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Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

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Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Thu Mar 11, 2021 2:48 pm

As my Subharmonicon deep dive is winding down and its subsequent composition is starting to take shape, I’m already starting to prep for the next deep dive: chiptune!

I’m rather excited about this one as I’ve had two Twisted Ekectrons AY3 modules for a couple of years and haven’t put them to much use. I also have a tracker sequencer in the form of the NerdSeq which does all of the things a tracker should in terms of tracker effects (also totally unexplored by me until now)

The AY3 modules will give me 4 square wave VCOs which can play as intervals or arpeggios, and 2 pitched noise sources.

As chiptune looks like a large part of its aesthetic its economy, I’m really looking forward to the challenge!
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Arpangel » Fri Mar 12, 2021 8:18 am

Looking forward to hearing the results Ben.
I’m looking at the Mega FM, and also, bemoaning the lack of FM Eurorack modules, are there any decent ones? can’t think of any pure FM modules out there with decent interfaces.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:02 pm

I like the fact that modular doesn’t just hand you finished sounds. FM is definitely possible in modular as long as you have the time, patience, and number of required modules.

The MegaFM looks cool but I doubt I will ever get one.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Arpangel » Sat Mar 13, 2021 9:03 am

Ben Asaro wrote:I like the fact that modular doesn’t just hand you finished sounds. FM is definitely possible in modular as long as you have the time, patience, and number of required modules.

The MegaFM looks cool but I doubt I will ever get one.

I don’t think I’ve ever set-out to deliberately achieve a set idea that I’ve had, like FM for instance, with modular.
That’s just beyond my patience, it’s always been an unmediated exploration of some kind.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Tue Mar 16, 2021 8:43 pm

DAY 1. Here we go! Another deep dive, this time into writing chiptune. Since I'm starting at Square One, I figured it would be helpful to run through both square wave voices and both noise sources from C-0 to C-9 to see what the actual range is, as well as to see how close the tuning is on these 43 year-old chips!

HEADPHONE WARNING -- START LISTENING AT LOWER THAN NORMAL LEVELS, THE LOW VOLTAGES GOING INTO THE VCOs MAY CAUSE DISCOMFORT!

https://soundcloud.com/user-329043613-5 ... osc-sweeps

There's a surprising amount of low frequency grunt on the lower notes. Otherwise, it sounds pretty much as described on the tin: 8 bit square waves. There is a bit of tuning drift on a couple of notes, but it's actually more stable than I thought it would be!
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 16, 2021 9:03 pm

An interesting experiment Ben ... chiptunes are close to my heart and I look forward to seeing what you come up with during the course of the process. That first track hurt my ears a bit; might be wise to have a headphone warning on that one!

I don't know if you use plugins at all but as a heads-up if you do there is currently a free Retro Decimator plugin available from Inphonik (you can get it here). It's a module from their (non-free) RYM2612 FM synth which is based around an emulation of the classic Yamaha YM2612 sound chip as used in the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Tue Mar 16, 2021 9:08 pm

Oh, that's good to know! I think if my AY3s were lost or damaged, I would probably be disinclined to replace them and would definitely switch to a plugin.

Thanks for the note about the levels, I checked on my cans and didn't hear anything untoward, but I had the volume pretty low!
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Mar 16, 2021 10:43 pm

Ben Asaro wrote:DAY 1.There's a surprising amount of low frequency grunt on the lower notes.

You're not joking Ben - my RME DIGIcheck spectrum analyser indicates there's as much energy in the 1/3 octave centered around 25Hz as any other band! :crazy:


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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Wed Mar 17, 2021 4:30 pm

DAY 2. What I am looking forward to with this challenge is not only dipping my toe into a new genre, but also learning some of the deeper functionality of the NerdSeq.

So, with two melodic voices, I thought, what better way to achieve both goals than to start with someone who is a master of two voice composition: JS Bach.

I figured one of the 2 Part Inventions should suit.

https://soundcloud.com/user-329043613-5 ... nvention-1

As you can hear, this needs some finesse! But at least the notes are entered!
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Thu Mar 18, 2021 1:04 pm

DAY 3. Took Invention No. 1 a bit further and was able to dig into the NerdSeq's deep envelope automation! This really helped to smooth out the 'touch tone phone' type of sound present on my first pass.

https://soundcloud.com/user-329043613-5 ... ion-1-rev2

There's some dodgy tuning around the 40 second mark, but that's to be expected; I don't think these chips are renown for their rock solid tracking! :)

Once again, the foundation on the lower notes is suprisingly solid, even with a bit of resonance added to scoop some of that girth out (via Doepfer LPFs). I think I prefer the control from the NerdSeq's envelopes over my Intellijel EGs for this; they are much snappier and more versatile. The Make Noise EGs would probably be perfect for chiptune, they are super snappy, but I only have one ... if only I had a Maths lol!!

I continue to find the NerdSeq's manual very difficult to decipher; fortunately, a YT video made after the 1.22 firmware had the bit of information I was looking for to get the envelopes to work properly. There are a total of 8 envelopes available and they are part of a matrix, so you can assign them with a very fine degree of control. For what I'm doing, ie the most basic application, I think it's assumed that the user just knows how to get them to work. :P
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Fri Mar 19, 2021 2:33 pm

Sidebar 1. My next goal is going to be attempting to write a percussion track using the patchable noise outputs from the AY3. However, as my modular is currently being used for another composition, I don't have any spare patch cables! :headbang:

As soon as that's done I'll be returning to our reguarly scheduled program.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Mon Mar 29, 2021 1:21 pm

New song is done and dusted (aside from final details), time to get back into the chip tunes!
Next up: trying to create a percussion track using noise!
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Sat Apr 10, 2021 12:44 pm

After tinkering around the last several days, I think I've come to the conclusion that either a) I'm rubbish at writing chiptune, b) chiptune doesn't really work well for modular, or c) I'm uninspired to write anything interesting using the chiptune modules.

I think that the order is probably b, c, a (which is hilarious because CBA lol) but the combination of the three is what's grinding this to a halt. The biggest hurdle I'm facing is that you can't easily change gate length in eurorack without using a keyboard, so the notes all have the same length. This makes melodic expression really difficult.

I don't mind the challenge of trying to figure out how to vary the gate length, but in the end I have to think realistically: if I'm not going to write any chiptunes for release, what is the cost:benefit to doing so.

So I may be putting this challenge aside for a while until I can think of a way round this issue.
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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Apr 10, 2021 5:57 pm

Hi Ben,

If it's of any help, my goal with chiptunes always was to cram as much variety and complexity into the three channels I invariably had available. This meant changing 'voices' on a beat-by-beat basis so I could create (for example) drums & bass on one channel, multiplexed chords on the second, and a melody/harmony line on the third.

It was all this switching between sounds, plus any real-time variation such as PWM, Envelope and frame by frame pitch variations (even one-offs for the attack of sounds) to keep the interest from wandering.

It was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fit everything in, but gave the impression of a much busier arrangement. You really do have to play to the (very limited) strengths of chiptune hardware, to push the boundaries, otherwise experiments can end up sounding like a digital watch tune ;)

Good luck!


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Re: Writing challenge #3: Chiptune edition!

Postby Ben Asaro » Sat Apr 10, 2021 7:22 pm

Thanks, Martin; that's actually quite helpful!
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