A relative latecomer to computers, Rob was until about four years ago, keeping things very loose, plying his trade as a professional musician, turning the skills gained from a lifetimes' playing and three years at music college to a variety of musical jobs: "I've arranged for string quartets and pub-rock groups, worked as a musical copyist, and even pushed a knackered Transit full of band through waist high snow at 4 o'clock on a January morning!"

Tyne Tees TV are currently filming Rob's 'concept musical' Work, "About life, society, and the whole bit, y'know?", but it is now computing which offers him his most satisfying - and lucrative - creative labour. Ironic, since Rob bought his first machine to keep abreast of the impact he could see computers having in music. He was considering the now-forgotten Memotech (How history would have been changed if he'd bought it...) but when the price of the C64 dropped that first time to the £230 mark, Rob, intrigued by it's musical facilities, took the plunge.
Memotech MTX512
Memotech MTX512 by Memotech Limited


"I was completely self-taught, starting off like everyone else with Basic graphics routines, but the great thing about the 64 is how it encourages you to get into machine coding. I think I wrote my first machine code routine after about two months."

From the very start, Rob had an eye on the commercial applications of his new hobby.

"At the time, about 3 or 4 years ago, the games boom was at its height, and there was no decent educational software about at all. So I wrote two or three music tuition programmes - Pitch training, sight reading - and sent them out to companies. No response.

"Then it occured to me that there were specialist graphics programmers - why shouldn't there be specialist music programmers too? That's when I decided to get in there. I guess my breakthrough games were Confuzion and Monty. Since then, I haven't had to look so hard for work." He laughs.

Rock n' Bolt
Rock n' Bolt by Activision

Does he ever worry about the whizzkid competition, I wondered?

"As far as music is concerned - not really. There are a couple of people I respect - the guy from Ocean who did Hypersports, the American kid who did Master of the Lamps and Activision's Rock n' Bolt ...He's good. But I broke into the games to see how he did it - if you've got a machine code monitor and enough patience, then you can break any Turbo - and, from what I can gather, his coding is really inefficient - he just treats the music like any other data, loads all the information each time for every sound, which uses up bags of memory. The system I've developed is very efficient. Musical data - pitch, duration and so on - goes in on one routine, and the actual sounds on another."

One of the strongest features of Rob's best work is the way in which the music enhances the atmosphere of a game - listen to his sombre theme for Martech's Zoids and you'll see what I mean. Does his musical training help?

"On occasions. One of my early games seemed to called for a'hillbilly' feel, so I went out and got an album of Bluegrass fiddle music, and a couple of song books..." (Rob played me the result, complete with finger-pickin' banjo and stunningly realistic howdown fiddle. I was, ahem, impressed)"...

or, for instance on Master of Magic. I've been looking at a few medieval scores to help with the feel. In general terms, though, It's fairly obvious what to go for. One of the games I'm working on should be out in time for Christmas, so I've made all the tunes in it Christmassy."

Does his own taste in music influence what he writes?

"My tastes are very wide, but I make a point of listening to the Top 40 every week. After all, most of these games go to young kids, so what's the point of putting in some obscure classical piece? They need to hear something they can relate to ...One of my favourite tunes, Crazy Comets, was a sort of compromise between New Order, who I really like, and a typical funk thing using a sort of 'Slap-bass' sound ...it all depends. Sometimes the tunes are totally original, sometimes, if inspiration doesn't strike, I adapt things, change them, make them my own. Monty was like that - it started out as the theme from the old radio detective show, Dick Barton!"

Dick Barton - Special Agent - BBC Radio
Dick Barton - Special Agent by BBC Radio

A popular radio program on BBC Radio from 1946 to 1951.
The BBC’s first daily radio serial, airing at 6.45 pm each weekday evening.
At its peak it reached an audience of 15 million listeners!

.mp3 - press play button to hear
a 30 second sample of the signature tune.