January 24, 2005

Original SID

by Nick Montfort · , 2:32 pm

The SID chip My recent attempts to get some work done have been accompanied by music from the The High Voltage SID Collection (HVSC), a huge supply of files for the Commodore 64’s Sound Interface Device (SID) and apparently the largest archive of chiptunes. The SID, designed by Bob Yannes in 1981, “redefined the concept of sound in personal computers,” or so Byte Magazine claimed in 1995, naming it one of the 20 most important chips in history. The archive offers music from games and from the scene. Read on for how you can listen (on a non-C-64 computer) and for a few suggested tunes…

Admittedly, I don’t carry a C-64 around with me everywhere – that’s the way you’re really supposed to listen to SID files, of course. My PowerBook doesn’t have a PCI expansion slot that would let me stick in a SID using a card such as HardSID, either. But, although I didn’t have the chip itself, I was able to avail myself of one of the huge number of SID players available for free download. (I use SIDPLAY for Mac OS X.)

While I haven’t heard a lot of the SID offerings at this point, I can confirm that there are some massive exploits you should listen to. From the commercial era of 1980s, for instance, are “ACE II,” by Ron Hubbard; “The Baby of Can Guru,” by Chris Hülsbeck; and “Yie Ar Kung Fu,” by Martin Galway. You can get all of these (and 97 more) by downloading the top 100 files (ZIP), described on this page, which also links to each file individually. That list heavily favors pre-1992 SIDs, but SID composition didn’t stop then, even though commercial work did taper off and some composers in the scene turned to the more capable Amiga. Among the many later offerings, there’s “World Wide Message Tribe” by Enno Coners & Giuseppe Musardo, composed in 1996. Another good piece from that year is Balázs Farkas’s SID version of “Breath of Air.” You can find these and many others via the Best of VARIOUS section of HVSC. Those “best of” songs aren’t packaged as conveniently as the top 100 are, but you can simply download the whole massive archive using one of the links at the top of the downloads page.

It won’t take too long, either, because a lot of full-length SID songs occupy about 5KB. I suppose the memory-driven digital music player industry would collapse if people started buying SID-powered devices… Anyway, you gotta love music that is delivered as instructions for a sound-generating chip – music that doesn’t involve the recording industry in any way at all.