JCH / New Men,
Added on May 6th, 2007 (8989 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Hey, I'm Jens-Christian Huus, 41 years of age and born in Copenhagen. I've lived in an apartment in Vangede for the past 12 years. I quit my postman job in 1997 and have been working as a professional software tester in a couple of computer companies since then. As JCH I made music, players and an editor in the 80's.
I quit composing music in end of the 90's because of several reasons. First of all I simply wasn't having much fun with it anymore and wanted to try something different in my life. Another reason was that I felt I was hitting a wall and couldn't improve the way I played on the keyboard past a certain point. That frustrated me to no end, and was an even better reason to call it quits.
In 2000 I spent some time making a couple of maps in Half-Life. This was great fun to begin with and really grabbed me for some time. Then after having completed an enormous multiplayer map I lost interest. In 2001 I was hit by a crazy PC game playing bug. It was like a revelation while playing Gun Man Cronicles one evening. Suddenly it hit me that this was what I wanted to do; complete PC games and experience them like books and movies. It became sort of a hobby for the next 5-6 years, where I completed almost 300 PC games. In 2005 I jumped on the World of Warcraft wagon and raided with my paladin.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Basically it's always been JCH, which is just my initials. Recently I came up with a new handle, Chordian, which is also the name of my web site. Of course you'll recognize it as the name of a C64 tune I did, but I also like it because it sort of "rhymes" with my middle name.
What group(s) were you in?
I've been in a lot of cracking and demo groups really. Some of them didn't last long or part of the group broke out and brought me along with it. The CSDb web site has most of them right – 2000 A.D., Channel 42, Galaxy, Ikari, Jewels, Wizax. I was never a member of Danelaw, though, and I'm quite certain I was in Dominators.
Regarding music groups, it's always been Vibrants since the day it was created in 1989. I researched this recently and must admit it wasn't created before that. Previous sources where I claim Vibrants was created in 1988 are in error.
What roles have you fulfilled?
I was a little bit of everything. I swapped with a lot of contacts. Some were demo productions only, but because I knew a few hardcore crackers, I was also swapping that kind of stuff. I coded a lot on the C64 – mostly players and the editor of course, but also a few demos and intros. I wasn't into the really hardcore demo coding stuff though – I believed in specialization. Stick to what you're good at and try to make a difference there. Seemed to work.
The only part I wasn't involved too much in was organizing – I wasn't comfortable bossing people around and taking care of business deals, not even in Vibrants. Probably one of many reasons why we were more involved in the demo scene than the game scene. If it hadn't been for Link pushing me to create a music group, perhaps it never would have happened. I didn't want us to just plagiarize Maniacs of Noise.
How long were you active for?
After the mundane year in 1986 playing with BASIC, I started coding in assembler in 1987 and made my first contacts in the demo scene. It really started like an avalanche that year. In my opinion, 1989-91 were the best years. In 1991 I wanted to start focusing on the PC. 1992 was probably my last official year on the C64. So, 1987-92 sounds about right.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
1985-1986 it was really low level amateur stuff. I came from Texas TI-99/4A where I had been typing in BASIC listings from magazines and later programmed my own games in Extended Basic, and on the C64 I just continued that trend to begin with. One of the magazines I used as a source for typing in listings was the american "Compute!" which offered a small assembler program. I typed it in and started fiddling with machine code. After a small "Boot Hill" style game I got the hang of it. In the mean time, Rob Hubbard started making music and I was immediately mesmerized by his style. I bought Mastertronic games at my local shop just to hear his music on the title screen - the games themselves didn't interest me at all.
In 1987 one of my friends made contact with a swapper in a newspaper. Actually we were only interested in swapping games and then part our ways, but this guy was involved in the demo scene and introduced me to it. He recognized my abilities to code and persuaded me into coding a crude intro for New Men, which was the name of the first group I joined. Through this guy I came to know another one further down the street. This guy knew some of the guys that would later form groups such as Jewels, Ikari and Dominators. Inspired by the music of Rob Hubbard I had started making my own players and music. Unfortunately it was composed in Aegis Sonix on the Amiga, and the conversion to the C64 player involved writing down copious notes on a sheet of paper, then meticulously typing them in on the C64. Finally I had a hotchpotch of an unrecognizable tune with synchronization errors that had to be found and instruments that had to be created from scratch. It was a terrible system and to this day it's a wonder that I managed to create so many tunes in it. Part of the reason was that Excell and Fletch of Jewels loved the idea of music created in my very own player. They used the tunes in their productions and encouraged me to continue experimenting. I've always been driven by feedback like that. Without it, the players and the editor would probably never have been born.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Sitting in my room at my parents' place, I would typically code a little bit in my editor or compose a tune in it. A lot of people was visiting my place regularly - for talking, swapping (copying tons of floppy disks) or just for hanging out – there were many natural breaks. So many from the scene have been in that little room on the first floor it would almost sound like a demo party listing them all. Some of them were also coding there on a secondary computer, like JO, Jozz or Scorpio, while others were playing a game. Some of my visitors spent most of their time playing games, but I always preferred coding, composing or viewing demos.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
The time in 1987 with the music players were created without hint or tips from external sources, which of course explains why they were so crude. When I created the second player series in 1988 I'd learned a few things from how Laxity's first generation player was constructed, and I was also inspired by the fast and efficient coding style of Scorpio.
I think it was Johannes Bjerregaard that discovered the lock-bit noise technique (or at least he was one of the pioneers) while I learned the hard restart technique from JO. One thing I can say for certain was completely unique was the way I created the sequencing in the editor. I wanted to compare voices side by side, but never liked the rigid way trackers set it up. So I came up with the idea of stacking completely individual sequences on top of each other, giving you control of how big or how many there are in each voice. I didn't take many cues from external sources when creating my C64 editor and tools. Most of it I came up with while on my postman route. The job was quiet enough at the time for me to think long and hard about how to do it, and whenever I came up with a good idea, I pulled a registration form out of my little black postman book and noted some ideas on the back of it. Those were the days.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Absolutely no doubt, my C64 editor. It was popular, improved the skills of many composers that used it, and to this day I feel this is the one thing I've made in my life that made at least a small difference.
One thing that I often thought about throughout the years was whether my decision to keep it in a closed circle of composers was a wise decision. Maybe it would have been better to spread it around from the beginning so that many more composers could have had a chance to fiddle with it. Then again, keeping it closed also meant that I could maintain a certain "quality control" thus keeping it from turning into just another Future Composer or Soundmonitor tool that everyone and his dog was using.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
The top notch C64 composers, for quite obvious reasons. Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Jeroen Tel. Rob Hubbard was the first and most important musician that showed me what could really be done with the SID chip.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Pushing the boundaries with crazy stuff that seemed impossible always impressed me, like the opening of the borders (especially the side borders), FLI, digi samples and what have you. Probably the one thing I was happiest about was the Dolphin-DOS hardware addon. Loading and saving 20 times faster than normal was marvellous.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
I attended a lot of parties, mostly Danish of course. In the beginning scattered all around Denmark. Hexagon in Hillerød, Ikari & Zargon in Slagelse, 2000 A.D. in Esbjerg, the great party in Randers, Dexion in Odense and also a few of The Party in Aars, although I can't remember which ones today. I also visited a few parties in Norway and Sweden, and I was at the PCW show in London once. I'm sure I've left some out. I wish I'd kept track of this.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
Improving, expanding, making an impression through demos, music and graphics, constantly pushing the boundaries of the C64. But also friendship and a shared hobby through swapping and social meetings such as at parties. A lot of scenes for other kinds of specialized creativity exist today, but I'd like to think that the C64 (and Amiga) scene was something truly unique.
I remember at Christmas time, when The Party in Aars was taking place, the news on Danish television was showing a few clips from the party place with words of wonder about this very strange phenomenon. They didn't seem to understand it, and they just repeated this year after year until they somehow got used to it.
What were the particular highlights for you?
My favorite party was the Dominators/Upfront/Trilogy party in Randers 1989. I met a lot of people such as e.g. 20CC, and most of the coolest dudes from the Danish scene were present. Johannes Bjerregaard was making music in assembler, Edwin van Santen took a peek at my music editor and Bones won the C64 demo competition with a lot of Vibrants music in it. The party just had a cool atmosphere and I knew a lot of the people there. The demo competitions had a very cheerful crowd and it was a great feeling to be a major part of the demo that won.
Any cool stories to share with us?
Yes, there was that one time while I was living in that room at my parents' place in the 80's – I'd just returned from the postman job and was pretty tired, so I took a nap on my bed next to the C64 on the table close to the window. While I was asleep a thunderstorm was piling up outside. Lightning was striking closer and closer. Suddenly I got the scare of my life as a lightning stroke down probably only a few meters right outside my window. Instead of the usual crash and then the echo, it was the other way around. A gigantic explosion and the sound of it moving *away* from our house. After counting my marbles and returning to my good old self, I tried to turn on the C64. No reaction. Click, click. Nothing. I actually had to replace the kernel ROM in the C64 before I could turn it on again. To this day I'm pretty sure that flash of lightning did something to the fragile kernel ROM in my C64. A magnetic outburst, perhaps. How about that.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Most of them have dissipated years ago. Some of them I would like to talk to again, such as e.g. Link. I write e-mails with Drax, Metal and Laxity concerning our recently redesigned web site that I'm now administrating – that's about it.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
Around 1983-86, at the time when it was really expensive. My dad bought it for me at the time. I remember us standing in a shop wanting to buy the C64, but they didn't have any units left. I spotted a Spectrum and told my dad that this computer was "also good" and would suffice. He took another look at the C64 on the shelf (a demo model we obviously couldn't buy) and then rejected the idea, saying that the C64 "seemed to be much more solid" than the Spectrum. A few days later we bought it. I can't help but think what might have happened if he'd let me get that Spectrum instead.
The first C64 is no more, but I have a C128 and perhaps another C64 in my cellar somewhere. I also still have 2500+ floppy disks, of which only 20-25% has been transferred to D64 files.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Of course it was. It could do a lot of cool stuff that was way ahead of its time and left the other home computers crying in the dust – at least until the Amiga arrived. The sound chip, the sprites, the smooth scrolling, the 64 kB of RAM. All of it was a special combination of hardware and chips that is probably the best example ever of something greater than the sum of its components. This computer had a group of excellent engineers working on it. I salute them.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Don't hold your breath. ;)
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
I'd like to thank all those that swapped with me in the golden C64 years. It was always a joy to come home from a tiresome day at work as a postman and find a few letters with personal notes and fresh coding on a few floppy disks.
I've said it before in this interview and I'll say it again. Those were the days.
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