Percussa micro super signal processor

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.