Commodore 64 Music in the real world & other related SID stories

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

ssshhhh.... it's confidential

With the latest 8-bit weapon newsletter we learned about their first album called Confidential... Now it seems to be the time to tell everyone about it.

All the tunes/remixes were done between 2001-2003 and they are now available to download for free. Thanks Seth and keep on rockin' the Commodore 64!

8-bit weapon - Confidential

To know more about 8-bit weapon, check this interview from IGN with Seth aka Naughtyboy, the man behind the project:

"I use the music machine cartridge on a C64 for mono leads and solos. I use a Paul Slocum C64 Synthcart on a Commodore 128 (both a prototype and the current version), which allows me to use the Commodore as a polyphonic lo-fi 8-bit digilogue synthesizer. I play both the Music Machine and C64 Synthcart like pianos off the actual keyboard keypads themselves..."

read full interview

another one here

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Boulder Dash and it's great sounds...

Just found this really interesting document, a reverse engineering of the Commodore 64 Boulder Dash sounds heard through the game, very interesting and cool, no doubt about it ...

I really had to fire the game up to understand the deepness of this document.

There is also at the end of the paper a table to convert hexadecimal Sid values to Hertz and Midi values...

Ladies and gentlemen, this way please, oh and if you really want more about Boulder Dash... it's all here.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hello Dr.T

Just found some more interesting information about Dr.T's Algorithmic Composer for the Commodore 64.

This gives a good insight of what was going on within Dr.T's realms.

I think this review comes from the Keyboard Magazine / October 1986. Text by Ted Greenwald.


Algorithmic Composer

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE to ditch your Commodore 64 for one of two sexy new megamonster computers, Dr. T's puts out another program. Not just another program, but one that does things no other program even comes close to. And not just things that aren't available elsewhere, but things that many musicians will find take a fair amount of the drudgery out of creating contemporary electronic music, and add a big dollop of fun. In combination with the updated Keyboard Controlled Sequencer (KCS) for the Commodore 128 - also covered in this report - the Algorithmic Composer delivers a kind of MIDI processing power only hinted at until now. Both packages are extensive enough that we can't explain every detail here, and both were under revision throughout the review period, so you can expect even more features than you read about below. We'll try to hit the high points.

The Algorithmic Composer package, consisting of three separate programs, applies logical operations to your input in order to generate something approaching music. Doubtless some musicians will bristle at the thought of calling upon a computer to write their music, while others will view this software as just what consciously or unconsciously they've been looking for: instant musicianship. Well, check your prejudices at the disk drive door, friends; the world isn't quite so cut-and-dried.

The computer, in this case, just crunches input data while following some basic preprogrammed rules and adding some degree of randomness something we all do, at so me expense of creative energy and spontaneity, while we make music. The rules are set, as they are in any musical instrument from a violin to the most sophisticated turnkey music workstation, the degree of randomness is under some control (which is more than many of us can manage), and ultimately it's up to the user to feed the instrument good information if he or she wishes to avoid mediocre results. That takes Creativity, esthetic discrimination, a knowledge of musical materials, and familiarity with the tools at hand-even in the computer age.


The Phrase program makes up melodies according to parameters you provide. The program uses something like a chord chart actually a scale chart to decide what pitch-classes it can choose from during any given beat. Scale options are quite comprehensive: major; harmonic, melodic, and natural minor; dorian, lydian, mixolydian, and phrygian modes; pentatonic; whole-tone; and four user defined scales. (The latter can be entered in any order and can contain redundancies, giving you more sophisticated kinds of control over certain operations than the program generally offers, should you choose to delve that deep). All scales cover three octaves,so that's the outside range for melodies and melodic intervals. Melody range options are one, two, or three octaves, and melodic interval range is adjustable in semitones.

The program breaks melodies up into a theme and a phrase. A theme, basically, is a motif which serves as the basis for the phrase. You can set a theme length in beats/fractions-of-a-beat. The program then cycles through the theme, transposing it according to the scale chart, in order to compute the phrase. (Phrase length is defined by the length of your initial scale chart) Theme and phrase lengths tend to relate in the following ways: If the theme is the same length as the phrase, you'll get a meandering, through composed melody without much coherence. If the theme issome integral division of the phrase (say, a half, a third, or a quarter as long), you'll get something phrased pretty much like pop music, where a melodic fragment simply transposes with the harmonic changes. If the theme length is some uneven division of the phrase, the melody will be phrased in a coherent, but less obvious, manner. If at any point the scale chart takes the theme out of the defined melodic or intervallic range, the relevant thematic material will be transposed into place on a note-by-note basis, which can lead to some interesting variations within the phrase.

In addition, you can specify an average number of notes per measure, a smallest note value (of which all other note-values will be multiples), and a rest probability (percentage chance that any given quantization value, or multiple there of, will be filled with silence), and you can choose among sets of rules for the handling of consonant scale steps and velocity values. If you come across a melody you like and wish to introduce variations in a controlled fashion (rather than generating a new theme and phrase), there's a scramble function that swaps your choice of pitches, note-values, or durations within a theme.

When you boot up Phrase, the default values give you instant perky diatonic techno-pop lines over standard blues changes. By messing around just a bit, you can make it grind out techno-pop bass lines, lead lines, melodies, or backing patterns. lake it from us: It's a kick. We found that the best way to gain control over the program, however, is to enter values that will cause it to emulate lines from some specific composition that you're familiar with. This gets you directly into fine-tuning the parameters to get what you're looking for, rather than allowing the program to pump out meaningless blatlher until it stumbles onto something interesting. When you know what you're after, it's surprising how close you can come.

Much of the program's output is (predictably) lacking in character, and occasionally it spits a few notes fresh out of left field. But it's all good, solid, editable MIDI data,so you can use a sequencer to take what you like and leave the rest (Algorithmic Composer files can be read by Dr. T's Commodore 64 sequencer) or just hit the button again and generate some different material.


This program is pretty simple, but difficult to evaluate. It takes five lists of user-input values-one each for note-value, duration, MIDI channel, pitch, and velocity and combines them into a single sequence. Here's a simple example to show how it works: Say you enter three values for pitch, Middle C, D, and E, and two values for MIDI channel, 1 and 2. The result will be a sequence six events long (three notes times two channek)-C played on channel 1, D on channel 2, E on 1, C on 2, D on 1, and E on 2. The series loop independently, so after that, the sequence will repeat ad infinitum.

The program holds two sets of series data at a time. Thus it can generate two independent, simultaneous sequences, which
adds contrapuntal possibilities to an already complex and fairly unpredictable process. Applied as an extension of phase-music principles, Series is hard to beat. In more conventional applications, it's hard to fathom.

Preliminary experimentation proved Series great for generating harmonically static background textures, which could conceivably be transposed in a sequencer to fit into conventional harmonic progressions. In all likelihood, though, there's a great deal more lurking in this program's code; it's very good at coming up with musical materials that, while controlled, are not obvious from the input.

Stochastic Algorythm Composer (SAC).

This is the closest the package comes to giving you instant music: All you do is enter a tempo, 16 pitches, four MIDI channels, a set of 16 note-or rest-values for each channel, and a choice of staccato or legato for each channel. The program will happily grind out random lines in four voices 'til the cows come home. Depending on your choices, the results will either be cacophonous or Utra-New-Age, though it's possible to shoot something in between.

There's actually a little more to it, enough to give you some interesting kinds of control over the output. First, you can set a transpose value for each voice. This widens the output's harmonic scope somewhat, since otherwise each voice has the same choice of 16 pitches. A controlled,though fairly static, harmonic scheme can be constructed by paying attention to all possible intervalIic combinations of the pitch entries together with their transpositions. In addition, you can trap a certain length of the resulting music say, four bars to be looped. If you choose to permute that looped portion, it will exchange a couple of pitches and note values every few repetitions. This kind of controlled repetition and variation can give you some pretty coherent output.

Like the other two programs, SAC derives much of its value from the user's sense of discrimination. While it's a trivial matter to arrive at values that produce good sounding results, making music out of them requires, at the very least, careful input selection. The next step is to separate the wheat from the chaff by block editing in a sequencer, and after that to edit the individual lines. The program's tendency toward harmonic stasis, for example, can only be overcome by waiting until it produces something that sounds like a chord change, snipping that section out, and discarding the rest; then it might be desirabie to fix the voiceleading. Nonetheless, for those who are satisfied with the raw results and they can be very pleasant - there's virtually no work involved in obtaining them, and they can be customized somewhat to the uses's tastes.

Given the user's potential role in editing the products of these three programs, you might want to look into a program tailor-made for doing just that: Dr. T,s new version of the Keyboard Controlled Sequencer


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Digitunes for your brain...

Ok... something else I remember killing me in the days were these sampled digitunes... we certainly didn't have mp3s but we had Digis...

And believe me.. it was enough then.

This one is the ultra famous "Holiday Rap", a cover version from Madonna's hit single, produced by MC Miker G & Deejay Sven in 1986, a bit later someone I don't know sampled the digi into the C64 and did a short arrangement with the sampled pieces. A killer for the times.

This second version(?) was done by Chuck Laboratories, it uses different cue points and adds a bit of spice with the use of sampling tricks, like that classic pitch sample triggering effect of the 80s.. Have fun dancing with this one.

Get it ! Ring - a - ring - a - don !

Want more ? then head over here and go straight to Music -> Digital Samplings...

Question: Does anyone remember a Digitune/demo called "Flash for Fantasy" ?

I'm looking for it. Let me know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

SIDControl 0.91b - VST Plugin

New free beta of SIDControl, the VST plugin that allows you to control a SID Midibox from any VST host, it doesn't generate any sound itself as it is only a MIDI gateway to the SID chip.

So that means you will be able to use the SID chip as a track within Cubase or Fruityloops, which is definitely a cool thing, although no AudioUnit for MacOSX yet, which sucks... also notice the fact that it is not a Sysex like software and that all the sound settings are stored in the song. Read more in the discussion going on in here.

Thanks Sascha !

Grab it.

But hey.. check this.. interesting also is one of his hardware projects, the MicroSID, which is a mono chip SID synth built into a standard cd-rom drive case and connected to the PC soundcard CDin input.

Build a SID Midibox: Step by Step...

This is a great ongoing thread at the midibox.org forum where a member is explaining and posting pictures of how to build a SID Midibox, great help if you were planning of building one yourself.

Be prepared to witness:

The becoming of a SID Midibox

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Rhythm Construction Set!

Yeah... another one for the C=64 standard drum machine programs list... this is ready to jam with a classic casio style rhythm pattern list...

awesome lo-fi beatbox sounds also.. select the order of the patterns and off you go.. You can also create your own patterns over the preset ones.

RCS - Rhythm Construction Set

Perfect for those James Last song covers.

What is the COM-DRUM Digital Drum System ?

Following yesterday's reader comments, we found some pictures of the Datel Sampler 64 that included these utilities disks.

As you can see, it says COM-DRUM Digital Drum System and Editor... hmm... I knew about the sampler but not about the software for it. Would really like to have a peek at this.

Update: I FOUND IT ! Will write about it soon.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Commodore 64 as a Drum machine

Now that I've made a little review about Alpha Drummer I want to collect a list of all the programs that allow you to use the Commodore 64 as a standard drum machine, note that I discount any SID tracker app... I don't want it to be able to create tunes, just beat sequences, and anyone without SID programming experience should be able to lay down some basic rhythms.

Pro-Drum v2.0

The winner should be Alpha Drummer because of it's sampling features, but because the idea is to start making beat patterns as quick as possible, Pro-Drum wins for me, released originally in 1988 by the Dutch USA Team and later improved by Antifan, it wins because of it's rock-solid timing and easy interface. Load it up and you will be able to instantly create 2 track sequences with it's preassigned electro era digi-samples. If it only had MIDI sync it would be a killer.

so, my first list of drum-machine like programs for the Commodore 64:
Do you know any more ?? Please let us know in the comments.

Update: I guess I forgot about Prophet64 that has the TR edition ? I will keep updating the list because I have to say that I found a couple more anyways...

Alpha Drummer, a sample based sequencer

I started looking the other day for a program that someone copied to me back in the days in 1988, it was called Alpha Drummer, it blew me away when I first saw it, it looked so professional and with so 'many' functions... well, here it is, I was 12 years old back then and this is the first sample based sequencer I have ever seen in my life on the Commodore 64.

I want to say that I haven't used this really, I just remembered it and because I just found it again I thought you might want to play with it a bit, specially if you have some sort of sound sampler cartridge.

It basically consisted of 4 main work areas, The main menu with the pattern playlist, the pattern edit view, the mixer view and the sampler view. It's the classic pattern based sequencer like seen on many drum machines, you program each pattern into a grid of 32 beats and then arrange the order in the main pattern playlist.

Obviously the coolest feature of all is that you can sample your own sounds and even change the pitch and then assign it to be an instrument in the sequencer.. sounds amazing to me although I never found out about what hardware you need to sample the sounds..

When you get into sampling mode it even has a synchronised audio start cue thing "Waiting for impulse" it says in fat chunky fonts.. In the sample view is also a print function which I'd like to know what it prints out (A waveform info?).

The mixer screen, a full screen mixer with horizontal faders that you can control with the cursors.. easy.. you can even change the names of the tracks.. making this quite usable, although no realtime control when it's playing. Shame for that.

You can manage your sample kits with Soundpacks, which is a file that contains the sample data and the mixer names. This is a neat way of organizing samples for songs..

And to finish, what I'm not quite sure is how accurate the timing is, which is quite important in a drum machine as you know but I don't have a real Commodore 64 here where I am to fully test it out, so I can't say.

Anyways I'd like to know if someone managed to create any new soundpacks with existing raw samples or to sample new ones with the sampler. Would be interesting to know.


Alpha Drummer V1.4

Editorial Plea: does someone have this 64'er Sonderheft ? It would be very cool if someone could scan the article and send it please.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

New release by Visa Röster

Visa Röster are releasing today another acappella album covering classic Commodore 64 game songs.

Their 4th album "Ready. Vocally Too" will be officially released on the Retro Concert Party in Copenhagen / Denmark.

"...This is THE album for you retro music fans. With 18 well-known Commodore 64 game tunes, almost 70 minutes of a cappella and vocal glory.

If you've ever played games such as Commando, Bomb Jack, Delta, Rambo, Wizball, M.U.L.E., Thrust, Roland's Rat Race, Caverns of Khafka, Formula 1 Simulator, Fairlight, Zoids, Thanatos or Last Ninja 3 - then this CD is for you.

With the help of award-winning remixers Makke, Larsec, Sumppi, DHS, O2 and Mahoney, not only the a cappella parts of the album but also the second half with vocals and instruments is candy for your ears...."

Get it!

Retro Concert broadcast tonight...

Just a reminder for those who spaced out, don't miss the Retro Concert that SlayRadio will be broadcasting tonight live...

Rockin' the stage will be:

  • "SID'80s" with legendary Ben Daglish(cancelled?) along with Jon Hare (Cannon Fodder), Mark "Madfiddler" Knight (on violin), Marcel Donné (Sidologie remix CD), Andreas Wallstrom (c64HQ), and Jeremy Longley
  • Swedish a-capella band Visa Röster
  • with Pex (Mahoney from Kaktus&Mahoney, tenor), Karin (soprano), Hanna (soprano), Elsa (alto) and Johannes (bass)
  • Finish retro band Axes Denied
  • Legendary Rob Hubbard will be there as well!
  • Jeroen Tel playing Lounge music
Show starts at 19:00 CET.

Tune in!

Friday, November 04, 2005

MuzicManiac Script Writer beta

Something different this time, music notation software for the Commodore 64. Joseph Tiraco has released a beta of MuzicManiac Script Writer which is an application mostly interesting for those who want to learn how to read and write music scores. Forget those hex addresses and ring modulators for a while and concentrate on the true oldsk00l way of composing music.

You will be able to load, save and print out your projects.

example of a printed score

No mention of MIDI anywhere, but hey!, you're supposed to 'write' the scores, it would totally defy it's purpose if you could just record notes with a MIDI keyboard.

Also included is like an educational envelope generator tool which I haven't really tried yet..

So have fun m8tes!

MuzicManiac site

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

SID Register table and more...

Something useful this time, Jo'ogn has written a very nice SID register table with all the memory maps for the oscillators, filters and all that...

I have to mention that he also wrote some notes on the SID chip and about the SID 6581 R3 vs R4 Myth, he actually did some stereo recordings with each channel a different SID, you can read all about it here.

oh.. and btw did I ever mention his SID'esizer ???
  • v19" 2 Units Rackmount
  • Motorola 68K @ 10MHz
  • 1MB Flash-ROM
  • 256KB SRAM
  • MC6850 for MIDI In/Out
  • 4 x SID6581
  • 2 x 20 LCD
  • 5 buttons + 2 Potis

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sidplayer struggle...Why Kevin ?

it's amazing how I keep struggling internally with the superior coolness of the hardware SIDplayer from Kevin Horton, he explains in a reader friendly(!) FAQ why he cannot sell the thing or give away the schematics.. hmm.. I don't really get it..

Anyways, for a sound example check this 9x 450Mhz tune ! I would say the sounds in here are quite incredible...

Do you know any 9x SID tunes that rock ? I would like to make a list of them. Let me know in the comments.

And to finish, another thing I was pondering about while reading about the SIDman, is the possibility of a SID emulation software for the iPod. Is it possible to do with the iPod ?

Now that would seriously rock ladies and gentlemen.


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