Bits and pieces: a history of chiptunes

Kenneth B. McAlpine

Research output: Book/ReportBook

5 Citations (Scopus)


This book presents the first comprehensive history of the chiptune, a relatively new style of minimalist electronic music that was born in the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. The story of chiptunes is an unusual musical tale in that its aesthetic, at least initially, was almost entirely technology-driven. Its stylistic features are largely a result of the technical limitations of the programmable sound generators that were used in the first generation of video game consoles and home computers and the tricks that programmers used to circumvent them. As computing hardware developed, and game soundtracks became more sophisticated, the chiptune moved underground, and was adopted by software crackers as the musical tags and calling cards that identified their work. This, in turn, spawned the demoscene, a vibrant computer arts subculture that specialised in creating demos, complex audio-visual programs that showcased programming virtuosity and efficiency. More recently, the chiptune has emerged as a mainstream style. 8-bit cover bands perform live at festivals and events; it has provided the bedrock of several movie soundtracks, and has been the focal point of a number of high-profile exhibitions. Freed from the constraints of the early sound hardware, the chiptune has evolved. As technology has developed, practitioners can now pick and choose the stylistic elements they wish to incorporate into their compositions, and software emulators have made it possible to transcend the limitations of hardware to create complex multi-layered compositions that would have been near-impossible using the original sound chips. As a result, new debates have emerged around notions of style vs. approach and authenticity, and the book concludes by speculating on what further development awaits the chiptune.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages320
ISBN (Print)9780190496104, 9780190496098
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2018


  • Constraint
  • Creativity
  • Chiptunes
  • Video game music


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