The 35 Year Music Synthesizer that Spawned Chiptune

If you are a certain age, MOS6581 either means nothing to you, or it is a track from Carbon Based Lifeforms. However, if you were a Commodore computer fan 35 years ago, it was a MOS Technologies SID (Sound Interface Device). Think of it as a sound “card” for the computers of the day. Some would say that the chip — the power behind the Commodore 64’s sound system — was the sound card of its day. Compared to its contemporaries it had more in common with high-end electronic keyboards.

The Conversation has a great write up about how the chip was different, how it came to be, the bug in the silicon that allowed it to generate an extra voice, and how it spawned the chiptune genre of music. The post might not be as technical as we’d do here at Hackaday, but it does have oscilloscope videos (see below) and a good discussion of what it took to create music on the device.

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Jamin’ to Bach, Commodore 64 style

[thrashbarg] missed the sounds of the Commodore 64 and longed to hear the great masters in 8-bit glory. To get his fix, he created a midi device using the original Sound Interface Device from those long-dead systems. He’s interfaced the MOS6581 SID with an Atmel AVR ATmega8 microcontroller. The receiving pin for the AVR’s UART is used as a MIDI-IN connection, with the microcontroller converting midi data into the proper sound generation specs for the SID. The result is the 10 minutes of [Bach]’s Brandenburg Concerto heard in the embedded video above.

We have no idea where he picked up this obsolete chip, but if you want to give this a try, perhaps you’ll have some luck emulating the MOS6581 by using another ATmega8.