The Computer Games Journal

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 213–230 | Cite as

Play that Pokey Music: Computer Archeological Gaming with Vintage Sound Chips

  • Stefan HöltgenEmail author


The article discusses programmable sound generators (PSG) of the home computer era (1970s–1990s) and the problem of a historiographizing of them. An alternative way of examining and describing their features for scientific purposes will be suggested: computer archaeology with its methods of measuring, demonstrating, and re-enacting technical processes. The study tries to argue a non-discursive approach to both game history and game sound technology. In conclusion it will show that only a mid-range theory of actual historical objects can be possible, expatiated with PSG sound. Subsequent research could try to investigate such an approach to analyze one specific game and its sounds (by its algorithms and signal outcome), one specific PSG type, or one comparable feature of divers PSGs.


Sound chip Computer archaeology Media archaeology Retrocomputing Computer history Game sound 



I would like to thank Nikita Braguinski for some musicological explanations, Malte Schulz, Markus Hohmann, and the members of the VIC-20 and TRS-80 Facebook groups for technical hints, and Jana Pauls for her copy-editing.


  1. Activision. (1984). Pitfall II: Lost Caverns [Atari VCS]. Santa Monica, CA: Activision.Google Scholar
  2. Anon. (2018). The FPGASID project [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  3. Atari. (1972). Pong [Arcade]. Sunnyvale, CA: Atari.Google Scholar
  4. Big Five Software. (1981). Robot attack [TRS-80]. Van Nuys, CA: Big Five Software.Google Scholar
  5. Botz, D. (2011). Kunst, Code und Maschine. Die Ästhetik der Computer-Demoszene. Bielefeld: Transcript.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braguinski, N. (2018). RANDOM. Die Archäologie elektronischer Spielzeugklänge (series: Computerarchäologie) (Vol. 3). Bochum: Projekt.Google Scholar
  7. Bülow, R. (2015). Luftnummern. Das Patent einer Druckluft-Denkmaschine von Emil Schilling. In Retro Magazin No. 34 (Spring 2015), p. 30.Google Scholar
  8. (n.d.). STEREOinSID [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  9. Caprani, O. (2014). The PONG game [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  10. (2017). base:reduce_noise [Codebase 64 wiki] [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  11. Collingwood, R. G. (1999). Philosophy of history. In Ders: The principles of history and other writings in philosophy of history (pp. 219–234). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Commodore 64 Scene Database. (2008). [CSDb]: Vicious Sid by mixer and SounDemoN and the human code machine (2008) [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  13. DEC. (1978). DECUS. Program library PDP-8 catalog. Digital equipment corporation users society, August 1978. Maynard: DEC. Accessed September 13, 2018.
  14. Devilmarkus. (2018). Sigma Seven can destroy your hardware! [online] CPCWiki. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  15. Dittbrenner, N. (2005). Soundchip-Musik. Computer- und Videospielmusik von 1977–1994. Osnabrück: epOS.Google Scholar
  16. Durell Software. (1987). Sigma seven [Amstrad CPC 464]. Taunton: Durell Software.Google Scholar
  17. Elite Systems. (1986). Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins [Commodore 64]. Lichfield: Elite Systems.Google Scholar
  18. Epyx. (1984). Barbie [Apple II]. San Francisco, CA: Epyx.Google Scholar
  19. Ernst, W. (1999). Sonic time machines. Explicit sounds, siren voices, implicit sonicity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Ernst, W. (2013). Signale aus der Vergangenheit. Eine kleine Geschichtskritik. Berlin: Kadmos.Google Scholar
  21. Ersnt, W. (2012). Gleichursprünglichkeit. Zeitwesen und Zeitgegebenheit technischer Medien. Berlin: Kadmos.Google Scholar
  22. Firebird. (1986). Warhawk [Atari 8 Bit]. London: Firebird.Google Scholar
  23. Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. (2016). Die Zuse Z23 “macht Musik”. [Online Video]. 5 July 2016. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  24. Fritsch, M. (2018). Musik. In B. Beil, T. Hensel, & A. Rauscher (Eds.), Game studies (pp. 87–108). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Garmoney, J. (1978). Jukebox [Tandy TRS-80]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  26. GI. (1979). AY-3-9810/9812 programmable sound generator data manual. O.O.: General Instruments. Accessed September 11, 2018.
  27. Gremlin Graphics Software Ltd. (1987). Death Wish III [Amstrad CPC 464]. Sheffield: Gremlin Graphics Software Ltd.Google Scholar
  28. Hahn, D. (n.d.). [online] Atari’s promise means it’s not cheating. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  29. Höltgen, S. (2015). Digitale Analogien. Der Körper des Spielers am Gameport des Computers. In R. T. Inderst & P. Just (Eds.), Build’em Up – Shoot’em Down. Körperlichkeit in digitalen Spielen (pp. 254–273). Glückstadt: vwh.Google Scholar
  30. Höltgen, S., & Othmer, T. (2013). Sounds like a Melody. Computer & Sound: Periphere Musikemissionen. In: Der Freitag. Accessed September 7, 2019.
  31. Hugg, S. (2016). Making games for the Atari 2600. Wroclaw: Amazon.Google Scholar
  32. Kong Daddy. (2008). Absolutely amazing, the VIC20 actually has 5 sound channels! [online]. Commodore Forum. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  33. Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. Heroes of the computer revolution. Garden City/New York: Anchor Press/Double Day.Google Scholar
  34. Maria, P. (2013). Chipmusik ohne Soundchip. Geschichte, Theorie und kulturelles Erbe der analogen Klangerzeugung mit Digitalcomputern. In S. Höltgen (Ed.), SHIFT – RESTORE – ESCAPE. Retrocomputing und Computerarchäologie (pp. 81–96). CSW: Winnenden.Google Scholar
  35. Miyazaki, S. (2013). Algorythmisiert. Eine Medienarchäologie digitaler Signale und (un)erhörter Zeiteffekte. Berlin: Kadmos.Google Scholar
  36. Montfort, N., & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the beam. The Atari video computer system (Series: Platform studies) (Vol. 1). Cambridge/London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Nake, F. (2005). Das doppelte Bild. In Digitale form, Bildwelten des Wissens. Kunsthistorisches Jahrbuch für Bildkritik (Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 40–50). Berlin.Google Scholar
  38. Norman, J. (n.d.). The IBM 7094 is the first computer to sing [online] Jeremy Norman’s History of Accessed September 25, 2018.
  39. Peschke, M., & Peschke, V. (1976). BYTE’s audio cassette standard symposium. In BYTE (pp. 72–73).Google Scholar
  40. Reed, M. (n.d.). TRS-Opera [online] Accessed September 25, 2018.
  41. Spital, I., Perry, R., Poel, W., & Lawson, C. (1985). Amstrad CPC 6128 user instruction. Brentwood: AMSOFT.Google Scholar
  42. Stübbs, M. (1979). Programmieren mit dem TRS-80. Düsseldorf: Tandy.Google Scholar
  43. Toshi. (2017). Commodore C64/264 audio/video Kabel nach Cinch/S-Video [online]. Accessed September 25, 2018.
  44. van der Meer, J. H. (2016). Artikel: Instrumentenkunde. In Lütteken L. (Ed.), MGG online. Kassel/Stuttgart/New York. Accessed September 7, 2018.
  45. Völz, H. (1999). Das Mensch-Technik-System. Physiologische, physikalische und technische Grundlagen - Software und Hardware. Renningen-Malmsheim: expert.Google Scholar
  46. Xuel. (2018). FujiConvert 0.1 [online] AtariAge. Accessed September 25, 2018.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Musikwissenschaft und MedienwissenschaftHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations