You don't know Mathieu Stempell? Perhaps you are more acquainted with his nickname Dma-Sc. He has worked on so many productions on the Atari ST, demos as well as games, that I'm almost embarrassed that it took this long before we scored an interview with him. Mathieu is a self-made musician who knows almost everything there is to know about the YM chip. He is currently working on the soundtrack for the upcoming release Athanor 2. Check out the interview if you want to learn more about the history and future of one of the most important chip musicians in the ST scene today.
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2) The first home computers
3) Feelings for music
4) Favorite genres
5) Making music ... the old fashioned way
6) Becoming Dma-Sc
7) What's in a (nick)name
8) Fan favorites
9) Most exciting projects
11) Favorite tools for making music
12) Scene groups
13) Athanor 2
14) Composing songs
15) Athanor 2 ... in action
16) Are you a gamer?
17) The ST scene
18) The future
19) What's next?
20) There goes my hero
21) Words of wisdom
A screen from Warptyme, a YM Rockerz release. The YM Rockerz collective was conceived by Lotek Style and Tao.
Obsession is one of Mathieu's favorites and must be THE most beautiful game on the Atari STe, don't you think?
1) Hello Mathieu, can you introduce yourself to the public?
Hello, okay, so I am Mathieu Stempell aka Dma-Sc, 40 years old, born and living in France, close to Paris, where I'm also working.
2) When did you first get in contact with computers? And at what age did you acquire an Atari ST?
Well my first glimpses of a computer were a mix of my father's Oric, the school's TO7 and my uncle's CPC.
But these were scarce encounters, being still very young back then.
In the late 80s, my father received an ST from work. They were using those machines professionally. Interfacing it with a massive load of numerical keyboards, creating a transportable live voting system that they could install in conference rooms. The ST was also computing and displaying the results on a big screen.
So I played on the machine at home and discovered the various types of software that the system had to offer.
3) Have you always been a music fan? When did you start with it? And is music the reason you chose an Atari ST?
Well I always had a feel for music, as there has always been music playing in my family/youth environment.
But I never experienced it, either as a playing nor composing activity in those early times, not even at school (surprisingly, there weren't enough teachers/rooms available in high school for my class to have these kinds of lessons...).
I also always had a feeling for electronic sounds/instruments, as a child of the 80s. This genre of music was everywhere, especially on TV, in shows and cartoons. And when I discovered video games, that type of music also filled my young mind.
But my interest in composing only started quite "late", in the early/mid 90s, when I discovered ProTracker on my ST, from an ST Magazine cover disk. I was amazed by its user friendliness. Enter notes on the partition using different samples, and you can create music which directly sounds like "the real thing".
So I looked at existing tracker tunes and learned music that way, discovering the basics, rhythm, melody, harmony, etc...
4) What is your favorite type of music?
Well none/any per sé. I'm very much into various types of electronic music, but I also enjoy music with instruments played by real people. Human presence is an irreplaceable touch.
I usually listen to music with a strong rhythmical structure, like "funky" music (from old jazz-funk to actual breakbeat) or rock (from old progressive rock to different kinds of metal). And I like melodies a lot.
I also regularly listen to video-game and demo-scene music of course (but those are a source, more than a genre).
5) Do you play any instruments?
No, I never went on to playing any instrument. I tried playing the keyboard a bit recently, but it needs a lot of practice. And I feel that my movements are a bit stiff.
6) Your nickname, Dma-Sc, seems all over the place. Why do you think you are so popular in the ST music scene?
Well, when you've been active for almost 25 years, it comes as no surprise you're referenced a lot online. ;)
Also, I have been active in times when chipmusic had long declined as computer music, and hadn't yet resurfaced as a "cool old school/minimalistic" sound.
And in this time of transition there weren't many people to go to for music on the ST.
Also Sector One was an important demogroup in this period, containing many competent sceners, making great productions, also including our intense collaborations with Dune.
And many other people regularly asked me to compose music for their productions, and still do, which is very cool.
7) What does Dma-Sc stand for? What does it mean?
Well it initially stood for "DMA Soundtrack Composer", as back then I started composing music on digital soundtrackers, using a STe, and its DMA digital sound interface.
Also, as a STe owner, I despised the YM chip sound. (uh? Stupid opinionated youngster or what? Even if there were actually several YM tracks I loved)
But now it's just Dma-Sc. I just like the aesthetics of it ;)
8) Which of your musical compositions are you most proud of? And what is your absolute favorite?
Eheh, the easy answer is, all those I have yet to compose ;)
But there are several tunes of mine that people enjoyed quite much, like the Odd Stuff demo soundtrack, Visitors From Dreams track (which even got featured on the intro of the PC game Darwinia), Cyg's Japan and the Street Art demos, Terre Ra'i Falcon demo, etc... And I'm very pleased by all of this.
9) You have worked on numerous projects like Wolfenstein 3D, Athanor 2, just to name a few. But for which project have you been most excited about working on?
The Odd Stuff demo was really exciting back then, considering the number of talents involved in its creation. And it was one of the first big demos that I worked on.
Also when people started to focus on audio/visual sync in Atari demos, these became even more interesting to work on as a musician.
Athanor 2 is a big project for me, as it requires many tunes, each specific to a location or a certain atmosphere of the game.
I really like composing music for games. I even did soundtracks for some commercial games on Xbox 360 as well as cellphones a while ago.
Another noticeable project has been coding my conversion of the arcade puzzle game Magical Drop to the ST, that I named Manical Drop.
It was fun coding on the ST (in C, using the great GodLib library), and succeeding in reproducing the original gameplay (minus the advanced visuals/animations) only based on my feelings and memories of the original game.
10) Oh? So you are a coder as well?
Yes, for a living I'm actually conceiving/coding/setting up web applications for organizations, another kind of coding, you see. But I did Manical Drop just to prove to myself I could do it!
11) Which tools do you use the create music on the ST?
Most of the time I'm using maxYMiser, which is the ultimate ST tracker for me, coded by gwEm.
I am very grateful he has involved me in this project from the get go, allowing me to contribute to the design with various ideas and wishes I had.
I'm also using ProTracker for 4 channel MOD compositions, but more as a check to see if it sounds correct on a real ST. These days I rather compose these on the PC tracker (MilkyTracker).
12) Are you part of any scene groups?
I still consider Sector One as my ST demo-scene group (as there's at least one other active member - Hey Zerkman! ;).
I am also contributing to the YM Rockerz collective.
13) You are currently working on the brand new ST adventure game Athanor 2. How did that start?
Well my name has been suggested to Eric Safar by your colleague, Brume.
So I called Eric, we exchanged our views on this type of game, and I started composing.
14) How do you decide what kind of music you create for a product, for example in this case, Athanor 2. Did you compose the music yourself? Or was it more a conversion of existing songs?
On this project, we chose to go for a completely new soundtrack specifically for the ST version (initially released on 8 bit platforms), considering the ideas I had for it, and also the differences between the 8 bit game and the 16 bit port.
So I am composing several pieces, inspiring myself from the game scenes, real locations and figured time periods (and the music of these times and places).
As I previously said, the musical work on this adventure game is pretty huge. Also it's quite a change from the rather upbeat tunes I'm usually composing.
A real challenge. I hope the result will please gamers :)
When composing for games and demos, I get inspiration from any early idea and draft material of the project (concepts / effects / graphics).
15) Have you seen or played the actual game (Athanor 2)? And are there already some details you may share?
I haven't played the game since it's still a work in progress.
But I have been given a kind of "storyboard walk-through" by Eric, along with views of the various, beautifully drawn scenes in the game.
What I like already is the story, pretty rich and emotional. Which is not surprising considering the experience with such adventures that Eric and the game's illustrator, Angel Bautista, have. It really shows their skills.
16) Are you a gamer? And if so, what is your favorite ST game and why?
Yes, while I play quite less these days, it's not an activity I consider being retired from.
I don't own the latest game systems. But I still enjoy racing, shooters, arcade, or puzzle games (all these provide fast game moments).
There also are several games I would like to finish... in my 30 year old backlog. :D
About my favorite ST game, high up there, still appealing, are : Llamatron, Vroom, Obsession, Joust, Stardust.
Examples of fine arcade gameplay with frantic action, actually.
17) What do you think of the Atari ST scene these days and what does it mean to you?
The ST scene is still an active and friendly place in my opinion.
These are the two reasons for me to still consider it a cool crowd of passionate people.
18) What are your future plans (in the scene, and in your life)?
Well there are some personal projects for the scene that I want to work on and finish.
But I'm not saying anything about that now, I'm not making any promises! ;-)
19) Is there still something you really want to accomplish in life?
To be sure that I'll be in peace with myself when it will end? ;)
But in the meantime... probably finishing some of the personal projects I mentioned earlier (or didn't).
20) The question I always ask to everybody ... If you could pick any person to go out and have a drink with, who would it be?
I haven't got any heroes, but I guess people who did significantly pioneering/astonishing tracks on the ST would be great to meet for a long chat, like Scavenger, Tao, Mad Max (met him briefly at STNICCC 2015), Jess, etc...
21) Any last words of wisdom?
Wisdom? From me? Really? :D
Creative activities give you a feeling of accomplishment like no other activity, because it comes from your mind. It represents you.
And yes, of course, quite a similar thing can be said about raising children, ahah. ;)
Very nice ;-) Thank you for this interview Mathieu!
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