In 2007 Alex Yabsley (dot.ay) made an ethnographic study of the chiptune community, which is available online: The Sound of Playing. This may be very old news, but since it is 39 pages I wanted to give it some attention and mention some of the parts I liked in particular. I hope you don’t mind that I bring out your old university work, Alex! : )
He made interviews or questionnaires for 7 participants from the UK, Sweden, and USA, and also did participatory studies of 8bitcollective and micromusic.net. Statistically speaking, seven people is not representative for a large subculture, but that is usually not the point with a qualitative study anyway. I think Alex rightly generalizes some of the results.
* Chip music composers usually talk about limitations when they motivate why they make chip music, and secondly about timbre. Newcomers seem instead to talk about this culture being “fresh and new”, what Alex describes as cultural reasoning rather than musical creative reason. No one really talks about videogames. Far from everyone has a background with making alternative electronic music.
* “Whilst the demoscene is responsible for much of the infrastructure on which modern Chiptunes are built, it seems that it has become quite a separate community. However, it is a noticeable phenomenon that, as newcomers become more informed of the history of Chiptunes, they develop an interest in the demoscene.” I would like to add that they were always quite separated, considering the low amount of chip musicians from the demoscene that are active outside of it. But I think Alex has an interesting point in that chip music has become a gateway-culture for the heavier stuff!
* “[..] Småm believes that just playing sequences back and pretending your doing something is something of a live standard for Game Boy musicians. This is partly the case.” Is it really? Do you know of any chip musicians that play more live than others? I was once forced to play my only ever Gameboy-only set (due to other broken hardware) in a forest in Gothenburg a few years ago (with Småm actually). I thought it went alright enough though, since I always enjoyed improvising with LSDj. Does it get boring after a while, or why do Gameboyers not do more things live?
* The part about the compositional effect of technology was very good and could have been even longer! Bitshifter’s answer about Nanoloop versus LSDj is spot on about how most chip music software uses traditional notation while Nanoloop doesnot, encouraging music that is more focused on texture and rhythm rather than melody. Pixelh8 said “If you were painting a picture you wouldn’t ask someone else to choose your colours would you?” referring to him making his own software. I think a better musical metaphor for colours is the timbre of the sounds, ie the audio waveforms inherent to a chip. Software is more like the brush and canvas, to me. Most brushes and canvases do a very similar work, but a few stand out from the rest either by offering variety or novelty.
* Chip music composers gain more from listening to chip music than an average consumer. By having used the same hard- and software, you know what is easy and difficult, and worthy of admiration. “This further builds and develops both the community and the quality of work produced, as the limitations allow for a simple shared understanding, which is how the demoscene has operated for years and how it continues to be a system conducive to high quality creative work.” A very good point, I thought. Although some would say it is elitist technofetishism, you could might aswell call it craftmanship. That makes me think why there are not more competitions at, say, 8bitcollective.
* Hope you got a good grade .AY!