Chipmusic is about accepting the system’s features (aka limitations), and expanding them (aka breaking them). 30 years of new sounds shows how a culture can progress through software and not hardware updates. Competition and community, trial and error & rationalism has contributed to it. But it presupposes that you are allowed to do what you want with the technology.
The C64 iPhone emulator was released in September as the first multi-purpose emulator on the iPhone. But Apple does not allow users to run downloadable code on the iPhone. Apple wants to retain control over what software is running on the iPhone (avoidable by jailbreaking and e.g. cydia). But since the C64 has a built-in BASIC programming language, Apple cannot stay in control. So the solution was to remove BASIC from the emulator, and offer a selection of something like 5 games. In that way, users cannot make their own software and they cannot load whatever software they want. This is the complete opposite to the hippie-libertarian-multimedia ‘coolness’ that has been around Apple since the 1970s. You know, Bill Gates writes a letter in 1976 to promote software copyright and ever since Apple has been cool and Microsoft evil…?
Whatever. But the iPhone C64-emulator transforms the C64-system into a restricted gaming console (but, but). Surely, 8-bit computers are often described as gaming computers. Indeed, they were developed (also) for gaming purposes, and not colourless and soundless business purposes. But they were not read-only and interpassive like consoles, so they should not be remembered, emulated and discussed as such. It is (even) harder to talk about intented uses of computers compared to e.g. Gameboy and NES, in that sense. Ie, there is nothing necessarily subversive about making your own music and software on a C64, even if chipmusic is often described in that way.
While the iPhone C64-emulator is just a piece of entertainment software, it plays part in a larger tendency to reduce old technology to something simplistic, something limited. But limited in what sense, and according to who? I can turn on my C64 and start programming in 1 second, and make music in 1 minute. I can easily have it fixed when it’s broken, or atleast understand what the problem is. I have access to 25 years of software and knowledge, and with a lack of commercial interests I do not have to consider intellectual property regulations. I don’t find 3 channels of sound to be limiting; I think it’s empowering. Of course, digital technology is improving in many quantitative and qualitative ways, enabling users to do more, and faster. But it is not a one-dimensional line of neutral progress – it is change, resulting from economic, cultural, social, and aesthetical values. New technology is not better per se. Even if it is, it doesn’t mean that new ideas require new technology. That modernist idea has been questioned in so many other fields, but is painfully present in digital media.
Oh well. So… here is some of little-scale’s soundchip-related iPhone apps! (Btw, does anyone know how the emulator can be sold, being based on the GPL-licensed Frodo?)