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Interview With Mahoney
by Bepp/Triad

I remember sitting in my teenage data room back in the 80s, watching demos and eating chips. There was this crazy Swedish duo whose productions were always very entertaining and funny - with a style of their own that wasn't to compare with anything of the time.

22 years later (still eating chips and watching demos) I went to Someren, Holland. There I met this nice and humble guy who was competing with a music program he had made for the C64. He called it Cubase64 and he was - of course - Mahoney.

Not to be mistaken, the multi-talented Mahoney has always gone his own path. Constantly striving to explore and experiment. Enriching our world with humour and CP-demus, gnus and gnomes, noise and samples - packed in a never ending stream of scrollers.

[Bepp] You took the handle Zax in your fist group, CCC (Commodore Cracking Crew) - what a brilliant group name btw! How "cracking" were you?

[Mahoney] We never cracked anything. Actually, I've never cracked any game or program and released on any platform, ever. But, you need to keep in mind that the word "cracker" did change its meaning somewhere in the 1990'ies. Nowadays, it would be Commodore Hacking Crew, but I guess it's too late to change that now! :)

[Bepp] In mid 1987, you changed handle to Mahoney and formed Defiers. What was the story with Defiers?

[Mahoney] The same people, different name. We got a graphics artist, and I guess we realized we did not intend to crack anything. Something new was happening, but actually, nothing changed - we got a little more social and started to meet people and go to copy/demo parties.

[Bepp] In 1987 you did 13 demos for CCC and 18 with Defiers. That's a total of 31 (THIRTY ONE!) demos in one year! How is that even possible? What was your formula?

[Mahoney] The first thing to note is that everything was new. We were threading on untouched grounds, boldly going where no one else has gone before. It was easy to make an interesting scroll routine, since there was so few of them already. With a little imagination (and believe me, I've got lots of it!) there was nothing stopping me from writing a new cool scroller routine. And, writing a scrolltext is easy, since my personal life at that time was (and still is) beautiful and fun - there's so many wonderful distractions around here that I sometimes wonder how I ever get time to create demos at all!

[Bepp] A main theme in your demos has always been the countless ways of scrolling text. Each new demo saw a new type of scroller. How much scroll text have you written?

[Mahoney] The longest scrolltext I've written ever was 140 characters! ...which means 40 meters long. Each letter printed on a A4 paper, stapled together on a cardboard roll. You'll have to search YouTube for "Visa Roster - Formula 1 Simulator Live" if you want to see it!

But, I mean, writing a scroll text is much like writing a blog. I mean, my personal "blog" was copied from floppy disk to floppy disk, spread around the whole world, and sent by post from person to person. I know, from the personal letters I've gotten through the years, that my scroll texts got read all over the world, from Sweden to Australia and South Africa. Which is nice to know, in some strange sense.

[Bepp] At one time you did actually have a world record for largest scroller. Tell us!

[Mahoney] The C64 display has in theory 312 raster lines, where not all of them are visible on a normal TV. It's kind of difficult to make a scroller in the sideborder occupying all of the screen, since there's no time left to play music or move the letters. But, I made a 5-sprite high side-border scroll (5 * 42 pixels = 210 pixels). It looked nice, so I enhanced it to being 6 sprites high, which was 252 pixels high. Being utterly ridiculous, I managed to squeeze in another row of sprites, going for a 294 pixels high side-border scroller, which is way more than a normal TV would display. It was large, and it was a world record. Looking back, that kind of programming is really easy - but you need to remember that back then I only used a disassembler to write the demos - moving code around is kind of difficult, and I wrote all routines directly into memory.

[Bepp] In 1987 you met Kaktus, an event which came to be the start of a great friendship and a very fruitful collaboration for many years to come. Tell us the story how you two met?

[Mahoney] We met in my basement. Kaktus (then with the silly name "The Dark Overlord") arrived with his gear and some friends to spend a weekend at my place. Call it a small demo party, or whatever. There was also his good friend Mogwai (now known as the "data doctor" mending old Computers at LCP each year), and a few others.

[Bepp] How did you work together? I read somewhere that you spent entire weekends over at Kaktus' place. Were you a bit like Bert & Ernie? Frodo & Sam? Riggs & Murtaugh?

[Mahoney] More like Laurel and Hardy if you'd ask me! Well, Internet was not known, and modems and phones were a little bit too slow to be useful. So, to get things done, I'd tell my parents to drive me (remember, I was 14 years old back then) to his place on Friday (taking an hour to get there), and come and get me late on Sunday. I was the one to pressure Kaktus into ever releasing anything, and he was the one with better knowledge of mathematics and with a wider social network. My friends were competing in swimming (I spent some 11 times per week exercising in the swimming hall back then), and I hardly had the time to keep a lot of other company, so I relied on Kaktus to have scene-related friends back then! Which also lead us to be members of Triad for a couple of minutes, and later to become parts of NorthStar on the Amiga platform, but that's a completely different story.

[Bepp] In 1988 you released your last C64 demo called Skruv (together with Kaktus) after which you started exploring the Amiga. You were "done" with the old breadbox, no more scrollers to write?

[Mahoney] Well, we did write a personal scrolltext to all people we ever met during our C64 time. The last part contained synchronous scrolltexts written by both Kaktus and me saying "goodbye" to all our friends! We did feel that the C64 did not give us any more resistance, there were no more tricks to pull out of our sleeves, etc. And, the Amiga did have a lot of promising capabilities that I wanted to explore.

[Bepp] In a very short time (14 days later) your first demo (Blue) was released on Amiga. How did you manage to get up to speed with Amiga that quickly?

[Mahoney] Kaktus was the one most eager to get his hands on Amiga - which was good for me, since he bought all the necessary hardware reference manuals, and grabbed all the required assembler tools to produce demos. So the startup time going from C64 demo coding into our first Amiga release was some two weeks. With scrollers, multi part demos, music with samples and bouncing logotypes!

[Bepp] NoiseTracker 1.0 was released in 1989 and we all know it was an important milestone in the evolution of trackers. Tell us the story about NoiseTracker? How was it born?

[Mahoney] I was just annoyed with the bugs present in SoundTracker by Karsten Obarski. And it seemed that those bugs would never get fixed. So, I disassembled the whole thing, fixed the bugs, and realized that making a music program was fun! My mind started imagining new features that could be added, and quickly, NoiseTracker 1.1 was released, proving to be a stable, bug-free, creative, inspiring tool for music production. I've got quite a few emails telling me "thanks for making NoiseTracker, that's the sole reason for me working professionally with music nowadays!" coming from producers have major hits on the billboards. So I guess I have changed the world in some ways!

[Bepp] For your final Amiga release, the music disk His Master's Noise, you developed a special version of NoiseTracker. Could you tell us a little about this project?

[Mahoney] I wanted to make a music disk with loads of songs, without being too repetitive or boring. So all of my "experimental features" that did not belong to NoiseTracker v2.0 were put into a separate version that would feature wavetable sounds, chord calculations, off-line filter calculations, mixing, reversing, sample accurate delays, resampling, fades - calculations that would be done on a standard setup of sounds instead of on individual modules. This "compression technique" lead to some 100 songs fitting on two standard 3.5" disks, written by 22 different composers. I'd say that writing a music program does give you loads of talented friends - you should try that yourself someday!

[Bepp] Mahoney & Kaktus demos always had a unique style - not seldomly technically advanced, but also packed with humour, zillions of scrollers and easter eggs. How did you come up with all of these crazy ideas? It must have been a very fun and creative period?

[Mahoney] Indeed. There was nothing stopping us from exploring what we thought was fun. And no one telling us what to do. No project leaders, no scrum teams, just a bunch of unexplored technology waiting to be conquered.

[Bepp] You have always strived to explore new ways and techniques to maximize the utilization of the machine. What routines/achievements are you most proud of (on C64)?

[Mahoney] Well, being 13 years old and doing a side-border sprite scroller in 1987 I'd say. But then again, I was nowhere close to being the inventor of that one, but I did understand how it worked, and I realized that there must be more to explore with this computer. And, the wobbling green side-border scroller in Skruv would also have to be one of my old-skool technical highlights.

[Bepp] In November 1991 you sold your Amiga. Were you bored?

[Mahoney] Yes, and I quit swimming, and quit computers, and spent my time doing other creative stuff. Amiga quite soon turned out to be one of the first upgradeable platforms, which meant that an impressive Amiga 500-demo would impress no one, since there were faster Amigas around. And, the demo style switched from creative and programmer-oriented to being focused on design, graphics and story-lines. Booooring! I left, and I think it was the right thing to do. I actually managed to sell my Amiga 500 while it still was worth money... And bought myself a water bed.

[Bepp] In 2003 you worked with the BitLive event in Brighton. This was your first C64 production in 15 years, a one-file megademo in 13 parts! What was it like picking up coding again after such a long break?

[Mahoney] So easy! I got inspired by some friends telling me to take a look at those "newer" C64 demos. I saw things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to examine how on Earth they managed to trick that old C64 into doing those "this wasn't in the specification" effects.

But, writing demos using cross compilers and "modern" technology was really easy. I was being used to writing code manually directly into memory with a disassembler - so using a text editor, assemblers, linkers, disc tools on another platform with a fast computer was a dream.

[Bepp] In 2006, three years later, you released Exit together with your friends in Defiers. What inspired you to do yet another release?

[Mahoney] I just wanted to have something to do during late nights to keep my mind from becoming blunt. I never made it perfect, I never polished it to have seamless transitions, but it was kind of fun anyway. I did not know when and where I would release it, so I turned up at the nearest demo party and dumped it there.

[Bepp] In early 2010 you surprised the entire scene by releasing the MP3 decoder (C64mp3), and only 8 months later at X'2010 came the jaw-dropping Cubase64 (which was nominated for "Best Technical Achievement" at the 9th annual awards). What was the driving force for these projects?

[Mahoney] The main reason was that 8-bit sample playing was demonstrated on the C64, by Mixer, THCM and SounDemoN. Something I've tried to achieve in the old-skool times, but never got working. I just put my mind to it and tried to invent something new. And I think I did manage to squeeze a little bit of excellence out of that old hardware again - 30 years after it was created, I did manage to do something that it was never made to handle - singing!

[Bepp] You are one of the most efficient people I know. Like a heat pump you manage to squeeze out value even if you only get small fragments of continuous time. What's the secret?

[Mahoney] Setting the goal even before you start to even _think_ about what you want to do. And, you need to be content with what you can achieve under a given amount of time. I don't say to myself "OK, I've got 5 hours. Let's see if I can make a C64 remix in 5 hours", no not really, I say "OK, I've got 5 hours. I will make a C64 remix. Let's see how good it can get". It does not matter if it's good or bad, the main thing is that the next remix you'll do (or demo, or speech or whatever) will be better. I've written loads of scroll text routines, but I've never copied the code from one and reused it. I mean, the next time I'll write a scroll routine, there's always something that can be done better.

[Bepp] What are your future projects? Are there any challenges left for you?

[Mahoney] I'm doing a C64 song with drums, SID sounds, lyrics and a 3-channel vocoder, and trying to fit that into 30 kilobytes of memory. I probably won't have the time to write a demo for it, and I probably won't have the time to make it as good as it could be, but I will do it.

Keep your eyes and ears open at LCP 2011. You'll hear music with sounds never heard before on a C64.

I like to do creative stuff. It doesn't matter if the C64 is involved or not. I guess I've done my part when it comes to invent new stuff with old computers - but it tickles my brain, and I like it!

[Bepp] Mahoney, it's been a great pleasure talking to you. Thanks for giving us some insight into your world. Some final words?

[Mahoney] Same as always: go and find yourself a girlfriend or boyfriend, and give him a big hug. You won't find the meaning of life with electricity. So, unplug those batteries and grab dishwashing soap, glycerin, water and sugar - mix it well - and start doing soap bubbles. Or whatever.

Have a noise night! /Pex "Mahoney" Tufvesson

[Bepp] Suggested reading: Don't miss the very entertaining end part in the Skruv demo where Mahoney & Kaktus writes synchronous scrollers. =)

Interview conducted on the 7th of July 2011.

Gubbdata 4 life!


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