You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
One thing that annoys me is the recent fad in ’8-bit’ music. Especially when people also refer to it as ‘chipmusic’ or ‘chiptunes’, then claiming that this is because of the sound chip generating the music. Well… you’re wrong!
Why would people even want to refer to the sound chip in the 8-bit era? These were the days before digital audio and DACs on sound chips, and obviously long before software synthesizers and mixing became feasible. So all music was generated by the synthesizer of the onboard sound chip by default. And indeed, at no time during my Commodore 64 years did I ever hear the term ‘chiptune’. So where did it come from then? The first time I heard the term, was on Amiga. Which ironically enough was one of the first computers that did not have an onboard synthesizer at all. Its audio chip was little more than 4 DACs, allowing two digital channels on the left and two on the right. And ironically enough, the Amiga is not an 8-bit machine.
If you look at the Wikipedia page for chiptunes, you will already see somewhat of a hint to the Amiga anyway:
In fact it is arguable that the term “chip music” was originally used in reference to the sample based tracker style of music on the Amiga and similar platforms; however, in its modern form, the terms “chip music”, and “chiptune” refer to music made by the sound chips found within early gaming systems and microcomputers.
This is also how I recall it. “Chiptunes” or “chipmods” on Amiga were tunes that were made to be really small, by having very small samples. Each instrument was generally a sample of only a few cycles long at most, which was looped constantly, and would only occupy a few bytes. They were very popular for small cracktros (which might explain how they later got used for keygens on PC, and why people now sometimes call them ‘keygen music’). These tiny samples might explain the term ‘chip’: you can see the samples as tiny ‘chips’ cut off from longer waveforms:
However, clearly, these are still samples, rather than generated by a sound chip, as on the older 8-bit machines. Also, especially the Commodore 64′s SID chip was famous for the effects you could apply with its filter and ring modulator. The Amiga could do no such thing, it could only play the samples as-is.
There are also similarities of course. These short samples were generally quite simple and ‘pure’ waveforms, much like the simple block, sawtooth or triangle waveforms that the sound chips of most 8-bit computers would generate. Chords would also often be simulated by playing quick arpeggios with a single voice in chiptunes, much like the music for many 8-bit computers. And even filter sweeps were sometimes simulated in chiptunes, by preparing a number of pre-filtered samples, and switching between them.
However, chipmods generally kept regular sampled drums rather than simulating them by shaping noise, as most 8-bit sound chips do. As a result, chipmods tend to sound more crisp and hi-fi than regular 8-bit music:
As the Amiga Music Preservation website describes it:
What is a chiptune then?
A chiptune is a module that has a maximum size of approximately 50 Kilobytes. Most of the samples are usually synthetics so they don’t sound like any other music. Some people claim that real great composers are the ones who do chiptunes, as they would be more difficult to compose. Chiptunes on Amiga were very appreciated by cracker for their crack intros, as they require a very limited amount of disk space. Recently a tv documentary on Arte TV said that chiptune represents the future of music in the 21st century.
So there you have it. Chiptunes are not what you probably thought they were. And imagine how silly you sound when you try to defend the notion that chiptunes are named after the soundchip of 8-bit computers. Yes, tunes are named after the soundchip of 8-bit computers: SID tunes!