Cycle Music

What kind of music do you make when the coder has used almost all the computing power, the designer had his/her go, and there is not even enough CPU-power left to play sounds? You make zero cycle music!

Crossbow is a C64-programmer notorious for doing what other top-coders say is impossible. This time he made 80 ‘kefrens-bars’ wobble on the screen and then Deekay (very talented pixel artist) made a logo and told Crossbow to open the border for design-purposes. (The C64-screen has borders around the main screen, and displaying graphics there requires some tricks, but has been made since 1985)

So now the music is left with 5 cycles – basically five machine code instructions. This is an almost ridiculous challenge, and to my knowledge noone has attempted it before. (am I wrong?) That leaves a composer with exploring the hardware, since there is no room for software. The solution was to start a sound in each of the SID’s 3 channels just before the effect starts, then stop the sounds and let it play on without using the CPU. That would be as pure as chip music could get, but with the few cycles left there is also a bit of software involved. They are used to semi-randomly fetch values from the sine tables (of the demo effect) to change the tone of a triangle wave. Apart from the triangle tonality, there is a bass-tone that ringmodulates with a second channel, to create that slow oscillation that is so particular for the SID-chip. The result is one of the purest instances of chip music, the new age of chip meditation with a minimum amount of data. Software sucks, behold the randomoid chip drones!

The demo – Negative Karma – was first released on 27 December without music, which was added the following day. The programming behind the music was made by Crossbow, so we can call him the composer. (I will not discuss ‘algorithmic authorship’ here) It seems fair to say that the music could have been much more complex with more time spent on constructing less arbitrary algorithms. It could also be interesting to play more with the sounds – especially ringmodulation. Nevertheless, this is an exciting start for generative music with almost no software. As far as I know, there are very few examples of generative compositions in the demoscene. The Tiny Sid Compos involved some, such as Block Acid Dub by Frantic which is 256 bytes (including song player). Does anyone know of more generative 8-bit works? (that are more complex than Delta, To Be On Top, Hawkeye, Lazy Jones)

3 Responses to “Cycle Music”

  1. linde Says:

    Not really generative, but the title and part of the first paragraph immediately made me think of “Octopus in red wine” by Vision, which worked fine in Vice but was running a few cycles too much at times for 50 fps on a real machine, resulting in glitchy music that had me listening for an hour or so. The original tune (as it was intended to be played) was great too of course, but I like the glitchy one a bit more.

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