Chip Tune

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(From Wikipedia:) A chiptune, or chip music, is music written in sound formats where all the sounds are synthesized in real time by a computer or video game console sound chip, instead of using sample-based synthesis

Chip Tune is both a continuity from the haydays of music on old 80's personnal computer/consoles and a part of the retro-computer movement.

It is also an underground electronic sub-genre, or an inspiration in various musical performances.

It started because most computers and consoles featured some sort of sound-chip.

It also evolved as games often featured music and sound effects, thus spawning a generation of professionnal personnal computers musician.

AY-family scene

Amstrad 8 bit computers are part of the AY-family, along the ZX spectrum, most MSX and the Atari ST (which use a YM variant), but also Oric-Atmos.

It is also to note that many arcade systems or home consoles also included an AY-family chip.

Most used AY/YM computers

Many computers from the "AY/YM-family" included a MIDI port.

Atari ST (with its YM) is notable for its built-in Midi port, enabling music programation with Q-Base and spawning an entire generation of electronic home-musicians thanks to the power of the 16+ bit, and the fun of a decent GUI.

The ZX Spectrum 128 and the Amstrad's Spectrum range (+2 and +3) also feature a Midi compatible port thanks to their RS232/Midi port. Of course Amstrad's ZX spectrum +3 is a clever choice as it include Disk drive.

MSX often featured such a Midi port, and were featuring a wide range of sound processors/co-processors :

  • MSX 1 : General Instrument AY-3-8910 soundchip
  • MSX2 : Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
  • MSX2+ Optional sound chip: Yamaha YM2413 (OPLL) (MSX-Music)
  • MSX TurboR (3) :
    • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
    • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2413 (OPLL) (MSX-Music)
    • Sound chip: PCM
    • 8-bit single channel (no DMA), 16 kHz max using BIOS routines.
    • Microphone built-in
    • Sound chip: MIDI in/out (FS-A1GT only)

It is to notice that MSX computers were released in the USA as music machines instead of home-computers, thus were a niche in the American home computer market.

Amstrad's limitations

Compared to ZX spectrum the Amstrad clearly failed to impose itself on the AY-scene. Perhaps because it was less popular worldwide, perhaps because it lacks a built-in Midi Port.

Also it is to notice that Amstrad CPC's AY soundchip has a lower clock than most of its competitor, running @1mhz while Atari ST is @2mhz or ZX spectrum128 @1.77mhz

To have MIDI on an Amstrad an external peripheral is needed, being somewhat less reliable than a directly built-in connector.

Perhaps Amstrad's tunes were not as complex because the computer needed more space for graphics, therefore there was less for music. (The 10KB differences in needed graphic RAM between Speccy and CPC makes a lot of difference.)

Of course you could manage a better Ram/CPU ressources by disabling the screen display or reducing it's size, yet this can't allows the use of the computer as a direct Musical instrument/mixing station.

(But, there are PLAYlist utils see AYCplayer -AYC-)

  • ZX spectrum 128 and +2 and +3 were all supplied with 128Ko Ram while CPC/Plus ranges still included 64ko Ram computers (464-664).

Despite being quite cheap, the 464 couldn't compete.

As a result, not a lot of Chip-Tune bands actually use an Amstrad computer for live performances (but the ZX spectrums from Amstrad...). Worth of notice is the french Ultrasyd who may uses an Amstrad CPC6128 alongside Atari ST and Nintendo Gameboy and actually produced some tunes for the CPC scene as well.

This is somewhat of a shame, as the 6128+ would be a good machine for such purpose thanks to it's DMA channels and the possibility to put software on Cartridge/Rom.

Also as most ChipTune bands also feature video projectionsfrom the used computer in Live-performance, the CPC would shine too thx to its somewhat better graphic ability.

Modern Tools

Soundtrakers inspired from 16 bit computers applications have become the easiest tools to compose and produce chiptunes on Amstrad CPC.


Kellyon, a great song by Fenyx Kell said to be composed on a CPC using the Starkos tracker from Targhan/Arkos. Courtesy of Sacrenouille.

PLUS range

The AY inside the ASIC features DMA channels, enabling additional tricks and may compare better with SID from C64 or even 16 bit musics.

The better example may be the Prehistorik 2 intro music with its 16 bit flavour. (It uses sampled music).

Also the inclusion of sampled screams in Rick dangerous 128+ is another modern example of what can be achieved.

The modern Hacking or the ACID chip may enable better uses of the Extra PLUS capabilities in Sound field. Cartridge oriented Soundtrakkers with DMA managment may be Produced.

Godfathers of chiptunes on CPC

Most of the music programmers from the good old games we played still remain important influances on the scene.

  • Rob Hubbard
  • Ben Daglish,
  • Chris Hülsbeck
  • Tim Follin
  • Martin Galway
  • Jochen Hippel

Despite being mostly C64/SID related, most of them also programed AY ports from their music.

It is good to notice that some of those musicians/programmers actually perform live with other musician, playing their great game-musics

{{#ev:youtube|oCoS9k-BKe8|300}} A compilation video of notable good musics on CPC.

Games Music Remakes


A video featuring remakes of good old Game's musics : Leisure Suit Larry (Amiga), Burnin' Rubber (Amstrad), Earth Shaker (Spectrum), Shao-Lynn's Road (Amstrad), Tai-Pan (Amstrad), Feud (Amstrad), Olli and Lisa III (Amstrad).

Lots of Amstrad's tunes here...

TV Documentaries


AY Chip-Tune Live performances

Many chiptune performances involve one or more retro-computers used alongside traditionnal musical instrument or mixing devices.

Often a video retro-projector (pun) is used too to display video effectd and demos fitting with the music.

Here some examples of AY live performances.

{{#ev:youtube|4ec57SO2KJU|300}} {{#ev:youtube|f2y926Ew_HU|300}} {{#ev:youtube|FJM39Jca2x8|300}}

Other kind of ChipTune performances

  • The following examples are live performances of computer's game classics, yet played on more traditionnal instruments and mostly inspired by C64 versions (yet you may recognise the songs from CPC too...).

{{#ev:youtube|DCPv2F4shug|300}} Deflektor

{{#ev:youtube|8qUc6bTf0W0|300}} Commando

This one is played by a "classical" orchestra, of very popular formula.

  • Nintendo's Game Boy

Some cartridges and softwares allows to use most of Nintendo's portable consoles as live instrument or Remix effects generators.

Because such consoles are cheap and easy to transport, having an in-built video display, and being iconic of the 8bit or digital era, this is quite popular. {{#ev:youtube|tYBHpN6gSTw|300}}

It is to notice that even a Speak & Spell (Texas Instrument) or any good old retrogame featuring some sort of Sound processor can be turned into a digital instrument.

This is called circuit bending.

Media impact and controversies

The so-called world famous Timbaland (American successful musical producer) was part of a controversy the day he was suited by a finnish Commodore-scener for having ripped entire parts of of one of his song into a Nelly furtado hit. I knew he was a talentless overrated robber. {{#ev:youtube|M4KX7SkDe4Q|300}}

It is also to note that the SID from C64 is a sought-after vintage electronical chip, and some less scrupulous peoples actually cannibalise C64 units to remove the Sid chip and put it into musical electronic effect racks or PC cards.. {{#ev:youtube|lnTh4e0b-ic|300}}


  • PlayCity : a modern peripheral to enable an extra pair of AY chips for your Amstrad CPC/PLUS.

Amstrad CPC chiptune scener

Wikipedia's pages :

The de-facto Amstrad chiptune scene :

Also check up the Category:Music and sound to learn more on the matter.

Other Websites :