Chipmusic Festival, 1990

“We just called it “chiptune” then. I think. I mean, we really didn’t have anything else to call it”. That’s what Minusbaby says about the early days of the chipscene in USA. Nice to read some thoughts about this. My own memories are a bit blurry. But it was certainly unchartered territory back then, perhaps even more so in USA then Europe. Chiptune was the most popular term in the 00’s. I suppose 8bitpeoples contributed to that, like most others. The old VORC was perhaps even more important. Now, the chipmusic term seems to be getting more <3 again, judging from biographies, forums (, etc.

In the 1980s some people talked about micromusic as music made with microcomputers (8-bit home computers with PSG soundchips, mostly). When the Amiga came out, it could play things that didn’t sound like micromusic. Therefore the terms chiptune and chipmusic appeared. But what did these terms mean 20 years ago?

I’ve previously argued that in 1990 chipmusic was equal to chipmodules but that was probably wrong, actually. I’ve discussed it with several of ye old legends, and there are different opinions. Except for chipmodules, around 1990 chipmusic could also refer to synthetical Amiga music or PSG-music.

What can the archives tell us? According to a search at Bitfellas there seems to have been chipmodules as early as 1988, in Compackting Disk Intro by The Supply Team (a Danish pioneer group also on the C64). I was too lazy to setup UAE and check it out though, so I’m not sure. :) UPDATE: mod.introsound was made by Rambones (still active), and uses a short non-looped sample.

The Supply Team - Compackting Disk Intro (1988)

In 1989 the word ‘chip’ starts to appear here and there without any apparent chipmusic-reason. More importantly, 4-mat makes chipmodules and releases them in a lost production and in an intro without music :) [1]. TSM released something like a chipmodule in Invasion, called weinigkb – few kilobytes [2]. He told me that he heard the chiptune-term only years later, and it meant Soundtracker-based songs with short C64-samples. (I mistook TSM for Suntronic)

Surely enough, 1990 saw the release of atleast two chipmodule music disks with C64-covers: Sludger’s Music Demo and Captured Imagination by 4-mat. He also released chip-things like Mole’s Hot Demo PackSkywise’s IntroMusic Demo (called Chip Music Demo at Bitfellas?) and Inspired SoundsChip Music Festival by Magnetic Fields is the earliest use of the term that I’ve found, and there are no chipmodules in it. It’s all synthetical songs made by Jochen Hippel, Ziphoid & Uncle Tom, Walkman, etc. Chipmodules is a new method and there’s no established term. Look for example at the text in Blazer’s Riots or Savage’s Short.

Commercial break! Some chip-hits of 1990 are Gonad’s Cracks by Omri Suleiman, Fireworx by Mantronix, Paranoimia by TSM (video below) and intro-music by 4-mat.

Chip Music Festival, 1990

It seems like chipmusic appeared before chiptune. Chiptune was a noun, meaning a piece of chipmusic. (That always annoyed me with chipmusic chiptune later. Could it originate from a linguistic glitch between English and Japanese?). Anyway, by 1991 the chiptune term was well established. Nuke/Anarchy made a song called chiptune-12k, 4-mat’s song L.F.F also appears as mod.chiptune, and there’s this. The musicdisk Synthetic Vibes includes some of the most famous chip-names at the time (except the already mentioned also Mantronix, Heatbeat, Emax). [3]

(Btw, if there was a competing term, it could’ve been intro-music. There are many songs called that, for example by Heatbeat, Dr. Awesome, 4-mat, etc. But I guess the C64-inspiration made the chip-terms seem more fitting?)

Unfortunately music archives don’t really date its entries, so it’s hard to do a similar research. But on the other hand, you can search for text inside the songs. That way, we can find songs like megademo-vectorbobs where 4-mat claims to have invented chipmodules and asks all sample-rippers to piss off. When I interviewed him for my thesis he was not very proud of this, and admitted to being a sample-ripper too :)

This little excursion tells us that the chipmusic-term was used in 1990, and that chipmodules might’ve been around in 1988. Also, the use of the chip-term seems to have a UK-origin (Anarchy, Magnetic Fields, etc). But hopefully someone can take this research further. Would be interesting to see more heavy data analysis of these archives, to find out more about how chip-terms were used in demos and songs. (And who stole whose samples, for example. Remix culture 30 years ahead of its time!)

But one thing that strikes me, is that the synthetical Amiga tunes around 1990 have aged quite well. If you listen to this MP3-playlist of Amiga tunes from 1989, it feels very modern compared to other electronic music from that time (for a chip-literate, anyway). First of all, it’s not really songs – it’s loops. The linear song-format, on which most music consumption is based, is not really applicable here (great!). Secondly, the minimalist sound capabilities make it less dated. Elsewhere there were orgies in cut-up sampling, drum machines, consumerized sequencers and FM-synths. But the assembler-based 8-bit micro synthesis led to … something else. And last but not least – the music was embedded in a cracker culture that we – the consumers – were mesmerized by. Who were they? How did they make the music? How can I do it? No recording artist could get the same kind of mysterious distribution.

Some people would say it’s “only nostalgia”. Maybe it is, whatever people mean by that expression. But at the same time, this is so different from most contemporary chipmusic. In fact, it doesn’t share much with it at all. During the pinnacle of chip-purism a few years ago it would not even qualify as chipmusic. But today it feels like its pointing towards a possible future for chipmusic. The chipscene is described mostly in dusty postmodern technoid terms á la remix culture (like appropriation). But that’s going to change in the 2010s. You read it here first!

[1] 4-mat’s first chipmodules were Autumn, Knighthawk and Space Journey according to himself. They were based on ST-01 samples.

[2] Check TSM’s page about his 1989-activities, including the source code to a 1988 text editor softsynth for Amiga. Some great crackmospherical space ambient electro in there.

[3] As for 1992: Music Madness is a large v/a chipmod musicdisk. Some songs called chip music. Also Chip On My Shoulder. Possibly also look at Pink’s Ansi Music series and Chipmania (92-94).

11 Responses to “Chipmusic Festival, 1990”

  1. tctd Says:

    So.. Chip on my shoulder is the first chip related run title? :)

    Great read.

  2. tctd Says:

    err pun not run.. TIME for coffee.

  3. Linda Says:

    Hi Anders,

    Nice to receive this blog by e-mail :) Thank you for these bits of knowledge. I always love to read it. :)

    I think why the term chipmusic might be used again is to distinguish between music and the car modfication scene. They call the tuning of thier vehicles “chiptuning”.


  4. chipflip Says:

    Car chiptune is the future!

    Perhaps chipmusic/chiptune was just a pun that went out of hand.

  5. Vim Says:

    Chip Music Festival was instrumental in getting me into making chip tunes. It got me to seek out FutureComposer and have a go. Crikey, seeing the main screen of that with the plasma brings it all back. Must have been 1992 or thereabouts.

    By then ‘chip’ seemed to be well-established. It was certainly how you’d refer to something made with FC or any of the chip trackers. ‘Chip mods’ was a common phrase, and by 1994 when I was swapping with other musicins they’d just say “here are some chips I made”.

  6. Johan Says:

    Hi, I remember I thought Gonad Crack’s was very cool, had forgotten about that tune!

    I agree that the oldskool chipmusic hasn’t really aged, it still feels great. Listening to typical Amiga music with normal samples mostly makes me feel pretty bad and tired very quickly

  7. Omri Suleiman Says:

    No Way !

    About 20 years later I’m thinking, I wonder what happened to Matt, so I look him up and there he is, still going strong, and then I download couple of tracks.

    And then, “OH SHEET !”, that’s some of the most mind blowing, game changing, soulful yet futuristic music I’ve heard since… well Basic Channel.. or Model 500’s Deep space.

    So I check out a few other artists (the Nintendo tunes are a bit painful for me, but, there’s some gems in there too). And this GOTO80 guy seems pretty cool, and articulate to boot.

    Then came the “no way man !” moment, they mentioned my name. People actually listened to those songs !

    Just wish I had used a better name for the module, “Gonad’s Cracks”, eh.

    There was a magnetic fields music disk with about 12 chip songs I had made on it floating round with some better examples, but that one seems to be lost in the ether.

    Well, I’ve been inspired to write some more chip music now, after hearing some amazing places it’s being taken. Here’s a few :

    But back to the topic, the first time I heard chipmusic was in 1989.

    I was 14 and wanted to go to a copyparty in Newcastle, which my dad took me to, as it was a bit of a long journey from London (bless).

    Think I was with some guys called the Liverpool and District Spreadpoint, who later had something to do with anarchy and scoopex uk, and maybe magnetic fields… It’s a long time ago.

    Anyway, vector bobs were being shown for (one of) the first times, and I had taken some modules with me, and there was this grown-up skinny guy who was showing modules he had made which were like 8k big, and everyone was really impressed.

    That was the first time I heard “chip music”, but no-one used that name yet. At least not in Newcastle.

    A few months later I went to see 4Mat (my dad let me go on my own after he talked with Matt’s mum on the phone ;), and he had taken the technique to a whole new level.

    By 1990 it must have been everywhere because I remember we used to swap disks of tunes at school.

  8. goto80 Says:

    Good to see you here! And welcome back to the chippery – nice songs! Kudos to your dad and 4mat’s mum!

    Gonad’s Cracks is a classic, despite/because of its name. (though, I actually didn’t know what it meant until last year).

    And seem like by 1990 it was quite popular already. Especially in the UK, perhaps? I suppose you don’t know the name of that grown-up skinny guy who made 8k big songs?

    I did find other very tiny songs though, music that would fit in bootblock intros, but they were not very ‘chippy’ but just one very small instrument.

  9. ► Omri Suleiman – Music For a 15 Year Old Me « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] was working with Amiga groups like Anarchy, Magnetic Fields and Scoopex. He was making chipmusic before the term even existed. […]

  10. Wider Screen: Authenticity in Chipmusic | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] Silvast). So I’m not sure that this generation would be the anti-thesis to fakebit. In fact, when the chipmusic term first appeared around 1990 it refered to sample-based Amiga-music that mimicked the timbres of the PSG-soundchips […]

  11. What’s Chipmusic in 2015? | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] Just like in the 1990s, the hardware used to produce the sounds of chipmusic is not the main thing. The pendulum has swung back, and continued even further. Not only is the hardware used not as important, but it seems like the sounds are less important too. Not everywhere in the chipscene, but in some contexts. […]

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