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|An interview with Ben Daglish
Hi Ben! Thanks for doing this interview with us!
My pleasure. I only hope you're not going to ask all the usual stuff, like "where do you get your inspiration from"...
Well we'll see about that! Why don't you introduce yourself a bit more?
Ben Daglish - aged 37 - currently living in Derbyshire, UK. As the old joke has it, I was born of mixed parentage - one male, one female - in London, grew up in Sheffield, started playing music aged 4 or 5, and continued to this day. After an abortive attempt at a maths degree, I became a full time composer and musician, originally for games, then moved on to theatre, video & live playing.
Ben, you have worked on so many C64 games…do you remember them all?
Nope. If pressed, I can recall about a quarter of the titles, but there are people that do that for me :) Man - there are people doing degrees in it.
What was the first game you did music for?
The first game that I had a hand in was Tony Crowther's "Potty Pigeon" - I wrote out the notes for the Death March for him - , but the first game where I was involved in the typing myself was "Loco".
Did you play through each of the games to get inspiration for the tunes?
Occasionally, but some I never saw at all - a verbal description over the phone was as near as I got.
So what is the first step in the writing process?
Getting the inspiration. Now ask me where I got that - I dare ya.
So where did you usually get your inspi…eh…I mean did you ever use digitized samples? :D
Not on the C64 - they came long after I'd moved on to other things.
How long did the work for each game usually take to complete?
On average, a few days. Occasionally a few hours :)
Did you ever do freelance work? How was working in-house compared to working remotely / freelance?
Errm - yes - most of my career was freelance - I only spent the last couple of years working in-house for Gremlin. Do your research! :) Working inhouse was a drag - it's impossible to be a creative person working 9 to 5 - one of the reasons I left.
Sorry for not doing my homework! Which one your tunes is your favorite?
I really couldn't say - I liked about 80% of them. Some days it'd be one, some days another.
Which was the most lucrative C64 game you worked on?
I really can't remember.
The infamous problem with the SID chip's filter seems like every C64 musician's nightmare. Did it annoy you at all that some of your fans wouldn't hear your music as it was intended?
No - I tended to use 'static' filters as little as possible for exactly that reason - generally, I'd use filter sweeps, which were pretty much guaranteed to have the same effect irrespective of the start/end frequencies.
Can you give us more information about the SID filter bug?
It wasn't a bug - it was a feature :) As far as I'm aware, it was just to do with the quality of the components - accurate frequency filtering just wasn't viable on such a small cheap (and early!) chip, so Commodore made do with what they had. Basically, one could apply (say) a band-pass filter centered around X Hz, but X would vary by a fair percentage from chip to chip.
A lot of our readers think SID music is similar to MIDI, which is not true. Can you please explain a little bit about the basics of C64 music coding?
Well, actually, there are many similarities. The SID was a simple 3 voice 'analogue' synthesiser, which one sent commands to in order to create various sounds, much like any other synth. ("Play a sawtooth wave with this volume envelope" etc.) On top of that sat a sequencer program which converted note data to frequencies. The big difference was that we had to write the programs ourselves to create the sounds and the notes, rather than there being "standards". Of course, this was all text, typed in by hand, rather than having a nice Cubase'y style graphical editor.
Now I have some Last Ninja related questions :) Do you remember what the first tune you wrote for LN was?
Sorry, but no.
Which of your LN tunes is your favourite?
I suppose "The Wastelands", but again, I liked them all.
What do you think about the music by Anthony Lees?
It was great.
Did you ever listen to the scores of the other two "Last Ninja" games? If yes, how did you like them?
Again, no. (I've already apologised to Reyn...)
So…well, you see, I've got this question I just gotta ask…where did you get your inspiration for the LN tunes?!!
Arrrghhh! You asked it!!! I got my inspiration from 5000 years of Western music, mixed up with a smattering of the same from the Eastern tradition.
Now generally speaking, if you could turn the clock, would you want to rewrite any of your compositions, and why?
Phew! I'm tempted to say "of course", just because of a further 20 years-worth of musical experience, but then again, they wouldn't be what they were unless they were written by an 18 year old, if you see what I mean. It's fun being involved in remixing these days - I keep being tempted to "tweak" them, but resist.
Did you actually play the music on a real instrument before transcribing them onto a C64?
Occasionally, but mainly they'd come straight from my head to the keyboard (QWERTY, that is, rather than piano). It's the best way. It's how I still do it.
Which were more difficult to do, originals or covers?
Covers, on the whole, simply because I was a perfectionist when it came to things like getting fast guitar solos right note-for-note. And also because of the arrangement challenge of fitting a "real world" piece of music with drums and bass and strings and everything into 3 voices.
What caused that screw up in 'Footballer of the Year' where the music got out of sync? Did you get angry when you found out about it?
I have no idea - I wasn't aware it happened in the real game - I thought that was just the ripped version.
What about the misspell in the 'Heroes of the Lance'?
??? What misspell? If you mean my name - well, that happened all the time. Again, I wasn't aware of it.
Did you play other C64 games? What were your all time favorite C64 games?
Rarely. My favourite ever was "Masters of the Lamps" - I loved the bongs at the end.
How did you get into composing music for the gaming industry? It seems to be an unusual path to take for most musicians.
Pure accident, through being at school with Tony Crowther.
I imagine that there were a lot fewer egos involved :)
Indeed. Mine was the largest around.
What was your first instrument?
My 1st instrument was the penny whistle, and believe it or not, I still play probably more of that than anything else (except maybe the flute).
At what age did you start writing music?
About 12, I think.
What instruments do you play?
All of them <grin>. I'm not particularly good on bowed strings - my violin playing is awful - but I have a stab at most things. I own about 50 different instruments, from accordion, though trumpet and sitar to xylophone. (I had a quick hunt, but I can't find anything beginning with 'Z').
What were some positive aspects working as a musician for C64?
Apart from the money, the chance to be in at the "birth" of synthesiser music. And the "scene" was great fun…
What were some Negatives?
At first, the limitations (although that made it interesting in some ways as well - taught me a hell of a lot about arrangement). After a while, it became the industry - once the men-in-suits started to be involved.
How do you get yourself in the mood to write music?
Drugs :) Well - only when I'm desperate. Generally, I'm always in the mood. How do you get yourself in the mood to have sex?
I don't know…booze?:) Anyway, who inspired you the most? What and how did they affect your own style?
Beethoven. Taught me to write what I wanted, and to hell with public opinion :)
During the height of your career on the C64 did it ever occur to you that you would become a legend and have such a loyal following?
Not at all - I'm still amazed to this day.
Was there any friendship between you and the other popular C64 musicians (Hubbard, Galway, Gray, Whittaker,…)?
Yessss.....I always got on well with Rob and Fred, though we rarely met. I had some memorable piss-ups with Dave Whittaker, but never really got to meet Martin. We all have a good time whenever we meet up these days though (once a year, at the BIT Live bashes).
What about rivalry?
Friendly rivalry at the most.
Did you ever listen to some other C64 composer's music and thought, "I wish I'd written that."?
Rob's Masters of Magic was always one of my favourites. I was most disappointed to find out that it wasn't his.
Did you use ideas (either technical or artistic/creative) from other C64 musicians?
Not really - I suppose once Rob started doing cool stuff with the SID, Tony and I thought "how can we do that", but certainly we never attempted to copy what anybody else was doing - just to be as good.
Were you a Jean Michelle Jarre fan?
Not a fan as such - I liked the man's music, but not as much as others.
Did you read the reviews of games that featured your music to see what the reviewers thought of your music?
Of course. I wasn't particularly hurt by bad reviews, but it tickled my ego reading the good ones.
Do you think game music composition will ever achieve the respect that film score composition experiences?
Possibly, but I doubt it. Only when game budgets start getting as large as film budgets.
What do you believe the most important aspect of music creation is?
Originality, and a tune you can whistle.
Anything else you'd like to comment on?
Always - I've got an opinion about everything. :)
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
The launch of Jeff Minters light-synth thing at the Planetarium. Man - that was a night. Details not for publication I'm afraid, but anybody who was there knows what I'm on about. 'Specially back at Jeff's house afterwards...
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
No bad memories at all really.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
I'd have saved the money, rather than spending it on loose living :)
So what are you doing now?
Playing music, programming computers and being a dad.
Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
FreeCell - I'm a master :) I tend to leave the fast-fingered stuff to my kids.
How do you compare the games released these days to the ones released back in the old days?
Ooh - don't get me started. As soon as market forces become a dominant factor, originality tends to go out of the window.
Did you know Last Ninja 4 is in development? Any chance you will be working on it too?:)
I had heard, but I doubt it greatly.
Well, thanks for your time! Any last words?
Love one another. Often.
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