The other day I stumbled across Metin Seven, one of the people involved in making SIDmon (the first synthetical tracker for the Amiga). I e-mailed him and received extensive answers. He published (much of) these e-mails as an interview: the origin of the chiptune phenomenon.
I was mainly mailing him to hear his take on the etymology of the word chipmusic/chiptune. Usually, it’s said that the term first arose with sample-based Soundtracker chipmusic around 1990. But according to Seven, chiptune was used (just) earlier to refer to synthetical Amiga music. It will take some more research to find out if this was a wide-spread practice.
Listening to songs made in SIDmon 1+2, it sounds quite different from both sample-based and synthetical chipmusic. Soundwise, it actually uses “long” samples (often ST-01/02) a lot more than I expected. The synthesized sounds are used more like instruments among others and there doesn’t seem to be much nostalgia in there. Music-wise, most of the songs are based on minor scales; they are melancholic — not like the happy chip-MOD style. Also, the amount of videogame music covers is very low.
Seven argues that this was the early days of chipmusic, but it might be possible to explain it with software aswell. Synthetic Amiga software produces a sound rather similar to soundchips. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the music created with it takes the shape of melancholic space data music instead, quite different from “mainstream” chipmusic. But this is a very subjective statement. When I hear songs like Paranoimia or M.A.D (youtube-clips) I have a feeling that my brain goes back 20 years and ruins my chance to judge these songs “properly”.
By the way, Paranoimia was composed by TSM in a custom-format. From what I understand, songs that are available in custom format are not necessarily made in a custom program, but stored in a custom format for optimization purposes.
By the way #2, SIDmon 2 was not made by the makers of SIDmon 1. Seven told me that the publishers of SIDmon 1 (Turtle Byte) did not even pay them for it, and then hired Unknown/DOC to program SIDmon 2 (who previously made his own version of Soundtracker). Their own sequel was called Digital Mugician, later followed by the Windows-tracker Syntrax.