The High Voltage SID Collection

Growing up, we had a Commodore 64 computer (later, two of them). Not intended to be exclusively for games, we used it mostly for games, though I did gain some early programming experience (about the level that I could follow the code, so often longer than 10 PRINT “Hello World”; 20 GOTO 10, but often not terribly more complicated).

An edge that the C64 had over other systems of the time, was the capabilities of the sound chip in the machine, the SID chip. The designer had previously worked on synthesizers, and thought that other sound systems on computers of that era, were designed by people who knew nothing about music.

The SID chip allowed for a range of different kinds of sounds to go on at the same time, allowing for music with chords and different instruments. In short, enough depth to sound like music, rather than just a sequence of notes being played. If I recall correctly, musicians for games were limited to 4 channels, the most basic example of this would be a chord and another note. Other platforms were stuck with less. 4 channels were limiting, but with enough freedom to make memorable tunes.

Perhaps a precursor to my being happy to listen to MIDIs of Final Fantasy music (discovered years after I’d otherwise given up on the MIDI format), there were a bunch of C64 games where the music was a joy to listen to. Like, I’d load the game, listen to the entirety of the tune on the menu before starting to actually play.

As an aside, I had fun on the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit in the section were you could play with the sounds: sawtooth, triangle, pulse and noise.

I am not the only person to enjoy this, the pinnacle of 8-bit music. Looking into it, people are still composing using the SID chip. And the old classic music has been carefully extracted from the old game files, and archived. The most comprehensive archive of SID tunes is the High Voltage SID Collection. The .sid files can be downloaded individually or as the complete collection.

Tunes I keep returning to are from Firelord by Ben Daglish, Meanstreak by Matt Gray, Mayhem In Monsterland by Steve Rowlands, and Zamzara by Charles Deenen. When I’m not sure who composed a tune, it’s easier to search for it on the HVSC site, then browse through the downloaded directories (if you got the whole archive, if you download the individual game’s tune/s then it’s wherever you saved it to). The .sid files need a SID player to play them, but there’s links to those on the HVSC site.

The High Voltage SID Collection site
The Wikipedia article about the HVSC
The Wikipedia article on the SID chip – some interesting stuff in there, plus a bunch of stuff way too technical for me.

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