Rob Hubbard

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Rob Hubbard (born 1956) is a music composer; most notably for several microcomputers of the 1980s, and especially the C64. He is married with no children.

Early Life[edit]

Hubbard was born in Kingston upon Hull in 1956, although has never publicly revealed his birth date. He started playing at age 7. At school, he played in bands and later went to music college. Early employment saw him as a musician, playing in bands, working in clubs, as well as in music arrangement and music transcription.

The Golden Era, 1983-1988[edit]

Rob Hubbard, circa 1983[1]

Being interested in the development of computers in music, Hubbard taught himself to programme 6510 Assembly Language in 1983. The SID has similarities to early analogue synths and this was something that Hubbard knew very well; the concepts of Pulse Width Modulation (PWM), ring modulation and Low Frequency Oscillation (LFO) were things that he understood. This allowed him to write some educational music software as his first commercial product. Following this he wrote a video game which was never published as the company went bankrupt. Initially, Hubbard sent a flyer to companies offering his services. After submitting work to Gremlin Graphics, he was hired to compose and program the music for Thing on a Spring. This was followed by the music for Mastertronic's Action Biker. At the start of the computer music revolution, Hubbard admitted that “Back then I thought that this computer stuff was a passing trend that would last a year or two. “ After he completed a couple of games he started getting lots of work. His relationships with other computer composers developed by sending demos and using Compunet. Hubbard continued to operate as a freelance artist, as companies could not afford to employ him in-house.

Inspiration[edit]

Sometimes specific direction for tunes came from the game programmer, other times it was up to Hubbard to decide. He admits to having 3 ways to work: write directly with the C64 by poking bytes using a machine code monitor; write using a pen and paper; sit at the keyboard and play until the ideas come out. Sources of inspiration also included existing music and CD’s although some tunes were actually compositions that he had written many years earlier that he thought might just work. In this capacity he continued to write or convert music for games like Monty on the Run, Crazy Comets, Master of Magic and Commando; which was the quickest composition he made:

“Steve Wilcox, he called me up and told me to get on a train straight away. I got the four o’clock train. It was the earliest train I could get down to Birmingham. And then we spent the day in the pub and then they went home and left me in the office at 10 o’clock at night or something. And there was an arcade machine there, which had the Commando, so I had a quick listen to that. I thought, ok. I used little bit of the motif from the arcade machine. I had my little Casio keyboard and my score paper. I always used to have this score paper like that. Big proper score paper to write stuff down. I used to work that fast that is was basically some musical notations, splattered with lots of hexadecimal numbers, which related to the actual pitches and sound patches and all this stuff. At about 5 o’clock in the morning I finished all the music. So I was working on the sound effects and by the time they came in at 8 o’clock I had it all done and got the train back.”

Interestingly, Hubbard once stated that “sometimes the pressure of having to get it done really makes you write good stuff.”

Style[edit]

Although using a standard program format for the routine, Hubbard changed his music driver code fairly often to either add or delete some features. He was conscious that the code had to be as quick as possible and would optimize it for either space or processor speed. One the strengths of his code enabled the compositions to sound as if there were more than three channels used. He confessed this was simply achieved by multiplexing the three channels, “If the lead line has two beats rest, put a fill or some effect in there.” This was evident in the tune for The Last V8. Other techniques were based on what could be done on every VBlank interrupt, such as creating warbling chord effects. Later on, his code was adapted to play samples.

Hubbard believed that his strength was always in arrangement, melody and harmony.

Notable Work[edit]

While writing the music for International Karate, he started exploring pentatonic arrangements in B flat minor over different bass notes: B flat, D flat, G flat and A flat. The middle section of the tune went into F at double tempo to liven things up. Hubbard’s favourite SID tunes are Kentilla, WAR and Sanxion. The loader music for Sanxion, inspired by Jean Michel Jarre’s Zoolook, was re-worked into a piece titled “Thalamusic[2] using authentic Fairlight samples, performed on a Yamaha CX5M, linked up to an Akai CS900 linked up to a Digital Reverb and Yamaha RX15 Drum Machine and recorded on a four-track[3]. It is also one of the most popular among fans and was distributed free on a cover tape by ZZap!64. Sam Fox Strip Poker was admittedly his worst; resorting to the use of an alias, John York. Monty on the Run, based upon Devils’ Galop by Charles Williams, utilised the feature of pitch bending which was new to the driver code. Knucklebusters featured his longest piece of music, at 17 minutes. Hubbard confesses that Kentilla and Delta were his most complicated. Delta was based on a minimalist composition technique inspired by Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass. It required some custom code to the driver and was tedious to debug, taking 2 weeks in total to complete.

During 1987 he was approached by a major record producer who wanted him to record a single after the producer’s main mixing engineer had heard Hubbard’s tunes on the C64. Hubbard recalls “It was very scary meeting this guy and talking to him and thinking about the possibility of becoming a famous recording artist.” Ultimately the legal and copyright technicalities prevented it from happening.

Electronic Arts, 1988-2002[edit]

Rob Hubbard circa 2000

Hubbard started working for EAA in 1987, and from his perspective he believed that EA was making by far the most interesting products and he was eager to learn. One of his most famous SID tunes is the music featured in the loading sequence of the game Skate or Die, which features samples of electric guitar. Playback of samples was facilitated by exploiting a flaw in the SID: altering the volume register produced an audible click. Thus altering this register thousands of times per second allowed for a crude form of sample playback. Hubbard remained convinced that samples could be played on a static screen but never on the game. By the end of his time with the SID, his driver code could play 2 samples plus a SID tune, but it was never used in a game.

In early 1988 he left Newcastle for good to work for EA in America as a composer. He claims that he always wanted to go to the US and was really attracted by the high technology of Silicon Valley. After the C64 period he wrote some soundtracks for PC games and Sega Mega Drive. He was the first person devoted to sound and music at EA, and did everything from low-level programming to composing. He became Audio Technical Director, a more administrative job, involving deciding which technologies to use in the games, and which to develop further. As Director of Audio he became responsible for managing and scheduling resources across various projects, managing people, fire-fighting, mentoring, looking for new technology, and evangelising.

Back to Newcastle, 2002-present day[edit]

Hubbard left EA in 2002 and returned to England, mainly for personal and family reasons. He has recently resumed playing in a band, and has even revisited his past game music work in concert. Recent composition jobs have included music for mobile phone games. He also aspires to get into playing again and get established in Europe.

Commodore 64 Credits[edit]

This is current known list of music written by Hubbard for the C64.

Title Company Date Remarks
Thing on a Spring Gremlin Graphics July 1985
Action Biker Mastertronic July 1985
Confuzion Incentive Software July 1985
Monty on the Run Gremlin Graphics September 1985 inspired by "Devil's Galop" by Charles Williams
Hunter Patrol Mastertronic October 1985
Crazy Comets Martech November 1985
The Last V8 Mastertronic December 1985
Battle of Britain PSS December 1985
Harvey Smith Showjumping Software Projects Unknown 1985
Up, Up and Away Starcade Unknown 1985 cover of "Up, Up and Away" by The 5th Dimension
Commando Elite January 1986 based on motif from "Commando" arcade game
One Man and His Droid Mastertronic February 1986
Master of Magic Mastertronic March 1986 inspired by "Shibolet and an End to History" from the album "Audion" by Synergy
Rasputin Firebird March 1986 features traditional Russian songs
Kentilla Mastertronic May 1986
Human Race Mastertronic Unknown 1986
Game Killer Robtek May 1986 remix of "Human Race"
Deep Strike Durell January 1986
Thrust Firebird March 1986
International Karate System 3 May 1986 inspired by "Forbidden Colours" from "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" by Ryuichi Sakamoto
Formula 1 Simulator Mastertronic August 1986
Bump Set Spike Entertainment USA Unknown 1986
Ninja Entertainment USA Unknown 1986
Chimera Firebird Unknown 1986
Gerry the Germ Firebird Unknown 1986
Proteus Firebird Unknown 1986 based on two songs the album "Space Experience" by John Keating
Warhawk Firebird Unknown 1986 the same song as "Proteus" with an intro added
Lightforce FTL Unknown 1986
Geoff Capes Strongman Challenge Martech Unknown 1986
Samantha Fox Strip Poker Martech Unknown 1986 credited as John York and contains "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin
Tarzan Martech Unknown 1986
W.A.R. Martech Unknown 1986
Zoids Martech Unknown 1986 based on "Ancestors" from the album "Audion" by Synergy
Flash Gordon MAD Unknown 1986
Spellbound MAD Unknown 1986
Hollywood or Bust Mastertronic Unknown 1986
Phantoms of the Asteroid Mastertronic Unknown 1986
Video Poker Mastertronic Unknown 1986 contains "Easy Winners" by Scott Joplin
Knucklebusters Melbourne House Unknown 1986
Sanxion Thalamus Unknown 1986 contains "Thalamusic" loader and features "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet "Romeo and Juliet" by Prokofiev
ACE 2 Cascade September 1987
Saboteur II Durell Unknown 1987
Sigma 7 Durell Unknown 1987 Amstrad original by Julian Breeze
Thanatos Durell Unknown 1987 Amstrad original by Julian Breeze
Thundercats Elite Unknown 1987
Train Robbers Firebird Unknown 1987
Arcade Classics Firebird Unknown 1987
I-Ball Firebird Unknown 1987
Hydrofool FTL Unknown 1987
Shockway Rider FTL Unknown 1987
Auf Wiedersehen Monty Gremlin Graphics Unknown 1987 with Ben Daglish
Chain Reaction Kele-Line Unknown 1987
Mega Apocalypse Martech Unknown 1987 Re-arrangement of "Crazy Comets"
Nemesis the Warlock Martech Unknown 1987
Wiz Melbourne House Unknown 1987 contains a melody from song "Impressioni Di Settembre" by Premiata Forneria Marconi
Bangkok Knights System 3 Unknown 1987
IK plus System 3 Unknown 1987
Dragons Lair Part II Software Projects Unknown 1987
Star Paws Software Projects Unknown 1987
Delta Thalamus Unknown 1987 based on the title track of "Koyaanisqatsi" soundtrack by Philip Glass
Trans Atlantic Balloon Challenge Virgin Unknown 1987
Goldrunner Microdeal Unknown 1987 same song as "Human Race"
BMX Kids Firebird February 1988 the sampled voice saying "Go!" is Hubbard
19 Part One: Boot Camp Cascade Unknown 1988 an interpretation of Paul Hardcastle's "19" song
Jordan vs. Bird: One on One Electronic Arts Unknown 1988
Shoot Out Martech Unknown 1988
Kings of the Beach Electronic Arts Unknown 1988
Power Play Hockey Electronic Arts Unknown 1988
Skate or Die! Electronic Arts Unknown 1988
Pandora PSI Soft Design Unknown 1988
Ricochet Firebird Unknown 1988

References[edit]

  1. http://www.remix64.com/images/people/rob-hubbard.jpg, accessed 8 December 2013
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A--x91vOY5U, accessed 10 December 2013
  3. http://akaobi.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/zzap_sampler_rob_hubbard.png, accessed 10 December 2013

Links[edit]

WP-W11.png Hubbard Wikipedia: Rob Hubbard