March 16, 2009

Chiptunes in a Nutshell

by Nick Montfort · , 12:08 pm

Kevin Driscoll and Josh Diaz have a new article on the history of chiptunes in the Journal of Transformative Works. It comes complete with video clips that document game sounds with the images and game play that accompany them.

One Response to “Chiptunes in a Nutshell”


  1. Mark J. Nelson Says:

    The relationship with videogame music is an interesting one, and wasn’t mentioned in the only previous (much shorter) scholarly analysis of chiptunes I’ve seen, one by RenĂ© T.A. Lysloff in Ch. 2 (pp. 37-38) of the volume “Music and Technoculture” (Wesleyan University Press, 2003).

    In relevant part:
    “A vestige of the early demo scene is a category of mod music known as ‘chiptunes’, in which composers create fullblown mods using only computer-created sounds, often simply modified sine or square waves and the like. To qualify as a chiptune, the mod must be quite small (about fifty kilobytes or less) and use only ‘hand-drawn’ tones (that is, tones created by the composer) instead of sampled sounds. These mods, while usually having the distinctive bleep and beep quality of transistor-generated tones, are often astonishingly creative and rich in expressive nuances. This kind of mod music remains a viable option for composers, perhaps because it poses particular challenges and limitations while providing a subversive alternative to the bigger and more elaborate compositions that use increasingly larger samples of real-world sounds and are created with sophisticated new tracking programs widely distributed throughout the Internet.”

    Both the game-centric and the synthetic-sounds-centric views seem to have some merit to me; I suppose there might even be multiple cultures within the chiptunes scenes of various eras whose practices relate to videogame music to greater or lesser extents.

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