MP3 is so passe

Apparently, we are so used to MP3s that we actually prefer music that has the sizzle artefacts that MPEG algorithms produce. Although it’s hard to believe, it’s not unbelievable. The MP3-standard was set in 1991, and a decade later it had become the standard for music compression. In 1999 Wall Street Journal wrote that “MP3 has created an underground online culture, in which hackers hang around chat rooms and online ‘gangs’ prowl for tunes” (*).

Part of this gang war was Monotonik and other early netlabels. For them, MP3 was a natural progression from releasing tracker music (mod/xm/etc) for free. Monotonik came from the demoscene, where copying was not a problem but actually the only form of distribution. The more copies the better, period. It was not a big step to go from that to releasing MP3s. Still, distributing music in the original tracker had advantages. Monotonik released mod-files until 2003 because they were smaller, sounded better and were open source.

The chipscene has a different background, it can be argued. The music in the chipscene was usually spread as MP3-documentations of the original tracker files. It was, and still is, rare to see chipscene people releasing their source files. As far as I’ve found, all MP3-releases with chipmusic was like this at the time – at 8bitpeoples, 20kbps, Kikapu, No’Mo’, Commie, Slapart, Toilville and mp3death. Maybe they were scared of being scrutinized or maybe LSDj was not designed for this purpose. But also, spreading music like open source means to share every detail of the work you do – the small tricks that are important for “your sound”.

But like Education of the Noobz says in his new release, “open source” music has a long history as a sort of folk music. “Before professional games, before cracker intros and before demos, home computer users were peeking and poking around their machines’ memory in search for the addresses the soundchip would react to”. Flip through any computer magazine around 1980 and you will see BASIC-listings of pop-songs and classical music. They were open source by default, since they were distributed as code to be executed by the listener. Sort of like mod-files, and very much like previous hacker music as found in e.g HAKMEM and Creative Computing in the 1970s, or elsewhere in the 1960s.

In hindsight it’s perhaps tempting to see this in terms of hacker ethics and politics, but maybe it was just about academic traditions and a lack of cheap recording technologies. I haven’t seen any open source music that is framed in any political rhetorics, not even from the chipmusic hippies in LOAMC, who didn’t share their source code afaik.

But the situation is different now. Music usually equals recorded music, or performed music. Even digital music is almost always distributed in the proprietary MP3-format. A jam becomes a song becomes a file, with title and author, start and finish, that sounds the same every time you play it. Chipmusic doesn’t have to be like that, but ever since it pretended to be recorded music in the late 1990s, we’ve learnt to like the convenience. Sure it’s convenient with recorded C64-music, but it also deletes some of the mysteries for the listener, and the open source luxuries for the composer. The ontology of chipmusic is removed, which means removing the potentials for remixability, modularity and imperfection that no other music genre is blessed with at such a large scale. Educate the noobs!

(By the way, Monotonik is now on “(permanent?)” hiatus. Bad and sad news, for the label that brought us chip-releases such as Virt’s fx EP (2001), Vim!’s At the Front (1999), Aleksi Eeben’s Grand Rules (2002), Blasterhead’s Killbots EP, and my own Monkeywarning from 2002).

17 Responses to “MP3 is so passe”

  1. Peter Says:

    I dunno if being afraid of sharing music is a good reason for lack of source files.. A surprising number of gamrboy musicians probaly don’t know how to share their source files :), not to mention the fact it is far less neat than other tracker formats…

    I sorta feel the open source movement is the ultimate expression of the consumerist nature of the net, you already got my song for free, what entitles you to the full skeleton?

    • chipflip Says:

      From the sort of artistic-integrity perspective, open source is terrible of course. And I’m not even sure that open source distribution would necessarily change the way the music is made or listened to. Now. But from a broader cultural perspective, chipmusic can be preserved and shared in a better way. I guess there is already a bunch of netlabel releases of the 00’s that are gone, whereas the mod/sid/ay archives have been created and maintained by enthusiasts to ensure that they’ll be around for … a while longer. And who knows what kind of tools will be around in the future to work with these massive amounts of data.

      • Dragan Says:

        I wonder why: “From the sort of artistic-integrity perspective, open source is terrible of course.”?

        Thanks for all your writings BTW :)

      • chipflip Says:

        Hehe, that was written a bit sloppy. What I meant with “Artistic-integrity perspective” is the idea that there is individual creativity that should be protected in one way or another; that the pure artist’s mind should not be polluted, or leaked into the public. The romantic idea of the composer. Open source, then, is a problem because it blurs the border between individuals, and questions the idea of the isolated genius artist man.

        This is an exagaration just to show what I meant. I guess it’s more interesting to avoid polemic against romantic ideals or copyright, and to face it head-on. I guess we all have some romanticism in our blood, so there is always something to fight! hehe…

        Thanks for everything too! :)

  2. Lazerbeat Says:

    For what its worth, I love the open sourceness of music.

    Waves a flag for the pig brothers @

    I had this awesome moment a little while ago watching a workshop Animal Style did on LSDJ at 8static and heard him mention a little trick I uploaded in a .sav which had some fun PWM stuff going on.

    Also in further support of open music, I offer this

    Which was heavily based on Imaginary Friend and is one of my favorite dance tunes ever.

  3. µB Says:

    Couple of things; I’d disagree on that compression artifacts and hiss are the main attractors of low quality mp3s, but rather the way popular encoders handle which frequency bands get priority in the encoding- often times, the outcome will resemble ‘radio mixing’, especially if the encoder uses normalization. The iTunes encoder in paritcular seems to change the spectrum quite a bit (my sampling is at least two years old now, though).

    I’m with Peter on that sharing for some platforms is just easier with mp3, and there’s also no option to play modules from the browser on the popular sites. As you said, the lack of modules is probably more due to the artist’s wish to cater to the convenience of the listener- opening the module in an external app or putting it on the proper host platform is (even if it’s just one or two more clicks) already enough to skip the track and move on to the next. No thanks to the vast amount of releases, an artist wishing for exposure has to do this. I often notice that when people specifically ask for the module of a song, the author is more often than not willing to share, but most people simply don’t care. An iPod can’t play SIDs anyways.

    • chipflip Says:

      The image of of music listeners as iPod-clinging hyper-clickers is sometimes true, and it’s understandable that artists get paranoid from that. But vinyl is not dead and cassette labels are popping up again, and people are bound to get at least a bit tired of skipping and zapping eventually, right? MP3 is convenient and sounds pretty good, but apart from those consumerist-traits it doesn’t have much to offer.

      With things like PortaMOD comes potential to once again separate the experience of listening to MOD/XM/S3M compared to recordings, while making it as simple as MP3s, often. There’s not really any reason that MP3 should be easier to listen to, and it’s strange that tracker artists don’t see the opportunities they have for new forms of distribution. I have some things in the pipe…. :)

      • µB Says:

        As much as I love vinyl, tapes and modules, it’s media for a minority. As long as flash and portable devices don’t support modules natively, I simply can’t see them make a comeback. The truth is: we’re spoilt and lazy. Especially on the web, if I have the option between two things and one of them happens to be available _now_, while the other would take some tinkering it’s a no-brainer for most people.

        That said, the chipmusic community might be the one scene that has a fairly high share of tinkerers and people with love for vintage media. A minority of a minority?

        Looking forward to what comes out your pipe.

        … er… not like that

      • chipflip Says:

        Personally, I think it’s only a question of time before media with a characteristic like tape & vinyl become rather mainstream again. If only among music nerds, film geeks and artists. And PortaMod will change the world! And the web-version of Skaletracker is the most powerful online music tool atm, right? Let’s make it happen, you spoiled brat! :)

  4. ant1 Says:


    while the most popular platforms remain to be gameboy, nes, and c64, it seems pretty unlikely that people will want to share the source. nsf, sid, gbs are not source files, famitracker, lsdj are not cross-platform, the million varieties of c64 tracker and no pc player for most of them make that unlikely too. =(

    mod/s3m/xm/it remain easy to share (yes xmplay is lovely) but i think that maybe the decline you see in people sharing their source file can mostly be blamed on the less popularity of those formats in the “newschool” scene.

    i did see a website-community once where music is submitted as mml source and then rendered. it was nice. i forgot the url. also UBIKTUNE have provided source for many of their releases, and hexawe as was mentioned. there’s quite a few ftm files uploaded to

    more source sharing please :D

    • chipflip Says:

      Good point. The mod-formats are quite unique in that sense. That the production and consumption occurs in the same environment. That’s why open source always felt like a strange thing to label it as. I think that if mod-musicians would’ve had a choice, they wouldn’t have distributed the mod-files. There were a lot of hate for sample-rippers, etc.

  5. chipflip Says:

    Another chipmusic netlabel that releases source-files:

  6. chromix Says:

    The main problem with releasing LSDJ source files is that there’s no easy way to listen to them. Case in point: after I created, it was months before I actually went out of my way to burn one of the songs to a cart. Months. Emulators never get it right, and it’s a pain to get the songs on and off the cart, even with USB carts.

    I’ve learned a lot from, but without non-native players, I don’t see source file distribution taking off on its own. I’m just glad there are others out there who recognize the need to resurrect something that’s made the demo/tracker/chiptunes scene so amazing.

  7. A New Hi to the High « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] all music are recordings. MP3/OGG is just one option. For example, on my release at Floppyswop I used mod-files. Sounds better than a lo-bit […]

  8. Originality is Back! « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] is important is that purist chipmusic – provided in non-recorded file formats – is original by default. The ontology of chipmusic is quite unique. I’d […]

  9. Why Chipmusic Is Not Retro « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] (who I remixed once, btw) or performed live, it’s usually distributed as recordings. That has rubbed off on chipmusic, but there are hundreds of thousands of chiptunes that are performative: Each execution is unique. […]

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