Twenty years ago, give or take a week, a German fellow named Karsten Obarski released a music program for the Commodore Amiga called The Ultimate Soundtracker. It took advantage of the Amiga's "Paula" chipset which mixed digital samples in four hardware channels. This was years before the PC would even get a digital sound card, much less hardware mixing. By playing samples back at note-based frequencies, and arranging them in patterns, the Amiga spit out sound that resembled "real" music more than the C64, Ataris, or the PC bleeper did. And thus, in 1987, the MOD was born.
Growing up PC, it took me a bit longer to discover MODs. It wasn't until 1992 when a Sound Blaster Pro made its way into my 386, and a high school friend gave me a disk with a bunch of MOD files and a player. Immediately, I wanted to make my own MOD music. I was limited to local dialing, so I found nothing until early 1993, when I got my hands on ModEdit. It's a bit different than regular trackers, using horizontal piano rolls instead of vertical number crunching, but it worked. On April 23, 1993, three days before my 17th birthday, I had a 4 1/2 minute tune, VOICES.MOD. It was filled with various "ST-00" samples I scraped from late 80's Amiga MODs in my collection. And on I went, joining KLF/Kosmic (arguably the first netlabel) and #trax on IRC. M5V-ZILA.IT (aka Godzilla), done ten years ago, was my last official module music release. Though by then, MODs had grown into 32-channel, 16-bit XM and IT behemoths. And by "behemoth" I mean the average size was between 500KB to 1MB - still about a tenth the size of an MP3. But did MP3 kill the MOD star? Yes and no. The MOD's smaller size and lighter replay load became moot when hardware grew, but the "tracker" concept has made its way into other music
programs, like Buzz and Renoise. It's quick, and once you get the hang of it, it's easy, so why kill it?
You know what I like the most about MODs? Over the years, the same music, made 10 or 20 years ago, has improved in quality without having to do any remastering. A 100k MOD mixed in 16-bit, at 48KHz, with interpolation and some reverb and EQ, sounds hella-better than on an 8-bit/22KHz Sound Blaster with no filtering, but it's the same tune, and the musician probably made it on that crappy 8-bit Sound Blaster (or an Amiga) to begin with. An MP3 stays the same forever - the sound is "locked in".
So today, I invite you to rediscover the MOD, and 20 years of digital homebrew music.