June 6, 2004

C64 Audio

Posted in: Art, Music, Old Skool, Tech

Just got back from NotCon '04 and was curious about what had been left behind on its host site, xcom2002.com: a website pretty much covered in cobwebs, last updated around early 2003. Skimming down the page I saw a link to C64audio.com and, being a huge fan of C64 audio back in the day (mid-late 80s), went exploring...

Somewhere down on c64audio.com is a link to the High Voltage SID Collection, the C64/SID tune archive. Mind-boggling tens of thousands of SID tunes.

What is the SID? It is the dedicated 3-voice polyphonic Sound Interface Device in the C64. Voted alongside the Pentium and Sun SPARC as a Top 20 of All Time Computer Chips: "In 1981, Bob Yannes was told to design a low-cost sound chip for the upcoming Commodore 64. He would end up creating an analog synthesizer chip that redefined the concept of sound in personal computers." What the composers and programmers ended up doing with the SID and 1MHz 6510 defied comprehension; the soundtracks of games were often works of art in their own right.

To get the C64 audio experience, I: downloaded WinRAR to unpack the "Complete HSVC 5.7" (.rar is smaller) , and finally to play it grabbed sidplay2, the recommended player. Since I have an Audigy soundcard I diligently spotted they have a SID Live! Experience (see "SID Tools" section below HVSC tools) to tweak around using the Audigy's Environmental Audio features (couldn't get this f*cker to work). There's even a winamp plugin to upload SID files to and control your C64 via a serial cable. Mental.

So, installed WinRAR, peeled open the massive rarchive, and went immediately hunting for Martin Galway (the HVSC is organised primarily by composer, Galway_Martin style). Fired up sidplay2, dragdropped arkanoid.sid onto it. Whooooo!!!! Oh, man, I am 15 again.

Definitely check the voted Top 100 SIDs especially to get started and get a feel for the popular composers Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Martin Galway, Jeroen Tel (Maniacs of Noise), all whom were regarded by some of us as gods. Sidplay2 has quite a decent file/dir navigator under View->Directory-based UI (Alt+D).

Listening to Hawkeye's (screenshots, loader) game tune and loader riff is bringing me out in a cold sweat. In 1988 on my French exchange visit, I read, re-read, re-re-read, indeed learnt the damn thing "par coeur", the Zzap64! review of that truly jaw-dropping game–3weeks of waiting to get back to the UK to get this creation that every mag reviewer was salivating over. One of the few games I actually paid for :-) Ahhh, heady teenage emotions....

This journey has also had the satisfying side-effect of allowing me closure on a long-standing (six-year!) itch. Just how similar is the opening sample of BMX Kidz and Coldcut's Timber? Really goddam similar. (Click the green preview button on last.fm, and use sidplay to play the .sid)

Want more? Great collection of links to C64 sites.

Posted by Paul Makepeace at 21:44 | Comments (4) | TrackBack