February 24, 2009

Atari Teenage TIA

by Nick Montfort · , 12:11 pm

Karen Collins, author of Game Sound, did an amazing study in which she traces how the peculiarities of the TIA (Television Interface Adapter) may have influenced the tonal sensibilities of Western youth and may be linked to the later use of flat seconds in rave, heavy metal, and industrial music. The article is “Fine Tuning the Terrible Twos: The Musical Aesthetic of the Atari VCS” (PDF version, deprecated HTML). Thanks much to 8-bit and 1-bit artist Shifty for handing me a copy of this paper last week.

2 Responses to “Atari Teenage TIA”


  1. Mark J. Nelson Says:

    A provocative claim, surely! It’s an interesting paper, though; thanks for the link. Most of the commentary seems plausible, and she doesn’t actually make strong conclusions, more the form of a question: “could it … be that the acceptance of this modal element … was influenced by the hearing of Atari VCS songs hundreds of times over in the formative years of these musicians and their fans?”

    She also quotes a number of alternative suggestions from a paper by Tagg, which to my ears seem a bit more plausible, much as I’d like a VCS-music connection. In particular, the timeline on the VCS-causation theory is a bit odd. Much of the aesthetics of industrial music, for example, was already in place by the time the games she quotes as influences were released (most are 1982-83, while the formative period of industrial music, not to mention post-punk, which influenced many other genres as well, was ~1977-1983).

    Especially if the theory is that musicians who heard Atari sounds in “their formative years” later were influenced in their musicianship, there should be at least a 5-year lag or so. It would be somewhat more convincing evidence if late-1980s innovations that *weren’t* present in early-1980s industrial and post-punk music could be traced as VCS-related.

  2. Readings Round-Up #5 – mutually occluded Says:

    [...] Grand Text Auto » Atari Teenage TIA “Karen Collins, author of Game Sound, did an amazing study in which she traces how the peculiarities of the TIA (Television Interface Adapter) may have influenced the tonal sensibilities of Western youth and may be linked to the later use of flat seconds in rave, heavy metal, and industrial music. The article is “Fine Tuning the Terrible Twos: The Musical Aesthetic of the Atari VCS” (PDF version, deprecated HTML).” [...]

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