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Tracker Software – The Beginning of Software Music Sequencers

Tracker is the generic term for a class of software music sequencers which, in their purest form, allow the user to arrange sound samples on a timeline across several mono channels.

Trackers! What are they?

Tracker is the generic term for a class of software music sequencers which, in their purest form, allow the user to arrange sound samples on a timeline across several mono channels. The interface is mainly numeric, notes are entered with a computer keyboard; with the parameters (effects, etc) being entered hexidecimally (numerically). A full song consists of several multi-channel patterns held together via a master list.

There are several elements common to any tracker program: samples, notes, effects, tracks (or channels), patterns, and orders.

Samples -  A sample is a digital sound file of an instrument, voice, or other sound.

Note -  A note designates what frequency a sample is played back at.

Effect -  An effect is a special function applied to a note. Common effects include vibrato, arpeggio, and portamento.

Track -  A track is a space where a sample is played back. Modern tracker software offers a virtually unlimited amount of tracks to use.

Pattern -  A pattern is a grouping of simultaneously played tracks that represent a full section of the song.

Order -  An order is a part of a sequence of patterns which defines the layout of a song.

The History of Tracker Software

The term “Tracker” comes from a piece of software called “Ultimate Soundtracker”, the first tracker software. It was released in 1987 by Electronic Arts for the Commodore Amiga. The general concept of how the program works; by step-sequencing samples numerically, can be found in sampling work stations as far back as the late 1970’s. Most early tracker musicians were from the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. This may be attributable to the close relationship of the tracker to the demo scene, which grew rapidly in Scandinavian countries. It grew very popular with home audio recording fans, as it did not require the expensive wavetable sound cards to function. During the 1990’s, after the invention of the Sound Blaster line of sound cards for the PC, tracker music gravitated over from the Amiga. The Gravis Ultrasound, which continued the hardware mixing tradition, with 32 internal channels and onboard memory for sample storage offered unparalleled sound quality and became the choice of discerning tracker musicians. Modern software and hardware has grown to the point of making tracker software obsolete, but it still lives on. It is used primarily in modern video games as well as a number of indie games. The tracker’s stigma of being complicated and difficult to learn is being discarded as the new tracker programs are becoming more and more user friendly. Tracking has recently enjoyed a mild resurgence as people begin to appreciate the importance of laying down music as quickly as possible. Some modern musicians that use trackers as part of their audio production process include, Brothomstates, Bogdan Raczynski, and Venetian Snares.

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