Going To The Dutch, Part 1: Dr Ambient (AEX)

by Jos van de Gruiter


Guido Goebertus alias Dr Ambient is the creator of AEX, one of the best-looking, wayward arpeggiators for Atari 16/32 computers. But why does someone develop an application while there are so many great programs around? “Because I find it easier to write something myself than to learn how a new program works”, states the doctor. And more products are announced: a pattern-based sequencer for Atari, a VSTi and a sample CD. Like everywhere else, the Dutch Atari scene is fading away, but some developers keep the fire burning.

The doctor lives in Amsterdam. On a hot day in August 2003 MyAtari travels to the capital of the Netherlands. “I'm a born Amsterdammer“, Guido (47) seems to emphasize after letting the reporter in at his third floor apartment. That's not as obvious as it seems. The fame and temptations of this city attract people from the "province" - that's how Amsterdammers call the rest of the Netherlands - and from all over the world. The Dutch capital is a big melting pot, where English becomes more and more the lingua franca.

It’s a centuries-old process. The Netherlands was the first republic in Western Europe and its tolerance attracted people from other European countries. The forefathers of Guido were protestant refugees from France and when time passed by their French name "Coubert" changed into "Goebertus".

    Jos: Talking about names, why did you call yourself Dr Ambient? It reminds me of the tag names graffiti artists used here in the eighties.

    Guido: No, it has nothing to do with that. I can't remember why I've chosen this name, maybe because Tim Conrardy called me the doctor. I'm not sure though... I just thought I needed a pseudonym. Guido Goebertus doesn't sound internationally appealing.

    Jos: Mentioning Tim... He was one of the big motivators for AEX?

    Guido: Yes, when I started with AEX (September 2001) it was a very simple program. A lot of adjustments were made on Tim's advice. Writing an application is the same motivation as creating a piece of music. I've studied electronics and have built hardware synthesizers, compressors and filters. Writing software is more fun and it keeps your hands clean!

[Photo: Guido Goebertus alias Dr Ambient]

Amsterdam Exchange
Guido’s pride of being an inhabitant of Amsterdam evens shows itself in the name of his program. AEX stands for Amsterdam Exchange, the Dutch stock market. What does this have to do with music, one would ask. The answer is simply astounding, “Because the algorithms in AEX are a reproduction of one day at the Amsterdam Exchange.”

    Guido: Through Tim I knew many MIDI programs and mine had to be different. Above all, when creating music I'm too lazy to fill in all these notes myself. The application has to do it for me. So I was looking for a "human fractal" and one day when I was reading the newspaper I noticed the diagrams of the AEX.

    I've entered the exact co-ordinates of these diagrams into the source code. There are some limitations however, the notes will always fit within a given chord. The base of the algorithms underneath my program is an impression of one day at the stock exchange.

MIDI export
When you open the application you can see the AEX diagrams. Working with the sequencer makes them change. Composing with AEX is a bit random. Let the program run and start changing parameters: choose different chords, transpose, reverse... The program will record everything you do within a maximum of 100 patterns.

    Jos: Too bad the application can't save the patterns as a MIDI file, Guido.

    Guido: In the next version there will be MIDI export. It should be there already, but some serious bugs caused some delay. When recording, the program stores the MIDI output in a buffer. Trying to save these data as a MIDI file, showed me there were a lot of note on messages with velocity 0 that shouldn't be there. I've never noticed because I didn't hear them. I had to reprogram lines everywhere in the source code. It was time-consuming work but now it's been solved. The next update will be the last. After that I consider AEX to be ready.

    Jos: Why doesn't AEX work under GEM or in a multi-tasking environment like MiNT or MagiC? It would also be nice to have it running as a desk accessory and use it as a plug-in within Cubase.

    Guido: There's no chance AEX will ever run as a GEM application or as an ACC. I've received much praise for the graphics and they wouldn't look so good under GEM. It would make the program unstable. Even moving the mouse around caused MIDI delay running in GEM.

[Photo: Centre of Guido's home studio]

    Jos: Is that why AEX is a keyboard-driven application only?

    Guido: Yes, the program became more stable without a mouse, but beside that, I really like the keyboard-driven approach. The first computer I used - a Commodore 64 - didn't have a mouse. In 1994 I bought a second hand STE running Cubase. It was my first Atari and a bargain. However, it took me days before I understood how it worked. It seemed a sensation when I discovered the double click.

    I think you should be able to work with every program without using a mouse. The keyboard however should be changed into a touch screen, showing only the knobs you need for each program separately. We should abandon the idea of a typewriter.

    Especially for AEX and my next creation ESEQ I want to make this keyboard myself. Because of my electronic background that would be no problem. Of course both programs will still work with a normal keyboard.

One window
The keyboard is not the only subject Guido has some strong opinions about: he thinks all actions should be possible in one window. "That's what I don't like about Cubase. Too many windows I must open and too many mouse clicks before I can start editing. In my programs all editing and playing is done in one window".

A direct link exists between these views, his earlier experiences with computers and Guido's history as a musician.

Dr Ambient started his musical career as a guitarist in a seventies symphonic rock band. "We were influenced by Genesis and called ourselves Saga”, he remembers. "No, not that famous band. We needed a keyboard player, so I switched instruments. We had a Mellotron, an ARP AXXE and a simple organ. As a keyboard player I never became a virtuoso, so with AEX it's very convenient when I don't have to put in the notes myself. Performing live is also very direct because everything can be done on one screen without many actions".

Record deal
In the early eighties Guido joined a new wave band called GT Modell and built his own studio. “Red Bullet signed our band. (Record label of the famous Dutch DJ Willem van Kooten, responsible for the international successes of Golden Earring and Shocking Blue’s Venus - Ed.) We've made a mini album and released a single”. Sadly, the record flopped and GT Modell were dropped.

    Guido: MIDI came and that was exactly what I was waiting for. It must be 1985 when I bought a Commodore 64, a colour monitor and a Casio CZ-101 keyboard. I wrote a sequencer program myself, I didn't know if there were other programs around. Steinberg must have been active already, because I remember using one of their MIDI interfaces.

With his creation Guido went to all the music shops in Amsterdam to give demos. He hoped they'd be interested in commercial exploitation. “Nobody seemed to care. They couldn't understand why somebody would need something like that. They didn't see the possibilities”.

Easy Sequencer
Dr Ambient's first sequencer was already good looking and had 16 tracks. It formed the base for one of his new projects: ESEQ, the Easy Sequencer. Guido shows ESEQ. The graphics are eye candy again.

With this program you can put in notes with your computer keyboard in real time. You can combine bars to make patterns and patterns to make a song. AEX and a MIDI drum machine are available in "plug-in format".

Unfortunately the doctor can't predict when ESEQ will be released for the Atari community.

[Screen-shot: Easy Sequencer]

Phase distortion
Guido is also working on Phadiz, a VSTi plug-in emulating the sound of his first MIDI keyboard, the CZ-101. Like the original Casio this soft-synth works with phase distortion and that explains its name. Phadiz is available as a freebie on the web site of Algorithmic Research in the future.

Algorithmic Research
The busy doctor started AR (Algorithmic Research). The first product will be Loop Factory, a CD with soundfonts. Each soundfont consists of algorithmically created loop samples and a solo sound. It's not known yet when this CD will be released.

MIDI routines
With so few people left to support our platform, Atarians should cherish a programmer like Dr Ambient. He's still creating original and good-looking applications for 16/32 systems, they will even work under emulators (Steem). Is there anything he asks from the Atari community? “Yes, there is: I really miss some well-written MIDI routines in assembler or C. Once these will exist many programmers and the platform would benefit from that".

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #7, August 2003

Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine