CD Review

V/A - "Interstellar Harmony" - Volume One

By Marcus Pan

Interstellar HarmonyIt's been around for a while now, but it wasn't until recently that it's begun to make headlines. In the last year or so, MOD music has finally come out of the underground to appear in magazines, newspapers, radio shows and even as background music in some of the latest games hitting the shelves today. This CD release from Nebula is a very complicated disc…not like any other music CD I've reviewed. Matter of fact, it isn't just a music CD. In addition to fourteen audio tracks playable in any CD stereo system, it is a dual-purpose disc with ROM data on a good portion of it as well. And it's a new technology, so to speak, or at least an old one very few have heard of yet. With that in mind, we're going to break down this review a bit and do something a little different. It's the only way to do a good review of a music CD that's this different…

A Quick Introduction to MODs
Along with any good (and sometimes completely and utterly uninteresting) thing that has its roots in computers of some kind, MOD music has its very own Frequently Asked Question file written by Jester. Pull it up yourself on the web at http://castlex.com/modfaq/index.html. That's where I went first to help write this portion on what to many will be a shiny new music format. And still I have to say that although new to you, I admit I got my hands on my first MOD ("Crimes of Something-Or-Other") about ten years ago. Another place to drop into, which I unfortunately didn't have time to do today, is the Usenet newsgroup alt.binaries.sounds.mods where the crustiest of the MOD scene hang out.

Here at the FAQ site I refreshed my memory of what the MOD format is. MODules is, obviously, a music format that contains not only the sequencing information of how, what and where to play an instrument (like MIDI), but also the samples of the instruments and sounds themselves (like WAV or AU). I'm not going to get into the use of patterns and the nitty-gritty of tracking (as programming MODs is called), but suffice to say that because it contains both of those key ingredients it makes the format far superior to MIDI and/or WAV. Now because this is a music review article and not some technical PCMag thing, we shall go on.

Interstellar Harmony - The Tracks
Saurin Shah and Keith Kelly put together the CD tracks of this disc. What you are listening to when you slip this shiny spinning thingee into a player are, in actuality, MOD songs that were transferred to CD audio format for easy playing on any stereo. Most of the music on the CD holds on an ambient/techno course. Various MOD trackers have contributed to this work, among them such MOD-scene favorites as Novus, Bjorn Lynne, Mysterium and others that MODsters would know at the drop of a hat…or the drop of a track I should say.

Bjorn Lynne kicks off the CD with Demon Moon, a long, richly ambient symphony-like work. It's a great choice to start the CD off with and sets the perfect ethereal mood with which to peruse the rest of the works on Interstellar. The guitar and drum samples used in this MOD are wonderfully realistic…you'd be hard pressed to guess the music was computer generated. Another of the tracks I must mention is the beautiful piano piece by Novus. Revealing is an absolute dream of a track, perfectly arranged and beautifully tracked. It rolls perfectly from chord to chord…virtually flawless as far as I can tell. This is followed up by Skaven's Catch That Goblin, a hilariously arranged collection of cartoon-like sounds and ludicrous melodies. Pure fun. The rest of the CDs tracks follows along this same vein, from Nookie's ethereal and bouncy Dream Replicator to Mysterium's Atmospheric Light that urges; "It's not about the music, it's about the energy. Atmosphere is everything." Following the spoken word style lyrics he has sampled, the song thereafter goes into a steady, rhythmic pumping with a wondrous drum track that pulses a hole through you combined with a soothing synthesizer background that flows in and out the loops. Great stuff.

Interstellar HarmonyInterstellar Harmony - The Files
Just in case the hardcore info-monger in you thought that fourteen tracks of ambient, ethereal and techno bliss wasn't enough, in the proverbial sales pitch might I add: And there's more! Interstellar Harmony has a wonderfully easy to navigate CD-ROM section. If you know how to click a mouse, you can get around it. Based on the Hypertext format that made the World Wide Web what it is today (a bunch of vanity bullshit pages filled with raving schmeckleheads with too much free time, that is…but I digress). There are even two different formats for high-resolution and lower resolution displays…awesome! The interface is slick as hell, with great images and java scripting to spice up your browsing. The navigation bar on the left screen which leads you to all the different areas of information on the CD stays with you making it simple enough even a schmecklehead could get around. There are articles and other miscellaneous information on MODs and the music format, MOD player and sampling software, and even the entire MODPlug site is included here for easy browsing (presumably so that Kim Kraft, MODPlug site boss, can endure head-sizing increases for his own entertainment and our annoyance ;>).

But like I said…fourteen music tracks not enough? No problem. There's more than 70 more MOD files on the data section of the CD that you can blast until your balls fall off if that's your thing. And don't forget to pop into the artist's section as well, to read about the creators of all this stuff you're listening to in the meantime. There you can read about tons of the music makers in the tracking scene, many with pictures of them, interviews and complete biographies of them and their work. You can play their tracks (including those that don't appear as one of the fourteen CD-audio tracks), but make sure you have MODPlug installed first. You can even click a button and send comments or notes directly to the artists that you like (or hate) best or pop directly over to their web site (if available) at any time.

Interstellar Harmony - In Summary
There's probably more I can go into if I tried…but I won't. Suffice to say that the quality of the music, mixing and tracking found on Interstellar Harmony: Volume One is something you would not expect from computer-rendered music. Hell, you wouldn't know it was computer rendered in the first place if I hadn't blabbed it. I'll tell 'ya…I've been listening to a buttload of new music and CDs these days and frankly these folks here do stomp all over some of the studio bands I've heard as of late. And they don't even have to leave their house. It's a shame they don't receive the notoriety and fame they deserve…but maybe with Interstellar Harmony they finally will. Interstellar Harmony is computer music like you've never heard before…step aside Dolby.

Contact Information:
Mail: Nebula, PO Box 796, Alief, TX, 77411-0796
E-Mail: info@traxinspace.com
Web: http://www.traxinspace.com