Chiptunes on home computers such as e.g. Commodore 64.
You Do Not Talk About SID Club
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.
The Story of DeepSID
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.
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.
In the end of August I introduced a new SID handler in DeepSID. But not just another emulator – this one allows you to play YouTube videos. This was something I added after I recently discovered that YouTube actually has an IFrame API that allows you to control YouTube videos using my own controls.
I made sure to make a full package out of it in the first release. Each SID row has support for up to five tabs, each with their own YouTube video, and a context menu option makes it possible to edit these tabs and even set one as the default. Even the individual subtunes of a SID row can have their own set of tabs.
Later I also added support for the
?t=123 time switch.
One of the final touches I added before releasing it was to make sure all SID rows were disabled until one or more YouTube videos were present. This instantly spawned a dark ocean of silent SID rows everywhere. Time to start adding YouTube videos. I eagerly flexed my fingers – and then it dawned upon me.
There are tens of thousands of SID rows, and I have to add this manually. 🙄
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
A question I’ve been asked from time to time about my web site DeepSID is how the SID composers in the MUSICIANS folders have been divided according to the quality of their songs.
All of the composer folders in each letter folder inside MUSICIANS have received a rating from 1-5 stars. I then decided that a certain amount of stars, say 3, determines that the composer is at least okay, maybe even good. If the rating is 4 or more, it’s a great composer.
This was done because I needed this division for at least three features of DeepSID:
- The list of recommendations, available from a link in the top line.
- The “All”, “Decent” and “Good” sort options for every MUSICIANS letter folder.
- Jumping to a random composer of a decent quality from the front page.
I knew that judging the composers to fit these three features would be a sensitive area. Even a minefield. I thought for a while about how I wanted to proceed doing this. I really wanted to involve a lot of people, but there were complications. Let’s go through each of these.
All Around The World
This is my first tune in SID Factory II. It’s a remix of All Around The World by ATC.
It’s also my first attempt at creating something I call “filter speech” which is speech emulation using filter and pulse in just one voice.
Here’s the CSDb entry where you can download the SID tune.
Here’s a cover of Childish Games by Lstn. Most of it was made in CheeseCutter in June 2019 as an extension to a filter chord test. I tweaked it a little bit before releasing it for the 2020 Quarantine Emotional Music Compo at CSDb. I later had to retract it as the competition doesn’t allow covers.
Here’s the SID tune: Children.sid
High Sturgeon’s SID Collection
I’ve now been listening through a ton of folders in DeepSID while curating for the
Good sort modes for each letter folder in MUSICIANS. If you are even remotely familiar with the High Voltage SID Collection, you may be aware that there’s a lot of garbage there.
Sturgeon’s law would have a field day with this collection.
After a while listening through so many tunes, a pattern of repeated rookie mistakes started to emerge. I repeatedly stumbled into the same mistakes over and over – surefire hints that the composer was subpar, or at least started off on the wrong foot. Of course, there are the obvious hints like bad harmonies or artsy noise experiments, but the following are much more common indicators.
A sign of a subpar folder is when…
- A tune starts with filtered noise sounds resembling waves at the beach, then typically overstays the welcome. Yes, I get it, you thought this was awesome. We all did. Now get on with it.
- Discovering that reusing the exact same notes in the other voices can make the tune so much louder. Especially annoying with thunks. Having to turn down the volume for a SID tune is surreal.
- The beginning of the tune has a simple pattern, perhaps only one voice of bass notes, then repeating this for several minutes until something finally changes. Praise be the
- A conversion of Axel F, The Final Countdown, Crockett’s Theme or the theme of Airwolf are present. There may still be hope – great composers also converted those – but they usually do not bode well.
- The notes for the leader is meandering in a pseudo-random manner, indicating that the composer just typed in whatever. Also, typically the next note is different than the previous one.
- Repeating rookie mistakes, like pulse sounds pulsating past their boundaries thereby producing a nasty click, or sliding down then wrapping around to produce high-pitched squeaks.
There are also other things that you would think might be in the same vein, such as using Future Composer or Sound Monitor, but that’s actually not fair. Maybe the composer didn’t have access to anything else but was still talented. Even Deflemask has managed to produce awesome tunes in spite of its memory curse. I rarely let the choice of player color my first-hand impression of a folder.
Except maybe Rock Monitor.
Here’s the SID tune I made for Vandalism News #68. It’s my second in GoatTracker and 8580 SID chip only.
Thanks to Cris Ekstrand for recording it on a real C64. He originally did it for me so I could hear if it sounded all right on the real deal (I didn’t have the SidBlaster yet back then) but I also used the same recording for SoundCloud. A first, by the way – previous SoundCloud recordings were just reSID emulations.
Here’s the SID tune: Alligator.sid
And here’s the discussion about it on Facebook.