Composing in SID Factory II, Part 4 – Instruments

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This is part 4 in a series of tutorial blog posts about how to compose a SID tune in SID Factory II. It will be about making instruments, the ADSR, waveforms, and how the wave table works. Click here for part 1.

Composing in SID Factory II, Part 1 – Introduction

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This is part 1 in a series of tutorial blog posts about how to compose a SID tune in SID Factory II. It will be about the music editor of choice and an optional tutorial about hexadecimal numbers.

The only prerequisite is that you’re at least acquainted with the SID chip in the Commodore 64. If you have heard many SID tunes and would now love to try making your own, you’ve come to the right place.

Question: I haven't, but I'm curious. What is a SID chip?

SID is short for Sound Interface Device and is the sound chip inside the Commodore 64 – a home computer that was very popular especially in the 80’s.

SID chip

The SID chip was ahead of its time. Although it only had 3 voices, it offered oscillators of 8 octaves, ADSR, four waveforms, pulse width modulation, multi mode filtering, ring modulation, and hard synchronization. It was like a tiny synthesizer, and you could even make it play digi samples along with the SID voices.

If you’re already familiar with chiptunes, you can think of it as the most advanced of this kind. It can sometimes sound like chiptunes with a little bit of extra effects, at other times surpassing chiptunes with incredible sounds of its own. The limitation of only three voices makes composing for it quite a challenge, but that’s what we SID composers love about it. It’s fun to see how far we can take it.

If you’re new to SID music and would love to listen to a few of these, I recommend visiting my site DeepSID. When you’re there, click the link in the top named RECOMMENDED to see a list of composers, then click one of them. Now click one of the rows in the left side to start listening.

But whether you know what SID music is or you’re new to it, I will try my best to guide you through how to make SID music. There are many music editors for composing SID. Some run directly on the Commodore 64 itself (or at least in a C64 emulator) while others run on your modern computer with the aid of a built-in SID emulator that is very faithful to the original sound.

In this tutorial series, I will be using an editor called SID Factory II. Click the link to download it.

I’m kind of biased here since it’s a music editor a team of three is developing, and I just happen to be one of them. But even if I have to be as objective as possible, it’s still a solid music editor with an abundance of features, and it was created by a legendary C64 composer that started in the 80’s. It doesn’t take up a lot of memory or CPU time – in fact, it has been used for several top notch C64 demos.

So what type of editor is SID Factory II? It’s a cross-platform application that runs directly in Windows, Mac or Linux. To produce the SID sound, it makes use of the renowned reSID emulator. It’s the same emulator that has also been used in several other popular music editors, players and C64 emulators.

It may look intimidating, but it’s a great tool for making SID music. Don’t worry, I’m not going to overwhelm you by going through all of its sections first. I will take it easy and only bring up the new areas as you need to know about it. It’s going to be the equivalent of “Hello, World” – and then I will be going into the more advanced features as the parts go by.

Tutorial: Hexadecimal

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Hexadecimal is a numeral system commonly used by computers. For example, when showing information from its memory in low-level programming languages such as C++ or even assembly language. In other words, whenever you get really close to the metal.

But it’s not just used in programming languages. Some software editors may also visualize all the data in hexadecimal values to present the information. This could be because of displaying a chunk of memory or a hard disk sector, or because you are editing data at a level where it just makes more sense due to the way the individual bits of these numbers are grouped by the hardware registers of a computer.

We humans are used to base 10 numbers. We are so used to it that explaining how to count from 0 to 9 then from 10 to 19 seems so very obvious. But for a computer, base 16 makes a lot more sense. Here you are counting from 0 to 9, continuing with A to F for values 10 to 15, then only bumping to 10 at that point. At this point, 10 means 16. It can be confusing, so low-level programmers added a designation to clearly differentiate hexadecimal from decimal. This can vary depending on the language and the origin. In old home computers, hexadecimal 10 is typically shown as $10. In C and C++, it is shown as 0x10.

But why does it make sense to use base 16 instead of base 10?

You Do Not Talk About SID Club

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Having been part of the big demo scene on the Commodore 64 in the 80’s, coding a popular music editor and making music on it, I’ve been entangled in this hobby for years before taking a break for decades and then returning to make both more music as well as a web site to play SID music.

Craving to keep myself updated on this very specific hobby, I’ve been scouring through lots of web sites, editors, players and social media every day to find interesting news, and some of this has even been used to good effect at my site. At one point I even considered adding a WordPress blog to this site with SID news presented as blog posts – and maybe even allow guest posts for other SID aficionados to write.

But as the years went by since my comeback, I have been repeatedly disappointed by the lack of buzz going on in this area. Considering how many really skilled composers there are hacking away at the SID chip these days, it’s astounding how little they actually talk about it.

In fact, it’s a tendency that eventually caused me to kill my WordPress plans entirely.

Grumpy Owl: Annoying Sounds of the Night

I live in an apartment right next to a street with shops, a café, a small meadow with trees – in short, a little bit of everything. When sleeping with an open window on hot nights, I’m sometimes awakened by the annoying sounds of the night.

This is my attempt at rating these sounds.

  1. A pair of magpies going KEKEKEKEKEKEKE (probably because some cat found their nest)
  2. A blackbird singing aggravatingly close to my window
  3. A group of night owl teenagers talking very loudly sitting outside the café across the street
  4. Two cats decide they hate each other and of course it has to happen just below my window
  5. One of the largest trucks on the planet (certainly one of the loudest) driving by
  6. A depressed woman that hates everything about life and everyone needs to hear about it
  7. That one rapper walking by while reciting one of his favorite songs
  8. A strange crow that sounds like it swallowed a laser gun
  9. A wood pigeon in a tree repeating the Forbidden Forest jingle

Never Alone

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Developer: Upper One Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

This was a cute puzzle platform game with a small Eskimo girl and a white fox. It sometimes felt like it was inspired by both ICO and Limbo. It could be played either as a true co-operation game, or single player by alternating the two characters. The latter worked well enough on its own.

The game itself was a side-scrolling puzzle platform in very convincing icy landscapes with a cold blizzard sometimes delivering gusts of wind that made it necessary to crouch down. Jumping and climbing was very easy for a while, in fact so much that it felt like it almost belonged in the facile adventure genre.

It didn’t last – it became plenty challenging.

Without spoiling too much, I was fleeing an ice bear on several occasions, a bad guy throwing fireballs, there were cooperation puzzles, even swimming through tunnels. The girl soon got hold of a bola to throw at targets – like ice to break it down or fragile wooden boards – which was also the only use of the mouse to aim her arm in the direction she wanted to hit. Everything else were keys only.

The Story of DeepSID

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It’s funny how it can sometimes feel like you’ve had your proudest creation behind you.

Maybe it was the time in the 80’s with the editor and the C64 tunes. The couple of maps I created for Half-Life. Or the years where I became overly obsessed with PC games and I fell off the face of the Earth for a few years. Then I created a games checklist-and-database called GameDeed and thought, I might actually have a web site that might steal some of the thunder from The BackLoggery and HowLongToBeat. Was I on the way to my proudest creation yet? No, not really.

GameDeed turned out to be a resounding fiasco.

GameDeed

Nevertheless, GameDeed was still very important and I don’t regret the time I spent coding it. I learned so much about web development from it that later benefit DeepSID. Before GameDeed I made a few static web sites and even my own theme for WordPress, but none of that would have prepared me for the monster site that DeepSID would eventually evolve into.