Chip Opera On Dark Roads

A few days ago I was driving a car through the first snowfall of south Sweden this year. People on the high way were driving 50 km/h through the dark and foggy night, with snow flakes twirling around like little bastard angels. In the speakers I had Bit by Bit, Cell by Cell – Music For Soprano & Atari 800XL by Yoav Gal & Yael Kanarek (2006) / (clips here). Not being very into opera voices (I am not even sure if it’s fair to call this music opera?), the music had a heaven-and-hell kind of vibe to me. It is both dreamy and uncomfortable. Yoav Gal is a professional composer and artist, and Yael Kanarek is also an artist. Both are based in New York.

The voices are quite clean sounding through out the album except for the reverbs, and also some pitch effects and a bit of data-style arpeggios aswell (or atleast it sounds like it). The Atari sounds are also clean:  pure squarewaves with lots of polyphony. The sequencing is sort of intricate, with some things outside of the strict quantisation grids. It seems unlikely that the songs are sequenced and played on an Atari 800XL. The sound chip of the computer (Pokey) has 4 channels of sounds and 4 bit volume, and there are more channels and more precise volume envelopes on this record. (other people are doing very interesting experiments with the Pokey though, which I will get back to in a future post).

If the sounds are sampled bits of the Pokey that were sequenced on a modern computer, it is interesting to think about whether this is chip music or not. We can try to use the medium & form categories that I use. It is not chip music as a medium, since nothing really points to it being made on the original hardware. So, is it chip music as form? I was thinking about this as I was driving the car, and it was a bit annoying. With form I have basically meant bleep-dance-pop-music, regardless of hardware (see chiptune-tag at The problem is that it leaves out music that sounds bleepy, is made with new hardware, but is nothing close to dance music. Like this record. Are there lots of more music like this?

Anyway. Here is more chip opera:
Tristan Perich
The Curve of Forgotten Things (soprano and 1-bit electronics, 2007)

And, here are two unrelated works to visualize this opera talk:

Screenscape by 320x200 (2007)


Anchor by Chris Ashley (2008)

4 Responses to “Chip Opera On Dark Roads”

  1. chipflip Says:

    Hello myself! You should have linked back to that earlier post, where you mentioned the choir that was singing using a graphics-chip (the VIC of the C64)!! Can it get more chip opera than that?

  2. Random Says:

    Nice post! Thanks for sharing “Bit by Bit, Cell by Cell” – I never heard of it yet, but it sounds like a nice concept. I’m a fan of some opera, and the “dreamy and uncomfortable”-feeling you tell us about sounds perfect! At least a perfect soundtrack for a snowy night in southern Sweden? Also, the name of the project really speaks to me, now I’m really eager to get a copy and have a proper listen myself!
    Btw, why the fuck am I the most popular artist tagged as “chiptune” on! I feel almost ashamed.

  3. chipflip Says:

    you are also the most popular one tagged as chipmusic and 8bit! :)

  4. Akira Says:

    What about adding a definition (or substituting the “form” one) of chip being used as an “aesthetic school”? You know, like Impressionism, Cubism, etc.
    All works maintain a certain common factor, in this case, the aural similarities of the sounds used, or their procedence (or how they were sculpted to sound like), but the structure in which these elements are utilized and combined, can vary from piece to piece. One time it can be fast-paced dancey picopop, one time it can be classical music, one time it can be hip-hop…

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