** 2002-2015 - Wishing I'd never started doing this in the first place, and had a proper life instead... **

I can be contacted by email if you type 'soundhog' followed by '@gmail' and then '.com'...
I actually have a Twitter account - I don't 'say' a lot, though...

Listen to some of my mixes in one handy place : Mixcloud
Listen to some of my tracks in another place : hearthis.at
Watch my videos, don't leave any comments : YouTube
'Like this', ignore my postings, 'unlike this' : Facebook (artist page)
Spam me about your m@$hups, bitch about me when I delete you : Facebook (personal)
The proper high art stuff - The Freelance Hairdresser page : Soundcloud

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frank Sidebottom's alter ego does the ZX81 / 7" single interface thing...

Something which isn't mine (at all), but I did put the component parts together after doing a load of work.  Here's a video, and below I'll tell you all about it...

In 1983, Chris Sievey (soon to find fame as Frank Sidebottom, and formerly of The Freshies) released a 7" single on his own Random Records label. The A-side was the song 'Camouflage'. Chris had recently started programming on the Sinclair ZX81 home computer, as so many of us did at the time, and included three of his programs on Side-B of the 7", as audio data recordings - exactly as they would sound when saved onto a cassette for storage.  Apparently the single got reissued on EMI soon after, but I've never seen a copy.  Anyway...

Two of the programs were versions of a game called Flying Train, for the 1K and 16K machine respectively. (Note: contrary to what's been written several times on the internetover the years , the ZX Spectrum version of Flying Train was never pressed onto vinyl. Sievey distributed this on cassette, probably for the reasons alluded to below, and would chuck in a copy of the single as well...)

The third file was an animated (albeit very basic, and BASIC) pop video for the song on Side-A. I'd seen this demonstrated on TV some time after its release, possibly on Whistle Test, alongside Pete Shelley's XL-1 which came out in 1983 as well. I never tracked a copy of the record down at the time. Nearly 30 years later, I found an unplayed 7" on eBay (the seller seems to have a few of them, in fact, at the time of writing), so set to work.

Quite a few people experimented with cutting computer data tones into vinyl, or even flexidiscs, in the early 1980s. The success rate of loading any of these was pretty bloody dismal, and there are letters/articles bemoaning that fact in several of the computer magazines of the day. One scratch, mark or even a bad mastering/cutting job at the pressing plant would scupper everything. In this case, even though the record was effectively new, it still needed a good clean (using PVA glue, my weapon of choice) to remove some muck lodged in the groove before I could get a good enough recording of the data with no odd noises, pops or clicks. I then had to filter off the unwanted frequencies at either end, fiddle with the levels and blah blah blah.

The program had to be run on an emulator on the PC, as my ZX81's 16K RAM pack went missing in the last ice age. The visuals didn't sync up with the music at all, probably as a result of the emulator not being 100% accurate, so I chopped, stretched and edited it all over to (hopefully) fit properly, as Mr. Sievey had intended. It may not be the most sophisticated bit of computer animation you'll see today, but this was visionary stuff nonetheless... You know it is. It really is.