fds.jpg ['Cherish The Chips' is a bi-weekly column by Jeremiah 'Nullsleep' Johnson, discussing the latest and greatest goings-on in the world of the 'chiptune', and covering the best classic or modern music created using those pesky video game machines.]

Nintendo Gets Its Chip On

Chiptunes are nothing new, their history stretches back to the 1980's when kids first started making music with their Commodore and Atari computers, a tradition still kept alive today. But what about Nintendo? Up until the turn of the century, the NES and Game Boy were content to stick to their roles as gaming machines and nothing more. But now, with a diverse selection of tools for writing the music, and a thriving community of musicians harnessing the hardware, this relatively young scene is reaching maturity.

lsdj.jpgPocket Full of Bleep

The Game Boy's got a lot going for it, small, portable, battery-powered and built like a tank, it's an all-terrain music workstation. Combine it with LSDJ or Nanoloop, the two most popular pieces of software for creating Game Boy music, and you can push the little grey brick to it's limits. Although their interfaces differ drastically, the first presenting a standard tracker interface and the latter a semi-abstract matrix of squares, they both afford a high degree of control over the sound capabilities of the GB. And there are plenty of great examples of how far you can push it, take the new release by Bit Shifter or the japanese lo-fi trance stylings of USK just for starters.

nru_logo.jpg NES Tracking, Not Just For Nerds

Then there's the big brother, the NES or Famicom, depending on what region of the world you're in. While the first tracker to show up for the NES, Nerdtracker 2, was originally conceived of as an entry into a 'most useless utility' competition (where it took 1st place), there are a some less restrictive tools that have appeared recently. The latest of which is FamiTracker, a continually improving Windows-based application that's easy to pick up and start writing NES tunes with right away. Beginners will have an easy time finding support from the active community of users over at the 2A03.org forums.

midines.jpgMidines to Impress

If you're more comfortable working with midi than columns of hexadecimal numbers, you might want to go the Midines route. A 'hardware / cartridge interface (game) that enables MIDI control of the 8bit NES sound chip,' from NES super-genius x|k, it certainly has the most potential to break into the mainstream music studio. You can hear it on x|k's own recent release Outra, as well as an appearance on track 3 of the upcoming Venetian Snares album from Planet Mu.

nes_dpcm.jpgHey Hey MCK

Finally, if this all sounds too easy and you'd prefer to get down and dirty in a text editor to write your music, go straight to MCK or one of it's variants. An audio driver for the NES that takes MML (Music Macro Language) as it's input, it has somewhat of a niche appeal. But that hasn't stopped it from being used to great effect by Konami-fetishist RushJet1 or the previously mentioned Japanese fami-pop trio YMCK.

Who could have predicted that the same machines that introduced us to Mario and Zelda would be repurposed so many years later to bring this lo-fi symphony to whole new generation? Now where's my PowerGlove piano?

[Jeremiah Johnson is co-founder of chipmusic and computer-art collective, 8bitpeoples.com based out of New York City. Working with Game Boys and NES consoles to create music, he has been featured in various publications ranging from Wired to Vogue.]