gWem & MaxYMiser Live!

gWem MaxYMiser Live YM2149 Atari MIDI Chiptune

Article and Cover Art by Donovan Logan

Introducing gwEm: YM2149 Composer, Performer, and Programer of MaxYMiser Live!

When it comes to chiptunes, no one rock'n bleeps with such an ecstatic punk-ass attitude like gwEm – aka Garith Morris (the “E” stands for enhanced). At thirty years old, this UK artist tours the world as the maestro of the YM2149, a 3-voice programmable sound chip 'instrument' found in all Atari ST series computers. This power gwEm squeezes out of this little 28-pin chip has allowed him to perform at ma ny famous venues including the Golden Pudel and WFM Club in Germany, the Blip Festival in the U.S., and One Nation in the U.K. But gwEm is more than just a club scene artist! Holding a doctorate in electrical engineering, “Dr. gwEm” uses his skills as the guru of do-it-yourself Atari chip music. He is the creator of MaxYMiser Live, the most sophisticated, MIDI capable tracker for Atari. Don't have an Atari? No problem - he's also developed YMvst, a popular Atari YM2149 VST plug-in instrument for PC. If that's not enough, he's also built a working prototype of a hardware YM2149 drum machine! GwEm's numerous and ongoing contributions to the chip-scene make him one of the leading pioneers of Atari chiptune music to date.
His Music

Working as a Drum 'n Bass DJ in 2000, gwEm was rather inspired by the club-scene until he heard the German electronica group, Bodenstandig 2000, integrating an Atari ST in their music. GwEm quickly changed gears. Blowing the dust off his old ST, he combined his musical influences from rave, drum 'n bass, and punk rock to create the unique genre and persona he's now famous for – a mircromusic-glampunk-raverocker. By 2001, GwEm had already released singles through the German labels Shitkatapult and Muller as well as his own private label, Preromanbritain. Since gwEm's music was still targeted at the club-scene, many of these singles were released on vinyl – another of gwEm's retro favorites. In 2004, he teamed up with UK drummer, Counter Reset, to produce the energy packed shows and recordings that brought him the recognition he enjoys today - check out '8-Bit Operators - An 8-Bit Tribute to Kraftwerk' by Astralwerks. In 2008, the label 8bitpeoples recognized this duo's potential and commissioned their first full album, “Live from Hell”,primarily composed on MaxYMiser Live!

Gwem and MaxYMiser Live!

For gwEm, Atari is not about Nostalgia. Instead, the Atari YM2149 sound chip is just an instrumentation he uses to produce music that is both new and progressive. In the beginning, gwEm used TCB tracker, but he soon realized it, like every other tracker program, was limited in one way or another. This prompted him to begin work on MaxYMiser, which would not only 'maximize' the full potential of the YM chip but also utilize the Atari's DMA sound channels and built-in MIDI ports. MaxYMiser v1.00 took an entire year to complete and was released in 2005. The current version of MaxYMiser 1.29, released June 2009, goes above and beyond what other trackers offer with dozens of advanced features:

  • Advanced YM2149 sound engine supporting 68000->68060 processors and as little as 512k of RAM
  • Support for multi-tasking operating systems (MiNT, Magic)
  • Familiar FastTracker 2 style editing facilities and shortcuts
  • 2 effect columns
  • Access to all known possible effects
  • Volume column
  • User adjustable SID waveform
  • Selectable 5 channel MIDI input with program change, MIDI clock slave and drum pad support
  • Full MIDI implementation (for use with modern MIDI controllers)
  • Demo synchronization and dynamic timer allocation via tracker commands
  • Any replay rate between 50 and 200Hz
  • Online help and command reference
  • Customizable user interface
  • Redundant data removal tools
  • ICE algorithm packer
  • All instrument parameters modifiable via tracker commands
  • Super-stable 60 and 70Hz refresh rates
  • Support for Atari Falcon 030 Steinberg or Soundpool SPDIF and FDI units
  • Support for the Falcon YM3139 (CMOS version of the YM2149)
  • 3 channels of YM sound chip sound
  • 2 channels of STe DMA sample sound
  • Real-time resequencing possibilities for jamming and live performance without a monitor
  • Autoloading for screenless operation
  • Microwire support for bass, treble, panning and master volume control
  • Minimalist sample editor including unique 'YMise' function

Atari YM2149 vs. Commodore C64 SID Chips

Most chiptunists know there are some very cool, supersonic-technotronic Commodore 64 SID chip products on the market. How does MaxYMiser and the YM2149 compare? GwEm admits C64 SID chips have more waveforms and analogue style filters for a more sophisticated and funkier sound than the simpler YM2149 but that the comparison is irrelevant - each chip is suited to different genres. Even though the YM2149 isn't as popular and typically harder to produce cool effects on, MaxYMiser breaks through those barriers with pre-programmed effects applicable from within the event editor. The sonic architecture of each chip differs greatly. The C64 SID is warm, phatt, and malleable with analogue style tweaking whereas the YM's architecture lends it's self to ring modulation - similar to the Roland Alpha Juno - which more more raw sounding and best suited for. Additionally, the Atari is a much more powerful machine which means user interface can be a lot more user friendly. 

The Future of MaxYMiser

Even now, as we approach the second decade of the new Millennium, the popularity of low-fi chiptune music is growing exponentially. It's a very exciting time for the chip-scene and gwEm has his fingers are crossed that some of the talented MaxYMiser users will eventually get some chart status. Therefore, gwEm promises many future upgrades of MaxYMiser Live depending on user's feedback! Even as the program evolves, gwEm insists MaxYMiser will always remains free! Let him know what you'd like to see in future versions of MaxYMiser Live!

Download MaxYMiser Live! MaxYMiser Live! v1.29
MaxYMiser Live! PDF Tutorial
Visit the official Maxymiser Live! website for further support