An artist working with electronics and electronic media, based in Brooklyn, NY

Protochiptunes (2010)

Self-Built CMOS Music Pattern Generator/Synthesizer

Self-Built CMOS Music Pattern Generator/Synthesizer

Proto-Chiptunes: the hypothetical ancestor of modern-day 8-bit video game music, known as “Chiptunes”.  Before there were arduinos, video game systems, or even microchips capable of producing sound, there was only binary logic.  But in order to find the roots of this ancient music, we must go back further, back before the time of logic, far back into the pre-history of electronics.  From the primordial ooze of analog circuits arose the first digital logic circuits.  Made only from transistors, resistors and diodes, they clawed their way out of the random void to assert their unambiguous binary dominion over the whole world of electronics.  When the digital circuits had established themselves as supreme rulers of the electronic world, and mastered the use of fire, they developed a style of music called “0 01 0110 10010011 0101 01 1” known today as “Proto-Chiptunes”.  Now the digital logic clan, CMOS re-imagine this primitive electronic music under the careful and patient direction of Phillip Stearns (aka Pixel Form).

Proto-Chiptunes is made using CMOS digital logic microchips placed precariously on breadboards, temporary prototyping surfaces for building and designing circuits.  The concept of the music is to derive a complex and compelling range tones and rhythmic patterns off a single square wave oscillator running at a very high frequency.  The performance is then a navigation of this musical terrain through live re-wiring of the circuit’s connections.  The resulting sounds and compositions are referential of minimalism meets 1-bit and 8-bit chiptune music.  Where chiptune musicians and composers work with programmable computing systems (both vintage and custom) to produce vintage video-game style music, this proto-chiptunes project seeks a hardware-based solution.  By using pure dedicated hardware, there’s no programming involved—or rather, the programming is done by the placement of jumper wires used to reconfigure the circuit in real-time.

Keep Counting, an example of Protochiptunes music

Hyperarpeggiator, another example


4 responses

  1. chipflip

    Nice! Would be nice with a video 🙂

    The concept makes me think of little-scale’s EPROM music.

    August 17, 2011 at 2:14 AM

    • Blythe

      very cool ….. I thought this might be a musical read of the glitched photos, so the family photo would produce music…

      August 23, 2012 at 2:25 PM

      • I’ve been dreaming up plans for creating a Protochiptune musical computer, one that could take instructions in the form of a 16 or 32 bit word and output a changing musical pattern. The word could then be generated from anything, including raw image data or sensor input. Maybe a project for 2013!

        August 23, 2012 at 2:37 PM

  2. Robert

    would you be willing to release an example schematic? this sounds really cool!

    is it really as simple as running the outputs from a few CMOS chips together into a speaker?

    March 26, 2013 at 11:33 AM

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