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Dance Music



MOS 6581 and 8580 Commodore 64 SID chips MOS 6581 and 8580 Commodore 64 SID chips

Chiptune, or chip music is 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 only widely available means for creating music on computers. The medium gave composers great flexibility in creating their own "instrument" sounds, but because early computer sound chips had only simple tone generators and noise generators, it also imposed limitations on the complexity of the sound; chiptunes sometimes seem "harsh" or "squeaky" to the unaccustomed listener. Chiptunes are closely related to video game music. The term is nowadays also used to denote music that uses these distinctly-sounding synthesizer intruments for their artistic value rather than due to hardware limitations.


Historically, the "chips" used were sound chips like the analog-digital hybrid Atari POKEY on the Atari 400/800, the MOS Technology SID on the Commodore 64, the Yamaha YM2149 on the Atari ST, AY-3-8910 or 8912 on Amstrad_CPC, MSX and ZX Spectrum, the Yamaha YM3812 on IBM PC compatibles, and the Ricoh 2A03 on the Nintendo Entertainment System 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 technique of chiptunes with samples synthesized at runtime continued to be popular even on machines with full sample playback capability; because the description of an instrument takes much less space than a raw sample, these formats created very small files, and because the parameters of synthesis could be varied over the course of a composition, they could contain deeper musical expression than a purely sample-based format. Also, even with purely sample-based formats, such as the MOD format, chip sounds created by looping very small samples still could take up much less space.

These sample-based chiptunes were often used in crack intros, since they had to be squeezed into any spare space available on the disk of the cracked software.

As newer computers stopped using dedicated synthesis chips and began to primarily use sample-based synthesis, more realistic timbres could be recreated, but often at the expense of file size (as with MODs) and potentially without the personality imbued by the limitations of the older sound chips.

The standard MIDI file format, together with the General MIDI instrument set, describes only what notes are played on what instruments. General MIDI is not considered chiptune as a MIDI file contains no information describing the synthesis of the instruments.

Many common file formats used to compose and play chiptunes are the SID, MOD, and several Adlib based file formats.


Generally chip tunes consist of basic waveforms, such as sine waves, square waves and sawtooth or triangle waves, and basic percussion, often generated from white noise going through an ADSR envelope controlled synthesizer.

Crack intros and demo scene intros came to feature their own particular style of chiptune music. Although chiptune could historically refer to any style of music, the term is mostly used today to refer to the style of music used in these intros, since other styles of music have moved on to more sophisticated technology.

More recent "oldschool"/"oldsk00l" or "demostyle" MOD music, although sample-based, continues the style of the chiptunes used in these intros; new compositions in this style can still be regularly found in places such as the MOD Archive Top 10.


Modern computers can play a variety of chiptune formats through the use of emulators and platform-specific plugins for media players. Depending on the nature of hardware being emulated, 100% accuracy in software may not be available. The commonly used MOS Technology SID chip, for example, has a multi-mode filter including analog circuits whose characteristics are only mathematically estimated in emulation libraries.[1]

The chip scene is far from dead with "Compos" being held, and groups releasing Music disks. New tracker tools are making chip sounds available to less techy musicians. For example, Little Sound DJ for the Nintendo Game Boy has an interface designed for user in a live environment and features MIDI synchronization.

Contemporary interest in chipping has also led to numerous web sites dedicated to the history of music groups, artists, and antique platforms.

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  • 8bitpeoples - label with professional releases in mp3 format. Featuring the likes of psilodump, goto80, lo-bat, and Paza Rahm, among others.
  • - net label/community for chiptune/8-bit style music - lots to download
  • Rebel Pet Set - home of the Swedish chip music elite. puts out 7" vinyl and CD:s. web shop online.
  • gainlad - net label for chiptune /lo-fi/ 8-bit music
  • Relax Beat - Boy Playground project
  • X-Dump - Net label founded by psilodump, featuring Din Stalker, Dorothy's Magic bag, himself and his brother Paza Rahm.



Crossplatform music editors


  • C64 Music - Commodore 64 music in the real world and other SID related stories blog