What *IS* chiptune?

What is chiptune?” The big question: folk ask it all the time, and fight about it nearly as often. I’ve experienced such both directly and indirectly on more occasions than I’d care to count at this point. With that said, I’ve finally written a brief Op-ed on the matter as the Founder & Project Manager of ChipWIN to give you a little insight into both how and why I direct this community & project the way that I do.

Disclaimer: regardless of how well thought out & experienced I feel this is, much of it is ultimately my opinion. Remember to take it with a grain of salt. 

Formally, chipmusic at its core is electronic music created utilizing the chipsets from vintage video game and computing systems through both hardware & software. Examples of hardware include, but are not limited to, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Commodore 64, and Amiga. Examples of software include, but are not limited to, LSDJ, Famitracker, Renoise, Deflemask, and Open MPT. Chiptune is essentially an instrument and/or a medium, used to create all styles and genres imaginable. Regardless of your musical preferences, there is chiptune out there somewhere for you. And if not, it’s simply waiting to be created.

Initially the definition of chipmusic only included music composed on the actual retro hardware and/or software related to it, and was restricted by the original limitations of the respective chipsets. Along with the sonic aesthetic, of course, these restrictions were a big factor in guiding the creativity of artists utilizing said mediums. Many still do this today, and the results are often absolutely magical. I refer to this as “Traditional Chiptune“.

Example 1 (LSDJ only): ‘Strange Comfort’ by Bit Shifter

Since then, additional means to achieve the sonic aesthetic of chiptune have come along via emulation. This includes (1) modern software limited only by the processing power of its host computer (i.e. Renoise), and (2) by utilizing “plug-ins” in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of the artists’ choosing to create instruments capable of producing an array of different chipsounds. Some of these artists purposefully restrict their compositions by self-imposed limitations, mirroring that of the Traditional Chiptune composers, while others completely toss those restrictions aside and simply aim for the chiptune “sound”. I call this “Non-Traditional Chiptune“. Simpler, quicker alias (albeit a bit more vague) that also works is “Modern Chiptune“.

Example 2 (largely emulation): ‘Ember’ by Kubbi

There are, of course, all forms, fashions and hybridizations in between these two categories, the most popular of which includes chiptune simply featured as one instrument among a few or many others in a composition. Anamanaguchi are probably the most prevalent example of such.

Example 3 (chiptune elements + live band): ‘Mermaid’ by Anamanaguchi

Important point #1: it’s all chiptune.

Definitions evolve, especially for something as subjective and anomalous as a form of music creation. One can, of course, completely ignore such and pretend otherwise, but for better or worse it happens regardless of the amount of force railed against it. Blame technology and/or our drive to adapt, change and evolve if you’d like. ಠ‿↼

Possibly more importantly, there’s room for all of it. Outside of the limitations of our mortal existence & technology, there is no finite space to contain music and creative expression. There’s a place for every bit of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Important point #2: “Traditional Chiptune & Non-Traditional Chiptune” > “authentic chip & fakebit”.

You may have noticed my complete lack of usage of the common vernacular of “authentic chiptune” & “fakebit” in my previous verbiage. This is 100% deliberate and significant: I’m aiming to change the language regarding such. Whether purposeful or accidental (likely a combination of both), the latter was built on largely hostility and antagonism; “real vs fake”. There is a fundamental problem with that perspective from a creative mindset, especially regarding music creation. My updated terminology does not present that problem; it is created solely from a mindset focusing on inclusivity and collaboration. Which, of course, makes sense when you take our mission statement into mind. If you dig what I’m trying to do with it, please feel free to join me in working to replace it. It’ll take time, but can be done one person at a time. Which brings me to my third and final point:

Important point #3: “Chiptune is a community.”

This is likely the most subjective point in this entire article. That said, it rings quite true for many of us in & around chiptune. While we don’t all see eye to eye (way too many of us for that to ever happen!), we do in general thrive off of one another’s kindred spirited creativity, enthusiasm and love for chipmusic. Artists and fans alike continually inspire each other to enjoy and create what is one of the most unique music communities on the globe. It’s certainly the lifeblood of ChipWIN, for both myself as the project manager and the varied good folk who choose to count themselves among it. It’s a big source of the magic of chiptune as far as I’m concerned, and a big part of why I continue to stay so involved and interactive in it.

tl;dr – I/ChipWIN loves it all. Even if you don’t, let’s try to work togther vs being jerks to each other, alright? (b^_^)b

And that’s it for now. Chances are my somewhat collected sentiments & rambling on this page will continue to evolve and change, as most things do as time passes. Regardless, I hope it’s given you a little insight into how & why we do. ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ

Much \m||m/,
Brandon L Hood aka “President Hoodie”
Founder & Project Manager of Chiptunes = WIN

P.S. For those interested in the non “brief”, more rambling version of this spiel, catch me irl and buy me a beer or six and we’ll chat! ಠ‿↼

Last Updated: August 6, 2019

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