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Gary Gilbertson


Musician Gary Gilbertson is the other half of Paradise Programming, composing the music for Phil Price's games "The Tail of Beta Lyrae" and "Alternate Reality: The City." The theme from the former, "Passionately," is probably the most popular piece of music written for the Atari 8-bit computers.

How did you meet Phil Price?

Being typical and alive in the early 1980s, I purchased an Atari 2600 game machine. I then proceeded to buy every cartridge put out. One day my power supply bought the farm, and I needed find another. I had noticed a store in town called Kona Computer with an Atari sign in the window. I walked in, and before I could say, "I need a 2600 power supply", my eye caught a TV screen with "Star Raiders" playing on it. The store owner's son was blasting away; I was in a trance. I didn't leave the store with a power supply, I left the store with an Atari 800 computer complete with drive and extra memory.

On a trip there to buy software one day, I heard about the fellow they had repairing machines. He was supposed to know things nobody else did about computers. One thing he could do that caught my eye was write cheats or "trainers" for games. I found this quite amazing. I found Phil.

Yet another visit to the store, and I came upon the owner playing with the Atari Computer music cartridge. I thought it would be fun to fool with, so I bought it. The next day I returned with some songs written with it. Phil took an interest in my ability to squeeze what I did out of the cartridge. He said, "I could write a music handler that would be better than that cartridge." He also needed a place to stay, so I invited him to move into my house. During the first day at my house, Phil wrote the first version of the "Advanced Music Processor" [AMP]. I was amazed he had written it in one day. That evening he explained the available tools, procedure for operation, and the related use of the text editor, macro assembler, etc. It was chemistry from the beginning. That night I completed the first tune to ever be played by the AMP: the theme to  Star Wars. Everyone was amazed. This made Phil want to expand the abilities of the AMP program, and it made me want to write more tunes for it.

What was your approach to writing the music for "The Tail of Beta Lyrae"?

My approach to writing the "Beta Lyrae" music was simple. I saw computer games evolving into movie-like presentations, so being into music, I saw these games as an audio/visual experience. Phil's handler was becoming more and more sophisticated as time went on, and even though I had but four square wave voices to work with, I was determined to make the sound as memorable as possible.

What did you think of the music in other computer and video games at the time?

Early music was pretty rare and almost always calliope music. Later, however, there were a number of game music writers and I liked many of them. Who couldn't like songs like the theme from "M.U.L.E."? In the early days, I thought our music sounded unique and was well received primarily because I was the only guy with a sports car for a music handler. Everyone else had to put up with driving Volkswagen Beetles!

How would you describe the Paradise Programming period of your life? Do any particular memories stand out?

I don't think there's any question that both Phil and I look back at the Paradise Programming times as the best and most exciting in our lives. I don't say this lightly either. I also have memories of playing in a rock band in Waikiki, playing keyboards for Chuck Berry on tour, playing one of the first Crater Festivals in Diamond Head with groups like Santana before over 75,000 people. Still, my time with Phil was the most creative and enjoyable.

I remember flying to Honolulu with Phil to attend a corporate dealer demo of the Atari 1200. While there we had a chance to boot up some of my early music and a beta version of "Beta Lyrae" for one of the Atari higher-ups. He was very impressed and asked us to look him up when it was completed.

I remember a few months later walking into Atari headquarters in northern California, and after a brief exchange at the main desk, being ushered into a huge movie-like auditorium where many of the seats had complete Atari 800 systems. The same manager I had met in Honolulu had me boot up "Beta Lyrae" and, well if you ever saw "Beta Lyrae," I needn't tell you how it stunned them on this huge movie screen. After all, the intro was a testimonial to how much we liked  Star Wars and so with the music and the scrolling storyline, they were blown away. I remember people started coming in from the various exits around the theater, their eyes transfixed on the big screen while the music was being pumped through gigantic speakers. I got many compliments that day. Atari asked to hear more of my music, and I popped in a music disk and played them a few more selections. They told me they would be making an offer to us for "Beta Lyrae" and asked if they could show the music disk around, to which I agreed.

Another moment would be a phone call. I pick it up, and I hear "Passionately" playing in the background and the president of Datamost asking me if Phil and I would join them at CES in Chicago and if they could use my music to set off their display. Summer CES Chicago 1983, I walk into McCormack Place and hear, coming from the main Atari display which dominates the entire center of the hall, my song "Passionately." I move closer and stand quietly as the demo girl explains about the new Atari and the great music it was capable of. I stood and watched for some time. It was fun being pushed around in the crowd as she went on and on about the song and audio abilities of the new machine. I really enjoyed saying nothing and just being there.

So Datamost used your music with permission and Atari used it without permission?

I was stoked that Atari used it though!

I also remember being invited to an Atari Users' Club in Los Angeles and demoing Phil's "Picture Painter" program. At this users group, I had the opportunity to demo some of the upcoming screen shots from "Alternate Reality" and the gasps from the crowd when they came up on the screen were very gratifying. I only regret that Phil couldn't be there for that one.

What have you been up to since the dissolution of Paradise Programming?

Phil and I and Paradise Programming were sucked up by the big boys, and as I sat at home watching the 1984 Olympics, I knew a phase of my life had come to an end. I went back to what I had done in the past. I was involved in land development prior to meeting Phil and sadly went back to a normal job. My last contact with the game industry had moved me away from Atari and into the world of Amiga. I fell in love with this machine, and although I was working in a normal occupation, I kept up with Amiga's advances. When the Video Toaster came on the market, I was one of the first to get one. I became an immediate fan of LightWave and before long was doing animations for the local cable channel. I joined with another Amiga friend just out of college, and we started a company doing animations for technical and medical films.

I have some ideas about what is next, but until I get a bit deeper into it, I probably shouldn't say. I know Phil has been toying with the idea of doing another game. I hope he gets the time and we have a chance to work together again. I know what he was able to do with 48K. I'd love to see what he could do with the machines of today.