NACVGM 2020 – Sound Chips and Video Game Music, Beyond Hardware and Software: The Research-Creation Process Behind the Aesthetics of Chipmetal and the VRC666 Mindware

From the Abstract

Dominic Arsenault (Université de Montréal)

Sound Chips and Video Game Music, Beyond Hardware and Software: The Research-Creation Process Behind the Aesthetics of Chipmetal and the VRC666 Mindware

Early video game music relied on sound chips, whose technical intricacies constrained the range of expressive possibilities and shaped the development of video game music (Collins 2008, Fritsch 2013, Höltgen 2018). Specific musical genres (REDACTED 2012), styles (Lerner 2013) and motifs (Hopkins 2015) bloomed therein, with distinct schools of practice forming around specific techniques or approaches to video game music composition.  Contemporary musicians in the chiptune scene since use, replicate or expand on these practices, making the production of chiptunes a site of struggle between conflicting conceptions of authenticity and nostalgia (Tomczak 2008, Polymeropoulou 2014, Reid 2018). First-generation purists valued original hardware tools, while others were more liberal about software emulators and modern DAWs, extending into “chip-inspired” or “fakebit” music.

Against this backdrop, I will present my musical project that has been caught between the hard walls of two scenes, that of chiptunes and [REDACTED GENRE], and for which I released a first full-length album in 2020.  I will describe the research-creation process (Chapman & Sawchuk 2012) that led the quest for attaining a new, hybrid sound, and a compositional approach that negotiates the trappings of authenticity question.  The process coalesced into an analytical decoupling of the technical constraints, compositional techniques, aesthetic figures, and sonic soundscapes involved in both musical genres, which, were reforged into neither hardware nor software, but “mindware” (Perkins 1995): a strict set of virtual possibilities, affordances and self-imposed constraints acting as an imaginary soundchip and instrument [REDACTED from title].

Indicative bibliography

[REDACTED] Anonymous Author & Nameless Colleague (2012). “Paper discussing ties between video game music and specific musical genre”, Unidentified international peer-reviewed journal.

CHAPMAN, Owen & Kim Sawchuk (2102). “Research-Creation: Invention, Analysis and ‘Family Resemblances’”, Canadian Journal of Communication, 37(1), 5-26.

COLLINS, Karen (2008). Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design.  Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

FRITSCH, Melanie (2013). “History of Video Game Music”, in Music and Game. Perspectives on a Popular Alliance (P. Moormann, ed.), p.11-40. Berlin : Springer VS.

HOPKINS, Christopher J. (2015). Chiptune Music: An Exploration of Compositional Techniques as Found in Sunsoft Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom from 1998-1992. Ph.D. thesis (adv. S. Briody), Five Towns College.

HÖLTGEN, Stefan (dec. 2018). “Play that Pokey Music: Computyer Archeological Gaming with Vintage Sound Chips”. Computer Games Journal, 7(4), 213-30. DOI:

LERNER, Neil (2013). “The Origins of Musical Style in Video GFames, 1977-1983”, in The Oxford Handbook of Film Music Studies (D. Neumeyer, ed.), 319-47. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

PERKINS, David (1995). Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence. Free Press / Simon & Schuster : New York.

POLYMEROPOULOU, Marilou (2014). “Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene”, WiderScreen, 1-2. Retrieved online @ (Nov. 26th, 2019)

REID, George (2018). “Chiptune: The Ludomusical Shaping of Identity”, Computer Games Journal, 7(4), 279-90. DOI:

TOMCZAK, Sebastian (2008). “Authenticity and Emulation: Chiptune in the Early Twenty-First Century”, in Proceedings of the 2008 International Computer Music Conference, Michigan Publishing.

Source: Bardic Knowledge

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