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Introduction Methodology A Very Short History of Computers The Commodore 64 Computerised Sound The SID Chip The BASIC Way to Write Commodore64 Audio The Music Masters The Demoscene The End of Commodore? The End References


This shall be a dissertation focusing on the Commodore 64 and its sound chip. The primary reason for choosing this subject is that although there are items of information available to be read, there is not a concise writing that brings together all of the elements of this remarkable chip and its impact on European music in general. This dissertation shall begin with explaining the computer system that is the Commodore64, its position in the computer games system timeline and explaining simply, other systems around at that time and how they differed. Also it shall explain why the Commodore64 was regarded so highly and what made it so popular in general. This shall include sales figures and other information.

The next part of this dissertation will be spent explaining the sound chip of the Commodore64, with diagrams and specifications of the chip, its advantages and disadvantages, its predecessors and successors. It shall explain the technology behind the chip and ways in which musicians found to get around the chips problems to create “new” sounds.

After this, there shall be a section explaining how, even after the Commdore64’s downfall, bands and solo artists have still continued to use the writing style of how to write for the chip. There shall also be information on how live bands have continued to use the chip, even today.

At the end of the dissertation shall be an explanation of why the Commodore64 eventually was outsold, and also how computer game music of now is different from the 8-bit era.

The conclusion shall be an amalgamation of all I can find out about this fascinating chip and how it has shaped music on computer games since.


The methodology for this study shall mainly comprise of qualitative analysis of interviews and analysis of pieces of music written using the SID Chip.

A methodology is a detailed description of the processes a researcher shall go through in order to conduct the main analysis section of a dissertation.

There are two ways to conduct research. One of which is called quantitative research, this school of research is primarily concerned with numbers and data which can be easily converted into graph form. One of the main uses of quantitative research is with surveys and questionnaires which contain questions which require the user to tick boxes, or to answer in the form of a number, for example, the type of questions such as “Rate X on a scale from 1 to 5”. One of the main problems in this type of research lies in requiring the user to understand the questions that are being asked as the research found after can only be used properly when used in the correct context.

The second school of research, qualitative, is concerned more with the why and how of questions, and less the when and where of quantitative research. As such, this street of research is more concerned with interviews and the like. One of the uses of qualitative research can be to find trends to be used in quantitative graphs and such. However the same can be said that quantitative research is used to create understandings in qualitative research. Finally, it could be said that while qualitative research is concerned with finding things out that one might not know the exact question to ask, quantitative research can be used to form conclusive evidence.

My research shall be taking both forms of research, primarily qualitative, in that I shall be conducting interviews with composers who have used the SID chip in all its incarnations and

also using pre-conducted interviews to also aid my research. However, I shall be using quantitative research to analyse music that has been written using the chip and finding trends in the use of the chip.

The interviews will be sent out in e-mail form to people. Due to the nature of the people I shall be interviewing, Questions will be adapted to fit the person or persons I am interviewing. Due to this, the answers I shall receive may differ greatly and the quality of responses may vary from blasé to incredibly in-depth due to the differing status of the people I shall be asking.

One of the main shortcomings I shall find in my research is that in attempting to score out how certain pieces of music were written, I shall be using a program called SID2MIDI, which converts SID Chip program runtimes to MIDI note information. However, this program is a little temperamental, as it is a third party program created by a third party, the part of the program that converts the signal, requires the user to change a lot of variables in order to construct the MIDI file correctly. One of the main problems with this was confirmed to me by “DJ_Skitz” during an informal chat whereby he told me that if the original SID used portamento to land the note then during conversion the file will not modify the note correctly and as such, some notes can be vastly incorrect once converted.

There are two main schools of reasoning when conducting research. The first, deductive, is used when you begin with a general theory or hypothesis which is then used to conduct observations on the collected data and then in conclusion to use the hypothesis with specific data to see if the original theory can be confirmed or not.

The second, inductive, shall be the reasoning I will be using. This train of thought begins with observations on collected data, and then continues with finding patterns in the data. Using these patterns a general hypothesis can be found and finally resolved into a theory, which can then be used to deduce other patterns in the data.

A Very Short History of Computers.

Thousands of years have gone into the production of computers and sound devices. What initially began with the use of tally to count and the bashing of two items together for sound has come along to what we know today as the use of computers to record, write and perform music with.

The computer developed primarily from a need to do complex calculations, the main point of which was to aid the user, rather than hinder. The first “Computers” were around thousands of years ago. Items such as the abacus, which is heralded as one of the most important inventions ever, as it allowed for positional value notation which ultimately led to the creation of decimal, hexadecimal and binary numeral systems used in computations all around. After this, there were many mechanical inventions, such as the “Speeding Clock” by Wilhelm Shickard, this could add and subtract numbers up to 6 digits in length, with a bell that rang if there was to be an overflow error. This, also along with the machines invented by Sir Charles Babbage, the Analytical Engine and the Difference Engine which were all key factors in the understanding and creation of modern computers.

By far the most important invention for modern computers however, was the advent of the silicon chip and the microprocessor. This allowed for computers which began as huge roomoccupying machines to be reduced in size to machines that one could place on a table, if not smaller. All this eventually led to many companies contending for their chips to be used in the latest computer or programmable calculators.

The Commodore64

Commodore was originally an electronics company, founded by Jack Tramiel (nee Idek Tramielski), in 1955. Initially as a company specifically designed to build and produce typewriters. He chose the name Commodore as he wanted a militaristic feeling and other names such as general and admiral were already taken. After Commodore had made a name for itself in the typewriter business, they went on to create electronic calculators, using chips made by Texas Instruments and LED Displays by Bowmer. Eventually, Texas Instruments went into their own self-contained company. This left Commodore requiring a new chip manufacturer. MOS Technologies, at the time were manufacturing microprocessors for $25 per individual unit, compared to around $150 for an 8-bit microprocessor. Commodore initially went into a partnership with MOS Technologies, but in 1976 purchased them for $800,000 as well as Frontier, a manufacturer of CMOS chips and MDSA an LCD maker. Also in 1976, the designer of the 6502 MOS Microprocessor, Chuck Peddle, convinced Tramiel that the future in marketing and sales was in computers. So, in 1977 the first Commodore machine was created. It was codenamed PET, an acronym for Personal Electronic Transactor. Commodore then began running advertisements in newspapers for their PET, then priced at $599, after which they received orders to the sum of $3 million in the first year.

Then, in 1983, after a few updated versions of the PET machine had been released, along with another model of computer called the VIC, both with varying levels of success, Commodore announced the C64.

Initially priced at $595, the C64 was a brilliant competitor against all other similar computers at the time, most of which were retailing for almost double the price. Commodore was able to afford to offer the computer for such a small price because of vertical integration, that is, Commodore owned all the companies required to build the computer, MOS Technologies being one of the most important. This meant that they were able to lower the price of the C64 drastically, to $200, within a year of originally releasing it. One television advertisement for

the C64 boasted this by showing many different models of machines around at the time, and then showing their own model, with specifications and the price.

Not long after the Commodore64 was released, Jack Tramiel resigned from Commodore, stating “Personal reasons prevent my continuing on a full-time basis with Commodore.” Commodore continued however, and Jack Tramiel went to create his own company.

One of the things that also helped the C64 in the marketing war was that Commodore sold their machine on shelves of department stores, toy stores and so on. Since it was able to output video directly via an aerial, the C64 was able to compete directly with home entertainment systems and video games consoles such as the Atari2600, along with personal computers such as the IBMPC and the AppleII.

However, due to a crash in the videogame market in 1983 in which for the first time in its lifetime, Atari computers had a massive downfall in its sales, the outcome of this allowed Commodore computers to get a better foothold on the market of both business machine users and casual gaming users. The video game crash for Atari was best remembered for the way they tried to hide it, with the President and CEO of Atari at the time selling 5,000 shares of stock mere minutes before announcing astonishing sales figures. Atari had amassed an astonishing $536million in losses in 1983 and by 1984, Warner Communications (Now part of Time Warner, owned by AOL since 2001) had dropped Atari.

However, by far the most remarkable move for Atari was in late 1982, when the head of Warner Communications signed a deal with Steven Spielberg to produce a video game for the movie, “E.T.”. Rushed out and hailed as one of the worst games of all time, the result was that Atari made 5 million copies of the game, to have almost every single one returned to them. With five million copies of the game, the only way to get rid of them, Atari thought, would be to dump them in a landfill in New Mexico and bury them in cement, which is precisely what they did.

The above move for Atari ultimately allowed Commodore to become the leading manufacturer of personal computer gaming for the time being.

Shortly after Atari computers were dropped by Warner Communications, Jack Tramiel purchased Atari , with the aid of his own company Tramel Corporation. Warner Communications kept control of Atari Games and Atari Coin-op divisions but they were sold to Namco in 1985.

The 2006 Guinness Book of World Records recognised the Commodore64 as the greatest selling single computer model of all time, selling more than 22 million units worldwide.

The Commodore64’s programming language was Commodore BASIC (An acronym for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), initially purchased from Microsoft for a one-off fee of $10,000, which allowed them to use the code that Microsoft had come up with prior to 1982 with no fear of royalty issues. Using the original Microsoft basic code, written as a programming language for the MOS Technology 6502 chip in 1975, Commodore were able to modify it to work to their own specifications, able to read and address the custom chips inside the Commodore64.

The way the BASIC editor on a Commdore64 works made it possible to input edit and enter direct commands very easily due to the full-screen editor. Many other BASIC languages at the time were less advanced, requiring the user to input a line at a time, using EDIT commands and such.

One thing the programmer was able to do using this version of BASIC was to be able to save a “program” to a device, such as the cassette, via datasette or disk. This allowed the user to

reload any “program” at will after switching the machine off.

Most programs for the Commdore64 came on tape or disk; this required the user to be subject to sometimes loading times of up to half an hour due to the speed at which BASIC can interpret the data. To make up for this, some programmers used to write the code in 6502 Assembly code language rather than BASIC and then execute the code using the SYS command in BASIC.

Compared to other computers at the time, the Commodore64 at launch was vastly superior in terms of memory and pricing, with the IBM PC selling for $1565, with 16kilobytes of ram. The AppleII also, with only 48kilobytes of ram, was selling for $1530 and the leading Atari home computer at the time was selling for $899 with 16kilobytes of ram. It was of no surprise then, that at the Commodore64’s launch, with its 64kb of ram and original selling price of $595, it had a very good reception. American Express was quoted in multiple advertisements for the Commodore64 as saying “The Commodore64 could be the microcomputer industry’s outstanding new product introduction since the birth of the industry.”

One of the most memorable parts in the Commodore64 commercials however was the background music, written by Walter Carlos, who also composed the music for the movie Tron. Kit Spencer, the advertising executive for Commodore also wrote some radio jingles for the Commodore64, one of which was the ‘famous’ “I adore my 64” theme song.

I adore my 64, My Commodore64 I sing with it, write with it, Figure my path to flight with it, My Commodore64.

I rate with it, reate with it, Telecommunicate with it, My Commodore64.

Many online publications compare the Commodore64 to the car by Ford called the Model T, calling the computer the Model T Ford of the computer movement. This was because the Model T Ford was the first automobile that the average person could afford and justify in buying because of its low price and ease of use.

Zachary Williams, the host of the Commodore64 webzine, Lemon64, was quoted by as saying “For a lot of people, it was their first video-game system. It may not have flashy graphics, but the games were just as fun.” Also in the same article, vintage computer-expert Sellam Ismail, who valued an original prototype of the C64 in 2003 as in the region of $10,000, said “This was a computer that so many people had exposure to. It was a machine that introduced a lot of people to computing”. (2003)

Computerised Sound

A major part of modern computers for musicians was the inclusion of the availability of a sound card or chip, which allowed the user to input and output data in the form of sound, using programs or code, inputted into the machine. Professional sound cards nowadays are typically used for real-time audio manipulation or for editing audio in general. Other sound cards are primarily used for entertainment or the like. Most computers nowadays come with a built in sound card, however, unless the use for the machine is business only, many users prefer to purchase an expansion card allowing for multiple speakers such as surround sound.

A very basic sound card consists of an input and output connector, a connection to the motherboard of the computer itself, an analogue to digital convertor and a digital to analogue convertor. The last two are sometimes combined onto one chip called a CODEC (An acronym for Coder / Decoder). What usually would happen is that the sound would be taken in analogue form, in that the sound travels in waves, placed through the analogue to digital convertor and converted to a digital data signal which the computer can then interpret as sound. To listen back to said sample again, the computer would send the digital signal back through the digital to analogue convertor and out through the output connector as analogue wave forms.

Prior to this however, sound cards inside computers were unheard of and the only way to get sound out of a machine would be to use sound chips.

In the early 1970s, when the original video games began appearing in arcades, music was stored on physical media such as records or cassettes. A more affordable way to have music appeared later on in the decade in which digital means were used. A specific computer chip, called a sound chip would be used to change digital data and electrical impulses from computer code into analogue sound waves, this allowed for users to have sound effects without the burden of physical affects.

When audio originally began appearing on arcade machines in this manner it was usually a monophonic track, this being a track with only one line, or was used between stages so as to allow for sound effects during levels. Pac Man is a good example of this, as during levels the only sounds audible were of the familiar eating sound of “Pacman”, the sound of the ghosts moving around and the change from that to the sound of “scared” ghosts when a power-pill was picked up. However, between levels, when nothing was happening on the game, the sound chip would play a fairly complex, yet short musical motif.

When video game music is played using a sound chip however, it obviously means that at some point in the process of making the game that the music has to be hardcoded and transcribed into the computer using computer code by the programmer, whether the programmer has musical experience or not. Therefore, sometimes when writing the tracks, some music was original; however most at the early point of music in computer games was public domain such as classical music or anonymously written folk songs. However even these had to be modified to accommodate the systems at the time. For example the Atari2600 system was only capable of generating two notes at the same time due to technical limitations in its own chip.

Games systems with dedicated sound chips began getting more and more advanced at the dawn of the 1980s with machines in arcades using the Yamaha YM chips for sound generators allowing for even more notes to be played simultaneously, sometimes as many as eight. However as is the case, these proved too expensive at the time to manufacture into home console and computer systems.

Home systems however also had a fairly decent upgrade in sound ability in the early 80’s with consoles and computers being able to use up to five different channels.

The SID Chip “You can get a remarkable result when you tell an engineer to do what he thinks is right. Take the SID (Sound Interface Device), for example. In 1981, Bob Yannes was told to design a low-cost sound chip for the upcoming Commodore 64. He would end up creating an analog [sic] synthesizer chip that redefined the concept of sound in personal computers.”(1995)

Bob Yannes, originally from Pennsylvania in the US, was one of the designers of the Commodore64, although he had a greater role in the design of the MOS Technology 6581 chip, more commonly known as the SID chip (An acronym for Sound Interface Device). Yannes was a electronic music enthusiast prior to working for MOS Technologies. In the early 70s, Yannes was impressed by the electronic sounds of synthesizers in modern music. These sounds influenced Yannes into the direction his life would take him. Yannes music tastes drove him to listen to musical artists that used electronic sounds, such as Emerson Lake and Palmer, Kraftwerk and Mike Oldfield. In 1974 Yannes found that he could order “kits” to build synthesizers and as such ordered his first kit. Due to a severely limited budget, Yannes bought from a company called PAiA Electronics. Yannes said that “The PAiA kits were kind of crude but they were very inexpensive, which is why I could afford them. There were a few other companies making kits, but they were thousands and thousands of dollars.” Yannes’ first synthesizer was the PAiA Gnome, which was capable of creating nonharmonic sound effects and ran off batteries; however it did not have a keyboard. “It wasn’t really a music instrument but it made some interesting sounds”, said Yannes. Yannes began work with building computers whilst in college where he would build computer kit for the labs around the campus. “There were a lot of people coming in,” he said “who were interested in computers but were not interested in building their own and particularly debugging it because a lot of them weren’t very reliable designs back then.” In university, the course material was so far behind him that he negotiated with his tutors to do independent study courses and project courses. As mentioned earlier, at the time, MOS Technologies were creating chips that were vastly

cheaper than the competition. So during the course at his university, due to monetary constraints, it was the 6502 processor that Yannes chose over the others as it was retailing for $25 at the time, compared to the Intel 8080 processor which was selling for $200. He jokes that “You had your 8080 people, you had your 6502 people and your 6800 people and they would get into violent arguments over which one was the better processor. Kind of like Ford and Chevy.” “I’m not a good musician at all, but I was very much interested in making synthesized music, I hoped to have a computer with a multi-track sequencer that I could play the information into and then edit t to correct my mistakes. I was also just interested in computer graphics. I thought it was really cool what you could do on a computer screen.” In 1978, Yannes met his chance to make it big, when Al Charpentier, designer of the video chip that would be used in the Commodore64, the VIC-20, visited Yannes on a recruiting drive around prospective universities. Yannes commented that “Al said one of the reasons he hired me is he figured someday my knowledge of music synthesis would be beneficial to the company. Al is a very smart man.” Initially when Yannes began working for MOS Technologies, which at the time was already a subdivision of Commodore, he didn’t begin working on sound chips to begin with. However, using his knowledge to improve the sound capabilities of the 6560 VIC chip, in early 1981, Charlie Winterble finally proposed a sound chip for Commodore and Yannes felt like his whole life had been building up to this one project. Charlie Winterble remarked at the dedication that Yannes put into the chip, calling it the “… most important thing in Bob’s life…” The engineers called the chip SID, which stood for Sound Interface Device. The naming convention would follow in the same tradition as the TIM, KIM, PET and VIC chips. They even gave it the product number 6581. Knowing that Yannes wanted to make the chip to a high standard already Winterble had told Yannes, “I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t put in your sound chip, but you know we’ve got a data and we’ve got a cost issue… you be as creative as you want to be” With that in mind and with a short deadline of less than a year to design and make the chip ready to be used in the prototype Commodore64, both Yannes and Winterble began working on a list of features for the chip that would be used in the C64. Because the group was such as small team, they could work out some good methods for including features on the chip and

the small team also allowed for a lot of work to get done in short time due to the tightly knit group. Bob Yannes did not look at the competition in the realms of sound chips for inspiration because as he said – “I thought the sound chips on the market, including those in the Atari computers, were primitive and obviously had been designed by people who knew nothing about music.” Yannes wanted to create a chip that blew the other chips out of the water. “With most of the sound effects in games, there is either full volume or no volume at all. That really makes music impossible. There’s no way to simulate the sound of any instrument even vaguely with that kind of envelope, except maybe an organ.” Sound chips themselves usually contain a tiny mechanism on the chip built from transistors called an oscillator. The oscillator produces the electrical signal it receives from the computer which travels to the signal amplifier and finally to the speaker. Initially, Yannes had wanted to make the chip contain the availability to produce 32 multiple voices at once, however this would’ve meant Yannes would have to build special circuitry called a multiplexer to share the oscillator on the chip. “I wish I had done it because it would have been the first chip implementation of a wave table oscillator,” said Yannes. However, due to time constraints, they did not have the time o get the design and layout done for a multiplexer and instead settled with copying the layout for one voice three more times in the layout. “If you look at a SID chip under a microscope, you’ll see three chunks that look the same.” said Yannes. Although the other people in charge with creating the chips for the Commodore64 were under the impression that Yannes was creating a sound chip designed exclusively for computers and video game consoles. What Yannes actually wanted to do was create a multi-tracking, polyphonic musical synthesizer. He even put in some features that were not needed in the Commodore64. For example, one of the input pins on the SID chip was designed so it could receive signals from outside sources, such as an electric guitar, bass or other instrument, such as an outside synthesizer. “We were working so fast on the VIC chip and the SID chip that no one was looking over my shoulder to see what I was doing.” stated Yannes. Initially, when the chip was created from the silicon wafers, it used 7-micrometer technology,

this allowed for a higher yield of actual working chips, which reduced overall costs for the chip itself. When the first chips rolled out, they worked to an extent that was acceptable to be put into the prototypes of the machines. Yannes was not completely satisfied with the chip, commenting on how the signal-to-noise ratio was fairly poor and as such produced an audible hum when the chip was not actually creating any sound but whilst the oscillator was still going. However, this was a moot point in the end when programmers eventually got a hold of the chip as they dealt with the problem by telling the oscillator to stop whenever a note was completed, making it almost silent with regards to users listening to any audio that contained vast silences. Yannes worried vastly about how the final chip didn’t conform to the standard that his original design had set, originally stating it would have the availability to have 32 individual voices in a multiplexed arrangement. However, Charlie Winterble put Yannes in his place, telling him that “This thing is already 10 times better than anything out there and 20 times better than it needs to be.” As a comparison, the SID was able to produce 3 distinct separate voices, each with its own ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release) and capable of distinct waveforms. The Atari2600’s sound chip was only capable of creating 2 simultaneous voices, was not capable of ADSR envelopes and was not a dedicated sound chip either, as it was also concerned with the Atari2600’s video output too. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s sound chip in comparison was even more primitive, with only being able to produce one channel of sound through a beeper speaker set into the machine itself. As such, within a year both the VICII video chip, the SID6581 chip and the Commodore64 prototypes were built and ready to be pushed for consumers to purchase.

The BASIC Way to Write Commodore64 Audio.

When the Commodore64 first came out, there was no dedicated music package with which to write music with, nor was there any dedicated BASIC code that one could use for relatively easy writing in of musical notation. This was because Jack Tramiel chose not to invest in the software side and as such basic commands were not added to the original Microsoft BASIC to allow for the SID chip, nor for the VICII chip.

As a result, in the early days of the Commodore64, programmers found that they had to input complicated POKE and PEEK commands which required a very good knowledge of the memory sectors of the chip. This disallowed casual beginners who had hoped to use the Commodore64 for music writing or for game creating with complex music.

Because the Commodore64 was basically a very large update to the VIC-20 computer processor, some programmers from Japan were capable of re-programming their old VIC-20 programs for the Commodore64. However, due to a mistake in the manual the code they had written for the SID was all wrong. As Bob Yannes recalls in an interview –

“The funniest thing I remember was getting in a whole bunch of C-64 video games which had been written in Japan. The Japanese are so obsessed with technical specifications that they had written their code according to a SID spec. sheet (which I had written before SID prototypes even existed). Needless to say, the specs were not accurate. Rather than correct the obvious errors in their code, they produced games with out of tune sounds and filter settings that produced only quiet, muffled sound at the output. As far as they were concerned, it didn't matter that their code sounded all wrong, they had written their code correctly according to the spec. and that was all that mattered!” (2003)

As an example of how to write a melodic line into the Commodore64, is in the manual for the C64, in which it says...

5 S=54272 10 FOR L=S TO S+24:POKE L,0:NEXT: REM CLEAR SOUND CHIP 20 POKE S+5,9:POKE S+6,0 30 POKE S+24,15: REM SET MAXIMUM VOLUME LEVEL 40 READ HF,LF,DR 50 IF HF<0 THEN END 60 POKE S+1,HF:POKE S,LF 70 POKE S+4,33 80 FOR T=1 TO DR:NEXT 90 POKE S+4,32:FOR T=1 TO 50:NEXT 100 GOTO 40 110 DATA 25,177,250,28,214,250 120 DATA 25,177,250,25,177,250 130 DATA 25,177,125,28,214,125 140 DATA 32,94,750,25,177,250 150 DATA 28,214,250,19,63,250 160 DATA 19,63,250,19,63,250 170 DATA 21,154,63,24,63,63 180 DATA 25,177,250,24,63,125 190 DATA 19,63,250,-1,-1,-1

All of the above code creates a single melodic line with 10 notes [Track 1]. As you can see, this can be quite cumbersome.

An explanation of each line would be as follows.

5 S=54272

- This sets ‘S’ to memory code 54272, which is where the SID chips memory registers begin.


- This sets L to memory, being S, to S+24, that being 54272 to 54296, which is all the registers for the SID chip. Setting L to zero therefore,

resets the SID to silence.

20 POKE S+5,9:POKE S+6,0

- S+5 is the attack and decay settings for voice one, S+6 is the Sustain and Release settings for voice one.

30 POKE S+24,15

-S+24 is the volume setting for all voices. Setting this to 15 allows for maximum volume.


-READ is used to assign information from DATA strings. In this instance, each set of 3 numbers beginning from the DATA strings shall be used and assigned to HF, LF and DR.


-This line purely tells the program that if a DATA string for HF is less than zero, then to end the program.


-This tells the SID chip that memory register 54273 (S+1) shall be assigned to HF, the high frequency of the note, and that 54272 (S) shall

be assigned to LF, the low frequency of the note.

70 POKE S+4,33

-This assigns the memory register 54276 (Concerned with the waveform for voice one) to a saw tooth wave(33). If the user poked the number 17 it would create a triangle wave. With 65 being concerned with pulse wave and 129 a noise channel.


-This sets T, the duration of the note, to be assigned to whatever DR is set to.

90 POKE S+4,32:FOR T=1 TO 50:NEXT

-This tells the waveform of the note to stop. (Setting the waveform register to anything than the above numbers will not output anything) For a short time (in this case, 50)

100 GOTO 40

-This tells the program to return to line 40 and to start again with the next group of three numbers.

110 DATA 25,177,250,28,214,250 120 DATA 25,177,250,25,177,250 130 DATA 25,177,125,28,214,125 140 DATA 32,94,750,25,177,250 150 DATA 28,214,250,19,63,250 160 DATA 19,63,250,19,63,250 170 DATA 21,154,63,24,63,63 180 DATA 25,177,250,24,63,125 190 DATA 19,63,250,-1,-1,-1

Each data line contains 6 numbers, which are set to 2 groups of 3 on each line, the HF, LF and DR are arranged using each of the sets of numbers, for example, the first time the program runs, it reads HF as 25, LF as 177 and DR as 250. When it repeats it reads HF as 28, LF as 214 and DR as 250 again.

As one can tell from this, the duration of the notes are not based around crotchets or minims, but rather clock cycles. As such, you can have as little or as many notes you can decide to write up.

As you can tell, coding was a long and arduous task and even then, the above example is a very simple example with no advanced coding.

The Music Masters

Music on the C64 in its early days was originally very simple due to the very long tasks of writing out the melody parts. However, as more programmers got wind of the technical abilities of the SID chip, more music was written, with many shortcuts were made to be able to the code using unorthodox (in terms of SID chip register notation) BASIC code.

Ben Daglish is widely accepted as one of the pioneers of writing music for the Commodore64. Originally a music student who found solace in computers due to the ease of being able to offer an instant arrangement device, even if they were only 3 voiced.

When asked about how to write a song using the coding, Daglish said,

“Get the groove (and if possible, on a 3 voice chip, get a groove that can be played with just one voice...dum-diddy-PAH-dum-dum-diddyPAH-diddy...), and then a basic chordal structure (again, if possible, on one voice - quickly toggled arpeggios and the like), then slap a tune on top.”

Basically, due to the SID chip only being able to produce three voices at once, in order to fully utilise and get the most out of the chip, writers would use one track for both the “drums” and “bass” much like a beatboxer would to produce two notes at the same time. To get around this better, the writer would write in a track which would use the bass note to also be used as the “kick drum” sound.

To make a hi-hat or snare sound, there was a trick that was not documented in the SID chips documentation. What a programmer would do would be to change the volume of the voice quickly. This would result in the SID chip outputting an audible piece of a click or “fuzz” which could be taken as the snare or hi-hat sound.

For users, at the original dawn of writing music for the SID chip, they would initially write chords which used all 3 voices to create one chord. However, this would leave no other voices to be used and as such, nothing else could be written. This left for very large, chord based symphonies; much like Ben Daglish’s self-proclaimed “mini-symphony” [Track 2] which uses simple notes over a repeating chord structure. However, users would soon come to realise that due to the nature that the C64 did not work around note lengths and instead worked around very complex and precise clock cycles, they could have the SID chip replicate the sound of a very fast arpeggiated chord with ease, by having one track play the 3 notes of the chord one after the other at lightning fast speeds, tricking the user into thinking the chord is being played at once.

Daglish said that “No semi-quaver was left unturned”, this meant that whilst one track was playing fast arpeggiated chords, another would be playing the bass and drums whilst the third would be playing the melody, with “any pauses in the melody being filled with an extra drum note or whatever”.

Being able to recall certain melodic motifs and repeat them, or reverse them and so on, would allow the programmer to use less of the Commodore64’s memory on music and allowed the graphics designers and game writers more memory for their programs.

Many programs would use the SID chip as its main standpoint for their program, such as creating music making packages that allowed users who had no actual knowledge of BASIC or programming code to write and use the Commodore64 for musical abilities.

Programs would invariably use the SID chip to the fullest extent throughout the 80’s, sometimes going as far as to not have any sound effects so they could use all three channels for creating the music for the game rather than having to sacrifice a channel to create noises for explosions and the like. One noticeable example is the game “Monster Mash”, which was released on the Commodore magazine, Commodore Format in issue 31. What this game allowed for was for the gamer to choose whether they wished to play with music or with sound effects. [Track 3 contains the music for this game].

Many other users would go on to write music using the BASIC code that came with the Commodore in general and also with musical creation programs such as Rob Hubbard’s own program which allowed for changing envelopes of the sound of notes mid-note. It also allowed for glissandi, filters, voice swapping, etc. It also allowed for multiplexing fastarpeggiated chords in software mode.

Rob Hubbard was one of the pioneers for the Commodore64 also, along with others such as Martin Galway and Jeroen Tel, they really showed what the Commodore64 was capable of in terms of sound and music capabilities. In an online video, depicting an orchestra playing remixes of old Commodore64 songs, Rob Hubbard says:

“Basically you had to learn assembly language programming to get anything done on these machines. So, you had to be a musician and you had to learn programming and it was very low level assembly language coding to get all this to work,.. there were no higher level tools or method of being able to get this the music in, so you had no option but to be a programmer to get it to work.” (2006)

Ben said that “... game music (and graphics) wasn’t just about the quality of the music, but the appreciation of the cleverness of the arrangement [of the music] and the mastery of the chip.”

The Demoscene.

Once the Commodore64 had been around for a while it started to spawn a style of presentation called the Demoscene.

The Demoscene allowed seasoned veterans of coding and designing to show off their wares in a style of which was fitting. Allowing them to write the code, save it onto tape or disk and market it to a wide audience. This allowed for groups of people to show off against other “demo” groups.

The Demoscene originally started out with hackers and game-copy groups who would invariably release a copy of the game but with an introduction stating that they were the ones who copied it. As such, the hackers and groups would begin racing to be the first to release the game without serial code requirements or purely to have their name before the game loaded and so on.

The Demoscene still thrives today, with multiple books and online articles going into the requirements of modern Demoscene competitions and such.

Due to Demoscene competitions of the 8-bit style were on computers that had exactly the same hardware inside them, it came down to writing program code that would allow the user to utilise every last clock cycle of the graphics and audio chips. Modern Demoscene competitions are more concerned with using as little of the memory requirements as possible of the computer it is created on.

It is commonly accepted that just like writing a song for SID alone, most of the joy of viewing a demoscene is in the appreciation and cleverness of the arrangement and mastery of

the chips in general.

The End of Commodore?

The Commodore64 eventually ceased production in April 1994 due to Commodore international filing for liquidation. The company had slowly began to fall apart, partially due to Jack Tramiel leaving soon after the Commodore64 had been released, also the increasing price and technical ability of computers were soon becoming too fast for the company to keep up with larger names such as IBM and Apple, even the Spectrum at the end of the 8-bit era was giving the Commodore a run for its money by releasing computers capable of four simultaneous voices. However, consumer use overpowered as the Commodore64 was still more popular at this time.

Commodore released other computers after the Commodore64, but none of them were able to live up to the shock and awe the Commodore64 had created on its birth. One computer Commodore made after the Commodore64 was the Commodore128, which had higher processing power and a better BASIC machine coding. However this did not sell as well due to its higher price. Even though it could do everything the C64 could whilst in compatibility mode and more.

However, as much as the Commodore64 faded into the realms of memories and history, the tiny chip that was designed by Bob Yannes in 1981 continued to be used long after the death of the Commodore64. Users would eventually end up removing the SID from their computers in order to use them in their own synthesizers, (Something that Bob Yannes had originally designed the chip for).

Many of the people who still follow the SID chip and use it in their modern compositions were in some way involved with the Commodore64 in its heyday, be that as a programmer, a gamer or if they worked on the Demoscene and as such, know a lot about the inner workings of the Commodore r of the technical limitations of the SID chip.

One band that still uses the SID chip in their music is a metal band from Sweden called Machinae Supremacy. Using a product made by Elektron called the SidStation, which is in actuality a small box containing the SID chip inside it with MIDI ins and outs to connect to it, they are able to utilise sounds from the C64 era in their music. The band are mostly famous in online remix circles as they covered a song originally written for the Commodore64 game, The Giana Sisters. [Track 4 is the original SIDtune and Track 5 is the Machinae Supremacy version] The Machinae Supremacy version of this song fuses together other songs from the Giana Sisters, not just the main theme. Machinae Supremacy has also released three tracks called Sidology episode 1, episode 2 and episode 3, each of which take the listener on a journey through metal versions of SIDtunes. [Track 6 contains a track written by Rob Hubbard for the computer game International Karate, while track 7 contains an excerpt from Sidology episode 2, which is based on the song.]

Another group which perform remixes of Commodore64 songs is a band, also from Sweden, called Visa Roster. Which, in their own words “The name "Visa Röster" is Swedish (our main audience is Swedish), and translated it would be "Show Voices", where "visa" actually means "show", "tune" and "enlightened" at the same time. It's pretty hard to translate it, so we decided not to!”

The band Visa Roster has played extensively around for five years and they are remarkable in that they do not use instruments in order to re-enact the music. Instead, they perform solely with voice, the 6 members being assigned to different roles. Pex Tufvesson said that they chose the C64 as the machine to use songs from as “...the nostalgia is important. I think most gameplayers of the 1980'ies need a debriefing from the brainwashing of hearing short repetitive songs with prolonged exposure during long hours of game playing”

The band use 6 voices instead of the 3 the SID chip originally had, as a solo voice cannot simulate the arpeggios that the Commodore64 inevitably had in the most memorable songs.

As such, usually 3 of the members take care of the chordal structure, with one taking the bass and drums and the other two sharing the melody line. [Track 8 on the CD contains the same song as tracks 6 and 7, albeit in Visa Rosters own style and live]

The third cover band that was interviewed was a band called Press Play on Tape, (The common instruction that was displayed when the user wanted to load a program from tape on the Commodore64). This band are all computer scientists in the computer game industry in some form of another and were not originally musicians and instead came to playing Commodore64 tunes out of a respect for the tunes themselves and to see if they could physically play them as a group. Press Play on Tape still use the SID in their music, but not via a SidStation as Machinae Supremacy do. Instead, Press Play on Tape use sampler software running from a PC in order to emulate the sound that the SID chip creates.

Another Artist who uses the memory of the SID to create music is a Swedish composer called Marcus Nilsson, who prefers to be called Makke. Makke was part of the Demoscene for a long time, but started remixing Commodore64 tunes ever since he started using computers to make music. Instead of rewriting songs written on the SID to approach his own style, he prefers to remix SID songs using the original tracks.

Like Visa Roster, Makke grew up with the Commodore64 and as such, his love of the music based around it eventually led to him writing music using it. However, unlike Visa Roster, Makke admits that he has very little theoretical music knowledge and much of his works are remixes rather than entire reworks. However, he does like to write his own lyrics and voice arrangements for the tracks. Because of Makke’s limited knowledge of music theory, a lot of his works are written in a trial and error format and even then, sometimes he gets bored of a song before he is completely satisfied with it. “I often end up releasing remixes without being 100% satisfied with them.”

Just like the other bands that were interviewed, Makke and the others all mention Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway and Ben Daglish as the greatest Commodore64 writers and as such, every who was interviewed has said they were influential in their song writing styles. Even artists who only remix songs seem to get acknowledgement from their idols. As Makke said in the interview:

“One of the most surreal events of my life was the night before Back In Time Live London in 2004. I walked into a pub, I think it was called the London Pub actually, with a huge crowd of people sitting there, among others Ben Daglish and Jon Hare – old heroes of mine, you know – and they all knew my name! How friggin’ cool is that?

It’s a very very strange feeling when you can walk up to someone you’ve been a fan of for most of your life, struggle for words and end up only being able say “Dude!!!” and they go “I know…” and then they buy you a pint, and have a chat with you.” The End.

Before the Commodore64 had ceased manufacturing computers began being released that were capable of much higher quality sound and music. This spelt the end for the SIDchip for those who were not interested in it as a pioneering product or for its levels of nostalgia. The music seemed to change also as computers became greater in their abilities.

The release of FM Synthesis and MIDI controlled music was the beginning of the end for sound chips and the beginning of sound cards which allowed for multi tracking. As an example, MIDI allows up to 16 separate channels per MIDI port.

Eventually, games and music programs which were based around CD-Audio came about and the hook based melody music from the original 8-bit consoles was destroyed by the ability to have CD quality audio streaming whilst playing the game. The allowance for CD-audio allowed for the programmers to take a step back from writing the music and allowed dedicated musicians to step in, allowing for high quality sweeping orchestral scores. As Ben Daglish put it:

“...the 'film' style won out - the idea is for the music not to be noticed if it is, it's not doing its job properly. I think this only happened when everything else bcame[sic] filmic as well – video clips, hi-res graphics, voice recording etc.”

Press Play on Tape said:

“The moderne[sic] game music scene is very different from "old school" game music in that it is either licensed music or based on the same principles a motion picture music. Can you even say there's a modern game music scene?”

However, Makke points out that does the music on modern computer games even need to be noticed? He goes on to say that games of today may not actually be designed for old style game music, much like Ben Daglish said about how modern games are much more “filmic” too. “A catchy rock, pop or whatever tune may actually be distracting and annoying.” Makke offers.

So whilst the Commodore64 did have its time in the sun, along with everything good, it will eventually die an unexplained death. Whilst the SID chip is still in mass use in the hardcore underground sections of users, much “better” sound chips and cards are available now. The

main point of someone still using the SID chip would be for nostalgic purposes mainly. Unless of course, they’re looking for that very distinct sound that only the SID chip can portray.

References Anon. (1995). Most Important Chips. Available: Last accessed 27th May 2007

Anon. (2003). Commodore Billboard English Commercials. Available: ialsEnglish.htm. Last accessed 19th May 2007.

Anon. (2007). Buried Atari Cartridges. Available: Last accessed 28th May 2007.

Bagnall, B (2006). On The Edge - The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore. 2nd ed. Canada: Variant Press. 231-247.

C64 Orchestra, June 2006. [Online video]. Available: v=HzE1E6zIEFQ. Narrated by Rob Hubbard.

Computer History Museum. (2006). Timeline of Computer History. Available: Last accessed 29th May 2007.

Daglish, B. The Sid Chip. [E-mail] 24th April 2007.

Kahney, L. (2003). Grandiose Price for a Modest PC. Available: Last accessed 25th May 2007.

Kubarth, D. (2003). SID in-depth information site. Available: Last accessed 25th May 2007.

Makke. The Sid Chip. [E-mail] 26th March 2007.

Matthews, Ian. (2003). Chronological History of the Commodore. Available: Last accessed 18th May 2007.

Olsen, J.H. The Sid Chip. [E-mail] 15th April 2007.

Tufvesson, P. Your Music. [E-mail] 28th March 2007

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