OctaMED. I always looked forward to the little envelopes from Oulu with a 3½" disk of musical wonder inside.
posted by scruss at 8:35 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]

Renoise is still around and actively pushing forward.

This is a very timely statement because after about 2 years of no updates (with the last release only being bugfixes) the Renoise devs just announced that they had not actually abandoned the project and are planning on doing more releases in the future.

Anybody curious about the trackers needs to check out Renoise. It's music software that uses the oldschool tracker paradigm but also includes a lot of more contemporary features (VST support, audio fx, scripting, and more!). It's my go to music program when I want to do anything sample based. The demo version only lacks a few features from the paid version so it is definitely worth trying out.

Bonus tracker stuff: If you have an old dos machine, an adlib compatible soundcard, and a hankering for FM synthesis then check out Adlib Tracker II by subz3ro.

Bonus Bonus tracker stuff: DefleMask is a relatively new tracker designed for creating music for oldschool video game consoles like the Sega Genesis.

Bonus Bonus Bonus tracker stuff: NerdSEQ is a really neat looking hardware sequencer for eurorack synths which uses a tracker interface.

Mega Bonus: Amiga Music: Jungle / Drum & Bass Compilation #1.
posted by Television Name at 11:21 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]

Clicked through, was like "a tracker HUH". Clicked file, load. Enigma right there on the list. Ok this is pretty cool. Actually its pretty goddamn awesome.

I'm personally partial to actual chip synthesis instead of samples when it comes to my old-timey computer music but there's just something so special about late-eighties-early-nineties Amiga mod sound that I can't help but smile. Everybody using the same set of samples ripped from the relatively small number of synths and Protracker being - in the end - relatively annoying to use just gave tunes that certain je ne sais quoi.

Thanks for posting this. Made my Saturday that little extra bit more nostalgic.
posted by Soi-hah at 1:42 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]

Yup, you're basically programming 4 virtual machines with a weird music-related instruction set in assembly!

Not entirely, as it's not Turing-complete or even capable of branching. It's more like a player piano (in that it's music notation, only squeezed into a straight grid).
posted by acb at 3:32 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]

I've always refereed to trackers as recording spreadsheets.
posted by bongo_x at 12:13 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]

Wow. I love reading tracker music, especially when you discover a trick you've never seen before. Occasionally I try to actually write some, but I seem to end up just making the exact same song in slight variations every time.
posted by lucidium at 1:46 PM on February 2

Not entirely, as it's not Turing-complete or even capable of branching

I never said Turing machines!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:52 AM on February 4

Hey now, don't get...[sunglasses]...testy
posted by cortex at 10:01 AM on February 4 [2 favorites]

That said, now I'm curious if anyone *has* made a tracker-like thing with the extra opcodes you'd need to do more computer-y stuff. That could be an interesting little generative music project.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:09 AM on February 4

Crap, I don't know what tracker I was using on the Amiga but it was before this and wasn't ProTracker (though still 1989-ish). I had had it for a few years, probably off of a Fred Fish disk. It supported samples and would do MIDI. My roommate that year had a keyboard so I went and using plans from an old Byte magazine for a PC MIDI card built myself a MIDI interface. It was the first and last time I ever etched a board with resist markers and acid and drilled holes. Gah. (exaggerating the Amiga 1000 had fast enough UARTs so that all that was needed was an opto-isolation bit). I remember the whole thing being a bit more console like than the ProTracker pic.

Had to just buy an 8-bit sampler (think it was parallel port interface). I don't even remember the sample rate.

Anyway, it could track keyboards, drums, etc. over MIDI and bonus 4 channels of 8-bit samples.

Fun times, nice post!
posted by zengargoyle at 12:35 AM on February 7

Haven't tried making anything yet, so far just loading up some of the files I have in ~/mods that I downloaded from BBSes back in the early 90s or so.
posted by ckape at 3:46 PM on February 8

Had to just buy an 8-bit sampler (think it was parallel port interface). I don't even remember the sample rate.

ISTR them being 10 kHz, 8-bit, mono.
posted by scruss at 7:53 PM on February 10

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