How Many Commodores Does It Take To Crack A Nut?

It’s brilliant enough when composers make use of the “2SID” technique to double the channels in a Commodore 64 with two sound chips, but even then some people like to kick things up a notch. Say, five times more. [David Youd], [David Knapp] and [Joeri van Haren] worked together to bring us just that, ten Commodore computers synchronously playing a beautiful rendition of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy at this year’s Commodore Retro eXpo.

The feat is composed of nine Commodore 64 computers and one Commodore 128, all fitted with the SID chip. It is a notorious synthesizer chip for utilizing both analog and digital circuitry, making each and every one of its revisions unique to a trained ear, not to mention impossible to faithfully reproduce in emulation. The SID was designed by Bob Yannes at MOS Technology, who later went on to co-found Ensoniq with his experience in making digital synthesizers.

How this orchestra of retro computers came to be, including details on how everything is pieced together can be found on this slideshow prepared by the authors of the exhibition. It’s interesting to note that because of timing differences in each computer’s crystal clock and how only the start of the song is synchronized between them, they can’t play long music tracks accurately yet, but a 90-second piece works just fine for this demonstration.

These synthesizer chips are slowly going extinct since they’re no longer being manufactured, so if you need a new replacement solution, FPGAs can fill that SID-shaped hole in your heart. If you need the whole computer though, the newer Teensy 3.6 will do just fine emulating it all. Check out this beast of a display in action after the break. While we’re at it, this isn’t the only time multiple 8-bit computers have been combined as an orchestra, though these Commodores sound a lot better than a table full of ZX Spectrums.

[Thanks fizzymagic for the tip!]

18 thoughts on “How Many Commodores Does It Take To Crack A Nut?

    1. The simplest solution is using a Midi setup with one machine as master MIDI clock and the other as slave, then have them stay in sync. One could go the extra mile and use a sequencer with different tracks layered.

  1. Lovely lots of sids singing lol. I got a box load of Sid chip and all different ones. They are all going to waste doing nothing. Never got round to doing stuff with them. Good to see the C64 still kicking in 2019. Love it when I got one back in 1982. Spent many winter nights playing games and coding on it.

    1. “They are all going to waste doing nothing”
      well… you are just saving them for a time when they are needed even more.
      The C64 scene and SID music scene are highly active. There are many SID music enthusiasts that strongly believe that the true sound cannot be captured in an emulation… this combined with the fact that no new SIDS are made and old ones are slowly dying (because of use, faulty power supplies, esd, etc) the “box load” of SID’s you are holding on to is worth holding onto just a little bit longer as their prices only go up.

    1. This is … nicely done and still thoroughly underwhelming. A bunch of C64s running SID Wizard and one big button hooked up to MIDI-start (or even just press Ctrl+F1 on) all of the machines, with best regards to the speakers when they simultaneously pop on the volume. Beyond that it’s pretty pedestrian, though. Every track is relegated to play one voice in one instrument. In the end this is the most basic thing you can do on a SID, just multiplied by ten.

      I guess I was hoping that they would do more with ten filters and thirty independent and constantly reconfigurable voices, even if they are not going for the bombastic squeeze-as-much-into-the-tracks style of the demo scene. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not re-use tracks, to not occasionally combine voices to do some rudimentary FM synthesis, to not even shift around notes to enhance the polyphony on fading notes. Ten glorious C64s combined, sounding like a cheap toy keyboard.

  2. What I mean by a box load I mean a little box. I had a check and I got 21 of them some the old ones and some newer models too. Mind you there still million of C64 out there so still got to be lots of SID chips too. Surely? I know there is no new ones made no more. Mind you I do also have a couple of them swin chips ? That are a copy of the Sid chip. I think that is what they call them.

  3. A few of our Commodore club members did this with 8 C64s back in the day. It took us most of the summer to input the score by hand into Compute’s SID Editor. We setup the machines at a club meeting and did a 3..2..1.. to have several of us hit [RETURN] at the same time. After a couple of false starts, it was glorious! Nice to see something like this again.

  4. Brings back memories, ordering a mega 65, this December, I’m with Excalibur 64/Amiga users group, found in compute! magazine, our membership is down some, but actively getting more members every year, as we now teach programming at the local library, not the oldest user group out there still active, but we maintain fairly well. Windjammerhobbies@gmail.com

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