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.

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.

DeepYouTube

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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

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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.