Chiptunes [chip music]
- Anne Beetem Acker
Term related to music made by the eight-bit soundchips in 1980s and early 1990s gaming systems and microcomputers, as well as music composed using modified (‘modded’) gaming systems or environments designed to emulate the capabilities of early soundchips. (A chip, or microchip, is an integrated circuit packaged in a usually flat rectangular body with input and output pins for attachment to a larger circuit system.) The original systems include the NEC PC-8801, Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, Amiga, Game Boy, and Mega Drive/Genesis. The distinctive sound of music from these systems arises from their use of only a few simple waveforms, white noise, and beeps, as well as unreliable pitches and limited polyphony. Despite these restrictions, inventive chiptune composers in the 1980s emulated many styles of music using flutelike melodies, buzzing square-wave bass lines, rapid arpeggios, and noisy primitive percussion. Game music is designed to loop indefinitely and then quickly switch depending upon the characters or scenes of the game, requiring the music to be simple yet evocative. Composers used software ‘trackers’, tediously entering the note and other information in numerical codes that the hardware chip could use....