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Interview With Randall/Arise
by DJ Gruby/Arsenic/Excess/Protovision

Engaging in a conversation with an intellectual like Randall has always been a pure pleasure. He is a personality who has got so many interesting things to say that he basically drives any discussion in a desired direction, and leaving no room for weariness. Thus it made me more than happy when he agreed to an interview for the Attitude magazine without much hesitation.

I hope reading this interview will be a pleasure on its own, and that you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it. You are going to learn not only about how Randall perceives music, but also what meaning music has in his life. This interview is also going to dispel some commonly repeated myths, like the one which claimed that convincing Randall to join Arise required some exceptional HR skills. Well, it didn't. ;) Please read on to find out more.

Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce Michal "Randall/Arise" Hoffmann to all of you.

DJ Gruby: Hello Randall! How are you?

Randall: Slightly confused about various real life matters - but otherwise perfectly fine!

I hope you have those matters sorted out shortly. All right, let us put real life issues aside and concentrate on a more interesting topic, namely the C64 scene. How does your story go? How did your adventure here begin?

My grandpa was interested in electronics, and bought himself a C64 (it was 1986 I presume, C64s were hellishly expensive in Poland back then, so how did he do it is beyond me). He had some games, I saw and heard Ghosts 'n Goblins, International Karate and Rambo. Who would resist? In 1989 my dream became reality as my father got me a C64, but I was too lazy to do anything else but games; then came Amiga and first attempts in sounds department. By the time I switched onto PC, I had a fair bit of musical knowledge and played various instruments in various local amateur lineups. Got back to my first love with the release of CCS64 and VICE (around 2000). Been making music for it ever since.

Composing C64 music requires a certain amount of hardware knowledge which, when missing, might sometimes cause difficulties leading to discouragement. Did you find it hard to begin with creating SID music? Did you go through something like an early failure phase?

Not really. I've already had some experience with programming synths, so I was rather able to understand what ADSR is and what filters are, and how the ringmod works. Moreover, I had a privilege to practice on the easiest C64 editor ever (well, at least the most similar to Fast Tracker 2 standard, which I'm used to since ages - in fact, I still use Milky Tracker on PC for song writing): Odin Tracker. It had an idiot-friendly interface, huge help section, internal simplicity - everything a beginner could ask for. The player didn't sound that good (albeit still better than Cyber Tracker), the raster time usage was sort of a disgrace and the packer compiled monstrous files, so the search for other editors was eventually inevitable. As soon as I had learned the basics, I was fortunate enough again to meet and greet Goat Tracker. I had made my first good sounding drums under GT, and it's very true that the drums are the hardest thing to learn and master on SID, so I immediately thought "this is THE SHIT, I'm staying".

Have you received any formal music education at school or during your childhood? Or have you discovered all the rules of music making entirely on your own?

Well, that was a mixed process. I've learned the very basics - how to build chords, mainly - from my very first band mates when I was 14. By practising and experimenting on my own, I found out about beat making, added notes, bass lines, melodies, arrangements, sound producing and so on. Convinced that I had been missing out on advanced knowledge (jazz was still one big mystery to me), I enrolled for a music school at 17, picking up the acoustic upright bass as my main instrument. However, the bass I got was nowhere near being usable, detuned severely after ten minutes of playing, despite many visits to a luthier. Moreover, it took me just one semester to exploit my harmony teachers dry, or at least I thought so at the time. I left the school immediately, only to regret it after.

Do you want to say that there is a certain period in life when people are capable of learning how to make music, and once this window passes by, it is too late to understand even the basic concepts, therefore they should use their time wisely?

No, definitely not. But I presume that there's a certain period in life when you can devote a lot of time and effort to work on yourself, and you reach your desired level faster if you can count on a professional guide. Unfortunately, as an adolescent, you often tend to find help and hints morbidly boring. Cough.

While entering the C64 scene, you had founded your own group MultiStyle Labs, which still exists by the way. What was an initial idea behind forming an own group?

No particular idea. We (Jammer, Sidder and me) entered the scene almost simultaneously, we were equally eager to establish contact with and learn from each other. That was a funny time - a majority of the old Polish masters was slowly retiring and we were the new wave, an injection of a fresh blood. Of course, we were also pretty crap then. We had enough in common. Not a single serious group wanted us to join (yet!), so I thought it would be cool to establish our own "label". As a child, I've been worshipping C64 music groups, such as MoN, Vibrants, 20CC, Sonic Graffiti, I always wanted to be a part of something like that. That's how it went. Psycho joined in 2010 or so, making us a quartet. There are two distinct things about MultiStyle Labs - we're friends in real life (however and unfortunately, geographical issues prevent us from having drunk integrations more often) and we've never released our music collection, planned since 2002.

I wish you good luck in accomplishing this idea. Knowing your favourite music labels, I wonder if there are any C64 musicians that have particularly influenced your own style of composing or maybe even changed your perception of SID music?

Some changed my perception of music in general! You know, I was exposed to SID music heavily in my youth, chances are that it influenced me even more than my favourite "real" music at the time (Pet Shop Boys, A-Ha, Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw - I'm an 80s kid all the way). To be precise: Hubbard, Dunn (Jon), Follin (Tim) and Tel were my definite favourites back in the days. Rob for his cinematic complexity and ambience, Jon for sheer energy, basslines and transposed minor chords, Tim for added sevenths, ninths and celtic licks, Jeroen for his catchiness and epic style. Nowadays, I'm leaning towards Fred Gray's style the most. He was C64's Paul McCartney. Or was it Brian Wilson?

Have you encountered any promising composers joining the C64 scene in more recent years?

Ah, if we take the new school into account, there of course are heaps of overly skilled tune smiths (Linus, Zabutom, Conrad, Goto80 spring to mind), but Hein Holt can't be touched. He always comes up with absolutely fucking excellent compositions that make my humble brain explode.

You have been active making SID music for about 10 years now. What did attract you to join the C64 scene in the first place? What was your motivation back then to enter the stage?

Nostalgia and challenging limitations were my motivation and still attract me the most in composing and sound programming for SID. As the time flies, the latter becomes more important and the former pales a little. There are also factors of immediate feedback, international audience (which isn't a common thing if you're a Pole) and having fun.

Do you think it is still possible for the C64 scene to be attractive to new people who would invest their time and talent into creation of SID music?

Yes. As mentioned above. But the most important stimulus is... Making music just for yourself, in a niche so deep it doesn't stand a chance to be even slightly popular among the masses, may be a very refreshing experience. You've got only your skills here, and money won't help. PR specialists won't help. Promotional issues don't matter. You don't sell your stuff. There will be reviews, but you're the only one to care for them, as there is no market. Very limited - and oh so much insider - audience is what makes the whole contemporary C64 career so special. You spend your nights on programming just for yourself and a small bunch of likewise lunatics, with a middle finger shown to supplies, demands, trends, ranges and targets. Their rules simply don't apply to Commodore scene any more.

Some of our readers might now already suspect that your relationship with music is not exclusively limited to your activities in the C64 scene. Can you tell us more about the impact of music on your real life?

Almost everything I do is somehow connected to music. I'm a sound producer in a radio for a living. My wife is a singer and vocal coach. Almost all of my friends are either musicians or music journalists (most of them part-time, as there's not much cash to be collected in aurally oriented branches here). Currently, I have only one band, called Afro Kolektyw, where I sing and play electric piano - we're about to begin recording session for our fifth album. I also write lyrics for other artists. And there's my solo electronica project, Nonsense & Absurd. And I still hope I'll turn one hundred percent professional some day. In other words, I haven't grown up yet...

Let's get back to MSL for a moment... Despite of geographical issues, you still managed to found a group and become friends with Jammer and Sidder, who had both entered the scene at about the same time as you did. How did you get to know each other at all?

Jesus almighty, I can't remember. Most probably through emu64.pl - it served as a contact node for Polish scene (and underscene) at the time. I can't even remember when we met for the first time, but my bet is on the FAMOUS MSL MEETING in Warsaw, just after I had moved out of my parents' flat, around November 2003. I was a teetotaller then, for five years running, which must have been quite a disappointment for alcohol-loving Sidder - those were the unbelievable days... I can recall a parody tune we did then, mocking Murdock's style. Jammer was measuring the pulse width of Future Composer basses by sampling them, applying a ruler to their on-screen representation and doing the calculations after, in order to recreate them right.

While you, Jammer, and Psycho seem to produce a continuous flow of SID music, Sidder seems to be lost in vain ever since 2007. Do you guys still keep in touch?

We do. I've seen him twice in 2012, first he had visited me in Warsaw while on a business trip, and then we had met in Krakow when I was on tour. He hasn't changed a bit, only time doesn't allow him to reappear on the scene.

Your music career has eventually led you to a serious group join... In 2010 you ended up becoming a member of one of the hottest Polish demo groups of today, namely Arise. How did this happen?

Gradually. One day in 2006, Fenek contacted me and asked if I could make music for a new demo by Arise, "Sweet Infection". I complied immediately, of course, because Fenek is my coding hero, and seldom I'm graced by an opportunity to complement a decent production with my audial outbursts. Arise was virtually inactive then, with just Fenek and Bimber keeping it alive. The demo, however, got completed and released on time, which (I suppose) led to many old Arise members waking up from the dead, most importantly Wacek, the self-proclaimed leader, hehe. Most of them decided to attend X 2010, they saw me winning the music compo, someone slapped his forehead and said "hey, we need a soundtrack to our next demo, I recall this guy meets the deadlines" and there you go. I guess that was the flow of things. Polish scene is a small scene, everyone knows each other, if you ever intend to be a part of something big and native, you land either in Arise, Elysium or Samar (in order of "tightness" of a group, I dare to reckon).

So what is Arise up to these days? Any new killer productions in the making or at least in the planning?

In the planning phase? A lot of them, and all killer, no filler. LOL. We need a big compo around the corner to get our act together. Ask Wacek, he has the most up to date info on that, obviously.

To which extent do you follow what happens in the C64 scene in general? Or do you rather focus on a creative aspect of a scene activity only?

I'm not into flame wars and I find it quite amusing to discuss the C64 issues like they were something really significant, although I follow CSDb and c64scene.pl pretty regularly, so it's hard to avoid all the drama. The productions, yes, that's what's of interest - hell, even what constitutes the scene - to me. Each time a big flood of releases occurs, I usually spend hours checking them out, neglecting everything else and feeling guilty all the way.

Jammer, Sidder were often supporting "Attitude" with their exclusive tracks. When can we expect a SID tune composed by Randall again?

I'm neither as productive as I used nor as I would want to be. Hence, dunno what to say. Soonish?

To wrap it all up, what is the most fun part of being a part of the C64 scene for you?

The feeling of being in a large semi-gang.

Any closing words?

I love my wife so much. ;)

Thanks a lot for your time. Good luck with all your projects! And give your wife a hug from "Attitude".

Hugs are always welcome - I'll gladly follow your advice. Thanks a heap!

DJ GRUBY/ARSENIC/DREAM/EXCESS/PROTOVISION

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