The Commodore 64 Musical Aesthetic

commodore-64-musicThe Commodore 64 was the best-selling home computer system of all time, and still draws a large crowd of retro-gamers.

Despite its popularity, though, the music of C64 games has rarely been analysed in academic articles.
Karen Collins’ Loops And Bloops: Music of the Commodore 64 Games discusses the technical constraints of C64’s SID soundchip and how this shaped the musical aesthetic of music on the Commodore 64:

Technological constraints are nothing new to musical composition, although most discussions arising about the subject have centered on twentieth century concerns.

Mark Katz discusses how the 78 RPM record led to a standard time limit for pop songs, and how Stravinsky famously tailor-made Sérénade en LA for the length of an LP; although he points out, however, that Stravinsky may have been shaped by “his penchant for self-imposed limitations” (Katz, 2004: 3-5).

Critiques of “hard” technological determinism as it relates to musical technologies have dominated the discussion (e.g. Taylor, 1993: 27; Théberge, 1997: 160; Katz, 2004), in favour of a softer approach in which the relationship is more of a negotiation. As with other recent approaches to music technology, I would argue that the relationship between technology and aesthetics is one of symbiosis rather than dominance, what Barry Salt (1985: 37) refers to as a “loose pressure on what is done, rather than a rigid constraint.”

Micromusicians tend to agree, and embrace the constraints as an important part of the creative process, as Teamtendo intimates: “Working with this limited harmonic vocabulary forces you to be creative, and there are some very pleasant discoveries along the way,” or, says Goto80, “it’s fun working with such hardcore limits, forcing you to realize your ideas in other ways.”

In order to explore the constraints of the C64 on composition, I first discuss the limitations of the sound chip, showing the conventional ways in which the chip was used. I follow this with a comparison of well-known, pre-composed songs which were covered on the C64 in various games. I then explore approaches to interactivity and looping in Commodore games music, drawing comparisons between the C64 and its contemporaries.

Full article here.

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