ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

120,000 MODs —

So some time ago I acquired 120,000 mods.

MODs, in this context, are music files. Created in the 1980s as a brilliant way to save space while giving you good music, they’re basically collections of music samples paired with sequencing data, all inside one file. Like a lot of very brilliant things, it either makes you go ‘well, of course’, or ‘huh’. Either works for me, but I can definitely make clear the benefit of this approach: hundred-kilobyte files that yielded 5-10 minute songs.

There have been variations in the format over the years, and different extensions as a result: .MOD, .IT, .S3M, .XM and so on. All do the same thing: describe how to do something instead of presenting a recording of it being done. Postscript and PDF and Flash and a bunch of other stuff does this. And the result can be really good.

On the other hand, like ANY format (and people sometimes forget this), it is also possible to totally misuse the format. Fill it with massive samples, inefficiently record such samples, use the format like a poor man’s mp3 and these 45k-300k pieces of brilliant bloat out into multi-megabyte fiascoes. The same things happen with PDF files too: instead of using OCR functions to incorporate the redundant data in, some people will do a massive-ass image scan of text, and leave it at that. Then people blame PDF! Code is what you make of it; that’s its power and its downfall.

Anyway, people have been doing these MOD files for about two decades. There are so, so many, and there have been a number of people who have tried to keep a grip on them. Among these were the original Hornet Archive, where Trixter and the guys from Hornet camped on Walnut Creek CD-ROMs servers and provided an upload/rating/discussion system for music. You could make some music, upload it, and get rated (if you were lucky). I was lucky! And so were hundreds of others. Reputations rose and fell, and everyone got some great music.

The Hornet Archive eventually closed (leaving behind a great collection) and it fell to other entities to pick up the slack, most notably The Mod Archive, which not only subsumed the Hornet collection but grew to enormous, enormous size. It also has reviews, discussions, and all the attendant requirements of metadata exploration one would like to see.

Recently, they put their entire collection up on bittorrent. This made me happy, and I downloaded it. It’s 29 gigabytes.

29 gigabytes compressed.

So, what do I do with all that? I could sit there and try to recreate the modarchive work, and integrate the stuff into artscene over time. Artscene has a music section, you see, and it would make sense to drop this stuff here.

So I added it. Specifically, I added it in a special directory:

You will note, if you browse this anytime soon, that it’s not complete. This would be because rsync’ing 29 gigabytes across the net to my hosted machines takes a hell of a long time. Eventually, it’ll be there and I’ll link to it more generally.

The way it’s archived is by first two letters of the mod. So if it’s called “BARNABY.MOD”, it’s in B/BA.ZIP. I could unpack it to its 120,000 components now, but I am uncomfortable doing so. Since I will not have the time to properly describe these, or even to write code to pretty it up, this is how I compromise. It’s up, but with a minimal amount of my own effort, currently.

Meanwhile, I spent some of time I’d have spent describing MODs to work on these three directories. They look MUCH better now! (And utilize already-extant data, in case you think I described each by listening to them.)

Prioritization often becomes the most complicated and difficult choice to make; which task do I go to first? By at least dumping these archives onto the site, I make a move towards increasing the total archiving of data I’m going for, so I’ll be happy with that.

By the way… this is years. YEARS. Of music. Amazing, how creative people are. There’s a lot of great stories, shout-outs, jokes and technical brilliance too. And it’s got a great beat!


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  1. Cyan says:

    Worth mentioning is Nectarine Radio, over at

    It’s a streaming MP3 radio station that plays nothing but modules all day long. It has a rating system, and allows you to queue music into the list. It’s great to listen to, and if you hear a piece of music being played that you like, you can simply download it for later.

    Modules were probably The Way(tm) to listen to music on a computer before mp2’s and mp3’s came along.

  2. l.m.orchard says:

    I heart hoarders. 🙂 I wonder if one of my handful of gawdawful MODs will show up in there…

  3. Dan Moniz says:

    Awesome. I miss MODs. I remember the Hornet archive, but I didn’t know about this development. This makes my day; possibly my week. Thanks!