To The Dutch, Part 1: Dr Ambient (AEX)
by Jos van de
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
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".
about names, why did you call yourself Dr Ambient?
It reminds me of the tag names graffiti artists
used here in the eighties.
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
Tim... He was one of the big motivators for
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Jos: Is that why
AEX is a keyboard-driven application only?
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.
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
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".
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
mini album and released a single”. Sadly, the
record flopped and GT Modell were dropped.
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
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
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".
the doctor can't predict when ESEQ will be released
for the Atari community.
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.
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.
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