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 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.


  • Carlsson, Anders (2008) Chipmusic – Lo Tech Data Music Sharing in Collins, Karen: From Pac Man to Pop Music info
  • Carlsson, Anders (2010) Power Users and Retro Puppets: A Critical Study of the Methods and Motivations in Chipmusic. MA thesis. pdf
  • Collins, Karen (2006) Fine Tuning the Terrible Twos: The Musical Aesthetic of the Atari VCS. Popular Musicology Online. pdf
  • Collins, Karen (2007) In the loop – Creativity and Constraint in 8-bit Video Game Audio. Twentieth Century Music, 4, 209-227
  • Collins, Karen (2006) Loops and Bloops: Music on the Commodore 64. Soundscapes: Journal of Media Culture. html
  • D’Errico, Mike (2010) How to Reformat the Planet: Technostalgia and the “Live” Performance of Chipmusic. pdf
  • Dittbrenner, Nils (2008) Soundchip-Musik – Computer- und Videospielmusik von 1977-1994. Master thesis. partly online
  • Doornbusch, Paul (2005) The Music of CSIRAC: Australia’s First Computer Music. Common Ground. excerpts
  • Driscoll & Diaz (2009) Endless Loop – A Brief History of Chiptunes. Transformative Works and Cultures Vol 2. html
  • Konttinen, Ville (2008) Chiptune – Videopelit tanssilattialla. Thesis for Bachelor of Arts, Turku Arts Academy, Turku University of applied sciences
  • Ramocki, Marcin (2007) DIY: The Militant Embrace of Technology. pdf
  • Ratliff, Brendan (2007) Why Did Freely Shared, Tracked Music in the 1990’s Computer Demoscene Survive the Arrival of the MP3 age? Dissertation in International Centre for Music Studies, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
  • Spiegel, Laurie (1995) That was Then <=> This is Now. Computer Music Journal, MIT Pres, Vol.21 #1, 1996. html
  • Tomczak, Sebastian (2008) Authenticity and Emulation – Chiptune in the Early Twenty-First Century. Paper for International Computer Music Conference 2008. html/pdf
  • Tomczak, Sebastian (2007) Handheld Console Comparisons – Lateral Consumer Machines as Musical Instruments. Paper for Australasian Computer Music Conference 2007. html/pdf
  • Williams, Lyall (2007) Chip music – Its Inception, Methodology, and Relationship to Modern Electronic Music. MRES Music Technology, Keele University.
  • Yabsley, Alex (2007) The Sound of Playing – A Study Into the Music and Culture of Chiptunes. Dissertation for Bachelor of Music Technology, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University pdf

25 Responses to “CHIPMUSIC”

  1. r00s Says:

    hei mister chipflip. I like these definitions. i am looking forward to read more.

  2. Destroying Chipmusic Myths « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] in realtime by the computer. This was the technical pioneering of chipmusic. I tend to see the definition of chipmusic more in a social context […]

  3. kikendo Says:

    Go on my brother ;D

  4. Chip Opera On Dark Roads « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] computer, it is interesting to think about whether this is chip music or not. We can try to use the medium & form categories that I use. It is not chip music as a medium, since nothing really points to it being […]

  5. Talk at HAIP - Hack Act Interact Progress « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] 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 […]

  6. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH » Goto80 interview pt 2 Says:

    […] – On Chipflip you write extensively about Chipmusic as Form, Medium and Culture. How do you respond to the “what kind of music do you write?” to people who […]

  7. Chip Music Toilet? « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] relates to chip music, and more precisely the lack of (academic) research on it. There is of course more research than Google Scholar shows, but living in times when the map is more correct than reality and when […]

  8. jikoo Says:

    Good definititions. I like very much.

  9. jikoo Says:

    Your website is in my chipmusic resource :

    Great ! Thank you !

  10. chipflip Says:

    thankyou, been meaning to add your site for a while. now it’s in the “blog roll”. you’re doing good work!

  11. jikoo Says:

    Thank you chipflip ! I am honored !

  12. 4 x Mortimer Twang: (sound)chip(based)non(chip)music « CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] 4 x Mortimer Twang: (sound)chip(based)non(chip)music By chipflip There’s been another discussion at 8bc about what chipmusic is. It seems to me that there are more people talking about genre than technodeterminism compared to a few years ago. There are thoughts about what building blocks make it sound chip (Sound chip here means: proper chipstyle, sounding-like chipstyle, soundchip). That could be due to the new perspectives that come with non-techno-purism. If you don’t use soundchips and trackers you need to be aware about what you’re doing in order to make it sound chip. When you’re using soundchips and trackers, you don’t have to worry about those things. (form vs medium) […]

  13. Bertram Chaknis Says:

    I consider, that you are mistaken. Let’s discuss it.

  14. DemoScene Music History Lesson. « ghosty net Says:

    […] Carlsson’s Blog CHIPFLIP here. and if you click on the chipmusic tab on the blog, there is a rich bibliography of other writings on the subject that are worth […]

  15. iLKke Says:

    Both “classical music” and “noise” point to

  16. Why Chipmusic Is Not Retro « CHIPFLIP Says:

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

  17. More Bits to Come | Digital Art History Says:

    […] [7] […]

  18. Naomi Sample Says:

    Check our new Video :-)

  19. Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy | Patrick Trinh is Space Town. Says:

    […] for ourselves. Anders Carlsson (Goto80) does a pretty good job of outlining the definitions (, but in the end, we’re no closer to establishing what it is about chipmusic that separates […]

  20. What’s Chipmusic in 2015? | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] It seems to be part of the chipscene, but it doesn’t connect to the platforms or aesthetics (media and form) of chipmusic. Go to a chipmusic festival and you can listen […]

  21. Post-Chiptune is All About Culture? | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] – genre. It’s about the culture. When I wrote about “chipmusic as culture” here 9 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be the primary one by […]

  22. What is 1-bit-music? – Ludomusicology Says:

    […] Chipmusic […]

  23. Kubbi Says:

    Hi Anders! In your “Low-tech data music sharing” article you conclude with how you’d like to see more research on using the “so-called constraints of old technology to expand creativity”. I know this was in 2008, but was still wondering if you have seen this being realised by anyone or if you feel like it’s a gap in chip research?

    Best wishes from a PhD fellow

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