One chip to rule them all: over a quarter century later, the sounds of this chip are reborn in the newest mobile devices. Photo (CC) Dejdżer / Digga.

Take a look at the long view of history, and the Commodore 64 fares nicely. It remains the most popular computer of all time. And this newfangled iPhone thing? Well, it now just catches up to the C64, giving people what they really want – a C64-like music player in their pocket.

How else to explain my inbox packed with tips about the new SID Player for iPod Touch and iPhone? Who needs MP3 when there’s SID. A tiny download yields over 33,000 tracks, and the player application itself is open source. Rounding out this (unplanned) day of game music, this seems the appropriate coda.

Now, it’d be easy enough to let a wave of nostalgia wash over you – or, Scrooge-like naysayers, to dismiss yet another novelty download for iPhone. But consider if you will some of the underlying reasons a SID Player works:

  • Composition: The compositions aren’t just nostalgia pieces – even classic game tunes like Commando and Arkanoid. The point is, composers like Rob Hubbard were inventive and ingeniously compact. Strip away the instrumentation, and they still work – something that can’t be said of a lot of modern game music (but can be said of hits like “Still Alive,” as it happens).
  • Storing scores, not sound: We continue to be force-fed the idea that recorded music is superior to sequenced racks that are synthesized – but no one can say why. Sure, for simulating an orchestra, that makes some sense, even with increasingly sophisticated samplers. But for electronic compositions, it’s nonsense. You can pack more music and more musical structure into a score. If MIDI scores are underwhelming, it’s because the synths playing them, or the limitations of the file format, or both killed the idea.
  • SID forever: The SID remains one of the great synth designs of all time, again, because of its economy and its personality. There’s no reason that success can’t be replicated in 2009 by DIY electronics builders on one hand, or smart synth programmers working on mobile and embedded devices on the other.

I have nothing against nostalgia on the one hand, and nothing against healthy skepticism on the other. But if you look at something like a 2009 SID player on the iPhone, there really is something to it – even when history washes both the SID and the iPhone into a forgotten past.

SID Player Project Page, iTunes link (US$2.99; further evidence that you can have a for-fee open source mobile app, folks)

Via Synthtopia and James Lewin’s Twitter and a few of you, as well.

The only way to top this iPhone app? Why, someone needs to build a SID-based pocket music player that does nothing else. There are a few DIY projects that might get you started.

  • Alex

    Ha! nice! a sid player for iphone…any technical info on it? Is it better than Sidplay for Windows? Sidplay can emulate a 75% (if i remember well) of the famous sid sound…

  • Alex

    You forgot to write that a Sid player is a lot more than a simple player…its an emulator of a Sid chip and some of the other basic chips inside a Commodore 64…

  • Sad Sad

    Not compatible with 1st generation ipod touches.

    Sad sad sad sad :***(

  • Really? I can't imagine what it'd need in the 2nd-gen touch. No mic required.

  • And Alex, yep, you're right. I got off on my other reverie and skipped over the basics. 🙂

  • Nice, I'll give this a go. I sometimes (when javasound works on my mac…), so it will be nice to have the option on the iPhone 🙂

    I still need to finish my Midibox SID. Got a 1xSID unit, but I've still got another SID chip in my parts box that needs a home. Stereo SID unit on the Horizon. (Then a midibox FM…)

  • Also, I think that the "step forward" with sampled and recorded digital music is also a step back. I think that there was a beauty in the huge synthesizers of the past, crafting a sound from base components to create something entirely different.

    I swear the future was in the 80's, and we've already passed it :p

  • Kevin Connor

    Gaah !! First gen iPhone "This Application is not compatible with this iPhone".

  • Jiz

    That's funny, it's working fine on my 1st gen iPhone. Are you running the latest system software?

  • Kevin Connor

    Thanks, Jiz, just found it "requires iphone 2.2 software update". Cheers, KevinC