Traditionally, chipmusic has been defined by what gadgets were used to make the music. As the sounds of 8-bit machines has influenced and been influenced by pop culture at large, the technological definition proved to be problematic for general use. A musical genre definition developed during the 21st century. For some this lead to a loss of authenticity, while others welcomed it as a loss of elitist techno-fundamentalism. I distinguish between chipmusic as medium and chipmusic as form. Chipmusic as medium is any music made with a specific medium (typically a range of soundchips from the 1980s) and chipmusic as form is a music genre made with any kind of technology. Chipmusic can also be analyzed as a subculture with its own communication media, norms, status makers, artifacts, and software. I first presented this in the text “Chip Music: Low Tech Data Music Sharing“.
Chipmusic as Medium
Chipmusic can sound both like classical music and noise. It can be stiff as a robot, or dynamic as the wind. A sound chip is an instrument that can be used for many purposes (see genres). The soundchip is an artistic material, and the surrounding hard- and software forms an instrument that will always make chip music. This type of chip music can be quite political in how it appropriates hard and software in media-specific ways that cannot be simulated or mimicked. Thus, this media materialistic perspective is useful for discussing hardware politics, low-level cybernetics, open source music formats, and unorthodox coding, for example. The problem is that even if it is a material definition, it is quite difficult to decide what hardware to include or exclude. Some popular chip music machines do not have a specific sound chip (Gameboy), some chips use sampled waveforms or FM-synthesis (Paula, YM2413, etc), and with the development of microcontrollers software becomes hardware. Door bells, keyboards, toys, emulators?
Chipmusic as Form
Leaving methodology behind, this perspective focuses on the musical results. Disregarding from technology, as most people probably do when discussing music, chip music is instead regarded as a genre where some timbres, rhythms, and harmonies are more common than others. You can use old technology to make music that doesn’t have the form of chipmusic, ie Neophyte’s gabber music and Patric Catani’s hardcore music. But perhaps more relevant is that not all chip music is made using old computers and consoles, or even emulations or samples of them. For example, analogue synthesizers can basically make the same waveforms as chip music technology does. Of course, typical characteristics in the soft- and hardware of chipmusic media are very hard to reproduce this way, but the point is that technology can be irrelevant.
Chipmusic as Culture
Chip music culture lives on the internet. From micromusic.net in 1999 and 8bitcollective today, chip music has typically been surrounded by an atmosphere of sharing music and ideas, and a “global” organization. There are many archives of MP3s, non-recorded music (“open source”), and software easily accessible.
Ever since the term chip music was first used around 1990, it has been surrounded by free software (as in free beer) developed within a community of hobbyists who shared music for free. Commercial chip music was getting less commercially viable, so it was in the so called demoscene where chip music made most progress during the 90s. The demoscene was, and still is, a modem-networked community focused around the production and dissemination of audiovisual artefacts generated in real-time. It was here that the tracker-standard was developed, still dominating chip composing (LSDJ, Renoise, Maxymizer, etc). There was a focus on craftmanship and competitiveness rather than art and concepts (which changed over the years). The demoscene was a precursor to netlabels, digital communities, and real-time “music videos” maximising technology, and it is relevant to consider when talking about chip music culture.
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