World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Module file


Module file

Module files (MOD music, tracker music) are a family of music file formats originating from the MOD file format on Amiga systems used in the late 1980s. Those who produce these files (using the software called trackers) and listen to them, form the worldwide MOD scene, a part of the demoscene subculture.

The mass interchange of "MOD music" or "tracker music" (music stored in module files created with trackers) evolves from early FIDO networks. Many websites host large numbers of these files, the most comprehensive of them being the Mod Archive.

Nowadays most module files, including ones in zipped form, are supported by most popular media players such as Winamp, VLC, Foobar2000, Amarok, Exaile and many others (mainly due to inclusion of common playback libraries such as libmodplug for gstreamer).


  • Structure 1
  • History 2
  • Scene 3
  • Music disk 4
  • Popular formats 5
  • Software module file players and converters 6
    • Players 6.1
    • Converters and trackers 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Module files store several "patterns" or "pages" of music data in a form similar to that of a spreadsheet. These patterns contain note numbers, instrument numbers, and controller messages.[1] The number of notes that can be played simultaneously depends on how many "tracks" there are per pattern. They also contain digitally recorded samples as well as coding for sequencing the samples in playback.[2] The programs that are used to create these files provide composers with the means to control and manipulate sound samples in almost limitless ways to produce music.

Module files are also referred to as "tracker modules", and the process of composing modules is known as tracking. A disadvantage of module files is that there is no real standard specification in how the modules should be played back properly, which may result in modules sounding slightly different in different players. This is mostly due to effects that can be applied to the samples in the module file and how the authors of different players choose to implement them.[3]


This is an example of a module file written in the FastTracker 2 XM format.

Problems playing this file? See .

The worldwide MOD scene, closely related to the Demoscene, started on the Commodore 64 with SID music used on video game cracks.[4][5] It spread to the Amiga and eventually to the PC.[6] Soon after Amiga computers with the Paula sound chip were introduced, Karsten Obarski wrote the sequencer software Ultimate Soundtracker in 1987 which was based on the tracker concept invented by Chris Hülsbeck.[7][8][9] Ultimate Soundtracker was a commercial product, but soon shareware clones such as NoiseTracker and ProTracker, being direct descendants from the original Soundtracker code, appeared as well. Protracker ran on newer versions of AmigaOS and was very stable to boot. Some trackers such as OctaMED took advantage of tricks like software mixing to give the artist more flexibility in song writing.[10] Modules were originally intended to be used in video games, but the demoscene and musicians started composing them for demos. Coincidentally the demoscene, being full of talented programmers and musicians, pushed trackers, and the MOD format quickly became one of the most popular music formats across the home computer platforms.[6] Among the reasons for the format's success was its comparably low CPU overhead (on the Amiga it was possible to process all the music in the video memory, skipping the CPU altogether), small file sizes and relatively good sound quality, which mostly depended on the amount of storage that could be used for the music, rather than the capabilities of the format itself.[11]

Many demosceners wrote their own trackers with features not present in Ultimate Soundtracker, and musicians took full advantage of these features, creating music as efficient as the code in demos. As technology advanced, computer audio matured and, with MS-DOS, PCs had even more capability. Many PCs used Sound Blaster and Gravis Ultrasound cards which allowed for many audio channels. As the demoscene moved onto these new computers, they would write new trackers for them. FastTracker 2 was one such program. Written by two members of the demogroup Triton, it introduced a new format called XM or extended module.[12][13] FT2 was able to use 32 channels at once and added many useful commands and other features. It was not alone however, Scream Tracker had a different layout that some preferred and had support for FM synthesis on cards that included an OPL 2/3/4 chip. Impulse Tracker, which based its interface off of Scream Tracker's, further advanced module composing adding filters and 64 channels of audio and introduced a new format called IT.[14]


Tracker music is characteristic in that it is made by hand, distributed as open source, and executed in real-time.[15][16] Composers adapt to the technical limitations as well as the cultural conditions, where resources were often reserved for the visual content.[17] The process of composing module files, known as tracking, is a highly creative and skillful activity that involves a much closer contact with musical sound than conventional composition, because every aspect of each sonic event is coded, from pitch and duration to exact volume, panning, and laying in numerous effects such as echo, tremolo and fades.[18] Once the module file is finished, it is released to the tracker community. The composer uploads the new composition to one or more of several sites where module files are archived, making it available to his or her audience, who will download the file on their own computers. By encoding textual information within each module file, composers maintain contact with their audiences and with one another by including their email addresses, greetings to fans and other composers, and virtual signatures.[18]

Although trackers can be considered to have some technical limitations, they do not prevent a creative individual from producing music that is indiscernible from professionally created music.[19] Many tracker musicians gained international prominence within MOD software users and some of them went on to work for high-profile video game studios, or began to appear on record labels.[20][9] Notable artists include Andrew Sega, Jeroen Tel, Bjørn Lynne, Alexander Brandon, Skaven, Purple Motion, KFMF, 4mat, Jesper Kyd, Brothomstates, Elwood, Markus Kaarlonen, Michiel van den Bos and Dan Gardopée. Deadmau5 and Erez Eisen of Infected Mushroom have both used Impulse Tracker in their early career.[21][22]

Music disk

Music disk, or musicdisk, is a term used by the demoscene to describe a collection of songs made on a computer. They are essentially the computer equivalent of an album. A music disk is typically packaged in the form of a program with a custom user interface, so the listener does not need other software to play the songs.[23] The "disk" part of the term comes from the fact that music disks were once made to fit on a single floppy disk, so they could be easily distributed at demo parties. On modern platforms, music disks are usually downloaded to a hard disk drive.

Amiga music disks usually consist of MOD files, while PC music disks often contain multichannel formats such as XM or IT. Music disks are also common on the Commodore 64 and Atari ST, where they use their own native formats.

Related terms include music pack, which can refer to a demoscene music collection that does not include its own player, and chipdisk, a music disk containing only chiptunes, which have become popular on the PC given the large size of MP3 music disks.

Popular formats

Each module file format builds on concepts introduced in its predecessors.

Sound/Pro/Noisetracker module (file extension .mod, or mod. prefix on Amiga systems)
This is the original module format. Uses inverse-frequency note numbers. 4 voices, with up to 32 in later variations of the format. Pattern data is not packed. Instruments are simple volume levels; samples and instruments correspond one-to-one. 15 instruments in the original Soundtracker, 31 in later trackers. This format was originally created to be easily playable with the Amiga hardware, since it was equipped with a four-channel DAC. The CPU has to do very little work to play these modules on an Amiga. Many games utilize this format - often with small player programs included. In the early 1990s, usage of this format with games was widespread across platforms, with games on PC and Nintendo systems utilizing it, as well.
The original .mod extension is actually not a suffix on the Amiga, but a prefix; mod.* is the standard naming convention on the Amiga, and same prefix standard is used in basically all the other various sample/synth-trackers ever made for the Amiga - Art of Noise, AHX/THX, Musicline, Startrekker, FutureComposer, SidMon, Brian Postma's SoundMon etc. The majority of the "oldschool format"-players for Windows, Linux, Mac OS etc. will, when trying to load an "original" mod.*-file (or ahx.*, bp.*, fc14.* and so on), simply not play it due not analysing the file to determine the type - they only check for a filename extension as a suffix. Simply renaming the file from "mod.filename" to "filename.mod" is usually a sufficient workaround.
Oktalyzer (originated on Amiga computers)
This was an early effort to bring 8 channel sound to the Amiga. Later replayers have improved on the sound quality attainable from these modules by more demanding mixing technologies.
MED/OctaMED (originated on Amiga computers)
This format is very similar to sound/pro/noisetracker, but the way the data is stored is different. MED was not a direct clone of SoundTracker, and had different features and file formats. OctaMED was an 8-channel version of MED, which eventually evolved into OctaMED Soundstudio (which offers 128-channel sound, optional synth sounds, MIDI support and lots of other high-end features).
AHX (originated on Amiga computers)
This format is a synth-tracker. There are no samples in the module file, rather descriptions of how to synthesize the required sound. This results in very small audio files (AHX modules are typically 1k-4k in size), and a very characteristic sound. AHX is designed for music with chiptune sound. The AHX tracker requires Kickstart 2.0 and 2 mb RAM memory.
.s3m (originated in ScreamTracker version 3 for PC)
Up to 16 or more voices. Samples can specify any playback frequency for middle C. Simple packing of pattern data. Introduction of several new controllers and a dedicated "volume column" in each voice to replace volume controllers. Predictable support for stereo panning and AdLib FM synthesis instruments (although the latter is rarely supported in playback software).[24]
.xm (originated in Fast Tracker)
Introduction of instruments with volume and panning envelopes. Basic pattern compression, no sample compression. Added ping-pong loops to samples.[24]
.it (originated in Impulse Tracker)
New Note Actions let the previous note in a track fade out on top of the next note (providing greater effective polyphony). Instruments can now share a sample. Adds some new effects such as a resonant filter. Better pattern compression. Added sample compression. Added sustain loops to samples.[24]
Created by Ian Luck to use MP3/Ogg compressed samples
MultiTracker modules
Unreal/Tournament music package. This is actually a standard Unreal package file that wraps one .mod, .s3m, .it or .xm file so it can be accessed from within the game.[25]

Software module file players and converters

OpenCubic Player, example of a typical MOD player with STFT spectrum audio visualization

Many of the listed software use the modplug engine from the open source multimedia framework gstreamer.[26]


Converters and trackers

See also


  1. ^ Darren Irvine, Jeremy S Rice, Radix, SquareMeister, Kupan, Pulse, Ilpo Karkkainen, ToalNkor, Stereoman, Dan Nicholson, Greebo, MAZ, Barry Nathan, Rich "Akira" Pizor, Novus, Louis "Farmer" Gorenfeld, Dr. Avalance, Rubz, Toodeloo, Linus Walleji, Kosmos, Trinity, Ganja Man, Airon, Vitor Pinho, Spatulaman, Sir Garbagetruck, Bonehead, Kevin Krebs, T-Jay, MaXimizer, phume, Captain Paradox, Asatur V. Nazarian, XRQ, DNATrance. "The Tracker's Handbook". Archived from the original on 6 June 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Williams, Perry; Vessey, Chris (21 October 1996). "MIDI and home computer music composition and performance".  
  3. ^ Karen Collins; Bill Kapralos; Holly Tessler. The Oxford Handbook of Interactive Audio.  
  4. ^ Weasel, Wild (9 November 2012). "Introduction to the Demoscene". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "The History of Sound Cards and Computer Game Music". MacGateWay. July 13, 2012. Retrieved 2014-09-08. 
  6. ^ a b "Tracker music".  
  7. ^ Karen Collins (August 2008). Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design.  
  8. ^ Olga Guriunova. Art Platforms and Cultural Production on the Internet. Routledge. p. 162.  
  9. ^ a b Karen Collins (12 May 2008). From Pac-Man to Pop Music: Interactive Audio in Games and New Media (Kindle ed.).  
  10. ^ SOS (May 1997). "RBF Software Octamed Soundstudio. The release of this tracker is welcome news for Amiga users, but it's also a glimpse of things to come on the PC platform. Amiga expert PAUL OVERAA puts the package through its paces".  
  11. ^ Sfetcu, Nicolae (7 May 2014). The Music Sound. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  12. ^ Triton Productions (1996). """Fast Tracker v2.08. "In a dream we are connected siamese twins at the wrist (PDF). Under World Digital Publishing. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  13. ^ Ranjan Parekh (2006). Principles of Multimedia.  
  14. ^ Lim, Jeffrey (22 March 2014). "20 Years of Impulse Tracker, Part 2". Jeffrey Lim's blog. Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  15. ^ Peter Moormann. Music and Game: Perspectives on a Popular Alliance. Springer VS. p. 223.  
  16. ^ Leonard, Andrew (29 April 1999). "Mod love. With their ears, their computers and a little code, "mod trackers" build their own worlds of sound".  
  17. ^ Weasel, Wild (6 November 2011). "Demoscene". Hardcoregaming101. Retrieved 2014-09-03. 
  18. ^ a b Rene T. A. Lysloff; Jr. Leslie C. Gay; Andrew Ross. Music and Technoculture.  
  19. ^ "Demoscene: Interview with Romeo Knight!". OpenBytes. 17 October 2010. Retrieved 2014-09-04. 
  20. ^ Kopstein, Joshua (10 April 2012). "A brief video history of the demoscene in memory of Commodore boss Jack Tramiel".  
  21. ^ Burns, Todd L. (September 30, 2008). "Deadmau5: It's complicated".  
  22. ^ Levine, Mike (September 1, 2009). "Geeking Out With Infected Mushroom".  
  23. ^ Driscoll, Kevin; Diaz, Joshua (2009). "Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes".  
  24. ^ a b c Matsuoka, Claudio (2007-11-04). "Tracker History Graphing Project". Retrieved 2011-01-29. Tracker History Graph 
  25. ^ Composing Music for Unreal - Alexander Brandon, (1999)
  26. ^ GStreamer Bad Plugins 0.10 Plugins Reference Manual
  27. ^ "Neutron Music Player". Retrieved September 11, 2014. 

Further reading

  • Leonard, Andrew (29 April 1999). "Mod love — With their ears, their computers and a little code, "mod trackers" build their own worlds of sound".  
  • Rene T. A. Lysloff; Jr. Leslie C. Gay; Andrew Ross (29 October 2003). Music and Technoculture.  
  • Ratliff, Brendan (September 2007). "Why did freely shared, tracked music in the 1990’s computer demoscene survive the arrival of the MP3 age?" (PDF).  
  • Brandon, Alexander (9 May 2015). "From The Expert - MODs and the Demoscene". Original Sound Version. 

External links

  • The Mod Archive
  • Amiga Music Preservation
  • The Tracker's Handbook
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.