Chip Music and my attempt to write in that style.

I have always been intrigued by music on old systems and the distinct sound it created. I set out to research how the game music of that time was created and how I could best go about creating my own piece in that style. After a lot of listening to my old favourites I discovered a link to a video which outlined how to create this type of music. What fascinated me was the rules which composers had to follow. Before I get ahead of myself here is the video in question. 

It seemed confusing at first but after writing some notes on the different areas of discussion and reviewing something clicked. Today we have the resources to do whatever we want but with that it's hard to set rules to follow to improve. Chip music forces you to abide by certain rules or your music wont play on that chip found in all those game consoles. Thought it would be beneficial for me in the future and maybe some of you if I to write out the notes here that I made on the lecture. 

1) Waveforms 

  • Triangle, Square & Noise (pink for Reason) - expensive option Sine
  • Effects: Flange - Same sound in two channels but detune one of them
  • Range seperation - Waves sound different in difo registers
  • Effect rate: Vibrato, pulse width, glide (reason mod A)
  • Pitch range uses to much memory

2) Pitch

  • Atari 2600 -32 notes, most out of tune, f/k where f is 31.4k
  • Approaches:
  • Adapt - Compose with few notes
  • Workaround - toggle rapidly, apegio fast illusion of chords
  • Ignore - Out of tune and dont care XD
3) Tempo 
  • Ruled by the television frame rate
  • If track is in 4/4:
  • Europe 50hz - bpm - 107,125,150
  • USA 60hz -bpm - 113, 129, 150
  • 150 is the overlap so most chip tunes are at 150 bpm
4) Polyphony 
  • limit on channels (3-5)
  • some channels are limited in range and wave choice
  • workaround channel share:
  • arpegio fast - create chord effect - change effect rate not pitch rate
  • rhythm rate - two melodies on one linebut notes can't play at the same time in the bar
  • common to have bass and drums in one channel
  • Call/ response music technique
  • NES has 3 channels- wanted to play jazz chords which usually have four notes but you only have 3 channels. (1,3,5,7) maj 7 or m7
  • Famichord is a maj 7 without the 5th note. Space the remaining notes out
  • 5th is important in normal music to soften 1 and 7 clash but chip music is dissonant so it doesn't effect it so much.
5) Further Aspects 
  • Not much RAM - Patterns take space (2 bars) upbeats arn't used music in chip music
  • Game mechanics - take up one channel (coin sounds, punches etc
  • Instant context switch - lvl complete doesn't start from silent it interrupts the tune. Usually end jingle goes in tones to establish tonality
  • Limited dynamics available, switch channels with same line at different volumes.
6) Making track 
  • Start with melody
  • see what goes in the gaps, arpegio, rhythm
  • transpose channels bass

Even if this reads like a bunch of nonsense I think it clear to see there are rules that dictate what you can do. If you have a track in 4/4 and what it to play at the same tempo in the USA and Europe then you put the bpm to 150. Limited channels means that you have to be creative with limited sounds available and use workaround techniques to make it feel like there is more going on in the track. 
Below is my attempt at writing a chip tune and I will say now I didn't stick to all the rules above but definitely tried to stay true to that old style. Have a listen and see what you think and apologies for SoundCloud adding echoes to some of the notes, it must be the way they compress their files. 
Thanks for reading and listening :)