Lux Environments is a series of chiptunes made in MaxYMiser, a tracker for Atari ST and Atari STE, developed by gwEm. I have been working on this series since the summer of 2018, and it is not yet finished.
This page houses embeds for all the tunes, including the making-of text that I wrote to go with them, and also gives the origins of the samples I used. I have the rights to use all the samples that I use, but some of them require credit. I compiled the lists for that reason, but as I was doing it anyway I noted all sample origins (as far as I could trace them; I didn't keep track for a while), even if credit was not required.
Because I based the tunes on video game environments, I decided to make them loop instead of having a definite ending. In the YouTube videos each tune plays twice and then fades out. The tunes weren't made to be used in a video game—some of them have enough ideas for several, but the tracks are meant to be listened to on their own, which is why some do a lot to grab your attention. ;)
These tunes can be played on real Atari STE hardware, but they weren't optimised for this. For the YouTube videos, the song was recorded through JAM or through Hatari, depending on the tune.
A Plain New Day
First, the backstory. Shortly before the start of this academic year, my housemate was leaving for a world trip. He wouldn't be back in a while, so we had found a date to say goodbye. After we went out for dinner, I let him hear my then just released composition: Concrete Inspiration. He found it interesting, but missed the story. I just made whatever sounded nice, and didn't have anything in mind it should be about. I don't mind this, as I think music doesn't necessarily need a story. I think most Amiga and Atari demo tunes don't have one, but are made just to sound cool. However, I thought it might certainly add something! I then got the idea of making a series of MaxYMiser tunes based on video game environments. I have done two before: Back to Nature and Cave of Wonders. I made these for a game Haiko was making back then and still enjoy listening to them from time to time. For these I used a lot of recorded samples. I wanted to use environmental samples for this project too! It would be a lot more difficult, though, as the Atari wasn't made to play PCM samples. Nevertheless, MaxYMiser's got quite some support for it.
I started out by looking for uncopyrighted bird sounds I could use. It was a bit of a challenge, but I did find some! Two of these are from the same clip, and the third is a different bird. I could have gotten a few more, but I thought three would be enough, and easier to work with. In the end, some people find that the birds get annoying after a while, but I still quite like them. :) After feedback from my mother I tried making the birds be in sync with the music more, and that improved it. I also used the samples in creative ways a couple of times. ;)
At first I had an issue with the bird samples: when one played, a 'pbt!' sound would sound at the start. :P I tried to get rid of it by mastering the samples differently in Audacity, but to no avail. I then e-mailed gwEm, and he helped me out: I could edit the starting place of the sample in MaxYMiser itself. That worked, I could cut off the 'pbt'. :)
Finding a good djembé sound wasn't as easy as expected, but not too hard either. When I had one, I decided to play it on 3 fixed frequencies, and play around with that. If you pay attention to the rhythms, you'll notice that not a single djembé pattern repeats throughout the song! I thought it would be more realistic if I kept making up new rhythms, to resemble improvisation. At the very end, when I had already listened to the tune on my physical Atari, I decided to increase the volume of the djembé sample a bit, as even if I'd pay attention it would be hard to hear it, during most parts of the song. Now you certainly can, but it's not so loud that it distracts from the melody.
The main structure of the song is inspired by the theme. So yes: the 'story' was very helpful here! It starts out as 'a plain new day', with the pad starting out on its own and then doing some harmonies. Then, however, the fun gets going: this plain is almost as lively as a jungle! For the main melody, I wanted to make use of something I had heard about in a video by 8-bit Music Theory: a repeated phrase getting shorter. To make up the phrase itself, I used my piano, and found out this fun and flexible melody. I made some variations, and tried the idea of making notes glide down instead of holding straight: this makes the song sound a bit goofy, but playful, and that fits the vibe I wanted to create.
When I had first made the repeating phrase getting shorter thing I thought it sounded a bit strange. However, when I had forgot about the original phrase a little, and listened to it again, it actually sounded quite natural! When I let my new housemate (the other's younger brother) hear it, he didn't even notice the technique until I pointed it out, and even then it sounded so natural that he didn't quite grasp it (I'd probably need to note (hah) it down).
After this, I wanted a bridge, but only the djembé rhythm came naturally. At this point I paused work on the tune, and got busy with university. When I picked it up again I analysed the existing bass and second channel patterns to make up something new in the same spirit. I also decided to make a new bass sound, to set it apart more. This utilises the buzzer, which meant I could not lower its volume. Because it was too obtrusive otherwise I made it a very short stab, and I think that works out. I made something up for the third channel, as I didn't want to have a lead melody here. However, what I came up with was too dark for my theme, and this is when the story helped me for the second time. I considered the theme of a bright grassland with birds and got the idea of a high-pitched sustained arpeggio. It turned out to be a very good addition! Another thing I struggled with was making the tune sound happy, while still having a bit of tension: I wanted some of those B's in there at the end of the first half, before resolving.
After the short bridge I decided to throw the entire melody in again, because I thought it fit, and repetition is good. I think that, especially for video game music, I tend to make too little use of repetition. I kept channel 2 the same as well, but decided to mix up the bass. I think the bass melody isn't quite as good as the first time, but it's interesting, and it's cute that it is the only YM channel that dares to try something different.
After this repeat, I decided to round off the song by going back to the slow speed used at the start. I got the idea to use chords, and sure enough, they worked great with the instrument I'd made. I have fairly little knowledge of or experience with chords, but I could make up these simple ones. ;) I actually made the last four first, and then decided that should be the very end, and made the four just before that, that resolve back to the start instead of to the end. I'm really happy with how this sounds. :)
Because this is intended to be a video game tune, it was important to me that it looped well. I think it does. The only thing I'm unsure about is that at the end the first bird sample is played twice, which is the case at the start as well, making it be played four times in a row. However, I also thought it was nice to end in this way, and certainly to start in this way. So hopefully it's fine. :)
Lastly: the drawing. I've written enough, and the music is always the focus, so I'll keep this short. ;) My brother Folk helped me a little at the start, but I did most of it on my own. When I was done, I had a nice scene, but a lot of emptyness in the middle, which didn't look nice. I realised that I should put a bird there. However, I didn't think I could draw a bird. But my cousin Skimuilo was over, and I decided that we should try together, if we could find a nice example of a bird on Google. We did! I did the drawing, of course, but he helped in several ways: he gave suggestions, he corrected small mistakes and, most importantly, he motivated me to keep going. If he wouldn't have been with me I probably would have given up after the head, as I thought the body would be too difficult. :P But didn't it turn out great? :D
1 - Domingus - Djembe Samples - https://freesound.org/people/domingus/packs/3456/
2-5 - empty
6 - IFartInUrGeneralDirection - Carolina Wren Song - https://orangefreesounds.com/carolina-wren-song/
7,8 - Alexander - Blackbird Singing - https://orangefreesounds.com/blackbird-singing/
Rocks and Drops
This was quite a tricky one to make! I wasn't content with the main melody at first, but it managed to grow on me in the context of the larger composition. I had great difficulty with the 'very cool part', though. I made those first two patterns improvising and they turned out great, but I wanted to make two more, and not cut it off short. However, everything I made destroyed the flow. Eventually I decided to keep the second and fourth pattern the same, and only make the third unique. The third is still the weakest of the three, but I think it keeps the flow, now.
While working on this tune I also figured out some technical stuff, and got reminded that there's still some technical stuff I háven't figured out. In the end I thought I didn't need to use it here, anyway.
The cool new instrument at the beginning (it reminds me of a bass guitar) was actually inspired by discussion I had on the atari forum: someone said my samples might be too loud, and I said I always made them 'too' loud on purpose because otherwise you wouldn't hear them above the rest. He replied I could lower the volume of the YM instruments, but I argued that that wouldn't work if I used a Buzzer. So I decided to use a Buzzer. 😃 I was going to use it to simply replace the SID at first, but then I thought I'd do something cool with it for the repeat of the cool section. And it turned out really nice. :) At first I only repeated the first two patterns of the cool section, but because the bass thing was so cool I wanted to do more with it, so I extended it to the full four.
The final pattern was one that I'd written before even figuring out how to do the cool part, but I did end up changing it a bit. Most importantly, making the loop nicer, instead of the tune completely ending and starting over. After all, these tunes are meant to be able to be used in a video game.
The water drops were a challenge to do, making them fun and quirky, but also make sense. By the way, they're not at all in tune with the rest of the song.
Finally, I had a full mental description of how I wanted to do the graphic, and it turned out better than I had hoped it too. The drops were a challenge to make, and I think they could be better. They're obviously way too large for actual water drops, but I did that so I could give them more detail, and put more focus to them. Oh, also, for the first time ever (as far as I recall), the first photograph I made was the one I used. :P I didn't even make any other, as this one's perfect.
1 - ReiyaManor - Water Drops - https://freesound.org/people/ReiyaManor/sounds/351623/
2,3 - probably from 99 Drum Samples - https://99sounds.org/drum-samples/
4,5 - ??? unused
6-8 - empty
For this I decided to use a flute-like instrument for the lead, with some vibrato and a lot of tone slides. I used noise to simulate wind, and for the percussion I looked for some Arabian samples. It was actually rather hard to find what I wanted, but I ended up using a free pack with lots of loops. It didn't have one-hit samples, but some of the loops had isolated hits in them, which I could take and use.
I took inspiration from Alberto José González when I made the bassline, and added arpeggio chords to it. I think that worked out really well!
The melody is catchy too. However, the tune seems a bit boring, in some way. I intend to study the chord structures in all my MaxYMiser tunes to date and some tunes I love from other musicians, hoping to learn something from that to make my next (snow-themed) composition more interesting.
I did at least make the tune a lot less boring than it was, by, among other things, removing some patterns at the end (it used to take considerably longer until the melody restarted), and moreover by having the modulated repeat of the melody taken on by a different instrument, and on a much diverted rhythm. This adds a lot of fun, especially as the second voice does stick to the normal rhythm.
While this song might not be one of my best, I did do some new things (for me): the arpeggio chord style, the use of noise and most importantly the use of a second voice. It was fun to make too!
Hopefully you'll like it.
I'm rather happy with the graphic too. :) I was afraid it might not be close to as good as the previous two Environments graphics, but it turned out better than I thought. The only thing I don't particularly like is the tumbleweed, but I wanted it in, to have at least some visualisation of the titular wind. ;) The cactus looks nice, the trees around the oases and the flowers on the stones are cute, I LOVE the reflection of the moon in the lake at night, and I think the stylisation of the letters is quite cute. Interestingly, I used up all 16 colours for this drawing. I don't think I've done that before (except for Spiegelbeeld).
1-5 - Biochron - Arab Percussion Loops - https://soundpacks.com/free-sound-packs/arab-percussion-loops/
6 - probably crash-acoustic from 99 Drum Samples - https://99sounds.org/drum-samples/
7,8 - empty
Frost, Fright and Fairies
Of course I had to do a Snow theme! And naturally, I wanted to try use samples of footsteps in the snow as percussion. ;) I wasn't sure if I would be able to find good, free to use samples, but I was pleased with what I could find! Before I started any composition inside MaxYMiser I laid out the chord progression. I showed this to one of my housemates, and he made one improvement (the E chord at the end of the sad violin part used to be a C, I think). But I didn't know what a story this tune would tell, yet... however, as I was working on it, and was building up the snow sounds to get more intense as I'd generally build up percussion, I got the feeling that the protagonist of my tune was running away from something. Then I got the idea: what if he would crack through the ice?!? :o So I made it happen. ;)
After this I started work on the violin part. I also asked my housemate if he had an idea for how I could save the protagonist, and he suggested a fairy. But when I resumed composing, I lost all my work. :( I save often, but this time the entire save got corrupted, and I didn't have a back-up, having done all work up to that point within a week (I have a backup system while composing now!). Needless to say, I wasn't very motivated to continue working, as I'd have to redo the beginning first.
I think it took me up to two months until I finally continued. I actually started with the sad part, which went really well, then I remade the beginning, and then I finished the tune. I should note that the only thing I hadn't lost were the PCM samples (which I am very glad of!), and a demo of the first 15 seconds or so that I had shared in a Discord server. This demo was actually a bit of a frustration, as it contains quite a cute bass sound, and I have not been able to remake that. :P I'm pretty happy with the final bass sound, but I think the one in the demo was better!
Anyway: after I finished the theme, I wanted to submit it to battleofthebits's Winter Chip competition, and before that get feedback from the housemate. He actually liked it so much that I had very little feedback to go on. :P The only things he recommended were making the modulations at the triumphant part more subtle and lengthening the pause between the crack through the ice and the sad music. I did so, and then remembered the possibility of 'livewire' effects, which I used to make the violin fade out smoothly (I'm actually not quite sure I'm happy with that, but I'm done with the tune), make the crack of the ice do a stereo sweep, and master the treble and bass of that crack.
The reason that I am uploading this after winter ends is that I still had to make the DEGAS cover art, and this took some time (moreover, I could only work on it while at my parental home, and before the COVID-19 regulations, I wasn't there much ;)).
I am very happy I did remake this tune, as I think it might be the best I've done yet! Here are 10 firsts for this tune, for me:
- Picked chords ahead of time
- Made advanced vibrato effects
- Used 3 voices for the melody, in places
- Used chromatic descent
- Told a full story with the music
- Made a certain classic type of pad (the one that plays during the sad part)
- Made a very good loop! (this was quite challenging, considering I had done some modulations)
- Used a variable fixed detune for a buzzer sound
- Used Picardy 3rd in a full composition (at least consciously :P)
- Used a trick to use a sample longer than normally possible (the ice cracking)
I also spent hours on the graphic. ;) The snowflake was quite a challenge, especially with the in some senses limited tools of DEGAS+. The fairy (which I based on the opening cutscene of the GBA game Crazy Castle 5) was a lot of fun, although I left out the wings because I thought they might be too difficult and/or obscure the view of the shed. Also notice the snow on the names '607' and 'Lux'. :)
1 - MuseScore 3 - Sleigh Bells
2 - luminadii - Snow crunch 02 - https://freesound.org/people/rivernile7/sounds/274945/
3-6 - rivernile7 - Walking On Snow - https://freesound.org/people/rivernile7/sounds/274945/
7 - above + Euphrosyyn - SFX_Destruction_Ice_x04 - https://freesound.org/people/Euphrosyyn/sounds/380493/
8 - same as Rocks and Drops 2
Wandering Wondering Waves
I am very happy with how this tune turned out. This is probably the last of the themes that I had in mind when I originally conceived the Lux Environments series (I did already come up with an idea for #6!). Originally, I had pictured something like Super Mario's underwater music. But once I got to it, I decided that I didn't want to go that route. I wanted to make something grander. I wanted to make something that showed the beautiful side and the dark side of the ocean. I wanted to make something that portrayed wonder, curiosity, fear.
And frankly, I think I succeeded. :) When I started making this tune, I was really excited for it, and especially so after finishing the intro, on March 31st. I wasn't sure if I would be able to make the rest of the tune live up to it, though. I was especially uncertain about being able to create a catchy and fitting motif for the tune. I did! And funnily enough, the first thing that I put down, even though I wasn't happy with it initially, is what I ended up with. I thought it was too simple, but its simplicity allowed me to reuse it in many different ways, and have it still be recognisable.
Something else that I was a bit intimidated by was the prospect of having to find usable whale and dolphin sounds. But I was in luck, and found some pretty good stuff on freesound.org! I also hadn't been sure whether I would be able to make the whale sounds sound okay, but gwEm, the author of MaxYMiser, recently uploaded a video with tips on how to treat samples, and that was quite useful.
Here is a list of some of my achievements in working on this project that I am really happy with:
- Designing the lush instrument that plays the chords
- Designing the edgy instrument that is used during the scary part
- Making the intro (the chord extensions, the echoing off-meter downward-moving part, the sample use...)
- Using microwire treble and bass adjustment to great effect
- Reusing a 4/4 melody in 3/4 time
- Making a seamless loop
- Making one channel do three separate things 'at once' (the low harmonisation note, the hi-hat and the bleepbloops are all on YM channel 1)
- Creating atmosphere
- Drawing a dolphin
Also, for the first time I really did much with the SyncBuzzer. I had forgotten how it worked, so I rewatched gwEm's tutorial on it while working on the tune. It turned out I had never used it to its full potential... Well, I used more of that potential now! I did notice that the tune clips a lot on my STE. It's natural that it does when the bass is fully cranked up (this recording clips too!), but it does so throughout the tune too, which is definitely not intentional. If you want to try whether it works better on your end, or listen in an emulator (you do need an emulator that has microwire support, then), you can download the tune from http://bit.ly/MaxYMiser607.
Shortly before finishing the tune an update for MaxYMiser was released, which added some new effects. I will try to use them more extensively for the next installment (some of them are a bit glitchy, though...), but I already used one of the new effects to thicken up the PAAAA sound at the climax of the scary part. ;)
I actually wrote two more patterns for this tune this evening. I didn't end up rerecording the tune, though, as I think it is better off the way it is now. :) But I am glad that I have tried, so that I know.
1 - davidou - Baleines - https://freesound.org/people/davidou/sounds/88449/
2 - felix.blume - Amazonian Dolphins -https://freesound.org/people/felix.blume/sounds/408555/
3 - felix.blume - Dolphin screaming underwater in Caribbean Sea (Mexico) - https://freesound.org/people/felix.blume/sounds/161691/
4 - KEVOY - Diving with whales - https://freesound.org/people/KEVOY/sounds/82325/
5 - Tritus - Whale - https://freesound.org/people/Tritus/sounds/186899/
6,7 - 505 From Mars - Clean Kit - https://samplesfrommars.com/products/505-from-mars
8 - craigsmith - G12-15-Dolphins Underwater - https://freesound.org/people/craigsmith/sounds/437947/
You can download the SND files here, from the Environments folder. All tracks have been ICE-compressed, but some of them are still quite large, because of the sample use. The tracks are not compatible with the original Atari ST, as the DMA is required for the samples. They can be played back on an Atari STE. They can also be played back in the Hatari emulator. Some tracks work well in JAM too, but not all of them.
Feel free to open the tracks in MaxYMiser and have a look at how things work, but mind that I do not clean up my tracks. You might find unused or duplicated sequences, strange instrument names, et cetera. You are not free to upload modified versions of my tracks, as long as I'm around.