Look Mum No Computer is denying what is literally written in his artist name and going full compy, with none other than the massive Commodore PET 64 (aka CBM 4064). Best of all, this ’82 beast has a modern, new ensemble of tools for it you can use, too. Yeah, speaking of chip art and music and how it’s evolving…
The Commodore 64 line may be from the 80s, but the MSSIAH MIDI SID software practically turns it into something like Reason or ReBirth. And that’s possible, in turn, because Commodore was essentially packing tiny synthesizers into their computers – this being the legendary SID chip. MSSIAH gives you synth apps (inspired by the Pro-One and TB-303), a 909-style drum machine, a simple wave player, plus pretty powerful Cubase/Emagic Notator-style sequencing. And it’s got loads of hardware mods to let you save your data on USB sticks and play with mice and joysticks. More on that below.
Heck, the next time you brick your expensive PC or Mac with an OS update you may well be tempted to just go pick up an old Commodore and use that instead.
But first, with all the Commodore fever gripping electronic music right now, we should be clear on all those confusing computer names.
Travel back in time to the early 80s. Apple was dominating the North American school market with the Apple II (Apple ][ Plus if it’s 1982, precisely). The PET 64 was Commodore’s attempt to compete in education, by taking the guts of the Commodore 64 and packing it into … well, into a horrifically ugly PET 40XX case.
For all intents and purposes, though, this really just is a Commodore 64 in a much more imposing-looking housing. It goes by a bunch of names in typical Commodore “throw stuff at the wall” branding fashion – the Educator 64 was the C64 rebadge, and the CBM 4064 or Educator 64-1 or PET 64 are the same in the PET case.
It’s basically for schools who said “sure, I’ll take a Commodore 64 since it’s way cheaper than the Apple, but can I have it in a terrifying ugly metal case?” (Hey, it was acceptable in the 80s.)
And that’s why it works for Look Mum No Computer – or should I say Look Ma At My Big Old Metal Garage Sale Computer?
But don’t let the PET case fool you. The passion for vintage computers may be the same, but this is the opposite of what Robert Henke and collaborators (like Anna Tskhovrebov on graphics) did with the CBM 8032 AV project:
I’ll go into that another time, but whereas MSSIAH makes use of the SID chip and Look Ma No Computer makes use of that finished solution, Robert’s CBM project treats those computers almost like raw materials for total audiovisual creation – check the full tech details. The case makes these look like related machines, but they’re really not – the CBM 8032 is the business update to the original Commodore PET. It’s still a Commodore box with BASIC on it, but has older, slower innards and no SID synth chip.
So if Robert is making the older CBM/PET into digital art medium, this is more about sticking in a cartridge and playing in a sort of 80s-21st century music-making hybrid – which is also brilliant:
That being said, let’s talk about how stupidly cool MSSIAH is – and a good choice for LMNC. Just check the workflow here and feature set:
- SEQUENCER with external mouse, joystick and MIDI keyboard support, 32 SID instruments (both USB mouse with adapter and 1351 mouse)
- MIDI MODE which turns the Commodore into a 6-track multi-timbral synth and a clever twist that turns wavetables into arpeggios for that classic retro sound
- MONO SYNTH with an internal 303-style sequencer but a 2-oscillator sound (hey, we like that at MeeBlip HQ), plus support for MIDI notes, velocity, pitch wheel, program changes and CC
- BASSLINE 303-style bass but… it’s a SID (and apparently sounds especially nice on the later 8580 SID with the “fixed” filter)
- DRUMMER 909-style drum machine – with SID wavetables
- WAVE-PLAYER 4-bit 6 KHz wave playback on three virtual channels, routed through the SID architecture. Honestly, do you need more bits or kilohertz, really?
And then you add additional capabilities with the Savyour add-on:
- Disk drive emulator (use your USB memory stick like it actually is a Commodore 1541 drive)
- Mouse interface for your new-fangled USB mice, in case you don’t have pride enough to use the proper 1351
- Joystick interface for PlayStation and class-compliant USB joysticks, keyboards, and the like
And some other modding features, too. They’re out of serial cables, but I think you can fashion or find one of those fairly easily. The cartridge and Savyour don’t cost much. Your challenge now is to find a Commodore someone doesn’t want.
But maybe it’s better to just listen to this nice jam from Look Mum and … stay out of this rabbit hole. Just imagine it by reading this article. Know that it’s there. Get back to … I’m going to say running Emagic Notator on an Atari ST? Never mind…