The "theme tune" for the BigSoftEd videos is a piece called "Mr Fiddlestick" by Ben Thomas. It was written on 2nd October 1994 on an Amiga computer using OctaMED, a sound tracker program. In Ben's own words, Mr Fiddlestick was, "Written for an un-released cartoon animation!!"
I never met Ben, but used to listen to his compositions that were bundled in with the OctaMED software, along with thousands of other creations by others. It's a testament to his musical ability that I noticed his music among those thousands, and kept it with me as I switched from one computer system to another over the years.
As the Internet took off, I went searching for people whose work I admired, to find out what had become of them and their burgeoning talent. Sadly, I discovered Ben had been killed just three years after writing Mr Fiddlestick.
I'll say more about this, and my use of Ben's tune, below. But I wanted to include first some words from people who did know Ben (including Ben himself!).
First is from Ray at RBF Software, who developed the OctaMED program. This text originally appeared with the Windows release of OctaMED. I acquired it from the Wayback Machine:
The modules found in the folder titled "Ben" are in memory of Ben Thomas who was tragically killed in a car accident and this is my personal tribute to a really nice young man who lived life to the full.
You can read more on this sad occurrence in the second part of the following text.
The first part of this text, ( Part one ), is from Ben's own MUG-Presents disk which featured nine of his best modules and was written by Ben himself.
Ray RBF Software
Ben Thomas on Ben Thomas
Hello there. Sharp-minded MEDlers may remember a Ben Thomas from the classic kids program, PlaySchool (those were the days!), but sadly I am not that man. Whilst being paid to talk to fluffy toys and look through `Round' windows has an undeniable appeal, I must confess, the reality is that I do no such thing.
I have been writing MED music for eons now, and perhaps the best way for you to find out about me is if I give you a little history lesson.
One christmas, after I had been a particularly good boy, (except for the painting-the-black-cats-legs-red incident), I received a spanking new Yamaha Portatone keyboard. Being a classically trained pianist, my dad was obviously hoping for me to follow in his footsteps. As any Portatone expert will tell you, the joy of the instrument is the lovely array of `Realistic' accompaniments. For many hours I rejoiced in being able to play my favourite songs. Look Mum, one handed! After a while though, I found that you could have more fun actually trying to play all those keys.
Several months passed, and I gradually moved from the one-finger stage to the one-finger and one-note melody stage. Suitably impressed with my efforts (somehow no one else was), I saw the opportunity to continue my musical career by taking music as a GCSE. While I hated the notation side, (and still do), I enjoyed the challenge of writing my own compositions.
Later that year, my dad informed the family that he had been given a substantial bonus from work. After much deliberation, he decided that we would get a really nice electric piano to replace the upright in the dining room. I had a vested interest in all things musical, so along I went to the local music shop.
After buying the electric piano, I managed to persuade my father, with the help of the eager-looking salesman, to purchase a MIDI sound module, called the Yamaha TG55, this beast really helped to expand my musical horizons. Well, it allowed me to use this really cool "Neoww" sound on my compositions anyway.
As the GCSE results came ever closer, I waited in anticipation of what the adjudicators would think of my synth/space/pop/atmospheric/kitchen/sink-style compositions. The moment arrived, and to my amazement, I had managed to get an A grade, with 140/140 for compositions! From this statement, you can make one of two assumptions:-
1. Ben Thomas is a genius and his sole purpose on this planet is to amaze us with his musical creations.
2. Music GCSE is a remarkably simple course which any Tom, Dick or Harry could excel in, let alone pass.
Those of you who believe number one can send their donations to the Ben-Thomas-Musical-Appreciation-Society. If you, in your sanity, chose the second, you will have found a relatively accurate reflection of how difficult this course was.
Several months later, I was at a friend’s house, and we were playing games on his Amiga. After I had been trounced at Kick Off, he put a disk called something strange like "Red-Sector-MegaDemo" in the drive. Wow! I was immediately impressed with the graphics, but most of all the music and after this breathtaking exhibition, he slipped another disk into the drive, called "MED". Some sort of relaxation tool I thought.
Soon a screen full of vertically-aligned numbers popped up, and I was totally confused. "Have a listen to this, I knocked it up before lunch today" said my friend as the disk made a grinding noise. My mate was a top bloke, but I suddenly looked upon him as a genius as wonderful music pumped from the speakers.
If you listened to this piece today, I can probably guarantee that you will cringe, but back then it was enough for me to start nagging my parents to give me an Amiga. Pushing the `Educational' side as strongly as I could, as all kids do, I waited for christmas morning to arrive.
Rejoice! There was an Amiga on the living room carpet!
After a day or so of playing the free games, including the wonderfully playable "Captain Planet", I perused a copy of the "MED" thing from my friend. As we all know, those first days and weeks with MED are a joy. The music that was created at this stage often has a few rough edges, but to us it was heaven.
As the years passed, I graduated from MED, through OctaMED 3, to Version 4 which I use today. Then, about 18 months ago, I saw an advert in Amiga Format from Seasoft which said "TI Issue 6. The disk magazine of the Official MED Users Group". I was suitably enticed, and my three pounds was subsequently despatched. When it arrived I was immediately impressed, most of all by the ModSpot section. I saw the opportunity to get involved, so I sent off a couple of disks worth of modules.
The rest, as they say, is history.
On the 8th October 1997, MED musician Ben Thomas was very tragically killed in a car accident.
Ben graduated from University, (obtaining a first), and was hard at work producing a compact disc of music for release sometime in 1997/8. People who new Ben were all eagerly waiting for news of this project.
It is such a tragic shame that it will never see the light of day.
Ben first contacted me back in late 1993 and joined the Med User Group in 1994, he soon became a well known musicians using the Amiga version of MED/OctaMED amongst the worldwide circle of users of my program.
Richard, the boss of the Med User Group says that he can't think of anyone who has used four tracks, ( yes, MED was a 4 tracker ), more skilfully and he always rated Bens MUG-Presents disk as the best disk of modules the group has ever helped to construct.
Keep in mind that unlike today’s MED versions, Ben only had the use of *4* tracks and used only Mono 8bit samples, so listen and then you will realise the thought and work he put into his compositions.
His experiments with the vocal recordings under the banner of "ABC-Vocals" were also made using just four meagre channels and whilst you personally may not enjoy the vocals themselves, it shows the talent this young man had and how much not just the MED world has lost, but the music world in general.
I am more than happy to dedicate the Windows release of Bens favourite Amiga music utility to his memory.
God Bless you Ben, may you Rest in Peace.
Ray, RBF Software
& Richard, Med Users Group
When I decided I wanted to use Ben's "cartoon" music for my own animated videos, I reached out to his parents to ask their permission. I spoke with Ben's father, Wyn Thomas, on the phone for some time, and he and his wife (Mrs Roz Thomas) allowed me to use Ben's music.
Mr Thomas also sent me the follow text. I have not been able to make contact with him since our brief exchange, so I hope he does not mind me including his words on his son here too:
Roz and I would be very pleased if you can make use of Ben's music in some way to help with your education projects. All we would ask is that you send us any relevant links to these projects and also credit Ben as a contributor as appropriate.
Ben's full name is Benjamin David Thomas (8 Nov 1975 - 8 Oct 1997). He won a 1st class honours degree from Hatfield University in Music & Media, and after his death his two sisters attended the awards ceremony to accept his degree certificate. His key project in the last year, which contributed greatly to his achieving a First, was a complete CD called "Precious" full of highly original music that he had created.
If you have any further examples of Ben's music we would appreciate you sharing this with us.
Ben was a hugely talented and creative talent - this was acknowledged not only by us, his family, but also his friends and tutors. He is still deeply loved and missed.
Good luck with your endeavours.
Reading Ben's own words above, I like his humour, as well as his music, and it genuinely saddens me I never got the chance to meet him.
I don't think I can do Ben's memory, or his music, justice with my efforts here on BigSoftEd. I have no idea how he felt about mathematics either! But I wanted his music for an "unreleased cartoon" to finally have a home, and felt it fitted well with what I have tried to do with the BigSoftEd videos. I use it out of respect for his talent, and as a thank you to him for the many hours I have enjoyed playing his tracks.
I don't know how Ben would feel if people thought of "Mr Fiddlestick" as representative of his abilities and tastes. It's quite a different piece of music to many of his other tracks. But that made it all the more impressive to me - so much of the other music in those thousands of files I sifted through were "Techno" - Ben's was far more varied and interesting, and Mr Fiddlestick was perhaps the most surprising in style.
As described above, MED music consists of four "channels" playing different samples at different pitches to form the music. Many of the Med music players show the music as Ben describes above: a screen full of vertically-aligned numbers and letters scrolling up the screen. Some tracks also contain messages, often hidden in the list of "instruments" (samples), giving the date of the composition and other explanatory notes. I've tried making music on OctaMED myself many years ago, with what barely constitutes success! (I have no musical skill at all!) I can only marvel at what people like Ben were able to produce with those same tools.
I hope to include Ben's early Med music for download here, so that those who are interested can hear for themselves what he was capable of, and try to imagine what he might have achieved if he was still with us today.