INTERVIEW WITH DAVID WHITTAKER by Richard Karsmakers
A couple of months ago, as some of you might remember, I have had
the honour of interviewing music programmer Rob Hubbard. This
time, I offer you an interview with a music programmer that
deserves just as much praise for his pioneer work on the ST:
David Whittaker, the man behind the soundtracks from "Ninja
Mission", "Renegade" ("Outcast" in Europe), "Defender of the
Crown", "Leviathan", "Star Trek" and "BMX Simulator" (all on the
Atari ST). He's working on some more projects at the moment as
well, and he's the man that gave Rob Hubbard his initial code to
start with (and, indirectly, is thus responsible for the success
of Mad Max from TEX - who did this issue's music again - who took
Rob's code and later wrote his own synthesizer based on that
Q: What's you full name, occupation, profession and age?
A: My full name's David Whittaker, my occupation is being a
company director and my profession is being a music & sound
programmer. My age? Well...Over 21.
Q: Which schools did you visit? Which subjects did you like, and
which did you hate?
A: I went to the Derby Grammar School in Bury, Lancashire. I
hated music because there was too much history and not enough
theory and practical stuff. I liked French and Geography.
Q: On which computer did you start programming music? Which
computers have you programmed music on 'till now? When did you
start doing things on the ST?
A: I started programming music on the CBM VIC-20, in March 1982.
I have programmed on CMB VIC-20, CBM 64, CMB C16/Plus4, CBM
Amiga, Atari 800 XL (etc.), Atari ST, Sinclair Spectrum 48K,
Sinclair Spectrum 128K (AY Chip...), MSX, MSX II, Amstrad CPC's
and IBM PC's (and compatibles). I started on the ST in Autumn
Q: Who persuaded you to start programming on the ST?
A: Nobody did. I just wanted to keep up with new machines.
Q: Why have you specialized in programming music? Have you ever
done anything else?
A: I specialised because there was a demand for programmers who
could also make music, and I rather prefer programming music to
programming games. If I have done anything else? Well, I have had
14 full time jobs since I left school including: Electronics
assembly, office work, fork-lift truck driving, cloth dyeing,
making the tubes that go inside toilet rolls and full time
keyboard keyboard player in a band.
Q: Do you use a program to do your music, or do you have a custom
editor? Do you use hardware add-ons?
A: I have no programs or editors. It's all done on an assembler
source file. I use no hardware add-ons
Q: How do you program your music?
A: I work out the music on a Yamaha CX5M music computer or a
Casio CZ 230 S synth, then jot it down on paper, then type
relevant relevant data into assembler source files.
Q: How many hours did you spend programming the following musix:
The Model (Early '64), Panther (64), Ninja Mission,
Renegade/Outcast, Star Trek, Defender of the Crown, BMX Simulator
A: I spent 2 hours doing The Model, 4 hours doing Panther. Ninja
Mission as well as Renegade took 4 hours hours, and Star Trek
took 3 whole months (I did seven versions but Firebird didn't
even like it when it was finished). BMX Simulator took 4 hours;
Defender of the Crown took 20 hours and Leviathan took 6 hours.
Q: What do you consider to be the most difficult aspect of
programming sound on the ST? Which techniques do you use? What
are your hopes and expectations with regard to future music on
A: The ST has a crap ancient beepy chip which doesn't deserve the
light of day. I don't have any techniques, I just get on with it.
My hopes and expectations for the ST are that it might get an FM
(Yamaha/Casio) sound chip one day (even the CBM SID chip is
Q: Do you improvise whebn writing your music or do you use sheet
A: I compose music myself, copy sheet music, listen to a taped
soundtrack or a combination.
Q: Which piece of music was the most difficult you ever did
(please specify one in general and one on the ST)?
A: Jail Break (C64)(Konami), because they sent me some crap music
played by a 20 piece jazz orchestra. On the ST Star Trek, because
everyone knows every note of it and you can't get female vocals
out of the AY chip.
Q: Which pieces of music do you consider to be the best you made
(again, specify one in general and one on the ST)?
A: I don't like anything I do because when I've finished writing
it, I am sick of hearing it but, going of other people's comments
I would say that Panther on the C64 and Stormbringer on the
Spectrum 128K would tie. ST: Ninja Mission.
Q: And which one do you consider to be the worst (in general)?
A: That'd be Star Trek on the ST.
Q: Which music programmer do you think is the best (in general,
and on the ST, seperately)?
A: I don't just think Rob Hubbard is the best, I KNOW he's the
best and he doesn't get big-headed about it. On the ST? I've only
ever heard my stuff and Rob's Goldrunner (It's up to you).
Q: Is there competition or something like that in the music
A: Some magazines have a Music Top Five/Ten, but I don't see the
point - it's only the opinion of a smart-arsed spotty reviewer
who doesn't know a crotchet from a quaver (Well, thank you, Mr.
Q: For which programs will you do the musis shortly?
A: At the moment I'm doing PacLand on all the formats including
the ST and Amiga.
Q: Which software company do you think is the best?
A: The one who pays up the quickest (or at all).
Q: Which was the first program you ever did the music for, and
which one did you make music for on the ST for the first time?
A: The overall first was Humphrey (Q-Bert) on the CBM VIC-20. On
the ST, it was Renegade.
Q: And your last projects?
A: Outrun on the C64 and Steve Bak's new game on the ST (but
that's still Top Secret).
Q: How do you persuade people to use your music?
A: I don't. They just ring me up.
Q: Do you play one of several musical instruments?
A: I play Keyboards, guitar, anything nearby.
Q: Do you ever listen to pop music? Which bands do you like?
A: Yes, I do listen to 'pop' music (I used to be a D.J.). I like
Kraftwerk (I met them in Liverpool in 1981) and any technically
good and well-produced bands.
Q: Then there's the question I always ask: What's you opinion
about the ST<>Amiga syndrome (please be specific to musical
A: You may not want to hear this but the Amiga blows out the ST
in every single aspect except user-friendlyness. The Amiga's
sound capabilities are likewise. However, I'm about to buy the
new RISC machine (Archimedes) which totally blows out the Amiga.
Q: Hmmm. What's your opinion about ST NEWS?
A: It's a great idea/product. I think the constant references to
the blonde piece are a bit over the top (Grrrmmmbbl. ED). You
could do with getting rid of the request window whenever a window
option is selected (So I did, Mr. Whittaker! ED.).
Q: My last question. What is your opinion about software piracy?
Do you think it can be preferred above destroying telephone
A: Piracy sounds romantic - It is NOT! IT IS THEFT from you and
Anyone who destroys anybody else's property
should be shot
Anyone who destroys telephone boxes
should be shot twice
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.