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).