As I explore the demoscene, I discovered that there are some people who are like “wherever I go, there you are”*. Those are people who actively drive and support the scene, and some provide the platform for demosceners across the globe to shine (and the place for fandom to ohh and ahh over). And probably, without their help, this culture could instantly become past tense…
Gloom, the guest of this time is definitely one of these “demoscene-driver”. He has been in the scene since late 80s, and aside from being famous for his musical talent, he is contributing to various demoscene-related sites/events like… Scene.org, Displayhack, Solskogen (Norwegian demoparty), NVScene… ah what else… 🙂
In this interview, he revealed some secrets to have successful and happy creative time (and life) and explained why he could stay active in the scene for more than 20 years.. (and we can check his working space!)
It’s almost impossible to track everything you do in the scene! Could you tell us who you are and what you do?
I take that as a compliment. 🙂 My name is Bent Stamnes, and I’ve been a demoscener since the late 80s. These days I’m probably most known for making music for and directing demos for the groups Excess and Dead Roman, though given the current free-spirited nature of the scene where group-affiliations don’t really exist any more, I’ve worked with a lot of other people and groups as well. I really enjoy collaborating with as many people as possible, because it gives me insight into how they approach demomaking, which is always an interesting learning experience.
I’ve read somewhere that your first computer was Commodore 16.. (wow) When was the first time you used computer and what impression you got?
The first computer I owned was indeed a Commodore 16 – the poor man’s Commodore 64. I got it as a present from my cousin who had upgraded to the 64. At the time I got it I was completely in love with how the keys felt and the fact that typing on it would produce graphics on a small black and white travel TV I was allowed to use with it. I only had a few games, but made a sport of copying C64 games from friends to see if they would work on the C16. A few actually did. 🙂
Smart 🙂 And when did you find out about the demoscene?
I was vaguely aware of the cracking scene when I used the Commodore, but it wasn’t until I started using a PC that I really got into it. Yeah, I went straight from the C16/64 to the PC – a little strange, I know. Most people I know went for the Amiga at that time, but I started on the PC because that’s what me and my neighbors had at that time. I had friends with Amigas and were always envious of their cool graphics and great music, which is why the first really nice PC demos really spoke to me.
Do you remember the first demo you saw? Did you try create your own after seeing it?
The first prods I watched on a regular basis were a BBS invitation from the Paranoids (“No LamersAllowed”), “Dragnet” from DCE, demos from Ultraforce (“Suzanne Vega” and “Vectordemo” especially), “Yo!” from FC (Future Crew) and the Xmas demos from Capacala and other groups. I also used the THG intromaker to make crap stuff with images I made in Deluxe Paint and the bad, bad music I created using a Covox and the trackers of the day. I could watch demos over and over again — especially the Xmas demos (which were usually music discs) I could play many hundreds of times (much to the despair of my younger brother and neighbor kids, who just wanted to play games). The first piece of “music” I ever made was a .BAT-file with BEEP commands. I still have it somewhere. 🙂
I can easily imagine how your brother and neighbor kids looked like 😀 So when was the first time you participated the demoparty?
I attended my first big party in 1993 (The Party 93), which was a life-changing experience. It was a bus-trip arranged by a few Norwegian groups, and was truly epic. From that point on, I was hooked on the scene.
What was it like to create and release your first demo? Was it fun? Was it hard?
The first demo I ever made was called “ZAP!” by MAD – Microchips After Dark (note: Released at The Gathering 1994; group name got typo). Strictly speaking, it was a 100kb intro, but we didn’t manage to get it down to that, so it was entered as a demo instead. It featured a few pictures made in Deluxe Paint and a flat-shaded cube, as well as some music. My contributions to it was more or less just to get the crew together (a few friends that didn’t know each other but separately possessed some skills), and editing the module down in length plus tweaking graphics at the party place to make the prod stop crashing. The prod was really terrible (for one, the music player would just start the music and not sync to frames or anything, meaning that the only place it ran “as designed” was on my own computer). But it was fun, nonetheless. It also got a little attention from other groups, which helped me to connect and work with others.
Let me ask you about the creation process… You’re known as musician but in Excess, you’re often credited as musician and graphic artist/designer. How does this work? Do you make music first and make the graphics to go with that? When does coder come in…? Will you explain a bit about your group’s working process?
It works a little differently depending on who I work with. If it’s an Excess or Dead Roman prod, the process is more or less the same: the coder has an idea for an effect — or a scene rather — and I then create the music without any reference to that effect or scene at all. So the music is always the first thing that’s finished. This is actually my preferred method of working, because it means I have pretty good control over what the motion of the visuals are going to be. I don’t code myself, but thankfully I work with coders who know their stuff, which means things usually work out great.
The tool I prefer to work with is called GNU Rocket. It looks just like a regular music tracker, and lives in its own window outside of the demo. I usually use two monitors, meaning I can have the tracker full screen running next to the rendering window. The tracker has columns that are instances of controllable effects within the demo engine. So for example, one column would be named “Part”, and changing this from 00 to 01 etc. would change the scenes. Another might be “Camera”, which would be the active camera, and then there are lots and lots of columns named after things like screen fading, object rotation, blur etc. Using this tool / method I actually get to implement things that, for me, make or break a demo, and that are the small things — the spice, or condiments, if you will — which are things like short timed flashes, or a camera tilt, or something that’s connected to an element in the music that people might not notice, but “feel” is there anyway. Doing that tends to tell a much deeper story than just going from A to B. A good example of this would be “Spheres on a plane” or “Regus Ademordna“(video) – there are lots of tiny things in there, making them feel more complete.
“Spheres on a plane” by Dead Roman
Working this way makes it really, really fast to put things together – at least for me. The resolution of the rows in the tracker is also bound to the BPM of the song, which means that it’s easy to know where to place things. This might all sound a little weird, but it’s a really nice way to work. The best thing is just to try it yourself. GNU Rocket is open source and has been used in everything from Flash demos to 4k intros as well. It’s on Github – go give it a try. 🙂 When it comes to making demos, I’m a strong believer in “just doing it” – don’t spend years making The Engine To Rule Them All(tm) because you’ll never end up producing anything. I’d rather make 4 so-so demos in a year than none at all. Smaller project is the key to productivity — the days of the megademo are over.
And when you provide your music to other groups or projects, do you give any ideas to them or join the creation/review process? Or you simply let them do whatever they want to do with your music?
It differs. Some people are really inclusive and share progress and discuss direction, request changes to the tunes etc, and that’s fun. Others just get the soundtrack and at some point I see the demo released (and quite a few times I never see the demo at all, because they cancel it) which is fine as well, but if I’d have to draw a line somewhere I’d say that those who have a back-and-forth are the most rewarding because I get to participate in the process, even though I’ve made music for demos not having a clue how the final demo would turn out and those demos ended up amazing as well. It’s hard to give a definite statistic though. At the end, working with people you like is probably the best way, because even if the demo perhaps doesn’t turn out to be utterly awesome, at least you had a good time making it.
That’s really interesting to know… By the way, you just used the word “spice” and “condiments” to describe your creation process. And this reminds me that you seem to cook quite often (according to my Twitter-cyberstalking… sorry…) Do you follow recipe when you cook? Or you like to improvise?
That depends on what I’m making. If I’m cooking something for the first time then I tend to follow the recipe exactly, simply because it creates as baseline for that particular dish. So when I repeat it, I can build on that and add, remove or replace ingredients if needed. I’ve dabbled a bit with molecular gastronomy, and in that particular discipline it is vitally important to be exact with measurements and types of ingredients. But – if it’s something I know well, I improvise all the time, creating variations on a well-established theme. This all sounds a little pretentious perhaps, but it’s really good fun — I really enjoy cooking.
Molecular gastronomy?! (gasp) Oh, okay… then let’s go back to music-making. “Composition” seems like a very mysterious process to me… How do you compose music? Do you have any ideas to try or express before making it? (like… specific sound, BPM, genre, imagery, lyrics, feeling…?)
Now that’s a hard question indeed. It depends on my mood and the project. A few times I would get a list of songs that the coder likes, asking for specific styles (like dubstep or something), and I’d go ahead and try to match their request. Other times I just start on something and work on it until it makes sense. I don’t know how other musicians work, but I have a “rule” that pretty much guides me whenever I make music: if whatever it is I’m working on doesn’t sound good after 20 minutes, I’ll scrap it and start over. I do this because many years ago I tended to just get stuck and miserable when something didn’t work out, so now, with two kids and working full time, I have very few hours in the day to create music, and the best thing is just to recognize that whatever it is on the screen isn’t working and start over. That has saved me many many times.
In terms of genres or styles, I do lean heavily towards the electronic, with a particular fondness for big beat, breakbeat and anything with a signature bassline. That’s just what I happen to enjoy myself, so that’s what I try to make as well.
Sometimes I use images or screenshots of the demo I’m working on as inspiration. It can be as little as a gradient of green, or a shadow or something, and then I try to think of something that makes that visual “fit” with the music. But, most often it’s a certain sound that I’m going for. The type of demo also defines the tempo/BPM really. Some demos have fast moving imagery and need faster music, while others are slower, and require a different approach. If I was to give one solid advice to people making demos, it would be to slow things down. If you’re aiming for a 175 BPM drum’n’bass track, you’d better have a ton of visuals to go with it, otherwise it becomes boring — fast. When in doubt: slow things down. Good life advice too. 🙂
Thank you, I’ll keep that in my mind 🙂 When you come up with the idea for music while you’re out, do you sing that to your phone to remember?
Haha, no, not really. But I might just make a note of a chord sequence in the “Notes”-app on my phone instead, or make a note of the song name if I heard something that I want to check later on.
Melodious, emotional, or shower of sharp beats.. your music varies a great deal.. where do you get your inspiration?
This has a really boring answer: whatever I’m currently listening to dictates what I create. I know, it’s such a cliché, but it’s the truth. For example, when I was making the soundtrack to “Apocalypse When” (video) by Fairlight, I was listening to the “I Am Legion”-album on repeat for weeks.
Not just making your own, you’ve provided some demoscene music playlist in the past. (BitJam (#85), I enjoyed it :)) Do you listen to demoscene music a lot or you normally listen to music outside of the scene? What do you listen to these days?
I don’t really listen to “demoscene music” because now, IMHO, there really is no such thing. Back in the day I would record demos on tape and listen to their soundtracks on my walkman for hours (“Crystal Dream II“, for example), but nowadays pretty much anyone making music for demos makes music and releases it online anyway. So I would say that while music from people who make demo soundtracks are on my playlists, I usually just listen to “regular music”, if there is such a thing. Funnily though, these days I have the new album from Mosaik (a demoscene musician) on repeat when I work — it’s fantastic. In addition to that I listen a lot to Deadmau5, The M Machine, Cloudkicker, Noisia, Mat Zo and a ton of other stuff. My musical tastes typically vary throughout the day, so while I might listen to something hard and fast in the morning, I might switch to jazz (Mats Eilertsen is a favourite) by the end of the work-day.
Let me take a note of these… obviously I trust your recommendations.. 🙂 Was there any music or album which gave you a hint or changed your view towards music?
There are many. When you listen to something and a lightbulb goes on above your head, and you think: “Ah, so I can side chain just the reverb on the snare hits instead! Cool, must try that!” — that’s when you learn something. Or you listen to Deadmau5 or BT or Cloudkicker and try to keep track of all the different time signatures on the various elements in the background. Really it comes down to style and ideas.
I remember when I was 11, and dabbling in making small pieces of music on my keyboard or piano, I remember being so insanely mad and angry because I thought that by the time I would be an adult, all the music in the world would already have been made. A silly thought when I look back at it of course, because things change and evolve all the time, and there is no such thing as “running out of music”, but that’s how I felt at some point. Certainly it can feel like that from time to time when you listen to something and thing “Holy hell, THAT’S SO GOOD!”, but instead of being put down by that, I’m inspired instead.
If I got a time machine in the future, I’ll make sure to visit that moment and make him listen to what you create 🙂 You explained that you would start from scratch after 20 minutes of struggling. Is there any other rules or goal you set for making demo/music?
Well, if I’m making music for a demo I try not to send something away that I don’t like. It’s happened, of course, because of deadlines and so on, but more often than not I like what I’ve created, and that’s the most important thing. The goals and rules vary with each production of course, so it’s hard to find a universal set of rules or guidelines. Being happy with the result is it, I guess. When it comes to making music for the music alone, I’m much harder on myself and don’t release that often. Without the visuals the music must stand on its own, which means it has to comply with a higher standard.. something that’s been keeping me from releasing an EP I’ve been working on for the last six months. But, no matter how I feel about it, I’m going to release it before Christmas this year (2013) – that’ s my rule for that one.
Update (Feb 14, 2014) His EP is out now. You can check them from here.
Can’t wait! 🙂 Is there any difference between releasing your track one-by-one and releasing them in EP or album?
Oh, totally. Doing a collection of songs is always different, not only because of the mixing and mastering process becomes more laborious, but due to the construction of the overall playlist. It’s a bit like planning a DJ set really, where you need to make sure you can create some dynamics and elevation throughout the whole thing. Even though people don’t usually do full album listen-throughs any more (at least that seems to be the trend), I still want to make sure that the collection of songs makes sense in succession. This means that while everything might line up nicely, I might realize that there is a type of song or tempo or energy missing in the middle of the album, and I then go forward and create a brand new song just for the purpose of gluing it all together. That’s something that happened on this EP I’m working on – twice, actually. But it’s all for the best, because I think it makes it all better in the end. But yeah, it takes more time, and makes it way different than just releasing one-offs here and there, which is a much simpler process.
Oh wow. As one of those old-fashioned listeners, that’s exciting to know! 🙂
What program do you use to compose music? Do you use actual instruments?
I compose melodies on my piano, and I use several hardware synths, but mostly it all happens inside the computer yeah. Sometimes my broher-in-law comes over to play guitar which I record and manipulate. My DAW (music composition software) of choice is called Reaper, which I enjoy working with. It’s fast and stable and I know my way around it. But I’m not going to recommend a particular piece of software because Your Mileage May Vary — just use whatever works for you, that’s my advice.
(Gloom has provided the full list of gears he uses on his blog)
Could you show us where your music/graphics are born? Do you do anything particular while making them… like always work in the midnight, drinking tea… Do you need silence before composing music?
photo by Gloom
I typically work in the evenings or during the night. Less distractions and being able to focus is always good, as it is with most things that require concentration. I do drink tea, but mostly I don’t eat or drink anything while working on music. Just the screens, keyboard and synths.
Ok, so here comes the classic question… your favorite demo, memorable demo, demo that changed your life… anything… tell us a demo which is special to you.
I can’t say what my favorite demo is, because there are so many to choose from, so many that made an impression on me. But, I can make it easier for myself by mentioning a few that had a direct impact on my “life” as a demoscener at least, and the demo that solidified my dedication to the scene is hands down “Second Reality“(video). Yes, there were demos before it, and many good demos after it, but the way it was put together in such a “perfect way”, just introduced a quantum shift in how we felt about demos at that time. It’s a really boring answer, but for me, “Second Reality” will always be THE demo of my youth.
Addition to being an active demoscener and releasing prods, you’re organizing demoparties and providing some places to share knowledge from this scene (like Diplayhack). Why do you do that?
Well, in the case of “my” party — Solskogen — it was born out of an almost necessity. Back in the early 2000, myself and a few good scene friends were in agreement that the biggest demoparty in Norway (The Gathering) was simply turning into something we didn’t like or enjoy. Too many gamers, too little focus on the creative stuff, and after attending Scene Event in 2002 we decided that a small, demoscene only event, arranged during summer, would be the ideal thing. So a new party was born and it is now the largest and best (IMHO) demoscene event in Norway, and it’s even approaching the size of other Scandinavian demoscene only events, which is really rewarding. I guess “rewarding” is the right word, because the crew that makes Solskogen happen every year is a stellar group of people, and it shows. There is nothing more rewarding than going on stage and welcoming people to the party and seeing them enjoy themselves for a nice weekend of scene friends, demos and music.
When it comes to Displayhack I will be the first to admit that we haven’t quite nailed the profile for that site yet. It started as a clear idea but became somewhat unmanageable over time. So we’ve launched a new initiative called Curio which highlights demos we feel should be seen, with big screenshots and embedded videos. Both of those sites are set up together with Gargaj, whom seem to be my hetereo demoscene lifemate. 🙂 Whenever I think of something scene related, I typically discuss it with him first to see if it’s a viable idea or not.
I’m also involved with Scene.org which we plan to rewamp a little in the coming year. New site, new archive front-end and more. Scene.org is also the organizer behind NVScene 2014 which will happen in San Jose next March, which I’m really looking forward to.
If the question still is “why”, then I say “why not?” – the demoscene has given me so much and I’d like to see it keep on living. There are still quite a few people pulling their weight to make sure that happens, but if we stop, then the scene will stop as well. So yeah — why not?
Ok, then what is demoscene/demo to you? Has demoscene changed your life?
It has definitely changed my life. I owe a lot to the people and events in the scene because they allowed me to forge networks and meet new and interesting people and learn from them. I can’t really put a price on that other than to say that I’ve been involved with the scene for over 20 years, and there is a reason I keep doing that.
What would you say if your kids ask you “what is demoscene?” And what would you say if they say they want to join? Do you encourage them or stop them with full force?
Hehe, well, my oldest daughter is 5 now, and her favourite “demo” of mine is “Catzilla“, which she calls “the scary cat” and usually wants to watch over and over again. She doesn’t quite understand what the demoscene is of course, but she knows that dad goes to this place for a weekend each summer where a lot of people gather and there is loud music (she comes to Solskogen every year, usually on Saturday afternoon, for a few hours). She’s more into playing on the iPad or sitting with me and playing with a small Arduino-kit that I have (LED lights, a speaker which makes bleeps, rotary buttons and such). If she’d want to know more about the scene when she grows older then I’d be happy to tell her all about it, that’s for sure.
Sounds sweet and promising 🙂 What type of demo/music do you want to make in the future? Is there any dream or goal that you want to achieve in the scene?
By now I think I’ve done pretty much everything I ever wanted to do as a demoscener, and I think I’ll just keep trying to do that. Work with cool and talented people, and try new things. No specific goal really, just keep making things. On the music side I do want to produce a full-length album at some point.
Finally, your message for demosceners and demo fans out there please.
Keep on truckin’.
Though he was in the middle of finishing up his EP, Gloom kindly answer all questions and providing photos 🙂 Thank you so much Gloom! (and thank you for everything you do for the scene…)
On his blog, he shared various thoughts around music/demoscene along with his latest release news (you can also check the statistic of demoscene situation!) And of course, be sure to check Displayhack and Curio (I think Curio website is perfect for non-tech groupie as well! Love it :D) and scene.org (scene authority) and upcoming NVScene 2014…
Thank you very much for reading! 🙂
In case you’re wondering what “demo” or “demoscene” is, better check out the well-made documentary called Moleman2. (and the director, M. Szilárd Matusik’s interview can be read in here.)
#1: q from nonoil/gorakubu is here.
#2: Gargaj from Conspiracy, Ümlaüt Design is here.
#3: Preacher from Brainstorm, Traction is here.
#4: Zavie from Ctrl-Alt-Test is here.
#5: Smash from Fairlight is here.
#6: Gloom from Excess, Dead Roman is here.
#7: kioku from System K is here.
#8: kb from Farbrausch is here.
#9: iq from RGBA is here.
#10: Navis from Andromeda Software Development is here.
#11: Pixtur from Still, LKCC is here.
#12: Cryptic from Approximate is here.
#13: 0x4015 aka Yosshin is here.
#14: Flopine from Cookie Collective is here.
#15: noby from Epoch, Prismbeings is here.
– Why I’m interested in demoscene is explained in this article. And for some of my other posts related to “demo and “demoscene” culture is here.