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Live Coding a Vintage Chip Synth

Published onJul 19, 2020
Live Coding a Vintage Chip Synth

Chip synthesizers found in 80s and 90s computers and video games can be considered one of the earliest examples of programmable technologies that support live coding. This is due to their asynchronous/autonomous nature, as well as to the ability of some host machines to interpret on-the-fly the typed in control commands. However, due to the intrinsic limitations of vintage CPUs, more linear musical applications–like trackers and simple DAWs–have been historically preferred to live coding for chiptune composition and performance, leaving 8-bit algorithmic music quite unexplored. 

With this talk/demo, I will introduce a novel platform designed to make algorithmic music with vintage chip synths using modern laptops and SuperCollider. This in-development technology is based on Bela and allows full bi-directional communication with a Commodore 64 SID chip.

The messy platform prototype, a custom cape sitting on Bela and hosting a SID chip harvested from a Commodore 64.

The presentation will start with an introduction to the original live coding capabilities of the Commodore 64 (hope you fancy some BASIC programming). It will then provide an overview of the current functionalities of the platform (both the C++ core and the SuperCollider interface), comparing them with those of previous/alternative solutions, like MIDIboxes and emulators.

Here is a short sample video:

Chip Synth Hybrid Live Coding

As a non-expert in live coding, my participation in the workshop aims at gathering feedback on next design steps, as well as at better understanding the aesthetics and the technical practices shared among the community.

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