Archive for the ‘spectrum’ Category

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, Kraftwerk 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!

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..

Spectrum Babez (But no Men?)

April 11, 2011

Pixel art is usually thought of as a manual labour, just like chip music. Every byte set by hand, except for rudimentary copy functions. If you only use keyboard or joystick that’s also a plus. Personally, I like conversions aswell. They tend to reveal nice artifacts that manual labour often wants to hide. And what’s better to convert than hot humans? Porn -> big pixels is just as popular as pop-music -> big waveforms. Computer-generated text art pretty much started with porn.

So here are some female babes in Spectrum vision by Max Capacity and Prosthetic Knowledge. These are all conversions, afaik. Obviously, there are no losses in these translations. They have either opened up images to more interpretations, or locked them into a new state of excellence. Translation is for winners!

If you crave more low-res-xx you can check Otro’s cover art for Kittenrock’s Pornochip compilation is N.I.C.E! There’s Goa Brudbilder – the interlaced PETSCII madness by Role Model and me (C64). Of course, there’s always, but for the real C64-porn go for JSL’s porn packs. It’s animated PETSCII, and it’s like it was made by a drooling 13-year-old.

Ok, but what about the men? Where are all the naked hunks in low-res? Are they all busy fighting dragons in Vallejo-remakes and riding with a sword into the sun set? Calling all low-res hot boys!

Max Capacity – Love Maniacs

Max Capacity – Totally Awesome

Prosthetic Knowledge – Outside of Screen (originally by nam)

Prosthetic Knowledge – Untitled 1 -2011 (original by C. Kirk)

Passionately fucking the scene: Skrju

May 20, 2010

Skrju is a (Russian?) demogroup founded in 2001, still releasing brain-smashing ZX Spectrum demos unlike any other demogroup I’ve seen. Their demos are usually noisy and greyscale, sad and dark. Pleasently uncomfortable. Let’s get sucked into their world with Fuckyouscene (2003).

It makes me think of Alih’s C64-demo Fuck the Scene, which is another kind of alternative to the demoscene aesthetics with its fucky appearance but complex code. But to me Skrju’s works are more consistent, and is definitely not only a rebellion against the scene. Check their 20-second invitro for Chaos Construction 2004, which they made in 2005 (!).

You have to give credit to a group that works primarily with greyscale ZX Spectrum, right? At first, they used colours and a more demoscene-ish aesthetics. Lovemaker (youtube) is a teenage angst poetry trash demo which according to their website was inspired by Fairlight’s Drop the Basics and its childish graphics. For Summermilk (youtube) they mention a Replay-demo (with a classic Radix/Loonie song) as inspiration. After this they started establishing their greyscale-style with Why (2003).

After that they released their Fuckthescene-demo, which I think appears a bit different in the light of their past productions. It’s not just an outside thrashing of the scene without consideration of its traditions. They are not just “making some glitches” but building on the demoscene ‘canon’ (see the end here). Atleast that’s the way I see it. The excellent demo Mother (youtube) is perhaps a bit of an anti-demo, but then Ussr2185 (youtube) features plenty of rotating cubes. Had it used more pixels, colours, and sounds, it could’ve been a quite typical PC-demo, right? Here’s Idiot from 2004.

This demo makes me think of the PC-demo _ by $, which caused quite a discussion in the scene about what a demo is supposed to be. Shanethewolf finally said “let’s give up what once was a target of the demoscene.. high quality real-time multimedia.” Although Skrju are perhaps more traditional than $ in some ways, there are also some similar tendencies in the comments of Skrju-demos at Pouet. Perhaps it’s because they undermine a technodeterministic definition of demos, where demos can be anything as long as they obide by certain technical details (filesize and format, platform, etc). This is proving to be a problem in demoscene-archives such as CSDb, where it has to be discussed what constutites a ‘scene release’. Why is Jeff Minter’s Horses a scene release, for example? This also applies to the chipscene in many ways.

Anyway, let’s go back to Skrju. The current members are sq, nq, kq and t. Their musician, nq, has a website and also did a ZX noise release on Ubiktune called Onomatopoeia. Among their latest releases is the 256-byte story of a lonely cell (youtube) which pre-dates Viznut’s Dramatic Pixels. There’s the dark Reminescence (youtube) and also We are (youtube) which, again, reminds me of Hollowman‘s work, and also Wrath Designs.

Some randomly semi-similar thing-stuffs: tbk – bl, eerie norwegian demos, chip noise, disco calculi, put on your goggles, jodi, hatebitZX Spectrum Orchestra, Lukas Nystrand’s “crack intros” or check out the noise category here. Hardcore will always die!

3 Videos with Rough Data

October 8, 2009

Just a reason for some self-promotion, or something else?

Lukas Nystrand: Ikioma Taide Cracktro

ZX Spectrum Orchestra: Look & Listen

Erik Nilsson & Goto80: Come Together (Skwee Beta Boink)

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.

Z80, forgive me

November 25, 2008

Ok, the new thing is 1-bit music made with Z80! Just like with the AppleII-post before, this is me being an astonished newbie. It sounds so nice and data, I can’t believe it’s not a sound chip!

Z80 is the processor found inside shit loads of 1980s machines, for example Gameboy, Sinclair ZX 80/81/Spectrum, MSX-computers, Commodore 128, TRS-80, Amstrad CPC, and more funny named ones including Galaksija, Tatung Einstein, Coleco Adam, Data Science XOR, Grundy NewBrain, MicroBee, and Tiki 100.

So yesterday I found this and this, filled with mp3s of Z80-music made with the ZX Spectrum (or clones). This is how it works, according to Yerzmey: “Z80 chip produces all sounds and sends them into BEEPER and AUDIO-OUT connector of ZX SPECTRUM (jack) through ULA chip”. Normally you can play 1 channel square waves, but with the 3.5 MHz of this Z80 you can play samples and get up to 8 channels of sounds! So this is another example of chip music that does not only play sounds immanent inside sound chips, but uses the CPU to create a sort of softsynth.

There is a bunch of different software to make Z80-music on the Spectrum, but curiously enough there is only one tracker in the list that Mister Beep shows. They all seem quite interesting. Apparently there is no editor for Tim Follin’s 3 channel sample playing routine. But this month TDM used it anyway, in a coop-track with Mister Beep, where he composed his bits in assembler: Insane organist. The most bizarre Spectrum software might be this one, which lets you compose true data music: you save the song data on to cassette, and when you play it in a normal cassette deck you can hear it again! I haven’t tried the software, so I am not sure how it works, but it sounds like this.

There are lots of people developing things for the ZX Spectrum still, like ZX Spectrum Orchestra. Demosceners hang out at and there’s daily action. A few days ago Yerzmey announced that people are playing Beeper music on Atari XL/XE! It does not use the Pokey, but rather the GTIA (which apparently generates a click sound when typing). Mister Beep also released a new ZX Spectrum demo this month: check it. And get these ones:

Alberto Gonzalez – The Light Corridor (slow and foxy)
Andy Mills – AnoGaia (funky and mini-squeeky)
Ben Daglish – Dark Fusion (rockfunk)
David Whittaker – Brave Starr (micro epic)
Fuxoft – Starfox (rockfunk)
Jason Brook – Rastan Saga (adventure tonality)
Tim Follin – Agent X part 2
Tim Follin – Future Games


Drum Machine (1984), 'photo' by Mister Beep

ZX Spectrum Orchestra

September 25, 2008

This has very little to do with the C64 Orchestra (a classical orchestra playing C64 game music). The ZX Spectrum Orchestra consists of two human conductors and a bunch of ZX Spectrums – together making some of the finest minimalistic 8-bit audiovisual performances. Think of it as being somewhere between demoscene perfectionism and artistic exploration. Both members have been into electronic music for a long time (Mike in Mono, Plone, The Modified Toy Orchestra, etc).

They give the impression of simply finding Spectrums on flee markets and getting fascinated by the BEEP command in Basic. They are quite different to the normal way of getting into chipmusic, ie videogames, micromusic, media. It seems they really wanted to explore what was special with the ZX Spectrum, and I think they are doing a very good job!

Take a look at this video which shows a noisy and beautiful audiovisual performance from Sonar 2008. Judging from this interview, they mostly use their custom made software but also a ZX speech synthesizer and Wham! The Music Box. (a non-tracker spectrum software from 1985, apparently supported somehow by Wham) They don’t synchronize their machines, which is good to get some more dynamic live feeling to it all.

I feel a bit silly for not hearing about this before, so if you know of anything similar, please let me know!

Video of the Day

June 22, 2008

Via ablogforyou I just learned about this video, which is a remix of Radiohead – Nude, played by a machine orchestra consisting of ZX Spectrum the computer, Epson LX-81 the matrix printer, HP Scanjet 3c the scanner, and a bunch of hard drives acting as loudspeakers! Amazing work by James Houston. Hmmm, couldn’t get this embedded for some reason, but here’s the link: Big Ideas (don’t get any).