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Tracker is the generic term for a class of software music sequencers which, in their purest form, allow the user to arrange sound samples stepwise on a timeline across several monophonic channels. A tracker's interface is primarily numeric; notes are entered via the keyboard, whilst length, parameters, effects and so forth are entered in hexadecimal. A complete song consists of several small multi-channel patterns chained together via a master list.

Table of contents
1 History
2 List of trackers
3 See also
4 External Links


The term tracker derives from Soundtracker, the first of its type, which was released in 1987 for the Commodore Amiga, although the general concept of step-sequencing samples numerically can be traced back to the Fairlight CMI sampling workstation of the late 1970s, and it is interesting to compare the work of The Art of Noise or the Pet Shop Boys with early tracker music. A tracker song, when saved to disk, typically incorporates all the sequencing data plus samples, and thus during the format's heyday it became almost a sport to create long, complex .mod (or .sng) files which were nonetheless smaller than 880 kB. Typically the composer would incorporate his or her assumed name into the list of samples. Curiously, most tracker musicians appeared to be from the UK and the Nordic nations.

The edit window of a tracker resembles a player piano scroll, moving from the bottom of the screen upwards. The first trackers allowed for only four channels of 8-bit music, although as the notes were samples this limitation was less important than those of synthesising music chips, such as Commodore's SID or Yamaha's venerable AY range, as the user could sample chords, for example, and play them back on a single channel, a process which became a cliche in early pop-rave chart tunes; rapid chordal stabs, often of fifths, were the hallmark of Altern-8 and other transient techno phenomena. Later tracker software, most famously Octamed, allowed for eight channels of music or more, whilst special hardware could allow for 16-bit playback.

Karsten Obarski's original Soundtracker was originally an internal development tool for Electronic Arts, which goes some way towards explaining its programmer-friendly interface. The company eventually released it as a commercial product, although shareware clones such as NoiseTracker were not long in coming. The machines on which tracker software ran were not expensive, particularly in the UK, where the Amiga and Atari ST were the default home computer choice during the six or so years spanning the dawn of the 1990s. Thus, tracker music became something of an underground punk phenomenon, especially as so much contemporary chart music was then sample-based dance music, a genre which was relatively simple to produce with step-based sequencing. Tracker music was a fantastic training ground for a generation of electronic dance musicians, many of whom saved up for an Akai sampler, a multi-effects unit, a mixer and a microphone, thence to storm the charts.

There was a downside to all this, however, in that 'tracker music' became something of a term of derision for stereotypically ravey, computer-game-style pop tunes, whilst the difficulty involved in adding 'swing' to a mechanistic sequencing style resulted in much 4/4 music based around strict four-bar sections, often using similar samples (being instrumental, tuneful tracker music required distinctive lead voices, of which chimes, pitch-bent guitar tones and rave piano were overused).

Over the 1990s, tracker musicians gravitated to the PC. Tracker music lives today. Computer games still use it, notably the Unreal series and the first Command & Conquer game. However, the easy availability of software samplers and sequencers, and the advent of the MP3 format has caused most professional musicians to adopt other music software. Nonetheless, tracker software still exists. Impulse Tracker, Scream Tracker and others offer features undreamed-of back in the day (resonant filters, built-in multi-effects).

List of trackers

See also

External Links

Tracker is also the name of a television series starring Adrian Paul and Geraint Wyn Davies.

A tracker is also an individual who can follow the path left behind by animals, people or machines, often in adverse terrain, by reading the sign left behind.