The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'chiptunes'
The Chipophone is an instrument for live chiptune performance (i.e., playing live music on a keyboard in the style of music generated by 8-bit computers and game consoles), made from microcontrollers and housed in the chassis of a 1970s-vintage electronic organ by a Swedish chap named Linus Akesson. There is a video of Akesson demonstrating the unit and its features, and playing some classic chiptunes live, here.
Québecois music software maker Plogue have announced a software synthesiser designed for chiptunes. the Plogue Chipsounds plugin (Windows/Mac VST; price/release date unknown) will simulate not one but seven different 8-bit sound chips (from the SID chip to ones taken from the Atari 2600, Nintendo NES, VIC-20 and arcade machines), all to great authenticity, and even features "faithful DC signal leakage emulation" for added versimilitude. It'll also come with presets made by chip musicians 8-Bit Weapon and ComputeHer.
Of course, not everybody's pleased. Some chip musicians are unhappy that this means that dilettantes unwilling or unable to put in the hard yards writing 6502 assembly language will be able to get the same authentically 8-bit sounds they can. Why, Plogue could port it to Pro Tools and it could end up on the next Madonna record; for shame!
Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether one regards 8-bit sound chip sounds as worthy in their own right, or merely as a shibboleth for separating the truly hip and hardcore from trendies and hangers-on. I lean towards the former camp; surely there are other ways of distinguishing interesting music from commercial pabulum than by whether the composer knows assembly language. Then again, I would say that, not having written any 6502 assembly in about two decades.
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
A few controversies from the 8-bit music world: claims that electro outfit Crystal Castles ripped off the work of various chipmusic artists, violating the terms of their Creative Commons licence (though this Pitchfork article clarifies this, stating that the tracks in question were never actually released). Meanwhile, this documentary puts forward the theory that Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson) wrote the music for Sega's Sonic 3 video game on the MegaDrive/Genesis.
In other 6502-related news, here is a commented disassembly and detailed analysis of Rob Hubbard's music playing code, as seen in numerous Commodore 64 games of the 1980s (and later ripped off by crackers and demo scenesters). If there was a museum of feats of 8-bit computing, this routine would be sitting in a prominently placed glass case in one of its wings.
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.
My most recent softsynth discovery is QuadraSID; this is a VST/AU softsynth which emulates, as the name suggests, 4 SID chips (and emulates them quite thoroughly, down to letting you choose the chip model and whether you want bugs to be emulated accurately or fixed), along with enhancements such as external envelopes, arpeggios and a mini-sequencer. It comes with a batch of presets designed by Commodore 64 game composer Chris Hülsbeck (perhaps best known for the Giana Sisters score), and now there is an additional sound bank by Rob Hubbard, which is full of fuzzy, warbly SID goodness. Of course, it's not limited to C64 game-music homages; a stack of SIDs can have its uses, from Broadcast-style lo-fi to fat pads.
The company which makes quadraSID also has some other interesting products, such as Slayer2, a guitar synthesiser based on physical modelling, along with amp and pedal models; it sounds almost like the real thing; not quite as authentic as sample-based systems, though a lot more flexible. The fact that it can turn randomly pressing keys into an over-the-top finger-shredding cock-rock guitar solo of the gods is impressive enough in its own right. (If I ever end up revamping a certain track from my last year's NaSoAlMo album, I may have to invest in a copy of this).
I just found out that there is an entire blog devoted to Commodore 64 music; and it seems to be surprisingly busy too. Some of the things on it include C64 music nights (and there's one in Manchester this weekend; had I known about it sooner...), new music software which manages to squeeze ever more out of the C64 hardware, homebrewed MIDI interfaces, C64s grotesquely hacked into rack-mounted synths, instructions on making one's own cartridges, ways of using quirks of the C64 hardware to make sound, people selling C64 game ringtones, and links to creative projects like Casionova, an 8-bit Kraftwerk covers compilation and more.
Not to mention a Commodore-branded entry onto the media player market, which doesn't actually play C64 software or chiptunes. You'd think that whoever owns the brand would have done more than commissioning a generic media player and slapping the chickenhead logo onto it. I wonder if it's of any better quality than the "Commodore" DVD+Rs I bought last year, which burned perfectly well but failed to read afterward.
A Dutch chip musician has designed a GameBoy-synced tape scratching unit comprised of a Walkman and a box with a bunch of knobs, which plugs into the GameBoy. There are rather impressive sound samples on the site, as well as a link to his page on it, which has pictures but is somewhat harder to read.
Jahtari; chip tunes meet dub. Enjoy.
The Commodore 64 music software industry is alive and well; at least as much so as the GameBoy and Nintendo Famicom music software industries, anyway. Some intrepid hackers have created new music software for the Commodore 64; Prophet 64 is available in 3 flavours: standard, TB (which behaves like a Roland TB-303, or as much as one as the SID chip will do), and TR (which behaves like a TR-909, only with Rob Hubbard-style drum samples, as heard in much video-game music). Prophet 64 is free software, and will run happily on a 64 emulator, though with a real 64 it can be controlled with game paddles and synced to MIDI devices (with a simple add-on interface). To facilitate getting it onto a 64, it's available as a disk image, or as a WAV file to record to cassette for loading. (via MusicThing)
YMCK are a Japanese pop group who make all their music (other than the vocals, of course) with a Nintendo Famicom. And the MP3s they have online sound pretty good. Unfortunately, their label's web site doesn't have ordering information in English. (via bOING bOING)
I finally got around to seeing CasioNova, a local musician who plays songs on 80s Casiotone keyboards, 8-bit computers and such. He played at the Kent St. Café in Smith St., getting up on stage attired in white shirt, knee-length pants and knee-high socks, and proceeding to sing and play a number of pop ditties and throw shapes as he played his keyboards. The kit he used consisted of a bunch of Casiotone and Yamaha home keyboards, as well as a Commodore 64 with the Music Machine cartridge and keyboard overlay, and, at one stage, a GameBoy.
So what was the music like? Somewhere between electropop and outsider music. Parts of it were a bit like electroclash, only without the distressed denim and designer trucker caps, perhaps sounding like The Emergency with lyrics, or a more 1980s-retro Talkshow Boy. There was a definite geeky quality to it; you could tell that this is someone who would rather stay at home and tinker with his gadgets than do cocaine with the coolsies on Chapel St. There was something sincere, improvised and passionately unhip in CasioNova's act, and that's a good thing.
CasioNova's going to an electronic art conference in Helsinki soon (and is raising funds to do so); he announced that he has made a pact to not return if John Howard wins the next election, and if he doesn't get a girlfriend. Before he leaves, he is playing again next week, at the Pink Spunk electro night at Loop, along with some folks named Mink Engine.
Malcolm McLaren (yes, that Malcolm McLaren) reckons that 8-bit chip tunes are the next big thing, and that revolutionary music will be made on Amigas and Game Boys by people in FUCK PRO TOOLS T-shirts.
The essence of chip music is in reverse engineering an electronic interface - whether it's a Game Boy or a computer's sound chip - and subverting its original design. Chip music can be made using run-of-the-mill equipment, like a Casio keyboard, but first the insides must be scrambled. The lo-fi sound of the White Stripes and their ilk has a certain aesthetic kinship with chip music, but it's less tech-centric and not nearly as subversive. Kraftwerk might be the grandfathers of chip music - like today's reversible engineers, they invented many of their instruments. As for programs like Pro Tools, chip musicians don't think they're really creative. The sound isn't generated by circuitry, and you can't alter it by twisting a knob.
This ties in with the CasioNova piece posted and with the somewhat nebulous casiopunk aesthetic. And with vinyl fetishism; chip musicians apparently scorn CDs, not to mention MP3s. Though the article raises two questions:
- is it the wave of the future, or an ephemeral fashion of crusty anachronism, sort of like electroclash for pretentious arty types?
- Is chip music the punk to Austrian laptop glitch's krautrock?
- And if it endures, how long until there are ProTools plugins to emulate all that grungy old circuit-bent hardware, so that P.Diddy or Madonna or whoever can put the fashionable chip-tune sound on their latest multi-million-dollar production?
Btw, McLaren's next album, Fashionbeast, will be all chip music; could it be the Duck Rock of the 21st century?
This looks doovy: One enterprising hacker has developed an Atari 2600-based musical instrument cartridge. The Synthcart has beats and arpeggiators, and can be operated without a TV. Wonder how long until we see Ataris take the stage next to circuit-bent Hello Kitty toys and GameBoys running NanoLoop. (via Slashdot)