Archive for the ‘history’ Category

What Was Mainstream Chip in 2009?

November 28, 2012

I’m going through old post drafts for this little bloggie-blogg, and I’ve deleted about 20 of them so far. They were too good for this world.

But I came across a post-that-never-happened about mainstream chipmusic. As an initial research I was lurking around, to see which artists were the most popular. At the time those stats were pretty boring and pointless, but today they seem more interesting. Who remember anything about 2009 today?

As you can see the selection is pretty narrow, and there’s tons of important artists missing obviously. But these were the ones I checked before I found better things to do:

  • Slagsmålsklubben (Sweden) 3,500,000
  • Sabrepulse (UK) 1,400,000
  • She (Sweden) 900,000
  • Bondage Fairies (Sweden) 850,000
  • Dubmood (Sweden/France) 750,000
  • YMCK (Japan) 700,000
  • Anamanaguchi (USA) 550,000
  • Nullsleep (USA) 450,000
  • Random (Sweden) 400,000
  • Bitshifter (USA) 350,000
  • Goto80 (Sweden) 200,000

There were a few popular artist at the time that I didn’t include, since they werent’s popoular at at all, despite big popularity elsewhere. DJ Scotch Egg, Meneo and Patric Catani were three of them.

Also, I guess there were bots to improve the, right? Iirc, some people (on this list) used those kinds of bots for MySpace.

Why Videotex is Better Than the Web

June 14, 2012

Videotex was one of the precursors to the web, invented in the early 1970’s. It’s a two-way communication standard that uses a standard television set and a modem, and was used for both commerce, leisure and art.

Viewdata is one form of videotex. In the USA it was mostly known as Viewtron, and reached some 15,000 users before it was cancelled. It was unsuccesful since most consumers simply do not have a need nor a desire to access vast computerized data-bases of general information (A. Michael Noll, 1985). But in France, there was apparently a need for exactly that. Minitel still had 10 million connections every month when it was shut down in 2009. (one reason is that the French government gave away plenty of terminals for free)

Videotex is slow and lacks graphical details. But on the other hand – it’s  easy and direct. You plug it in, and you’re set to go. Wi-fi. In the comfort of your TV-couch, instead of your computer work chair. CRT-lifestyle! No annoying operating system, no maze of protocols that control your interaction.

It’s actually quite easy to get sucked into the magic of Videotex advertising. There’s something very appealing with it. No more overload! No www-addiction! Oddly enough, it was actually markated like this already in 1983 – described as an alternative to information overload. Check out this video, for example.

My own fascination might come from growing up in Northern Europe, where videotex’s sibling teletext has always been quite popular. In fact, it is really popular. About 25% of Sweden’s total population checks out teletext on TV – every day. In Denmark it’s almost half! And it’s just not just on TV. There are teletext apps for smartphones that are some of the most popular ones around here. Last year, the most popular iPad app was public service teletext. Yeah!

Scandinavia is extremely into both internet and news. So these are informed choices, or atleast not a choice made from a lack of options. But is teletext just something that old people are into? Or is teletext used by young people too, as an alternative to the spam freedom of the web?

It’s likely an old tradition in decline. But at the same time, I can definitely see a demand for a cheap, reliable, ad-free service with Twitter-like shortness in the future too. And if you want to go a bit more luxurious with a two-way communication, videotex is your lady!

Also, it’s worth mentioning that teletext and videotex doesn’t have to use text graphics and a low amount of colours. Take for example the amazing Telidon, developed in Canada around 1980. It is an alphageometric standard that works with changeable fonts and vector graphics instead. Telidon looks incredibly good in my eyes. It’s a shame that the UK won the standardization war, otherwise teletext might’ve been even more popular today.

Or maybe the text graphics are actually part of the winning concept. More reliable; more serious. That might be. But just look at these Telidon wonders! (and if you want more, check out

Al Warka and the Iraqi Home Computer Scene

May 1, 2012

The history of home computer hacking seems to be very centered around Europe, US and Australia. But it’s important to not forget other regions. I’ve previously written about C64 cracking in Argentina, but there’s lots more to research about e.g Asia, Africa and the Middle East. After reading this blogpost I got in touch with Salwan Asaad, who told me more about the early days of home computing in Basrah, Iraq. As it turns out, it was similar to what I grew up with: platform wars, competitions, floppy swapping and meetings. Salwan:

Annual school competition on a local and national level in students developed demos [..] Gaming circles: I met many enthusiasts back then at the arcades, we used to gather up and go to arcades to play, talk, and exchange floppies. The last such gathering took place around 2001

While other arabic countries settled for the MSX-computers, which Salwaan refers to as “the enemy”, Iraq developed a unique series of computers called Al-Warkaa (or Al-Warka), named after an ancient babylonian city in Iraq. There were two popular models, which were both based on Japanese home computers. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any photos of them but Salwan told me that it looked like the NEC-ones, but in white instead of black. (photo from

The Al-Warkaa PC-6002 was the Iraqi version of the Japanese NEC PC-6001 Mk2 SR. Soundwise, it used the the common AY-soundchip but I found a similar model that had a built-in speech synthesis (yeah!). It was probably the first home computer that could sing (my YouTube-playlist).

The Al-Warkaa, unfortunately, didn’t have this feature. Instead, it offered an extra soundchip (probably FM, judging from what Salwan says) with 3 voices. It had 12 preset sounds and also the ability to make custom sounds. A home computer with both FM and PSG built in! It seems that the NEC also was able to combine FM and PSG, just look at this great demo!

The Al-Warkaa PC-6002 had seven different BASIC-versions built in. One of them (mode 7) was the Arabic text mode – a complete arabic text editor with abilities like searching, replacing, printing, and could even format floppies, according to Salwaan.

Unfortunately, Salwan doesn’t know of any text art on the Al Warkaa. I haven’t seen much arabic text-mode stuff at all, actually (if you know of any, please get in touch). To get an idea of the possibilities though, here’s a chart showing how the characters looked in the MSX-computers (copied from msxblue).

The platform battle in Iraq was between MSX and Al Warka. Atari also released arabic computers (and ROM-upgrades for hebrew), like the rare Najm 65XE from which the first picture is from. The most popular MSX-version in Arabia was the MSX 170 which was called Al-Sakhr (“the rock”). While MSX was popular in many different countries, the Al Warkaa was mostly found in Iraq. MSX-users had professional Arabic manuals at hand, but the Warkaa’ers relied on photo-copied English manuals that were mostly focused on BASIC. Salwaan writes:

That’s kinda how Warka guys ended up losing in most head-to-head competitions to MSX guys, the best we can do is draw stuff using BASIC commands and may be binary-load an image from disk to accelerate displaying bitmaps a little. They were doing hardware-sprites and full-motion graphics…

If anyone reading has more knowledge about arabic demos or text-mode things, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail info at goto80 dot com. Finally, a big thanks to Salwan Asaad for sharing this!

What happened in 2006?

March 16, 2012

Time for some statistic disco! Four years ago I thought that the term chipmusic was doomed, because chiptune was so popular. Let’s have a look if things have changed.

This graph from Google Insights shows the increase in the amount of searches for chipmusic. The increase is probably caused by the launch of (in early 2010, right?). I believe that Blip Festival switched from chiptune to chipmusic around the same time, but I could be wrong. So, it seems like chipmusic is back! Right?

Wrong! You see that little blue line at the bottom? That’s chipmusic. Now look at the red line at the top, flying lying a killer hawk in the skies. That’s chiptune. Well, atleast it stopped its increase during 2011. Micromusic (in orange) is now about as popular as the term chipmusic. “Chip music” (in green) shows a very similar development to micromusic.

So why is there such a huge difference between the tune and the music? Since Insights doesn’t go further back than 2004, it’s hard to say. We can’t see how the McLaren bonanza affected things, for example. (If anyone knows how to search -2004, let me know). But it’s clear that in 2005 the terms were rather equal. They were battling it out. But chiptune won. In 2006-2007 it was taking off. So what happened back then?

The first Blip Festival happened at the end of the year. That probably made chipmusic a lot more popular in the US. And once something is big in the US it probably gets big elsewhere too, right? It’s the freedom virus! ^__^ But what else happened that could have caused this? Several artists got attention outside of the scene. David Sugar, Bodenständig 2000, Nullsleep & Bitshifter with their big tour, Paza and those 8 bit rappers (via Beck), DJ Scotch Egg. Hopefully I made some impression aswell – I made three gigs and one release every month in 2007 :). But perhaps it was the dawn of 8bitcollective (as that made the difference? Any ideas?

Btw – USA is not the country where chiptune is the most popular search term. It’s not a European country either. And it’s neither Japan nor China. Not Australia either. And it’s not somewhere in South America. It’s Indonesia!

For those of you who don’t know, Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world. And the people who Google in Indonesia, they like chiptune twice as much compared to Norway (which comes in second). To put it in a weird way. I remember when this guy called Jar-Wo contacted me in 2006/2007. At that time there wasn’t much going on, but he was one of the people who got it started. Big up, Jar-Wo! (and rest in peace)

Update March 17: As Optiroc pointed out in the comments, it’s also interesting to see how “keygen music” relates to these.  It has quite steady (relative) amount of Google searches. For the past years it’s been 4 times as popular as chipmusic/chip music/micromusic – and 4 times less popular than chiptune:

Amiga in the UK-charts: Dex & Jonesey

January 13, 2012

In the 1990’s you could use chipmusic tools to make dance music hits. It was r rare to hear 8-bit songs in public before that. With a few exceptions, records with 8-bit music appeared in the 90’s and were made on the Amiga (see the timeline).

The British duo Dex & Jonesey have probably been involved with more chart hits with the Amiga than anyone else. They worked with 15 UK chart hits between 1996 and 2001, even with mainstream folks like Phil Collins and Lionel Richie. Imagine feeding some phresh Phil Collins vocals into OctaMED, eyh!

They mainly worked with more dancefloor oriented artists though. Their remixes of Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness apparently sold about half a million copies (including their radio edit). Dex & Jonesey used the Amiga for Hardfloor, Usura, Todd Terry and about 40 other releases (check the discography, up until Strings of Justice).

Back in the 1990’s, music retromania was more about synthesizers than computers. It wasn’t like today, when you get bonus points for any 8-bit reference. I mail-talked with Jonesey to get some more information.

– The music biz found out soon enough after attending the studio that we were literally running a Phil Collins record from 1000 pounds worth of studio and out doing David Morales and Arman van Helden. It was bizarre looking back! We did some huge magazine interviews which was really fun. Yet the music industry hated the fact we were not Apple Mac focused and produced so many hit records from a ‘poor man’s’ computer. There was a lot of negativity that we had to fight, but content as always was king and we made it through the storm!

Dex & Jonesey started with Amiga 500 and Protracker, but quickly moved on to using two Amiga 1200 running OctaMED, complemented by a keyboard. – The 44khz quality of DAT was good enough to master from. We had literally a full studio although everything had to be recorded live to DAT including live keyboards which I played. It was daunting but at the same time great fun, it was like being on tour and playing in a live band.

Dex & Jonesey had a competetive edge in two ways. They had a huge library of sounds that they’d sampled from extended mixes amongst other things (all stored on floppies, of course). Secondly, the sound of the Amiga made it stand out from the others. – The sounds were crunchy and tough, not dull and bland, thus allowed my music to have an advantage that others could not replicate. I even had a famous product downgrade to an 8 bit to get the ‘sound’ but it was more than technology that drove the output/results.

In 1999 the duo split up, but Jonesey continued to use the Amiga for hits like Independence. He stuck with the Amigas for another two years, but then switched to Logic on Mac. – When finance got much better I bailed out on the Amigas as technology had caught up and the machines had broken down. I had bought around 15 of them and grown tired of the failures. I went to Apple Mac and still have the leading 8 core system that runs Logic Pro. 

What OctaMED provided compared to the new setup, was a fast work pace. – The part I missed about the Amigas the most was the quickness of operations. It was so user friendly where Macs are always so complex!

Such ‘immersive’ qualities of trackers are often forgotten. Once you know them, they are really quick to work with. A lot of the people I interviewed for my thesis mentioned it, and it was recently empirically researched by Nash & Blackwell of the Rainbow Research Group (pdf). But trackers are not made for handling long chunks of audio. If you’re a remixer and use the original audio, even a modern tracker like Renoise is a bit painful. So respect to Dex & Jonesey for keeping it up for so long!

1.000.000 soundchips you never heard about

November 7, 2011

Except for computers and consoles, there are many other machines with real or mimicked soundchips inside. The recent DCM8 drum machine and the amazing Droid3 are examples of the latter, while Sidstation and POKEY.synth contain actual soundchips. But these are all sort of retrospective projects from the past decade or so. But what kind of soundchip-machines was around in the 80’s?

The most obvious example is the YM-soundchips. It’s a confusing field but, basically, Yamaha made these chips for both consoles, computers, keyboards and synthesizers. They mostly used FM-synthesis, which was a big part of the sound of 1980’s (and early 90’s bedroom electronica like µ-ziq). Yamaha synthesizers like DX-21, DX-100 and FB-01 used soundchips that a few years later were found in consumer products like X68000, some MSX-models and plenty of keyboards (ABA-88 lol). Later on, similar chips were also found in soundcards and mobile phones. *

The Remco Electronic Sound FX machine from 1979 was quite the noise maker. It was built on the SN76477-chip, which was popular for arcade games like Space Invaders but also used in ABC80 and Gakken EX. There are a few semi-recent DIY-projects, but I haven’t been able to find old consumer products with this chip. Recently, Panzer Party released a vinyl composed only with the Remco machine though.

It’s surprising that so few soundchips were used for both games and instruments. They continue to be two quite different fields. One consequence of that is that computer/console-based chipmusic was always separated from those who used soundchip-keyboards. For example, the techno-centrics of chipmusic (‘a soundchip is an instrument/medium’) wouldn’t categorize a DX-21 song as chipmusic.

Another consequence is an apparent gap in soundchip research. Many soundchips were never used for computer/game stuff and are (therefore?) not so well documented. Chips like M114SCEM3394 or MC-3 2191 were found in keyboards, arcade games, toys and synthesizers. Some chips were found in speech devices, domestic robots, mobile phones and other thingies. Afaik, there is no thorough lists of such chips. There might not be 1.000.000, but who knows?

Well, there is Cyberyogi of course. He has an impressive collection of old keyboards that he also circuit bends (and makes squarewave music, not chipmusic). Describing the sounds, he often references POKEY (Simba – My MusicWorld, Hing Hon) and SID (Letron, PSS-100) but the hardware inside was either analogue or had obscure chips. There are probably people similar to him around the web, right?

(As some kind of consolation cross-over between synthesizers & computers, check out the HxC floppy disk emulator)

* I haven’t listened a lot to FM-music but to me it’s striking how different these chips were used by pop music producers and game composers. Virt argues that since FM-synthesis was difficult to grasp and had a crappy interface, most pop producers settled with using the preset sounds. (Reminds me a bit of how the TB-303 suffered from bad manuals and interface aswell.) Game composers though, were making far more complex things – sonically and musically. Was that because they were usually Japanese, and FM was very popular there, and they are better at enjoying unpredictable machines?

Hidden Data Satan In Audio

September 13, 2011

Via the excellent Prosthetic Knowledge, we learn that 1983 was the first year for real-time “music videos” on a home computer. Chris Sievey’s 7″ single Camouflage had 3 pieces of software on the backside. You recorded this to cassette and ran it with a ZX81. One of them was a text art piece that showed lyrics and graphics in sync with the music, played on vinyl. Quite a nice piece of work, especially considering that he made it all himself in BASIC. Pete Shelley, who made a similar thing later that year with XL1, had assembler geeks to help him out (read their story).

In the comments to Soundhog’s original post, other attempts are mentioned: New Order, Kraftwark and Dire Straits. Here you can also read about Shakin’ Stevens, Inner City Unit, Thompson Twins’ ZX Spectrum text adventure, The Stranglers and below you can see Urusei Yatsura’s Spectrum-message from their album. An important precursor was Isao Tomita’s Altair 8800-experiment in 1978 with Bermuda Triangle. (Maximum respect to anyone who’ll get that running!)

Image taken from

There were other odd ways to distribute data at the time. Around 1980 Mel Coucher (who did plenty of acid-ish things) made a series of AM- and FM-broadcasts with software. Several radio stations broadcasted software like that later on. Around the same time there were experiments with telesoftware – data broadcasted through the teletext band and fed into your computer via a teletext interface. Information Society put a 300 bps modem signal on their album, which formed a message that you can read at

Meanwhile the bourgeoning demoscene was mostly about crackintro aesthetics. There were probably musicvideo-like productions around elsewhere though. Commodore’s Seasons Greetings (C64 1983) is a charming text mode BASIC demo, synched to music. A few years later Jeff Minter made things like Psychedelia, and there were probably things around at Compunet aswell.

On the other hand, some musicians also got more involved with data. On the Amiga you could hear Coldcut. Nation 12 and Bomb the Bass collaborated with Bitmap Brothers for some impressive hits like Xenon and Gods. KLF’s producers made some sort of promo-track for Lemmings 2 aswell. And long before that there was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells as a C64 “demo”.

Time to get out of the MP3-box!


Chipmusic Festival, 1990

August 31, 2011

“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).

Music from the Electron Brain

May 30, 2011

Squarewaves, noises from line printers, fans, rectifiers and drum memories, and of course – Mozart-covers. A typical situation for the early days of digital music. Here’s a vinyl release with all that, which I heard about the other day from Coma at Modland. It was probably released in 1970, and documents a few years of music making with the FACIT EDB 3 and the DATASAAB D 21 in Sweden. These were early works in the Swedish computer industry (since 1953) and it seems that it was not primarily used for military purposes, like elsewhere.

Just like Music From Mathematics (1961), this record combines abstract sound experiments with more poppy songs. Like the first computer music, there’s also covers of famous songs. It’s interesting that the sounds of the machines are included on the record. They are typically forgotten when it comes to documenting computers. But here you can hear all the noises, just like in the modern renaissance of computer peripherals music (oh yeah) and some of Pixelh8’s works. (By the way,  it seems that printer music was made in Sweden already in 1966, to impress some exchange students from Tanzania.)

One of the songs is also featured in another LP from 1978 (which includes pioneering arpeggio works from 1970). The author of that album told me that he heard computer music in Sweden already in 1959 (while Peter Samson made 1-bit Bach stuff).

A great feature with the record is the voice-over that sounds like an unreal office man from the 1950s. “The square waves come straight from the electron brain inside the computer”. Listen for yourself here: side A and side B.  Zeela recorded the vinyl from loudspeaker to microphone to reel tape to computer, so the quality is even better than the original!

UPDATE. A few related things:

  • Zeela’s photos of the record.
  • Jan W. Morthenson’s song Neutron Star from 1968 was made with the Datasaab D21, which apparently annoyed the EMS-studio. Available for illegal pirate megadownload here. Clicks n cuts 30 years too early.
  • A Danish release with Göran Sundqvist’s music, claiming it was made with an EDB computer (while in fact it was the D 21).

The First Recording of Chipmusic, or What?

May 9, 2011


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..


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