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Cheesecutter
by Vent/Triad


CheeseCutter 2.5.0 - The Popular Editor

As the vast majority of C64 enthusiasts have been moving to modern platforms for demoscene content development, several cross-platform composing tools have been released. Musically talented coder Abaddon/TRIAD has been developing a cross-platform SID music editor, CheeseCutter (later referred to as CC), since 2009. The latest stable version (v2.5.0) of the editor was released in May 2013 and it received a welcoming response from the Commodore people. Attitude interviewed Abaddon and Scarzix/Offence who is one of the most active CC users, merited most recently as the winner of Baroque Floppy People 2013 music competition, naturally using CC.

Now CC has not only become a SID editor of top notch but created an active user community with general SID-chat and guidance for making the three channels sing a cheesy song. The foundations of the CC editor lie on the shoulders of the JCH Editor. Abaddon tells that like many C64 users nowadays, he is not into using real hardware anymore. Instead he got an impulse to implement his favorite sequencer in a bit more modern context. Consequently it was almost self-evident that the first versions of the editor (0.x series) were designed to be compatible with JCH editor songs, gaining the benefit of having loads of readily composed songs for it.

The editor has a look and feel that hints of the JCH Editor and GoatTracker, another cross-platform SID music editor. Now that four years have passed since the first release, the 2.X series of the editor is a totally different beast. JCH compatibility is gone but some things remain the same. For example tracking, filter and pulse control are similar. The player has been almost completely rewritten. The editor is found being stable and some CC users comment the number of bugs in CC is less than in most of the software of today.

I started it out for two reasons. Firstly, I had plenty of free time since I was unemployed and had very little else going on (this problem has been mostly remedied since). Secondly, I still had the wish to compose music on the SID but didn't feel there was an editor out there which would suit my needs.

A music editor is not a trivial project in spite of one not having to program everything from scratch. In CC the SID emulation is handled by Dag Lems reSID and GUI relies on the SDL library, but the other stuff is custom made. While being challenging, Abaddon feels programming CC has been a pleasant ride into the world of D language.

I enjoyed programming almost all parts of the editor, otherwise I wouldn't have finished it. I enjoyed learning a new programming language and getting familiar with some of this object-oriented stuff.

Abaddon mentioned the packer being the most challenging task in the CC project. He admits he even considered keeping the Cutter as a personal utility and doing the packing manually. However things ended up differently.

It only took one day of hard work but bugs kept appearing weeks after I thought I could clean my hands off of it.

As the modern world is full of soft-synthesizers and plugins, also some people are looking for ease of use in the SID music editors. However, there are two sides of that coin. On one side there is simplicity and on the other versatility. Abaddon prefers heads over tails.

I don't think there's much chance for doing a really easy to use editor since we're talking about extremely low-level stuff here, just a few steps away from programming the chip straight off. That's the price of getting maximum control of the hardware for your creative work which is what the demoscene on C64 is all about.

However, CC is blessed with integrated help, online documentation and even a Facebook fan group where you can get tips and even personal support to get started. Scarzix/Offence has been active hosting the Facebook group from the beginning of CC 2.5.0 and the feedback has been positive. Scarzix himself was one of the first ones to get hooked up with cutting the cheese. His main tool has been the JCH editor in the late 1980s, and he has got perspective for SID composing with many other tools as well, e.g. the infamous SoundMonitor and Future Composer.

My "Galactix" tune (also known as Lotus Intro tune) from the Triangle "Road of Excess" was made with the JCH editor. The game music for our game called Combat Zone was also done in JCH editor back then.

While Scarzix thinks JCH is the best editor on the real thing, he nowadays prefers CC over it. He praises CC for combining the JCH-style sequence stacking but with a better overview. A composer can see all tables while still being able to view the track.

When I was introduced to the JCH editor I saw what vertical stacking of sequences meant for logic/understanding of a tune. The ability to track a playing tune as one giant scroller. The single pattern flipping at the end never worked for me. Same problem when I tried to look at Goattracker. The whole sequence row in GT gets messy once you start using transpose and different length of sequences. The ability to instantly pause and scroll backwards to move a note back and forth is perfect for me. CC's arrangement of every table on screen is great, since you can overview all tables without losing track. That works because I am used to JCH editor's way of creating instruments.

When he compares CC with another cross-platform editor, GoatTracker, he finds GT a bit friendlier to begin with as it has human-readable field names. On the other hand he comments that one does not need to peek the help page after gaining some experience.

The wavetable is and has always been very useful. The chords table is rather clever as you can use chords on any instrument now, without the need for multiple instruments when doing different chords. Great feature plus you still combine it with the wave table, so you can create some interesting chord sounds. I really like the idea of instrument names. The ability to insert and delete rows in the wave table is also great. Would be really cool to have in the pulse and filter tables too. Same goes for command table.

Scarzix has lots of interesting ideas on how SID editors could evolve to a more user-friendly direction. From a musician's point of view he wishes for advanced features such as versatile instrument handling and subtune management. It is a pleasure to notice that he is seemingly enjoying the topic. Lastly he is storming an idea from hexadecimals towards more graphical interfaces. He gives an example of filter and pulse sweeps which could be visualized graphically instead of just throwing in numbers. Having graphical interfaces could add intuitivity and the hexadecimals could be hidden under the bonnet and revealed only when necessary. This trend has been seen on the professional audio software on PC side, where adjustment is pretty much done with parameterized curves instead of adding numeric values to tables.

It would also be a lot easier if the filter curves of the different bands where visualized, so you could tweak your sound to stay around the curves... And also make it easier for newbies to select the right filters for their sounds I think, plus lazy me wouldn't have to think as much when composing, hehe.

Having graphical or numerical controls, perhaps the SID sound editors will always be demanding a certain level of wizardry on the SID chip behavior. While the nature of the things need quite a bit of attention, friendly attitude of the community of fellow cheese cutters can help you forward on the rocky road towards taking over and mastering The Chip. It is something that really does make the CC the Popular Editor.

Cheese Cutter 2.5.0 is available for Win32, Linux and OS X at http://theyamo.kapsi.fi/ccutter - the last mentioned ported by Ruk/TRIAD.

VENT/TRIAD

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