Max Tundra – ‘Selected Amiga​/​BBC Micro Works 85​-​92’ Cassette [Marvellous Tone]

Very cool this, encompassing that early computer archive vibe that made Ben Zimmerman’s The Baltika Years such an incredible collection to get lost in. This time around we’ve got an insight in to the early workings of Max Tundra aka Ben Jacobs, with a compilation of tracks recorded during his childhood on a Commodore Amiga 500 and Acorn BBC Micro Model B.

Originally released April last year via Bandcamp, it wasn’t until the cassette version appeared last month on Marvellous Tone that this 32 track collection came on to our radar. So glad it did, as it’s journey across the video-game-rave spectrum (if such a genre exists?) is ridiculously enjoyable.

Mostly rough ideas and sketches, when we say it paints the spectrum we really mean it. The 32 tracks only offer about 35 minutes of music, but damn there’s a lot thrown in there. It moves along quickly in tempo and ideas, creating structured 8-bit riffs better than most dungeon level soundtracks we grew up with one moment and then hammering the virtual organ the next, referencing Hecker as much as Maniac Mansion in parts.

Definite highlights for me were the covers that appeared somewhere on the b-side. Playing this in the background it was the Tundra take on what I think was The NeverEnding Story theme that sent me scrambling back over to the case. I say I think as I haven’t yet verified it 100%, but the cover of ‘Tainted Love’ that followed was more obvious, and after that his take on Paperboy game theme (probably one of my all-time favourites) confirmed we were versions territory.

We’re not going to geek out over the sounds here – unique as they are and painstakingly positioned. Though we will say that for bedroom producers who know their archive gear and history of sequencing tools, this is a goldmine of tracks to break down and appreciate in a whole new way.

You can pick up the physical copy from the Marvelous Tone bandcamp page here:

Alternatively we’ve embedded the original bandcamp tracks below, where you can link through and download it for a donation.

via Max Tundra

This is an album of two halves, entirely recorded during my childhood.

Selected Amiga/BBC Micro Works 85-92 is a curious mix of throwaway song-titles, rave- and videogame-influenced programming and pubescent reimaginings of the musical themes of the time. It is a fascinating precursor to “With Love To Mummy” – the next stepping stone on the path to the subsequent Max Tundra sound – also available here on Bandcamp. It is fairly easy to infer the kind of music I was listening to as a kid, some of which is still buzzing around my head these days.

Tracks 1-13 were created on my old Commodore Amiga 500. Tracks 14-23 were done on a BBC Micro at school. The latter were produced first – from the age of 11 – but I’ve put them at the end so as not to scare you off.

Tracks 1-13 (Commodore Amiga 500, 1MB):

Programmed using a variety of tracker sequencers, before eventually settling upon Teijo Kinnunen’s marvellous Med v2.13, with which I then went on to produce almost everything on my three Domino albums. Not bad for a free floppy disk on the cover of Amiga Format magazine (Issue 31, December 1990).

All sounds via the Amiga 500’s Paula sound chip, with four 8-bit PCM-sample-based sound channels and no external instruments as I hadn’t rigged the thing up to MIDI yet. Panned centrally and compressed slightly, but otherwise untweaked.

Tracks 14-23 (Acorn BBC Micro Model B, 32k):

Recorded in the computer lab at Alleyn’s School in south London, onto a compact cassette tape recorder, the microphone of which was shoved against the tiny external speaker of the BBC Micro, hence the insistent background chatter of eighties schoolchildren.

The “sequencer” was a BBC BASIC program someone had written, which played a bleepy version of “Close (To The Edit)” by The Art Of Noise. The notes and “drum” sounds were represented by a string of letters and numbers in quotation marks after a bunch of complex code. I would sit at my Granny’s kitchen table with squared notepaper and a biro, writing out representations of songs which would then replace the letters and numbers in “Close (To The Edit)” so as to reproduce the tune in question.

Bodmix and Bodmix 2 are my first attempts at “megamixes”, and are influenced by the “Max Mix” compilations I heard once on a summer holiday in Spain. It is with these two tunes that I really feel I pushed the squared-paper-and-biro working method to its limit.

All sounds created within the constraints of the BBC Micro’s inbuilt Texas Instruments SN76489 sound chip, which provides three square-wave tone generators, plus a white-noise generator for approximating drum sounds. Additional sonics are the clunking and hissing of a tape recorder and the aforementioned pupil-based background noise.