8Bit or Chiptune music – you either love it or hate it, but if you’re on this page our guess is that you adore those sharp Super Mario sounds that paved the way for so many underground music genres over the years. Back in 2006 a really amazing documentary over this era in music appeared and now you have the chance to revisit it again in its full glory.

A combination “rockumentary,” art expose, and culture-critical investigation, 8 BIT ties together the 1980s demo scene, chip-tune music, and artists using “machinima” and modified computer games. Produced in New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo, the documentary brings a global perspective to the new artistic approaches of the DIY generation that grew up playing Atari, Commodore 64, and other video game console.

8 BIT. (2006). USA. Original concept and direction by Marcin Ramocki. Produced and co-directed by Justin Strawhand. With artists Cory Arcangel, BIT SHIFTER, Bodenstandig 2000, Bubblyfish, Covox, Mary Flanagan, Alex Galloway, Gameboyzz Orchestra, Glomag, HUAROTRON, JODI, Paul Johnson, John Klima, Johan Kotlinski, Nullsleep, Joe McKay, Tom Moody, Akiko Sakaizumi, Eddo Stern, TEAMTENDO, Treewave, Chiaki Watanabe, and Carlo Zanni; curator Isabelle Arvers; media critic Ed Halter; and new media curator/writer Christiane Paul.

The first home computers, such as the IBM PC and Apple 2, had system speakers installed, which were directly controlled by the CPU. Thus, it was possible to produce clicks and certain tones. Therefore some very advanced sound of music could be produced this way. But the problem here was, that it required almost the entire CPU’s runtime to accomplish it. So the computer had nothing left over to do anything else. To take this load away from the CPU, a special sound chip was created. This chip became the basis of the popular 8bit music.

The very first chiptunes were simple and only involved beep sounds. However, as time progressed, the computers became more powerful and could produce different sound waves. Thus, it became possible to play a variety of different soundtracks at the same time. With time the music spread to America and Japan through sharing of sounds among the countries. From the 8bit music many Chiptune-musicians established themselves. Their sounds range from rock to pop or even dubstep.

Basic 8bit music makes use of waveforms such as Pulse, Sine, Triangle, Sawtooth and Noise. Each chiptune is formed using a specific chip sound. When you decide to follow a specific chip sound, you should stick to its requirements and waveforms to achieve the desired results. There are trackers that can help you adhere to the limitations of a specific chip sound. The trackers are used with the hardware to ensure that the sound produced is the actual sound of the hardware you are using.

When creating 8bit music, it is necessary to follow a pattern that contains several tracks playing at once to form a song. Each pattern has a particular order that determines when the songs should be played, for how long, and whether it should be looped or not.

8 BIT premiered on October 7th, 2006 at the Museum of Modern Art in NY.

8 BIT on-demand on Vimeo

8 BIT (2006) – Marcin Ramocki site

For added nostalgia, read Tom Moody’s blog posts from the MOMA premiere:


..and an even earlier event at vertexList gallery.