Julie Dunn / Freelance
Added on February 11th, 2016 (3000 views)
Hello and welcome, Julie! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Well, there's a question and a half! There have been so many life events, I could write a book! I attended Erith Grammar School in Kent, then went on to train under Alan Rowlands and Antony Milner at The Royal College of Music. I tutored at the Centre for Young Musicians in London, and have also worked as a Head of the Department of Music and a Departmental Head of Music at different institutions. Following a significant life change, I studied psychiatric nursing at Kings College, London, going on to study for a psychology degree. I then worked at a forensics unit, before taking a lead role at a psychiatric-admissions mother and baby unit. Lastly, I bought and ran a retirement home for the elderly, before taking early retirement myself.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
I originally had a VIC-20, which was alright. One day, I went to talk to the sales staff at a UK retail company which was active in the home computer market at that time, and the man seemed a bit despondent that I had bought a VIC-20 when there was a much better, newer computer on the market. He asked me to bring in my VIC-20, which was then ceremoniously disposed of due to some fictitious non-working parts, and handed me a Commodore 64. I have to thank him for that, actually, he could never have known the longer-term consequences of that decision!
My involvement in games started with a phone call to Rabbit Software in 1982. I told them they needed music in their games. They obviously disagreed, as I never heard from them again, and I initially thought nothing more about it.
Sometime later, I was in a computer shop in Dartford, Kent and I said to someone: "BASIC is so slow, is there anything that goes faster?" Suddenly, Anil Gupta pops up out of nowhere, literally, and says: "You need this", handing me what turned out to be a compiler program. I then mentioned that I wrote music, and his eyes started to shine. He asked me to come back once I'd done something in machine code, which I did. It was a demo program made up of some really naff graphics in BASIC, combined with some machined-coded versions of The Mexican Hat Dance, The Thames TV Logo trail and Pipes of Peace. I'm sure someone must still have that program somewhere. Most importantly, though, Anil was amused.
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit sample work to various games companies in order to procure jobs, or did jobs come to you?
It started when Anil asked me to go and meet Roger Gamon. His son had a program called Flight, and they wanted some intro music for it. Anil said to take along some samples.
When I arrived, their front room was cluttered with hardware and C64 samplers. I remember saying that I could do with one of those. I took along two sample pieces. One was something in the vein of Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, which they were really unimpressed with, but the second one rather bowled them over. It was a tune I'd originally written in 1975; I'd found that using the ADSR on a saw channel gave the bass riff an echoey effect, and two pulses slightly detuned from each other played the main theme. I was hired! But I still never got that sampler...
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform?
The SID chip, so much better than the BBC Micro, Amstrad CPC, Dragon 32, Oric, Spectrum and MSX machines. I did do conversions, but they were very bland.
What C64 games did you work on? Please include a list of titles and as many details as you can recall about each of them (such as what it was like to work on each game, any sketches you did, what programs you used, fun anecdotes from creating the game, what the people were like to work with on the various games, the timeframes, any problems or headaches, etc.).
There were too many games to list; sadly, too many headaches too! But I'll keep this question in mind. There's a huge amount of information to give here, too much to do off the top of my head.
My favourite track is without a doubt Thai Boxing! When I listen to it, it takes me straight back to the first time I loaded it up and saw (and played) that fantastic game. Tell us a bit about the composition of this track. Was it an original piece?
Yes, it was an original. It partly came from the electronic percussion used on the pop tracks of the day, like Ring My Bell, and I thought: "I can do that". I re-wrote the whole loader/driver program to make it work. The tune was easy, it had been buzzing around in my head for ages. Thai Boxing was probably the beginning of the end for me: Roger Gamon had since died of a brain tumour, Ocean had enlisted their own in-house programmer, and as the sole contracted person there, I felt I was becoming disinterested.
Which of your C64 tunes is your favourite?
I don't really have one, though I do have a lot of stuff that I wrote in a hurry and think is sort of... naff. If pushed, I would have to say Flight Path 737, because that was the first tangible thing I did musically in machine code for a game.
Another big favourite of mine is Nonterraqueous. For me, it's the perfect game tune and a really great composition. Tell us a bit about this piece and how it came together.
This one was so funny. I think it was for Richard Darling and Mastertronic. They wouldn't pay me any serious money for a theme tune, so I wrote them what I thought was a really silly jingle. Sometimes, it happens that way: you write a riff and suddenly you rather like it, so I guess it can't have been that bad.
Were any of the pieces written before you got commissioned to do the music on a certain game?
Yes. The Fourth Protocol, Flight Path 737, maybe some others.
It is true that you had to re-write one of the original tunes in Chiller because Mastertronic were afraid it was too close to Michael Jackson's Thriller and they'd get sued?
This was a delicate matter. My understanding of the contract was that Mastertronic wanted some publicity, and I was to have a second version ready.
The new tune sounds quite different from the old one, it's a more mature sound. Did this change come a long time after the first version, once you'd acquired more knowledge about composing and the sort of sounds you wanted to get out of the SID chip?
It was simply what they asked me to do.
When covering someone else's music, was there usually a discussion about getting a licence? Did the games companies care?
The reputable ones did. Things like Star Trek or EastEnders obviously needed a licence.
Did you write the music on piano first, before inputting the notes into the machine?
Each job always started in my head. If I didn't have an idea, I tended to leave well alone. Except for the naff stuff, where it didn’t matter and I didn't so much care.
Did you program your own music driver or did you get help from somebody else?
My driver was always of my own creation, but the guy who wrote Gilligan's Gold helped me a lot in terms of doing things more efficiently; I wonder where he is now. I suspect Ocean used a driver with my data in Decathlon, as did the team working on Elite (David Braben and Ian Bell). As far as I know, everyone else used my driver.
Did you also program a sequencer for inputting the notes tweaking the sounds, or was it all done in hex?
No, I had a loader/driver, many of which in fact improved the sound over time. At the end of the day, however, you had to compile, listen to it and then compile again with new data. You would do this by poking the driver; at least I think that's right.
What's particularly special about your music is that it was quite different from that of other composers in 1984-1985, and you weren't afraid to cover Johann Strauss or Johannes Brahms. Was classical music your biggest influence at the time?
That difference was due in part to the fact that I wasn't terribly aware of the stuff going on around me at the time. I think my love of imagery and impressionism comes from my training at the Royal College of Music with Alan Rowlands and, through him, from John Ireland. At the same time, it was obvious that game producers were employing their own in-house people. I could never quite get my head around writing repetitive jingle-jangle stuff.
Space Hunter is a game where you shoot things in space, but the music is this sweet little tune, which I find quite funny! I remember not liking it much at the time because it didn't sound like the 'normal' sort of game tune I was used to, but now I really like it. It reminds me of how films like A Clockwork Orange were scored. Did you get to see the games, or at least get some kind of description of what the game was about, before you composed the music or did they just give you free rein?
Thanks, though I fear I may have been a bit too far ahead of my time. In the end, what was important was just a desire to get things done. That at least was a huge incentive for me.
The music for Theatre Europe, a war game in which you can for instance drop nuclear bombs on Brussels, is a happy little tune and even includes notes from Give Peace a Chance by John Lennon. Does this reflect your disposition, preferring to write something jolly instead of something dark and sad for a war game?
Not especially, this was another case where it was simply what they asked me for, so I wrote what they wanted.
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
There were too many for me to list or recall here, too, I'm afraid.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer at that time.
It could be quite boring at times. It became routine: you thought of a tune, wrote it down; if it was any good, imagination would kick in. Flight Path 737 and most of the stuff I did for Anirog (later: Anco) Software was really interesting. Anil introduced me to Brøderbund Software, which was good, too. It was very much about who you knew and spoke to and who showed interest in your work. Mastertronic is an example of a crowd I didn't especially enjoy working for. Sorry, folks....
Please share some memories from the old days! (Like something a colleague did or said, about your time on the demo scene, crackers stealing development disks, going to computer shows, etc.).
You should locate that original demo I did, that would be highly amusing.
I remember this one chap I met at a computer fair, I think he had something to do with Elite but don't quote me on that, at any rate he was demonstrating an FM chip board for the C64 and trying to convince me that writing music in technogarb was somehow superior to writing in standardised notation and would eventually take over scoring completely. He was really convinced, I mean Really, so I took one with me. It was of course dreadful for writing music, so I sent it back, in my own time of course.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
Not long, if I had the game on screen and the music in my head. Then, Compunet came along and ruined everything. That was the start of attachments, I guess.
Did it matter what kind of game you were given to work on? Could you write for
Payment permitting, I could write for anything. I remember Anil Gupta had this sleazy stripper/betting program for the Amiga, though I don't know what happened to it or the music.
The title track in Elite was apparently composed by Aidan Bell and transcribed to the C64 by you. Did you get a note sheet to work with, or perhaps a tape with a rough recording? Did you correct anything in the final piece to improve the sound? Was Aidan in any way related to Ian Bell?
A manuscript was sent to me shortly after the original release. They wanted it, so I did it, so got it. Result.
How much would you be paid for a job like that? If it was an original composition, did that make a difference?
Not the thing to ask...
Most of your tunes are quite short at around 35-60 seconds. A lovely tune like Flight Path 737 can be listened to over and over again, but it gets a bit repetitive after a few loops. Was this a guiding principle back then, keeping it
It is what the games required. Sure, I wanted to do more with it, but I think if you listen to my version of Flight Path 737 from Back in Time Live, Brighton or even Boz's version, you will hear what I was hearing. It was about composing within the limited scope of a three-channel computer, that basically sums it up. I guess that's one reason why I eventually lost interest.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day? Do you have any unreleased music we haven't heard yet?
Yes, though I'll have to search for my original files which could take some time!
Which game are you most proud of, which was the most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which ended up giving you the biggest headache?
The Fourth Protocol was based on a carol I wrote for my school choir, which they performed at Capital Radio in 1979. It was a great theme, but alternated between 4/4 and 3/4 time, which was a huge headache when it came to adapting it for the three-channel C64. It is, however, one of those themes you just have to go back and orchestrate. Fortunately, I still have the original Capital tapes. I intend to do it justice in a re-write soon.
If you had the chance to revisit any of your past tunes, what would you add, change or remove?
I'd remove the naff ones, as any artist would tell you.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on?
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as write for them? Any favourites?
Some. My partner and I love the Command & Conquer series. My favourites are Command & Conquer 3 (with the cheats turned on!) and of course Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper 2, still running to this day! If you're asking with reference to the C64, then I'd say High Noon and that game with Lamas – well programmed, if a little silly.
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly inspired some of your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
That's a very subjective matter. A lot of people have influenced my music in general, notably Paul McCartney, Ray Davis, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Hamlisch, John Ireland, the Impressionists, Wagner (I could go on...).
Why is the C64 such a great machine?
Because it was! Mainly because of the innovation, in particular the SID chip.
We can't ignore the fact that there were other machines apart from the C64. What software and/or hardware did you create on other systems?
I also did things on the BBC Micro, Spectrum, MSX, the list goes on...
What are you up to these days?
My classical training at the Royal College of Music has brought me back to my love of live performance, which I've always had, from playing I Giorni in concert as a youngster all the way to becoming an organist and choirmaster.
Then again, and to be really open and honest here, it was Chris Abbott who took me back to a time when I felt almost creative, and with that comes my love of all the technical studio stuff that now goes with it: Cubase 8, Komplete Ultimate, East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Choirs, Vienna Symphonic Library and my favourite, Rob Papen's Blue II. The flute thing on Tropical Fever is from Blue II.
Thanks for putting up with all the questions, Julie! It's been a pleasure quizzing you. Do you have any parting comments with which to leave a final impression on our readers? Feel free to greet anyone you know.
I really would like to thank everyone, fans, Anirog/Anco Software, Ocean Software, Marjacq Micros, Chris Abbott and of course that chap from wherever it was who disembowelled my VIC-20 and handed me a shiny new C64. All your support has helped me so much, you are the real stars!
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