Sat, May 29, 2004

U4ia Mods

Writing about Netscape 1.0 yesterday got me thinking about pre-Web computer fun. Set the wayback machine for 1991…

Although university students might have been able to access the Internet at the time, the only online experience most people had was on computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). For those without the BBS experience, it’s a bit hard to describe just what it was like. On the Web it is so easy to jump from site to site. For each BBS you would normally need to dial up and connect to each system. Depending on the system, you’d often find message boards, files to download, and sometimes games to play. You could also talk in real-time with other connected users. On a small BBS that would likely be just the SysOp.

I still remember the day I found music online. I’d powered up my trusty 386 PC and 2400 baud modem. I connected to a Lexington BBS and looked through the new files. The description of one surprised me, it said it could play multipart music through a PC speaker (at the time—like many PCs—I didn’t have a sound card).

I believe the program was called ModPlay and I was very impressed that it did was it said. My PC speaker, formerly home to simple beeps, burst forth with stunning four-part sound. Amazing! Apparently the PC processor was finally powerful enough and fast enough that it could process digital music and drive the speaker. I later found a PC speaker driver for Windows 3.1 that could do the same magic with WAV files (by maxing out the CPU.)

The ModPlay program was an impressive feat and it lead me to search for additional MOD files. MOD files originated with the Commodore Amiga SoundTracker program. They contain digital samples and describe how to play them back. Each sample, or instrument, can be played back at a specified pitch and distortion on one of four channels.

The novelty of playing real music on my PC got me to try various MOD files. The most impressive were created by Jim Young, who went by the name U4ia. Sometime last year I got thinking about those MODs and set out to find them again. Here’s all of the U4ia MODs. I’ve grateful that U4ia freely gave away all this music. Surprisingly, WinAmp can play MOD files and they unsurprisingly sound far better than they did through my crummy PC speaker. Cool! I believe my favorite is “i’ll be waiting 4 u” (waiting.mod), although I enjoy many others, like “teddy bear boogie” and “this heart beats 4u”. Check them out. Perhaps you’ll become a fan of U4ia, too.

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