For the past months I’ve been using early 80’s computer magazines as toilet literature. It’s incredible to see the ideas and projects that seem to be part of a completely different world compared to now. In Allt om Hemdatorer #2, 1984 I read that the Spectrum game company Automata Ltd were releasing their soundtracks on cassettes. Since this might be the first chipmusic ever to be recorded and released, I thought I’d check it out.
But it was a bit more complicated than that. Automata’s games were pioneering “multimedia” games, which used a separate audio cassette player for the music. I mentioned their game Deus Ex Machina here, which had a very strange atmosphere to it. PiMania seems to be an equally bizarre game, that featured a competition that took 4 years for someone to figure out.
Last year the Automata soundtracks (from PiMania and Deus Ex Machina, afaik) were released on vinyl by Feeding Tube. All of those songs are also available for free download here, plus a lot of other ones. If you listen to them you’ll notice that it has nothing to do with chipmusic. But it’s pretty good stuff, some kind of witty step-sequencer acid electrock. Perhaps Automata released other cassettes with recordings of their Spectrum music, though, but I didn’t find any.
Afaik, it was all composed by Mel Croucher. He was a computer renaissance man of the 1970s and the co-founder of Automata Ltd. He made lots of world’s firsts such as sending data over the FM and AM-band, multimedia games, stereo VGM, etc. Also, his use of the TR-606 and TB-303 in Groucho (1984) is quite early proto-acid that reminds me of Alexander Robotnick’s pioneering acid (which is fantastic). Also, the PiMania song is a charming piece of VL-Tone toasting.
So, according to my timeline the first release with recorded chipmusic continues to be this strange flexidisc from 1984, which demonstrates a C64-software. If you have any other ideas, would be great to hear it. (There are plenty of examples of digital music since 1951 in the timeline, but the question here is about massproduced recordings of music made with a soundchip)
Btw, I recently got a Thomson TO-7 where the cassettes contain both data and audio. For example, you can hear classical music while the data is loading. Or get a nicely human-narrated description of what’s happening on the screen, perhaps while you’re messing with the built-in light pen. I wonder what would’ve happened if Mel Croucher would’ve worked with this machine..