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What is chiptune, chipmusic, 8-bit sound ?
Because I am French, I will explain it with simple words and examples. And why is it in english ? Because most of resources are in english (and japanese too !). Commonly on Internet, "chiptune", "chipmusic" and "8-bit sound" mean the same thing. But for me, it is a little bit different.
Just one thing before to start : the difference between the terms "chiptune" and "chipmusic" is not very important ! ;) We do not need to debate during long hours. Historically, the term "chiptune" came before "chipmusic". Today, these terms mean same thing.
So, in general, Chiptune define music written in sound formats where all the sounds are synthesized in realtime by a computer or video game console sound chip, instead of using sample-based synthesis. The 'golden age' of chiptunes was the mid 1980s to early 1990s, when such sound chips were the most common method for creating music on computers. In short, it is the sound of the first demos and video games.
Screenshot of 'Big Chuj' demo by Hooy-program, on ZX Spectrum
Historically, the chips used were sound chips such as :
MOS Technology SID 6581/6582/8580 on Commodore 64 (C64)
General Instrument AY-3-8910 or AY-3-8912 on Amstrad CPC, MSX and ZX Spectrum
Analog-digital hybrid Atari POKEY on the Atari 400/800 and arcade hardware
Yamaha YM2149 on the Atari ST and ZX Spectrum
Yamaha YM2612 on Sega MegaDrive/Genesis
Yamaha YM3812 (aka OPL2) and YMF262 (aka OPL3) on IBM PC compatibles
Paula on Amiga
Ricoh 2A03 on Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) or Famicom
For the MSX several sound upgrades, such as the Konami SCC , the Yamaha YM2413 (MSX-MUSIC) and Yamaha Y8950 (MSX-AUDIO, predecessor of the OPL3) and the OPL4-based Moonsound were released as well, each having its own characteristic chiptune sound.
The Nintendo Gameboy do not have a separate soundchip. It uses digital logic integrated on the main CPU.
Also, there is no soundchip in the Apple II, but there is a 16 channel 8 bit Ensoniq ES5503 DOC wavetable soundchip in the Apple IIGS (GS = Graphics and Sound).
More informations about soundchips on x68000.de
MOS Technology (SID) in Commodore 64
Comparison of two soundchip processors (Sega MegaDrive/Genesis) :
Sonic the Hedgehog - Music track of the famous video game
Track using only PSG processor
Track using only FM processor
Example of a 'real' chiptune :
Chris Huelsbeck - 'Shades' - Original chiptune composed in 1986 on Commodore 64 and directly recorded
In 1991, few artists (as 4-Mat and Random Voice) composed modules (MOD, IT...) with big chip influences, on digital trackers. They used really short samples. These chiptunes are 'sample based' because no real soundchip are used. However, they respect demoscene and video-games spirit, and sometimes specificities of a real soundchip.
Example of a 'sample based' chiptune :
Random Voice (Edvin Fladen) - 'Monday' - Original module (MOD) composed on Amiga, in 1991. Download it !
Today, many composers continue to use computers or consoles with real soundchip (Nintendo Gameboy is one of the favorites but Atari ST, Commodore 64 and others are used too !).
Example of a modern and 'real' chiptune on Nintendo Gameboy :
cTrix - 'Live Tek House Set' - Original chiptune composed on lonely one Gameboy, in 2009
Moreover, when the sound is less than 8-bit (1, 2, 3 or 4 bit) it is generally considered as chiptune too. Sound of Nintendo Gameboy is not 8-bit sound at all. The Gameboy sound chip offers four channels with 4-bit sound.
Also, many emulators exist : chiptrackers, audio plugins (VST, AU, RTAS)...
Example of a chiptune in a synthesis emulator :
Sz1l1 - Benny Hill Theme - Original remix created with GXSCC on Windows, in 2008
More and more modern machines implement real soundchip. MOS Technology SID (from the Commodore 64) is the most implemented soundchip .
ymVST : a free VST plugin to emulate Atari ST soundchip
Audio demo by IJS
This term define all music genres referring more or less to 8-bit sound. For me, it means a global term. Inside 'chipmusic' term, we can find other terms :
- 8-bit music
- Blippblopp or Blip-blop
- Chipbreak or Chipcore
- Chip Metal or Bleep Metal
- Gameboy music
- Lo-fi or Low-Fi music
- Nerdcore or Chip-hop
Sure, all styles are represented. The success of chipmusic/chiptune grow each year. More and more professional and non-professional artists use these typical 8-bit sounds !
Few examples :
Anamanaguchi - 'Jetpack Blues Sunset Hues' - Original Rock tune (Check video here !)
Astor - 'So What' - Original 8-bit Jazz remix from the Kind of Bloop album dedicated to Miles Davis
Benjamin Bear - 'Boxed In' - Original Chip-hop, Nerdcore tune
JKP - 'Desinfection' - Original Chipnoise
I Fight Dragons - 'Overture 1.0' - Original tune composed like a trailer or a movie soundtrack
Machinae Supremacy - 'Zogrim Ate My Hamster' - Original Chip Metal
Mister Beep - '1 Bit Chase' - Original 1-bit (not 8-bit !!! only one !) tune
Pupajim - 'I Am A Robot' - Original Reggae tune with vocal, from the Jahtari label
She - 'Chiptune Superstar' - Original Disco tune with vocal, from the free album Superstar
Vincenzo - 'Tuesday 44' - Original Funky tune from his free album Chip Drops
YMCK - 'A Crimson Rose and a GinTonic (Katamari Tribute)' - Original Jazz tune with vocals
YTCracker - 'Dugdig' - Original Chip-hop, Nerdcore tune from his free album Nerdrap Entertainment System
Often, there is a confusion between sound relative to chiptune/chipmusic and 8-bit sound from 8-bit computers or consoles. On this following example, samples are all coded in 8-bit but it's not a chiptune/chipmusic at all ! Note that on this website I use '8-bit sound' term to define chiptune/chipmusic because everybody do it. For your knowledges, now, you know the difference. ;)
Romeo Knight - 'Rise Up' - Original module (MOD) composed on Amiga, in 1989. Download it !
Shame on all plagiarists, opportunists and non-creative people (artists ? I do not think so) !
Plagiarism - ChipFlip
Oh No Another Plagiarism - ChipFlip
Ripper / Plagiarism Reports - MOD Archive
Stolen Goods - Micromusic.net
Just two examples :
Timbaland, a famous opportunist producer, ripped off a chiptune of the artist named Janne Suni (aka Tempest). Shame on him ! Read 'Timbaland plagiarism controversy'
Tempest - 'Acidjazzed Evening' - Original tune made in 2000. Download this module (MOD) or this one (SID) !
Nelly Furtado (Feat. Timbaland) - 'Do It' - Tune made in 2006
... and the other one example :
Crystal Castles - 'Courtship Dating' - Tune made in 2006 (then released in 2008)
50 Cent ft. Justin Timberlake - 'Ayo Technology' (Instrumental version) - Tune made in 2007
Famous Chipmusic/Chiptune communities
Chipmusic definition - ChipFlip
Chipmusic timeline - ChipFlip
Endless loop : a brief history of chiptunes - Transformative Works and Cultures. ES and FR translation :
Video game music
Old soundcard emulation - Anapan8
Sound generators of the 1980s home computers - Srcf Ucam
Basic sound theory and synthesis - DrPetter's
A modern implementation of Chiptune synthesis - Phill Phels
A study into the music and culture of chiptunes - Alex Yabsley
Authenticity and emulation : Chiptune in the early twenty-first century - Little-Scale
Types of synthesis
A chipmusic studio !!! ;)
Thank you to all members of the chiptune/chipmusic forums who helped me.
Tags : chiptune, chipmusic, 8bit music, 8bit sound, chiphop, blipblop, micromusic, video-game sound, soundchip, lofi music, retromusic, gameboy music