Thoughts on Chipmusic

I haven’t noticed a whole lot of discussion in the area of chipmusic (or chiptune or what-have-you), and while I’m certainly aware that (and have witnessed how) the novelty of it has worn off and that many of its adherents have branched out (particularly, I think, with the re-emergence of modular synthesis), I feel the relevance and potential of that particular niche of electronic music can only benefit from the auspices of, say, the eurorack format, for instance. Beyond nostalgia or the often vast well of cultural significance they bear forth (particularly among the DIY electronic music community), many vintage computer sound chips offer distinctive voices, coaxed out only only through a limited scope of means; they can only do so much, but they do it with character.

Realizing some folks here very well might lack context for this, I recommend the following documentaries:

Anyone with chipmusic roots or currently focusing on or incorporating vintage computer sound chips in their repertoire?


@okyeron ported a bunch of chip emulations to norns from the original Supercollider classes:

Norns: sketches


Or perhaps “is porting” might be the current status. :grin: (Learning the norns engine stuff is slow going so far.)

The somewhat interesting part of trying to port these Ugens is learning what the specific chips did, then figuring out the implementation and trying to come up with a way to make an interface to them.


Someone on here recommend Beepbox and i have used it extensively. Cool that would can save your songs as a URL, download a wav or even a midi file.

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I used to be quite into circuit bending (damn, started that 20 years ago…) and have had gameboys with Nanoloop and LSDj since the very early 2000s (Nanoloop 1.2, for the connaisseurs :wink: ).

I only used these for a few parts in live sets, though I think I played at least two lives using only gameboys (my actual first solo electronic performance was based on nanoloop drones, a delay pedal and a custom trigger box - the result was closer to pan sonic than bit shifter though).

I knew quite a few people in the French chiptune scene, and I met some really great artists/people from the NY scene too when I played some concerts with them in Paris. I’ve been to a few chiptune festivals and quite a lot of concerts and it’s typically filled with very nice people, talented and full of energy. Quite a different vibe from the more experimental/electronic music scenes in my experience.


That’s pretty cool and all, but I have to admit, when I see something described as chiptune the way that one is, I’m left wondering, “which chip?” I think it’s important to make a distinction here, since particular chips imply particular constraints not present in samples or approximations of the sorts of sounds they’re capable of.

I’d like to see something similar (web-based) that can actually produce tracks compatible with the original hardware (or emulation of that hardware, of course), as usually the SAVs, VGMs, or what have you are incredibly tiny files. Though I suppose the emulation can be quite heavy, depending upon the choice of hardware. There’s a scant few desktop and mobile apps that can produce tracks in such formats. Deflemask is one that I’ve tried and enjoyed.

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Awesome! I figured someone in the scene would pop up.

Yeah, I totally get that vibe of a different sort of scene. I kind of get the picture of the chipmusic and even the circuitbending scene being a bit scruffier and maybe less precious or slick overall than electronic music at large (or maybe just a bit less meditative). It seems like it borrows a bit from what made punk special.


I was pretty heavily involved in this scene and have seen all the different variations of folks in the scene progressing. Some have stayed entirely chip based, some have moved to tracker based, full fledged DAW’s (such as Renoise) and some have gone towards modular synths.

I think that some of the most interesting aspects of the chip tune scene and production method is the tracker based, hexadecimal style layout. There is a freedom to getting away from the piano roll. Orca and modulars offer the same alternative methods of musical thinking.


One of my favorite chiptune artists was French, Ultrasyd. Sorta hoping he’ll eventually drop some new tunes.


It’s funny, I really like the sounds of lo-fi digital synthesis, enough that I did some research into different chips to learn more about what makes them. As I did, I eventually realized—to me beyond a certain point it didn’t really matter. Even though I really like the chip’s sound, I will also probably get a kick out of downsampling and bitrate reduction no matter the source.

I grew up with computers that had soundcards capable of playing arbitrary audio files; the closest things to one of these chips that I held growing up were a GameBoy and an early Nokia cell phone—and I guess an ancient Nintendo console my grandparents mysteriously own. And yet the sounds of these things were / are everywhere.

And since for me it’s the sound firstly, the compositional idiosyncrasies second (fast arps for Commodore64 chords) and the physicality not at all, I guess I’m happy not being precious about faithfulness to the chips.


Yeah, ORCΛ struck me immediately as someone who came to electronic music by way of LSDJ and developed a love over the years for minimal plaintext/keyboard-oriented manners of working (emacs, and the like). Currently, it’s the only MIDI sequencer I use, apart from the Nerdseq.


There are actually a few VERY interesting methods of creating this kind of music. Anything from LSDJ, a tracker based DAW on the original Gameboy with 4 tracks and a wavetable, to Nanoloop (a loop based FM synthesis style DAW originally produced for the GBA but ported to iOS) to Renoise (a daw that can use plugins but is structured like a tracker system found here: Having spent time with all of these kinds of tools, I would contend that the writing style is almost more central to chip music than the chip itself.

I’d be happy to share some of the tools and styles people use to make this stuff, as well as a pretty long list of the best stuff to listen to!

So, if y’all want, we can just share sweet, PWM tracks!


I have been REALLY drawn to Orca. I get terrible melodies when looking at a keyboard or piano roll. These kinds of things really break open the mind towards other styles and new melodies.


Yeah, I mean, square waves are square waves and all that, but applying a tape effect and limiting oneself to four tracks isn’t the same as working with a four track tape recorder. My desire for the gameboy sound led me to LSDJ before I had any idea such a thing was even possible, but as others have pointed, it’s the idiosyncrasies of process tied to those sounds that keep them relevant and interesting.

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As an example about the idiosyncratic tools creating essentially impossibly bizarre music is this track:

This in entirely produced using NES. Not effects other than post mixing. The crunchy bass is made entirely through the PWM engine in a chip (this is made using a Konami sound chip included in carts of the Japanese version of Castlevania 3… long story) but basically, this can be played on a NES with a cartridge in it.

The bass with that insane texture is done through a precise overclocking on the engine and the PWM.

Just a bizarre track and an amazing way of truly ‘feeling’ the format on which the music was produced.


Yeah, I only had the briefest of stints with Fruityloops in 2006 before dumping it for LSDJ, altogether. I got by with that and Audacity for the longest time and probably would not have find my way to a DAW if not for becoming interested in MIDI approaches to sequencing chip-oriented hardware (largely thanks to ORCΛ).


I’ve just begun to take a stab at Orca. Looking forward to trying it out. Just built a norns on a RPi and I’m amped about seeing how this can run.

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Yeah, I mean you simply can’t do just anything on that hardware, but pushing the envelope on what you can do leads to unexpected and astounding results. Absolutely zero of the tracks or sounds I’ve ever made for Genesis or Gameboy would have ever been made in a DAW with sound fonts, samples, or whatever even though they absolutely could have.

Please excuse the low level on this:

I haven’t made a track with that method, but these next two were made with a real YM3438:


Whoa! Outputting the midi to your GB is fucking amazing. That’s an INSANE structure. I’d love a chance to talk more about your layout and shit.