Archive for the ‘sampling’ Category

Celebrating ST-01 and ST-02

February 13, 2017


1987 was a good year for amateur music makers. The E-mu SP-1200 sampler came out and was a crucial element in the golden age of hip-hop, because of its reasonable price, decent interface and the characteristic crispy 12-bit/26.04kHz audio quality.

In Europe, a different technology spawned a sample-based revolution in music: The Ultimate Soundtracker for the Amiga. Thousands of kids started to make music using the sounds from the two floppy disks that came with the program: ST-01 and ST-02. They were packed with samples from synthesizers like Roland D50 and Yamaha DX21, and were so heavily used that they became “the sound of the Amiga” for several years.


Soundtracker was later hacked and modified to be less buggy and more user-friendly, most noteably by Mahoney & Kaktus’ Noisetracker in 1989. The tracker standard was set free, and spawned a sort of remix culture where open source mod-files were spread around the world for free. This was a thriving movement through the 1990’s and beyond, leaking into electronic genres such as gabber/breakcore, IDM, UK hardcore/drum n’ bass, and so on.

Meanwhile hip-hop had a different development since it relied on record labels to release music. It was vulnerable to copyright mongers and money makers who crippled the use of samples, and today you need serious money to sample famous recordings. The “tracker scenes” never had problems like that since it used its own distribution channels, and was never as $-relevant as hip-hop. Pretty much everything was free.


ST-FM is a celebration of this culture, and the original sounds of the ST-01 and ST-02. I invited old legends and fresh talents to make new songs based (to some extent) on the original ST-sounds. It comes as an online music disk (“the computer equivalent of an album“) and as a cassette available through Bandcamp.

ST-FM includes early pioneers (4mat, TDK, Enzo Cage, Omri Suleiman) and younger talents (Linde, Firedrill, Svetlana), modern performers and sceners (Vim, Tero, Ingemar, Zabutom, Qwan, me), and two italo disco Amiga heroes (Dr. Vector, Balboa).

It’s released on protoDATA, a new sublabel to Data Airlines, run by me and Dubmood. You can expect more juicy releases in the future, be sure of that.

Can’t get enough of the sounds of ST-01 and ST-02?

Here’s some weird suggestions:

Listen to songs by Karsten Obarski, who made The Ultimate Soundtracker and ST-01 and ST-02.

Soundtracker-songs at Modland (not necessarily using ST-01 and ST-02)

Download wav-versions of the samples at (but do read the comment first) or use Chipslapper or Chipsounds in a modern DAW.

Mazemod – the online Amiga radio with a careful selection that includes some ST-smelling tracks.

Some 90’s eurodisco reminds me of early tracker aesthetics, like Getaway by Maxx.

The soundtrack to Liquid Sky was made with the Fairlight CMI, and sometimes sound like dorky Soundtracker experiments.

I once managed to get some ST-sounds into an indie movie soundtrack. Check the end credits in ANGRY.

This Atari ST-game with MIDI weirdly has some ST-vibes.

Why Chipmusic Is Not Retro

February 22, 2012

Here are seven points about why chipmusic is not retro. These ideas apply mostly for chipmusic as medium.

1. Unrecorded audio. Even if music can be nicely generative like Icarus (who I remixed once, btw) or performed live, it’s usually distributed as recordings. That has rubbed off on chipmusic, but there are hundreds of thousands of chiptunes that are performative: Each execution is unique. Chiptunes are to music what theatre is to movies; a different ontology. Especially with dodgy chips like the SID. And this is futuristic, simply because there’s no other large scale music like this.

2. Media materialistic music. There are several problems with a technical definition of chipmusic (= anything from a soundchip is chipmusic). But perhaps it will be more common; perhaps the aesthetic crisis in pop culture (retromania) will be followed by a renewed interest in tools and instruments. From language to object, if you will. You know, bye-bye to genius authors and sonic genres – hello to software virtuosity, digital materialism and folklore, artifacts, and live performance.

3. Audiovisualism. Music and visuals are interlinked. PAL/NTSC connects them technically (the available tempos are normally extracted from the framerate) and the low resolution connects them aesthetically. It seems obvious to me that music and visuals will grow stronger connections in the future, and chipmusic seems to have pioneered that.

4. Remixability. Chipmusic was concerned with remixing music already in 19511961 and 1970. But during the 80’s and 90’s the sampling, ripping and reverse-engineering of music spawned a unique music remix culture in the demoscene. It could thrive outside of law and economics, since the scene had their own network infrastructure (BBSs, swapping, etc). And the mod-format for music was (and still is) superior to MP3/etc for a LEGO-style remix culture like Manovich writes about here. No copyright, no creative commons, no laws, no money — just good data and angry teenagers making up their own rules. Definitely futuristic.

5. Originality. It is made from scratch, manually. It’s not pomo remixism. Read more about that here.

6. Archive fever. The chipmusic archives that exist are meticulous works by enthusiasts. They are not threatened by copyright claims, and can usually offer almost everything. The music is also very searchable, since it’s not stored as recordings. For example, you can make powerful search engines to search for specific notes and instructions, like the SID theme finder. Definitely better than the centralized ultra-corporate options of today.

7. Unused potentials. There’s still so much to be done! Where’s all the interactive music players, generative visuals, auto DJ:ing, database explorers, etc? Syphus’ ChipDiscoDJ is only the beginning! If anyone is interested in getting involved with coding for such projects, let me know.

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!

Originality is Back!

December 19, 2011

Talking about originality is asking for trouble. So not many people talk do anymore, atleast from where I’m standing. It’s just not a very relevant topic in a world where “everything is a remix“. In remix culture everyone (and everything?) is a DJ that is always inspired by others in various ways. Yeah, okay. Sure. But…

Still, I don’t value all music the same way. Consider the difference between a DJ who plays other people’s music, and someone who improvises with her own compositions using home-made software. It’s not that it’s more impressive, or better, or more complicated – but there is some kind of difference, right?

It’s not about the performance: a DJ is just as likely as a composer to use Ableton with 100000 clips. It’s not about the composition, because even if you don’t sample you’re probably stealing subconsciously anyway!! It’s impossible to find an origin to the composition.

Most importantly though, is that originality is not about “creativity”. What I’d like to propose here, is that it’s about the ontology: what is the song actually made of? I got this idea from Raquel, and thought I’d think aloud about it.

For example, if you take yer average electronic music release, it likely uses plenty of samples, effects and instruments that someone else made. It’s not super-difficult to copy the song if you find the source. For example, look at how Jim Pavloff rebuilds Smack My Bitch Up from scratch. The value in this bitch-song comes from the idea, not the labour.

Yeah, I said labour. By using music tools with a bit more friction you can move away from presets, towards manualism. Instead of tweekin’ sum knobz, you have to spend an hour to write a list of numbers instead. There are no instruments or samples to load, no automatic sliders or fancy algorithms to produce automatic variations. In the ideal manualist case there’s absolutely nothing but your hands.

Chipmusic is not 100% original – nothing is. But it does get pretty close sometimes. Most chipmusic software does not use samples. A lot of them don’t even let you save an instrument that you’ve made. Sure, you get some basic timbres and effects, and an interface with plenty of character. If u’re lucky there’s even some copy-paste functions. But then it’s up to you.

Por examplo – when lft makes Bach-music in C64 assembly, they are original works event if he didn’t compose them first. They are original, because he typed them by hand, from scratch. The list of common denominators is short: assembly, C64 and keyboard.

In Exedub from 2SLEEP1 you can see me composing the song live, starting with nothing but an empty music program. This seems to go well with this idea of originality. But the song is a recording. It doesn’t exist as an executable (a bit like with live coding) but I’m not sure if that’s important or not. Indeed, it does change the ontology of the music.

What is important is that purist chipmusic – provided in non-recorded file formats – is original by default. The ontology of chipmusic is quite unique. I’d say that it’s the only digital music genre in the world. All the others are just platform-independent recordings. I doubt that there’s any other genre that has 10,000’s of songs as executables or open-source.

Anyway. This idea of originality is an analytical concept, more than something useful for everyday life. Who knows how the songs are made, anyway? But I think it’s important to have concepts that are neither antropocentric nor über-structuralist. Materialism, yo.

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).

Dr. Pravda’s Ultimate Amiga Rave

March 16, 2010

Thanks to Unibomber, I found out about Dr. Pravda – one of the most blunt Amiga music on record. No fancy tricks or subtleties, this is pure unadulterated tracker rave! Most of the samples seems to be ripped from other Amiga mods also, which add another dimension to it. Like the guitar-sound from BIT Arts’ Wasteland that he uses in Operation. Although I can’t place all of them, I used a lot of these samples myself back in the days. It is an obvious consequence of the ‘open source’ distribution of Amiga mod-music. If you wanted to sample your own sounds in 1994 you needed to buy or build a sampler, but also struggle to find the records or machines that you wanted to sample. And wasn’t all that easy to get the optimum sound quality either. So obviously, when you were listening to other people’s music in Protracker, it was quite convenient to simply save the samples you liked and tweek them into your own music.

If you wanted to be elite you weren’t supposed to do that though, but what did Dr. Pravda care about that, and look where it got him! He released three 12-inches in 94-95 and appeared on numerous compliations on labels like ZYX. His music was not obscure by any means. Actually, “abfahrer” claims that Dr. Pravda’s Krankenhouse is the most played song at a single Mayday rave ever, “cause his minimal but very effective sounds kicked the crowd better than every other track at this time”. Can’t argue with that!

For me this is almost as Amiga-rave’93 as it gets. Compared to e.g. Aphrodite who  used the Amiga more ‘professionally’, Dr. Pravda could have been released in the demoscene both techically and aesthetically. As far as I know, there were not many crossovers between the demoscene and record labels. One example I’ve found is Cybermouse, who released gabber on Fischkopf that also appeared in an Amiga diskmag.

Now let’s get happy in raveland and then get an operation in the krankenhouse! Rave on, rave off!

Monotrona: SID, Freaks and Children

December 23, 2009

Yes! C64 and weird people freaking out children on television! We’ve seen it before, but this is one is from 1998. The performer is Monotrona and the song is Cadillac Fantasy, from her album Hawkeye & Firebird. The C64-music is not made by her though, it is Hotrod and was made by Jeroen Tel in 1989.

Hailing from the Chicago noise scene, Monotrona was started in 1996 and she used self-built instruments, circuit bent toys, lo-fi keyboards, the Sidstation, MC-505, and of course other people’s C64-music. I also consider it more as “posthuman” than mere goofery: the lyrics are about mechanical beings and computer life, and she apparently had the girl from Fischerspooner replace her when she couldn’t attend her own gigs. A lot of the chip-styled stuff is found on Hawkeye & Firebird and The Might Mun, which you can download here. If anyone has a list of the original songs, please share it. Montrona was discontinued in 2003.

Although I suppose some people are disturbed by this (like the original composers), I think she makes is pretty obvious that she didn’t do the music herself. Also, she includes the original composers’ names in the CD, or so Peter at TCTD told me (who informed me about Monotrona, thanks!). So maybe not so posthuman after all. But maybe it is not much different from what Fitts for Fight did. It’s just that this won’t get the same attention, partly because it’s old, and partly because it is something very different than what FFF did, imho. But I’m biased because I like Monotrona and the music. Then again, I’m the kind of person who puts on Fitts for Fight in a DJ-set…

Chipdisco DJ Tool Out Now

November 24, 2009

PortaMod by Syphus, mentioned earlier, is now announced for the public here! It’s a new player for older music formats, which offers alot more than performing/visualizing recorded music. It’s basically a library for Processing to play MOD/XM/S3M, currently presented in a few different forms, for example the Chipdisco. It offers two decks for DJ-action, and is also a great way to perform your own music live. You can tranpose songs, tempo changes, automatic beatmatch, loop quarters of patterns and jump inbetween them, mute individual channels. And you can use either keyboard, mouse, or MIDI. Chipdisco also allows you to navigate through songs with the cursor keys. Left/right changes the song position in the pattern list, while up/down goes a step up or down in the current pattern playing.

The source will be shared, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for MOD/XM/S3M performances/visualizers in Processing. (For those using Supercollider, you can use Fredrik Olofsson’s redMOD and redXM here.)



More Soundchip Hacking: Realtime SID delay

September 23, 2009

The Norwegian composer Geir Tjelta has introduced a new trick for the SID-chip: realtime delay. The output of the third channel of the SID can be recorded, and by delaying the playback of the sample on the “virtual” fourth channel, you get a subtle echo. This routine doesn’t use much CPU-time either. A nice and elegant trick. Get the exe and mp3 here. It needs to run on the old 6581 chip, since this technique for playing samples relies on a bug that was almost fixed with the new 8580 chip.

Another modern way of making automatic echoes is Neil Baldwin‘s routine for his new NES music editor, Nijuu. Instead of sampling sounds, it detects free spaces in the tracks and triggers notes with decreasing volumes. It uses more CPU but sounds  more obvious than Tjelta’s echoes. Listen to the MP3.

As a sidenote – Geir and Neil are both chipmusicians from the 1980s having recently returned with a boom. Geir also programs an editor together with GRG, Sid Duzz It, which according to the rumours will include this echo effect along with extensive MIDI support in the next version.

Edit Oct 01: Geir says it will not be included in the new SDI.