Chiptunes

If you belong to the often complained-about generation of millennials — which I do — chances are you grew up with video games — which I did. That grew into an obsession that didn’t just include the games but also the music featured in them. Most people remember video game music as something that droned on while they’re playing. I don’t. Some of my favorite video game soundtracks are of games I even never played! When other people did, well, cool things, I made mixtapes of video game soundtracks.

See, scoring a video game in the 21st century is a completely different endeavor from back when I grew up, where restrictive sound chips posed great challenges for the composers. I like challenges. If you think about making great music, it becomes more about what you can take away instead of what you can add. And writing old school video game music forces you take a way a whole friggin’ lot!

Thankfully, there’s a whole scene of people — and quite a bit of software — creating music with old sound chips, aptly called chiptunes. And I joined them and became what is called *gasp* a chiptune artist!

So, What Are Chiptunes?

You cannot imagine how controversial this question is, because any clear-cut definition you come up with is either too broad to be meaningful or will exclude some of the finest music the genre has to offer.

In a general and very much contested definition, chiptunes are pieces of music made with sound chips that are found inside old computers, arcade machines, or video game consoles. And this definition sucks.

Why? Because there’s plenty of music that’s — in terms of style, arrangement, and sound — inspired by or closely resembles those sound chips to the point where it’s indistinguishable to the ‘real deal’ (ugh!). With that conservative definition in mind, my music isn’t chiptunes either, since I don’t use the actual hardware, but an emulation thereof. If it sounds like chipmusic, is written like chipmusic, and has the same limitations like chipmusic — why isn’t it chipmusic?

The definition I prefer is put forth by Brandon L. Hood, founder and icon of the amazing Chiptunes = WIN community:

Formally, chipmusic at its core is electronic music created utilizing the chipsets from vintage video game and computing systems through both hardware & software. […] Chiptune is essentially an instrument and/or a medium, used to create all styles and genres imaginable. Regardless of your musical preferences, there is chiptune out there somewhere for you. And if not, it’s simply waiting to be created.

Waiting to be created, huh? Say. No. More.

I create original chiptunes and rearrangements of other tracks using a free software called FamiTracker. It’s based on the Nintendo Family Computer (or Famicom, hence FamiTracker) — known internationally as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It follows the limitations of the original 2A03 sound chip, so I’m positive it’d play like that on the original hardware.

Original Chiptunes

Supersonic Proving Grounds (5:34)

heavy, action-loaded, progressive, evolving

A high-energy, progressive, heavy-metal-style chiptune frenzy that netted me the nickname “Dolph Lundgren of Chiptune”. A title I wear it with pride.

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Tides (3:39)

70s-inspired, progressive, riff-based, evolving

Tides is the chiptune equivalent of a late ’70s progressive jam session, a lovechild of early Iron Maiden, Fleetwood Mac, and Tim Follin’s Solstice.

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Chiptune Rearrangements / 8-Bit Covers

J-E-N-O-V-A (2:30)

Final Fantasy VII

written by Nobuo Uematsu

The battle theme from confrontations with everyone’s favorite space alien mom Jenova from the seminal Final Fantasy VII original soundtrack.

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The Man with the Machine Gun (2:49)

Final Fantasy VIII

written by Nobuo Uematsu

Laguna Loire is one of my favorite video game characters of all time and he has a kick-ass theme to boot! Try not to get a leg cramp while tapping your feet to this!

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