The Null Device

Loops and bloops

The C64Music! blog has a detailed and quite interesting academic article on Commodore 64 game music, looking at it from technical, cultural, musicological and aesthetic perspectives:
One of the attractions to Commodore's games over those of its competitors was their unique musical aesthetic. With screaming guitar-like square wave solos, full-length songs, attempts to re-create traditional "rock band" line-ups in its use of tone channels, and its increased use of percussion, Commodore music was like rock to Nintendo's heavily looped disco aesthetic.
Martin Galway was the first to use sampled sounds on the C64, in the Arkanoid (Taito, 1987) theme song, as he explains: "I figured out how samples were played by hacking into someone else's code ... It was a drum synthesizer package called Digidrums, ... I couldn't really figure out where they got the sample data, just that they were wiggling the volume register, so I tried to make up my own drum sample sounds in realtime—which is the flatulence stuff that shipped in Arkanoid."

(The hand-coded digi-flatulence technique pioneered by Galway became a standard part of SID composition, to the point where the reFX QuadraSID (a software synthesiser based on the SID chip) has a built-in "Galway Noise" setting, where those with the desire to do so can enter a list of hex values which will be fed into the SID chip's registers in the appropriate fashion. It comes with preset Galway Noise values, which are triggered by MIDI channel 10, though don't sound particularly like a useful drum kit.)

The article goes on to mention that many C64 games used melodies lifted from existing pieces of music, both classical and pop (with scant regard for credit, let alone copyright), the use of looping on various levels, the use of generative music techniques to avoid repetition, the (somewhat limited) influence of the Nintendo game-music aesthetic on C64 game music, and interactive aspects of game music, such as phrases triggered on entering/leaving rooms.

Tetris (Mirrorsoft, 1987), for instance, was very different than the versions released on the NES, showing this very different aesthetic particular to the C64. Not having any selectable music (which was an option on the NES), Wally Beben composed all original music—one very long (about 26 minutes—13Kb) track of many segments. In order to save space (likely), certain micro and mesoloops of the track repeat: for instance the bass/percussion line that begins the song repeats just one bar for about half the track, with different melodies coming over top and being layered with various accompaniments. This accumulative form—the gradual building up of a groove by adding sequential units cumulatively (Spicer, 2004)—was closer to the electronic trance music beginning to emerge in the late 1980s than any game music aesthetic of the time.

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