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September 13, 2019  |  Friday words #188  |  1034 hit(s)

Today's new-to-me word pertains to a certain musical genre. As an introduction, have a listen to this theme song from a classic arcade game:

Those old games had lively theme songs—Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, all those. The music and sound effects were clever and even tuneful, which was impressive, considering how primitive the sound-generating (synthesizing) capabilities were of the early consoles. Anyway, soon enough the hardware got better, and the sound effects got better, and today we get movie-quality sound from game consoles.

But. Some people have a fondness for the lo-res sound of those games, and there are people who love challenges. The result is the new-to-me word: chiptune, otherwise known as keygen or 8-bit music. This is, broadly speaking, music that sounds like it was created on those old machines. The ChipTunes=WIN! blog has a good definition:

Chipmusic at its core is electronic music created utilizing the chipsets from vintage video game and computing systems through both hardware & software. Examples of hardware include, but are not limited to, the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, Commodore 64, and Amiga. Examples of software include, but are not limited to, LSDJ, Famitracker, Renoise, Deflemask, and Open MPT. Chiptune is essentially an instrument and/or a medium, used to create all styles and genres imaginable.

There's some discussion/hair-splitting about "classic" chiptune (created on real 8-bit hardware) versus emulated chiptune. We can leave that to the practitioners, and I'll assume a broad definition for the term.

Some artists create chiptune music that specifically takes advantage of the sonic character of the 8-bit sound generators. For example, on that same blog, they point to a song named "Strange Comfort" by an artist named Bit Shifter:


(This is on SoundCloud; you might need an account?)

People also reinterpret music from other genres as chiptune music. A dude named Vinheteiro does classical covers using 8-bit sound synthesizers:

What really piqued my interest and inspired this entry was finding a chiptune "tribute" to the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. Behold Kind of Bloop:

I don't think I'll trade in the originals for chiptune versions of "Freddie the Freeloader" and "All Blues," but it sure did show me what people could do with this technology.

Update (20 Sep 2019) Someone found this video that recounts the history of sound capabilities on personal computers from classic 8-bit to CD quality:

For today's fun origins, we turn to baseball, which begins its yearly wrapup. (Alas, the basement-dwelling Mariners will be spectators for all of the playoffs.) Where do we get the word umpire?

I was quite surprised to read that this is another example of misdivision or rebracketing. The word as we got it from French was originally noumpere, but the initial n wandered: a noumpere became an oumpere. (We covered this before with an auger).

The original French provides slightly more of a clue about the origin. The word is a variant on nonper, or "non-peer." This referred to someone who was not an equal—by implication, higher—than others. This makes sense with the notion that an umpire is someone who adjudicates in disputes (an arbitrator), and whose decision is binding. The sports sense of umpire is just a domain-specific version of this role; it's been used as a sports term since the early 1700s.

By the way, if you're interested in the ins-and-outs (get it?) of baseball umpiring, I can recommend the Umpire Bible site that was created by former colleague Nick. I would no more umpire a baseball game than I'd do a self-appendectomy, yet I still find it to be interesting reading.

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