Ever heard the original recording of the Archon theme?

In december 2013, I wrote about the music of Archon: The Light And The Dark (1983) by FreeFall Associates. It’s made by Tommy V. Dunbar and the article resulted in a discussion about what Dunbar does today – and if the same Dunbar co-founded American pop band, The Rubinoos.

To answer these questions, I contacted Dunbar himself – and ended up with the original recording of the Archon theme(!) – enjoy!

I admit, I had never heard of The Rubinoos before, but apparently the’ve released 8 albums since 1977 and gained some fame with songs like ”I Think We’re Alone Now” (which was a cover) and ”I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”. They also did the theme song for the movie Revenge of the Nerds in 1984, a movie I actually remember quite vividly.

Tommy_Dunbar_1Tommy Dunbar himself co-founded The Rubinoos in 1970 together with Jon Rubin for a school dance at Bay High School in Berkeley, California. A few years after that, he was contacted by Paul Reiche III from FreeFall Associates, whose sister Dunbar had dated for some time.

This is how a computer classic came to be.

I knew Paul Reiche through his sister; I remember getting a call from Paul asking me if I wanted to write a piece of music for a game he was working on. I think he just said it should be sort of ”action” music. I wrote the song on guitar and made a recording. Of course this was before the days of the internet, so I think I played it for him over the phone and sent him a cassette, along with the sheet music.

When I look at other scores you’ve done for computer games, I see Star Control 1 and 2 among others – which also involve Paul Reiche. Did you and Paul often work together?

Star_Control_coverI’m not sure if anything I did actually wound up on Star Control. I wrote a bunch of music for a game that Paul was working on called, Elmo (”The Adventures of Elmo in the 4th Dimension”). Paul lent me a computer, I think it was an Apple IIe or something. I had to program every note in as a frequency, an attack, a duration, and a few other parameters. It was kind of crazy.

It had only one voice to work with, but it could jump between 2 notes so quickly that it sounded like you were getting 2 notes; you set the second note by choosing a harmonic, so it would jump between the main note and its harmonic.

The only thing was, the higher you got in the harmonic overtone series, the more out of tune it was – and the tone was quite similar to a push button phone… It was a fun challenge, though.
Ancient technology.

Tommy_Dunbar_2What are you doing these days?

I’m living in Sacramento, California. I’ve got a home studio where I write and record music, pretty much full time. I do a lot of advertising work, as well as recording tracks for songwriters, as well as my own music.

I’m lucky that I can do my dream job for a living!

Did you write the music directly into an Atari or did you compose it on paper with notes? Do you still have any fun material left from that time?

I just composed it on guitar and recorded it, then put it down on paper, I believe – for whoever had to program it in.

I’ve been trying to find a more modern version of Archon on the web, but can’t seem to find any. Do you know any, or have you even recorded one?

TEAC_A-3340_4_trackHa! Okay, you just made me go looking through the tape vault. I found something that I believe is the only thing I could find recorded. I think this would have been recorded on a Teac 4 track in 1983 or so. This reminds me that Paul had a follow-up game to Archon, called Adept, that I also did the music for. It was supposed to be like the music for Archon, only inside out. Like instead of chromatic runs descending, you’ve got chromatic runs ascending.

Both Archon and Adept had something to do with Dark and Light, so the music is alternating between Major and Minor. On this recording, the first half is the music from Archon and the second half is music from Adept.

All to the sounds of a very cheesy drum machine, probably an Oberheim DX! Early days of midi!

Ok, this is great stuff! So finally…do you still have the music sheet for Archon in your possession?
And who owns the copyright to this music today?

Adept Sheet MusicI looked through some of my old papers and didn’t find a copy of the Archon music, but I did find this Adept (Son of Archon), so here’s a scan. It’s so ancient looking; of course these days if I was sending that to someone I’d do it in Finale or Sibelius notation programs. This was even before Notator, if anyone remembers that program (it later became Notator Logic, which became the current program Logic).

I still own the copyright to the underlying musical composition to the music. Whoever owns the game would own their sound recording of it, in other words the actual sounds that come out of the game.

Thanks for the memory jog!

So…without further ado I present the original recording of the theme songs from Archon: The Light And The Dark and Archon II: Adept – both written and recorded by Tommy V. Dunbar.

No part of this recording may be used without his explicit consent.

And of course I cannot avoid presenting the finished result in the C64 version of the two games. Enjoy!


13 svar till “Ever heard the original recording of the Archon theme?”

  1. As a hobbyist musician myself, I immediately notice that whoever entered in the notes for Adept, ”corrected” Mr. Dunbar’s score, see bars 3 and 5 where he explicitely ends on a natural E in the key of E flat, which is out of key and may sound like an error. The SID version fixes this by going from E back down to an E flat again, twice even! I just checked Atari POKEY version on YouTube, and it does the same thing.

    Of course it might be the composer who was asked whether this was intended, and after making the recording and printing the sheet music agreed that it would sound better to end the note in key. Perhaps Mr. Dunbar will be pointed here to read your blog entry, or if you have reason to follow up privately.

  2. On another note, I noticed it says both songs were created and recorded simultanously. I admit not having looked up the true story behind Archon, but it sounds like Paul Reiche III and the rest of Free Fall Associates were working or at least planning both games before the first even had been released. I always thought Adept was a true sequel, more or less ordered from Electronic Arts when they saw how well Archon was received and sold. Of course they may have had both games in planning and Tommy Dunbar made two songs for them at once, no matter if the second would get used or not.

    I know there is a teenage kids’ hack for the C64 called ”Archon III – Exciter” that is completely fake – someon on Lemon64 even stepped forward and confessed. However a lot of other cultural items tend to origin around trilogies, perhaps it has something to do with Christianity and the Holy Trinity? (*) However I seem to recall to have read somewhere (here?) that Free Fall Associates never even considered a third part in the series, so perhaps they were not into the trilogy thing.

    (*) Oops, I almost wrote holy threesome :-P

  3. hehe :)

    Yes, you’re correct – the both songs were recorded simultaneously. I doubt that Tommy Dunbar knew anything about the details of the two games when he wrote the music – but he clearly made the two compositions at once.

    I don’t think the two songs were programmed by the same person, though – or at least some time passed between them. The sounds and the style is quite different, even though they originated from the same recording.

    I guess that makes some additional questions for someone else… :)

  4. Ok I’ve talked some more with Tommy Dunbar now; he cleared up a few things:

    ”I think this is the first time I’ve heard the actual music from the Adept game. It is definitely programmed in wrong! I would suspect that the programmer didn’t understand that the tie on the E natural means that it carries over?”

    So…he actually never played Adept. Never even saw it :)

    ”The two pieces of music were not written at the same time. Archon came first, and Adept was a sequel. I think I recorded the two together at the time that Paul asked me to come up with something for Adept.”

    So…this might not be the *original* recording for Archon – but probably the only one that has survived. It is however the original recording of Adept and shows the two themes and how they are supposed to work together. So, it’s of course still unique.

    I believe a sequel was in fact on FreeFall’s mind when they released Archon, yes. I guess it’s hard for most people involved to remember correctly, but it seems that way. The two games were also released very close to each other – and the C64 version was by far the most successful.

  5. Great, thanks for the clarification! It means us chipmusic snobs have one more bit of trivia to gloat about, that the music heard in the game is not according to the composer’s intentions. A bit like correcting someone ordering a Dry Martini that it should really be Dry Martinique (see Swedish movie Yrrol if you didn’t catch the reference)…

  6. Tänkte faktiskt testa spelet igen nu när jag börjat förstå lite av reglerna.
    C64an är ju redan uppriggad så varför inte testa spelet då.

    Dags att lira!!!

  7. A fascinating story, from when EA stood for Electronic Artists and they cared about the people who made the games…

  8. Hi, here are my almost 40 year-old recollections: Anne, Jon and I created the original Archon including music by Tommy. Electronic Arts wanted a sequel — Adept — which we supplied along with a new theme by Tommy. At that time, Tommy then created the recording you’ve got, a mix of the two themes, along with a transition and lots of fun extra bits. Tommy’s music also appeared in Mail Order Monsters, Star Control (the ship combat victory ditties) and in a game that never saw publication, ’The Adventures of Elmo in the 4th Dimension’. – Paul Reiche, June 8, 2021

  9. Hello Paul Reiche III,

    Thank you for these great games that are Archon and Archon II,

    but my Atari 800XL is still waiting for ARCHON III : Dark Mages and the Order of Luminous Druids, 39 years old, when will it be released?

    Don’t let it die alone with nothing (even if i play on emulators today…), you could do a Kickstarter or something for those old 8/16bit computers (Atari, Commodore, CPC…), with the support of some youtubers, I’m sure we would get there.

    But, but… ok, it seems it’s just a dream, in the end… never mind.


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