Driving the SID chip: assembly language, composition and sound design for the C64

Newman, J (2017) 'Driving the SID chip: assembly language, composition and sound design for the C64.' GAME: The Italian Journal of Game Studies, 6. ISSN 2280-7705

Official URL: https://www.gamejournal.it/driving-the-sid-chip-as...


The MOS6581, more commonly known as the Sound Interface Device, or ‘SID’ was the sonic heart of 1982’s Commodore 64 home computer. By considering its development, specification, (ab)use by composers and programmers, alongside its continuing legacy, this paper argues that, more than any other device, SID is responsible for shaping the sound of videogame music. The importance of SID is partly a consequence of Bob Yannes’ chip design. Compared with the brutal atonality of chips such as Atari’s TIA, SID offers a complex 3-channel synthesiser with dynamic waveform selection, per- channel ADSR envelopes, a multimode filter, ring and cross modulation. However, the exploitation of the vagaries and imperfections of the chip are just as significant and the compositional, sound design and programming techniques developed by 1980s composer/coders like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway are central in defining the distinctive sound of C64 gameplay. Exploring the ‘affordances’ of the chip, the argument here centres on the inexorable link between the technological and the musical and the distinctive harnessing of the chip’s affordances. Crucially, Hubbard et al. developed their own bespoke low-level drivers to interface with SID in order to create pseudo-polyphony through rapid arpeggiation, Pulse Width Modulation, ringmod, drum synthesis, portamento, and even sample playback. In this work we note the indivisibility of sound design, synthesis and composition in the birth of the forms and aesthetics that would go on to be defined as ‘chiptunes’.

Item Type: Article

Part of an issue titled 'Hear The Music, Play The Game'.

The full text of the article is available to read at the URL above.

Keywords: SID chip; driver affordance; design potential: Rob Hubbard; Martin Galway
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Bath School of Design
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2017 15:45
Last Modified: 21 Dec 2023 19:16
URI / Page ID: https://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/id/eprint/9062
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