2PLAYER answered my question. You can visit his tumblr here.
Channels 7, 8, and 9 have 6 slots and are used to generate the 5 rhythmic sounds. Bass drum uses 2 slots with FM while the other 4 sounds are created using the OPL white noise oscillator combined with frequency data. So yes, you could make your own OPL drums with the 9 channels but this allows you to squeeze 5 drums out of 3 channels.
A couple weeks ago I responded to a question about the sound behind the MSX and the Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake soundtrack. But there’s actually something regarding the description of the soundchips in MSX-AUDIO and MSX-MUSIC that I’ve never understood when reading about them. I’d be interest if someone can provide an answer.
According to wikipedia and other sources, both MSX-AUDIO and MSX-MUSIC are described as having:
9 channels of FM sound (without drums), or 6 channels of FM sound + 5 FM drums.
Does anyone know why that is, or what that means? You can create percussive sounds with FM synthesis. And with the Sega Genesis YM2612, for example, that doesn’t require a special feature or different mode. You can use one of the 6 FM channels to make a drum sound as you would make any other sound.
Is there a reason you can’t use the first 9 channels however you want (ignoring MSX-MUSIC having presets)? Or is it that you can do that with MSX-AUDIO, but they found a way to create drums with less resources, making it better to have an option that allows for 5 channels of drums with only sacrificing 3 “normal” channels? Does that come from restricting the number of operators?
Perhaps I’m simply misreading a feature as a “rule”. With the drums enabled, I don’t understand why you couldn’t have 11 channels of drums. Any clarification would be great!
Visiting a friend in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, we happened to run into the staircase from The Exorcist when I stopped for gas.
I was reminded of an arrangement I did of the “Exorcist theme” for the NES some years back. It’s not the entirety of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, just the segment popularized by the movie:
It was made shortly after I extracted the Sunsoft bass samples from Gremlins 2. I wanted to have a better understanding on how melodies worked in the sample channel, so I used it in this arrangement. I also hadn’t played around with much triangle percussion at that point, so creating this was a good learning experience!
Sure! Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake on the MSX2 has one of my favorite computer game soundtracks from the 8-bit era. I’m not as familiar with MSX audio as I am with the NES, but I know a little bit about the soundchips they used and the general limitations they had.
A brief introduction:
MSX machines are a family of home computers from the early ’80s. Part of the ‘8-bit’ computer market, MSX competed with computers like the Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit, and ZX Spectrum. They were popular in parts of Asia, Europe, and South America, but mostly unknown in the United States. You can read more about the MSX here and on wikipedia.
For audio, the MSX2 primarily used the Yamaha YM2149programmable sound generator. It is a variant of the General Instrument AY-3-8910, which was used in many other systems like the Intellivision, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and more. It is also similar to the Texas Instruments SN76489, the competing chip that was used in the Sega Master System.
This sound chip has three channels of sound, comprised of square waves and a noise generator (you can read an incredibly in-depth analysis here). This video demonstrates a youtube user’s favorite MSX music made with this PSG audio:
But Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake used a sound expansion cartridge for more advanced audio. Known as MSX-AUDIO, the cartridge contained the Yamaha Y8950, a sound chip that offered 9 channels of FM sound (or 6 if FM percussion is being used), and included an 8-bit ADPCM sampler. If you wanted to compare the audio to another system, it’s kind of like a more primitive Sega Genesis.
Three different cartridges for MSX-AUDIO were made by Philips, Toshiba, and Panasonic. Here’s what one of them looked like:
At the moment I’m having difficulty finding a complete list of games that used MSX-AUDIO in their soundtracks, but I know that Konami had several, including Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
Something I like a lot about the Metal Gear 2 soundtrack is how it embraces the synthesizer aesthetic. The introduction to MG2 has one of the most cinematic-like openings of any 8-bit game I’ve seen, and the music has elements of ’80s horror / sci-fi themes. I’m reminded of music by John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13) at moments throughout MG2, reinterpreted with a Konami-esque sound.
There was also another sound add-on for the MSX known as MSX-MUSIC, which used the Yamaha YM2413 sound chip. It also offered 9 (or 6+ drums) channels of FM sound, but it was more limited than MSX-AUDIO because it allowed only one customizable voice at a time, with the rest being presets (more information here). MSX-Music was a built-in feature on some of the later MSX models. Fans of the Sega Master System will recognize the sound as the same FM chip used in some Master System games.
One of my favorite MSX-Music soundtracks I’ve heard is the MSX port of Final Fantasy. I generally expect console-to-computer ports from the ’80s to not do the best job converting the music, but I actually like the MSX version of Final Fantasy more than the original Famicom/ NES version:
I was invited via skype as a guest on the most recent episode of The Legacy Music Hour podcast. I talk a little bit about Sunsoft audio, their use of melodic samples, and a couple other things. It’s a great episode with some excellent selections by Brent and Rob.
The Legacy Music Hour podcast was created by Brent Weinbach and Rob F. for the purpose of sharing and talking about video game music from specifically the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. No remixes, no covers, no video game inspired music -just pure, original music from the NES, SNES, Genesis, and more…
I’d like to thank the guys from the legacy music hour podcast for the kind words and sharing retrogameaudio with their listeners in the last episode. I’d also like repay the plug by recommending The Legacy Music Hour to my followers on tumblr. Check it out!
I’ve been digging through their archives and I’ve discovered some awesome game music. I really appreciate the show and I’m looking forward to tuning in weekly.
A method for generating a sustained melodic sound from the sample channel:
As mentioned in the video, The Immortal by Rob Hubbard is the only soundtrack on the NES or Famicom I’ve found that uses this technique, and I’m under the impression that it is truly unique. Please send me a message if you know of any other examples!
For the famitracker users, you can download an instrument I’ve created that maps the sample to the corresponding notes on a piano for all 16 pitches. The lowest notes start at octave 3 for convenience: DPCM Rob Hubbard Saw.fti
I’ve been meaning to make a post on the recent creations of NES composer Neil Baldwin. He’s made several programs for creating NES music and sfx that push the sound limitations, and are capable of creating sounds rarely (or never) heard before in classic NES soundtracks. I’ll talk some more about his stuff in the future, but I wanted to reblog this post from Nick Maynard.
Skip to 52 seconds in if you want to hear the NES pulse wave channel make unusual sounds! :)
I had someone ask me how I mute the different channels, and how they can do the same for the purpose of learning some parts more easily on guitar.
This is a great question, and it makes me realize I should’ve made a post about this earlier. The best way to listen to and examine NES music is with NSF (nintendo sound format) files. Different NSF players have different options, but channel muting is a pretty common feature. What’s great about NSFs is that they’re made of code extracted from ROM data, so it’s the actual game music (unlike MIDI recreations), and they’re very small in size. There’s two steps to get yourself set up.
Download the NSF.
Download an NSF player.
For step 1, arc-nova.org is probably the best current archive for NSFs. As a backup, there’s also Akumu’s NSF Archive. You should be able to find pretty much any soundtrack you’re looking for.
For step 2, I’d recommend a couple different players. If you’re using windows and don’t mind running winamp, notsofatso is a pretty excellent winamp plugin for nsfs. NSFPlay is another pretty good one. It comes with a piano display so you can watch all of the parts as they play. It was recently fixed to work on Vista and Windows 7, and has both a standalone version (NSFplay), and a winamp plugin (NSFplug).
Hi! Don't mean to bother you again but can I request how Super Mario Bros. 3 does the whole bongodrum/steel drum like sound? You can hear it clearll at the end of the music that plays when you lose a life. Thanks!
Super Mario Bros. 3 uses very lo-fi audio samples (1-bit DPCM) for those sounds. The NES’s 5th channel is dedicated to sample playback. Anytime you hear semi-intelligible vocals on the NES, like the “I’m bad!” from Bad Dudes, those are also samples.
The sample channel has some odd quirks and uses, so I’ll save a more detailed explanation for future posts.
Greetings! My name is bucky. I'm a sound-chip enthusiast, interested in the history of video game audio and sound design. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to give an answer.