Lft’s Chipophone: Playing Chipmusic by Hand

Linus Åkesson, aka Lft, is a programmer and musician who has mentioned featured several times at Chipflip. He works a lot with combining the aesthetics of chipmusic and “classical” music. He uses soundchips but also programs custom “soundchips” using microcontrollers, often with rather impressive programming. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has a background in the demoscene. In Reverberations he simulated the hands of an organ player with delicate Assembler programming, and executed it on two C64s. Technique and concept in a tight interplay: yum-yum!

In a way, the Chipophone turns this approach on its head. Here, it is hands that simulate chipmusic rather than the other way around. The Chipophone instrument features some of the most characteristic aspects of chipmusic software: arpeggios, slides, looped bars and noise-attacks. Consequently, a skilled pianist can play chipmusic in something similar to a chipmusic platform (8-bit CPU, 1k RAM, 8.5k ROM) and add all the typical chipmusic ornaments with the hands. It’s quite surreal to see Hubbard’s Spellbound actually being performed by hand:

I think that this is qualitatevly different from using, say, Chipsounds and a MIDI-keyboard. The Chipophone is not an emulation – it’s a music instrument that is inspired by the aesthetics of chipmusic. Rather than using modern equipment to mimick something that it will never be, this is a custom-made low-tech platform using an oldschool organ interface. Surely this would inspire musicians to perform in a different way, compared to the hi-tech VST-world.

According to the 00-decade’s discourse of hardware purism, where chipmusic has to use certain soundchips, this is of course not chipmusic. But considering the Chipophone’s low amount of RAM, ROM and CPU and its low-level implementation of typical chipmusic effects, this is a refreshing alternative to the, eh, mainstream chipmusic (LSDj with default samples).

I have interviewed Lft for my (nearly finished) thesis, where we discussed the aesthetical elements of chipmusic among other things. The Chipophone is a very clever way to bring these stylistic elements into a postdigital context, where it is motor skills that condition the music rather than tracker-skills. He demonstrates it so elegantly aswell, by playing some songs from “the chipmusic canon”. Hopefully this can be an inspiration for chipmusicians to experiment with improvisations and performances, rather than doing another playback gig.

Update: btw, look at his combination of 480 bytes & piano: The Swan

7 Responses to “Lft’s Chipophone: Playing Chipmusic by Hand”

  1. peter Says:

    Wow now I feel bad for thinking this was a hoax.. haha!

  2. rumpelfilter Says:

    I think the whole discussion about what is chipmusic and what is not is quite stupid and pointless. I mean it’s music, do we really need to define it all the time? Or is it just a way of creating our own ghetto where we can feel different… well whatever, I think what Mr.Lft does is just amazing and utterly brilliant! It’s this mix of him being a great inventor with apparently great technical skills, and his being also a really talented musician that strikes me most…

    • chipflip Says:

      Of course it’s stupid :) But it’s still interesting how it’s talked about. The general view was different in the 90s compared to the 00s, etc.

  3. jikoo Says:

    Waooow ! It is brilliant and awesome ! Sure, Linus is a talented musician !

  4. brytburken Says:

    That was quite crazy!

    And you sure are right about instruments being important… Laptops should not be seen in a live environment… and if its playback, why even show up?

    “Then there is the question of the physicallity of the instrument this affects the way a human will emotionally interact with it and therfore affect what they will actually do with it! often overlooked from the maths heads,this is probably the biggest factor I think.
    for example the smell of analogue stuff as well as the look of it puts you in a certain mental state which is very different from looking at a computer screen.”

  5. Linda Says:

    To me Lft has brought back the microchip computer music to the roots :-) The organ is the perfect interface for the music generation; playing bass and rhythm with the feet is common in organ music (so I thought) and I always liked the idea of having registers in both organ technique and chipmusic.

    It feels a bit now someone has played the final level of your favorite game :-( And it also feels very “anti-glitch”: this is very much how it should be, no mistakes :-)

    Now I only hope to hear some bombastic whatever century classical organ play (or church stuff) performed on the chipophone… Something like Kajem will do too :-)

  6. Famichord and Other Elements of Chipmusic « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] good ol’ lft made a presentation about chipmusic (on his custom-built powerpoint-chip). […]

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