Archive for the ‘noise’ Category


August 14, 2009

In the 1990s there were plenty of record releases with hardcore Amiga music. Artists like Neophyte, Nasenbluten and Patric Catani used Amigas, usually not for MIDI-sequencing, but bringing the crispy internal sound to dancefloors around the world. I have a feeling that the fact that they used Amigas was not important neither for artists nor audience. They just happened to use Amigas for making music – an attitude that sometimes feels absent among chipmusicians today. The Amiga hardcore music of the 90s might be the perfect antithesis to chipmusic that concerns techno-romanticism, videogame-nostalgia and easy dance music.

Maybe Atari Teenage Riot, or their label Digital Hardcore Recordings, brought this kind of low-tech digi-punk attitude to a larger audience, and made it more defined and “relevant”. But what kind of homecomputer hardcore is around today?

The reason for doing this post was reading (at tctd) about two new 7″ vinyls with Amigacore. Raverblood by Dispyz and I by Stagediver – both released at Radio Graffiti last month. They feature longer tracks with fresh arrangements, short grind slammer parts, beeps and melodies, crispy lo-fi samples, and classic Amiga artifacts such as the glitch you get when playing notes at note B3. (too high) Listen to them online, and buy them.


Two other rather recent amigacore releases are Davros vs Unibomber – The Final Amiga 500 Battle (2008) and Phriz-B – Pulsing Quiche Gas (2006). Xylocaine, John Dark, and Christoph de Babalon are other amigacore artists, but I am not sure which releases would fit in the timeline (ie, mainly use internal Amiga sounds). Does anyone know?

Btw, if you live in the Detroit area and like Amiga hardcore, you might want to check this.

Btw2, if you are a bit hesitant about using the term Amigacore, that makes two of us.


Put on Your Goggles

August 10, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to separate glitch aesthetics from the demoscene, here is Linde’s C64-demo Put on Your Goggles! It seems to work like his recently released glitch-tool Vicficken (sending values of the audio oscillators to the graphic banks). But with this little glem you can just sit back and enjoy.

screenshot from CSDb

Interview with SounDemon, the Sound Chip Hacker

July 6, 2009

In November last year I wrote a post about playing music with the graphic (VIC) chip of the C64, aswell as combining 4 channel Amiga MODs with 3 SID-channels. I e-mailed some questions to one of the programmers behind it and I was happy to get a reply from him the other day. : ) SounDemon is what I would call a sound chip hacker, since many of his works are based on exploring undocumented features of the SID-chip and exploit them. These things do not rely on CPU-power to create new sounds, that most music software does. In my opinion this is one of the most hardcore ways of making chip music that is somewhere inbetween hardware and software. For hardcore hardware chip music, I would recommend you to go to Brisbane, Australia right now for EPROM-music. But anyway:

CHIPFLIP > So first just a bit about what you are doing and what you have done in general. Education and stuff.

SOUNDEMON > I’m studying computer science at Abo Akademi in Turku/Finland. At the moment I seem to spend all my time running to choir practices and doing math exercises for school.

CHIPFLIP > How did you get into the SID chip?

SOUNDEMON > I think the first music routine I wrote was for the Dekadence 4kb demo Perkele. BriteLite asked if I could do a tune that was very small, in order to leave room for as many demo effects as possible. The obvious solution to this was to code a custom player. So, I got into writing music routines and by experimenting I somehow managed to invent a few new sound routines.

I must add that I have always liked the idea of programming music. This is the only way to gain full control over the sound. I was inspired by old C64 composers (Galway for example) who had to work this way, before fancy editors were available.

CHIPFLIP > Tell us a bit about your different projects. How did you come up with ‘the new waveform’ in Pico? How did you do it and what does it actually do? Will there be new experiments with the waveform editor?

SOUNDEMON > As with Perkele, we needed a very small tune for Pico (which is also a 4kb demo). I decided to include some metallic drum sounds by using the “testbit trick”. While trying different parameters for the sounds I got some weird pitched sounds. Only after releasing the demo I spent some time analyzing the behaviour of the SID chip to find out how and why the trick works.

The routine works by directing a steady stream of angry bits towards the noise generator of the SID. The result is a confused SID chip playing sounds it’s not supposed to play. For a more technical description see:

It might be possible to create more sophisticated sounds with this method than has been done so far… (hint hint)

CHIPFLIP > I once heard something about a 2 tone filter (“new waveform”) for the Atari Pokey, but can’t seem to find the information back right now. But have you heard about this?

SOUNDEMON > I’m not sure what this is. I believe most 8 bit sound chips (including the SID) use a shift register based approach for generating noise. This explains why it might be possible to get the same kind of sounds on other machines as well.

CHIPFLIP > Could u tell us a bit about your sample shocks from x2008? How is it possible to play 4 channels of 8-bit samples? And ofcourse, how about the Vic audio?

SOUNDEMON > I must first clarify one thing. In our x2008 demo there’s two new
major routines: A “MOD” player capable of mixing four digi channels AND the 8 bit sample playback routine. These are NOT the same routine, but they can of course be combined as we did.

The MOD player was written by The Human Code Machine. MOD players have been written for C64 before. The one by THCM is special because it actually sounds good and allows the screen to be turned on. (How fun is it to have MODs playing if you can’t display anything on the screen?) It’s based on straightforward code that uses cleverly precalculated tables to do the hard work. Somehow THCM managed to fit these tables and a MOD into 64kb of memory. I still suspect he cheated by hiding a memory expansion
unit inside my C64! (I haven’t found it yet)

The 8 bit sample player was written by me. 8 (and even 12 bit) sample playback has been done on C64 before, but this is the first routine that sounds clear and doesn’t use all raster time.

The VIC audio is just a fun trick. It’s absolutely nothing special codewise. It’s a bit like the 9 sprites on the same raster line trick by xbow where the idea is the achievement, not the actual code. That is why I gave the credit for inventing this technique to AMJ. He came up with the idea and after that the code was done in about 10 minutes.

CHIPFLIP > Do you always use your own software when you make C64 music?

SOUNDEMON > I don’t even have my own software. When using my own routines I just use Turbo Assembler to edit the player source and music data. I seldom reuse a player because they are typically coded for a specific tune. This is of course very time consuming so I do it only when it’s necessary. Usually because of tight size or raster time constraints.

CHIPFLIP > Are there other soundchip hackers that you know of?

SOUNDEMON > What exactly is a sound chip hacker? I like the sound of it, though…

CHIPFLIP > What will be your next shock? :)

SOUNDEMON > I will continue coding on network routines for C64… Something
interesting might result.

CHIPFLIP > Could you give us a few examples of 8-bit code, music, and graphics that you think are special?

SOUNDEMON > I liked Royal Arte by Booze Design a lot. I always liked the flow in
Extremes and Follow The Sign 3 by Byterapers. The 6 sprites over FLI routine by Ninja must be the most insane piece of code ever written.

CHIPFLIP > Do you have anything else you would like to add?

SOUNDEMON > I find it funny how this 8 bit sample routine became such a success.
I have always considered samples on C64 quite boring! Writing a sample player didn’t seem so interesting… But once I got an idea on how to implement the routine I wanted to try it. I guess the result was a bit more exciting than I would have expected…

Finally I must add that the 8 bit samples in Vicious SID wouldn’t have been the same without Mixer. He did an excellent job utilizing the routine! He also spent LOTS of time experimenting with the routine.

Handmade Electronic Music: Bending vs Building

April 29, 2009

In 2006, Nicolas Collins‘ released his book Handmade Electronic Music (Google’s pirate copy here). Yesterday he presented the second edition at STEIM in Amsterdam, an institute which has been active in this area for 40 years already. Collins has similar authority on the subject, being a professor of Sound and a very experienced low-level sound art performer.

I haven’t read the book, but if little-scale lists it as an inspiration it is probably a very good read. I went to the presentation expecting to get an insight into this practice, since I think it is interestingly placed inbetween chip music and circuit bending. It is more than just circuit bending because it doesn’t rely on readymade systems (just components). It is like chip music in the sense that all the audio/music is handmade; it doesn’t use large chunks of sampled audio or algorithmic compositional elements (like most other electronic music).

Nic (btw, not Nick) started with two performances: one with a group of people poking a circuit board to make sounds, the other one with a lit candle performing similar sounds. Fire-driven music is nice stuff and with Nic blowing wind on the candle, the sounds would change. So now, in a broad sense, there is chip music made with fire, wind and water. Hope to see more elements!

“Last time I was here I talked so much, so this time I will show examples instead”. Assuming that everybody was there the last time, Nic instead ran the DVD included in the book. It was like a very long Youtube session with 1 minute clips of handmade electronic music. Definitely very interesting, for a while, but it was not what I was hoping for. The clips were more like tech-demos and noise than performances with musical instruments. That statement is of course leaning towards musical conservatism, but sometimes we need that too, eh? : ) I can continue along those lines by saying that most of the devices made very similar sounds. You know, those scratchy and pitchy pulse wave sounds that the Cracklebox at STEIM made already in the 1970s. If you’re not in the mood, it gets pretty tiresome after a while..

But I also think that chipmusic and demoscene practitioners could learn a lot from the conceptual and noisy ways of sound art and circuit bending/”building”. It is funny how circuit bending, chip music, and the demoscene is sometimes presented as related to eachother, eventhough they are so different. Chip music is (too often) about 4/4 happy bleep pop and using default samples of LSDJ. Demoscene music is (too often) about perfectionism and competition. Circuit bending is (too often) about tech-concepts and predictable noise.

What they do share, is a fascination with the possibilities (aka limitations) of hardware that is old or open (enough). In the demoscene, hardware is losing some of its priority to make room for emulators and design/concepts instead of coding brilliance. Chip music seems to get more tech-fundamental at the moment, and as for circuit bending I guess that hardware will keep on playing a vital role (eventhough “software bending” such as glitchNES has appeared). What it ultimately amounts to, is a discussion on what a technological system is and also if/how a computer composer can operate independent from capitalism and culture. (any suggestions? hehe)

I think that “handmade” goes just as much for software as hardware. You often forgot the extent to which some chip music is handmade. At the end of the day, that might be more relevant than the mantra of “commodity subversion” and if so, maybe chipmusic is more similar to circuit “building” than circuit bending. Well. Just continuing the ramblings about how to contextualize and explain chip music so we don’t have to be blamed for being DJs/gamers on stage. We can play as much or as little live as other electronic musicians, damnit. Ciao gringos.

Sequencing Computer Peripherals

April 23, 2009

I just found a version of Bohemian Rhapsody performed by an Atari800XL, 8″ floppy drive, TI 99/4a, 3.5″ floppy drive and four HP ScanJets. It’s apparently the hottest youtube-clip in Canada right now, yip yip! The same author also has Funkytown performed by C64/modem/printer and TI99/4a. Mentioned as his inspiration is James Houston’s Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any) which had a slow start of its Internet career, but has received lots of internet attention by now. It’s James’ final project for design school, so the visual aspect is also well worked through. A very special clip. It’s a ZX Spectrum with scanners, harddrives, and printers that performs a Radiohead-cover. James “placed them in a situation where they’re trying their best to do something that they’re not exactly designed to do, and not quite getting there”.

While many chipmusicians claim to re-purpose technology, sequencing computer peripherals like this doesn’t even involve a sound chip! The first time I came across it was on the Commodore 64, where software would play music with the drive header. There is a youtube example of the 1541 drive playing Bicycle Ride For Two (originally from the first “chipmusic” record Music For Mathematics, 1962). There is also atleast one application to do this: 1541-music (1987), but don’t test it if your diskdrive is dear to you.

Back in the days, computers did not have a DAC (digital-to-analogue converters) which turn bytes into vibrations for loudspeakers. There is a peculiar story from 1966, when Tanzanian visitors to Sweden were treated with a printer playing their national anthem! Supposedly, this was the easiest way to make computer music for these engineers, although there was squarewave music elsewhere in Sweden at the time (where some pretty hardcore arpeggios were eventually made).

At the time, keyboards and screens were not common place either. Even in 1975 the Altair 8800 was just a box with switches and lights. The American hobbyist Erik Klein bought this computer as a kit and “30 hours later it was running with only one bug in the memory!” He happened to notice that the Altair was interfering with the nearby AM-radio, and he figured out how to control the tones and play his own music – “with nary a glitch“. Possibly this is the first piece of computer music made outside academia/art/videogames. But, the sounds are not digital and an AM-radio is not really a computer peripheral anyway.

On another (ir)relevant note, peripherals have been re-purposed in the C64 demoscene. If you run out of memory or CPU-power on your Commodore 64, you can use the 2 KB RAM and 6502 CPU inside the 1541. One example is the demo Deus Ex Machina (C64 2000) by Crest. Jeff’s song “Crossbow” apparently plays from the diskdrive.

So, the lesson to learn is that computer peripherals can be great tourist attractions and can probably be used for even more bizarre things. I’ll finish off this post with some more examples of music with peripherals.


  • Paul Slocum and his dot matrix synth, used for exhibitions and the excellent music project Tree Wave.
  • Sue Harding’s Dot Matrix music. youtube. Does not involve any programming, but rather trial and error style by printing images and see how they sound. Notice the Amigas!
  • Little-scale has a number of printer projects and an arduino tutorial aswell.
  • Half Arsed Printar Shreddage at youtube. Feeding samples into a dot matrix printer head.
  • Gijs Gieskes’ Image Scanning Sequencer
  • Amiga-drive performing El Condor Pasa (stepmotor) youtube
  • Amiga-drive performing a melody (“spinmotor”) youtube
  • Amiga-drive playing a sample. youtube


  • Tape Composer (C64 2009) Compose music for the Datasette (the “tape deck”). It plays back either through the motor, or through audio tape decks (the music you make is saved as data that sounds like your music, uh when you play it as audio) more info here. When I tried it I didn’t get much sound out of my datasette.
  • Tap Music Composer (ZX Spectrum 2007) I forgot how this works, but the results sound like data-cassettes in the right tones.

Noise Music

March 2, 2009

Noise is not as boring as you think. Mathematically speaking, noise is maximum content. It is everything at once, all frequencies in random order. When other shapes have some kind of continuity to fall back on, noise goes full out to never return. It is random and lacks order,which does not mean that everything can happen. White noise always sounds and looks like noise, it doesn’t just randomize itself into an opera. That is why noise music is fascinating to me, because it explores randomness in a social sense. For me, ideal noise music keeps transforming and contrasting and makes me feel displaced, confused. Noisy soundscapes in all honour and cut-up frenetics yeah yeah, but making good noise music is something far more difficult. I am not sure I ever experienced something like that from a recorded piece of music.

8-bit noise music is not very common, which means that good 8-bit noise music doesn’t really have best of compilations (yet!). It is maybe a bit like someone over at 8BC said about breakcore: the certain particularities with a genre that make it so good, are quite tricky to reproduce with an old soundchip and is therefore often completely lost. Indeed, good 8-bit breakcore is also quite rare (nevertheless something we will get back to in that thing called future). Here are a few examples of 8-bit noise music that I appreciate, and if you have more suggestions then feel free to leavy a harsh and random comment with maximum content. I must have left out a lot of gems, right?

Fjyssel is a Dane that uses the C64 data cassettes as audio material. He cuts it up, adds effects and other sounds.

Apostleship of Noise – a Swedish duo that use two Amiga500’s and other things, including about 10 effect pedals. The results are not very much like chip music at all.

Neurobit – Dutch one-man noise/ambient-band. “Producing soundscapes, drones, Pulses and noises using 4bit, 8bit, & LCD console sounds based on the idea of a live situation.”

Herr Galatran: Show 1×04 for Radio ill. (MP3 2008) Live noise improvisation on Atari 130XE in Berlin.

Narwhalz of Sound: American noise, probably irritating for some. Visit  dotcomandshit and myspace.

More occassional noise

Overthruster: Legendary American chaos musician, usually more rhythmical than drone-noisy.

Environmental Sound Collapse: Occasional noise from this American, usually harsh and dark.

Shame On Me

But a bit of self-promotion has to slip by here. I’ve done a few noise experiments, but this audiovisual piece is very overlooked. The visuals are made by Rosa Menkman (who also does research on glitch, noise, etc). I give you Eastern Fire Swim. (audio is an unedited C64-jam)

All Possible Digital Music By Definition

February 13, 2009

Discovered in 1927 by David Champernowne and Alan Turing, the CC is known to contain all possible digital data and is obviously prior art to all possible digital sounds. Which means, no new digital sound was ever invented nor recorded nor ever will be. […] I think most people would agree that this demonstration does not play any good music in this video, but nonetheless it is a matter of fact that the process in progress does generate all possible digital music by definition.” (video)

I am guessing there is a typo somewhere up there, but I hope not. That statement is great. So, VironCybernet just uploaded loads of new videos with interesting generative works, technesthetics, fractal music, digital hardware audio stuff (aka software), speechsynthesis, and so on. I don’t know much about what technology he uses (much of it seems to involve the Propeller microcontroller), but the looks and sound go straight into my telnet heart!

Talk at HAIP – Hack Act Interact Progress

November 23, 2008

A while ago I went to Ljubljana in Slovenia, for the HAIP Festival. It is a festival about open hard- and software, music and art. There were lectures, performances, exhibitions, and a special club night with chip music. The boys made the music (Binärpilot, me, and Nova deViator) and the girls made the visuals (Rosa Menkman, Raquel Meyers, Delta Nu, and Mina Fina). There were some interesting lectures and performances, for example Rosa’s glitch talk (which I missed), Piratebay and Piratbyrån’s S23X (which I missed), Monochrom‘s sculpture mobs, and Frey and Christine Sugrue’s A Cable Plays (which I missed). Note to self: things are more interesting if you miss them.

Well, I had a talk about 8-bit demoscene and chip music in relation to open source, hacking, and remixing. (world record in buzz words?) Instead of using the almighty Powerpoint, I used a ‘machine code monitor’ which is a textual representation of the 64 kilobyte of the C64 – from 0 to 65535 (or in hex number: 0 to FFFF). So I was scrolling through the memory to show the main points of my presentation. I’ll just give you a rough idea of what I talked about: the illegal heritage (cracking), aesthetics of demos (craftmanship not art, competitive not conceptual, trial and error), geography & sociology (mainly middle-class boys in OECD-countries, except Japan), bounded culture (internal community not reaching out, not getting attention), and the importance of originality (distribution forms good for ‘remixing’, but norms of originality prevailed).

After this somewhat subjective explanation of the multifacetted demoscene culture, I focused more on music. The sample-based music format MOD was used extensively on the Amiga in the 1990s. It was open source by default – distributing your music (in a demo, game, or independently) meant sharing your ‘source’ (inclduing sasmples). MOD composers would sample sounds from records, movies, etc, and claim ownership of them. Using someone else’s samples was more or less ‘lame’. Everything indicates that the term chipmusic/chiptune was first used in the Amiga demoscene around 1990 to describe bleepy MOD music (based on tiny samples). Fast forward to 2003, and enter ‘8-bit punk’: gameboys, reverse engineering, anti-commercialism. Demosceners are sceptic, seeing it as bad craftmanship, lack of novelty, and a sort of invasion to their bounded culture which had born and raised chip music. Then I explained what I mean with medium & form to finally return to copyright and remixing again. The demoscene grew out of cracking, and has similar a similar way of disrespecting ‘external’ copyright but staying true to ‘internal’ copyright-norms. When Timbaland sampled a whole song from the demoscene, the ‘nerd army’ of the demoscene probably contributed a lot to the media hype that followed. Reality is catching up with the demoscene, and reality needs to watch out.


On the left is me and my Superpowerpoint, and on the right is the glitch monument from outer hell, made by Autoboy and me. Here it is in Copenhagen last spring at re:new. It was also exhibited at Mikrogalleriet and now I took it to Slovenia! It is called HT Gold and is 1) a C64-game for two players that is a lot of fun, and has no bugs 2) a result of complex disassembly and analysis, to intentionally change specific details like steering, physics, graphics, and sound of the game Hat Trick, 3) machinima, glitch art, datatrash, detournemant, and a modulation from game to play since the scoring board has been glitched. Theory, images, and video found here. The video looks blurry compared to the original though. Does anybody have a possibility to record video in 50 progressive frames per second? That’s apparently what it takes to be able to record HT Gold. It’s too fast for emulators, recorders, codecs, and other silly inventions, hehe.

Italo Disco Noise Digi Screen-music

November 12, 2008

That headline almost attracts anybody, right? :) A few weeks ago the Dutch C64-party X’2008 took place and saw some very technically impressive releases. The winning demo by Booze Design is the new favourite demo of the C64-demoscene, because it is a 15 minute masturbation in coder brilliance. (part1@youtube) Also, the music possibilities of the C64 has taken a big leap forward. Fanta released a song with 4 channels of 8-bit samples and 2 channels of ‘traditional’ synthetic channels. (mp3) Normally the C64 only plays 3 channels of synthetic sounds. The code magicians behind it is Soundemon and The Human Code Machine (nice name!), who also released a demo called Vicious Sid. This one also plays Amiga MOD-music, but there is a part where the music is made by the graphic chip, VIC! The screen shows lines that produce a sound of Soundemon singing with his choir. (mp3) The funny thing is that all these revolutionary music techniques are used to play italo disco-ish music. I personally like it a lot, but there is something quite funny about coding something ultracomplex to play italo disco. :) I will return to these new techniques in a future post.

For now, I would like to contrast these coder porn with some noise porn aswell. Yesterday there was a very refreshing C64-demo released by the Australian coder/musician/graphician A Life in Hell: Fuck The Scene. In many ways it breaks with the flows of the demoscene since it has chunky graphics and dirty glitches. It does include some pretty complex code that appealed to many people, but I like trash style! So noisy and great. While we’re at it, here are 3 other tips for demoscene stuff that is noisy rather than flowing. (any tips is much appreciated)

PWP – Robotic Liberation (Vic20 2006) youtube
Booze Design – Industrial Breakdown (C64 2003) exe
Satori – Trashtank (PC 2002?) exe/mpg

…and just to have something easily clickable in all this nerdery, I embed PWP’s Vic20-demo Robotic Warrior from 2003.

Sega Mega Drive Slack-Hack

February 1, 2008

Now this is a great idea for lazy chipnoise fanatics! By pulling out the game cartridge while some music is playing and quickly inserting another cartridge – you get new music! Made by the people at dramacore and sickmode. Download their album

Sega Death – 16 bits from hell (22mb)

“the album is weird but thats what happens.
nothing was sequenced and no fx were used.
just some cutting out of the silence and crap.”

– ian @ dramacore