Sevish Music

You are browsing the xen tag

Learn tuning theory

John Moriarty, a member of the global xenharmonic/microtonal music movement, has been making videos to explain modern tuning theory concepts. The ideas are presented in a very visual way with narration and musical examples. I would be interested to know how tuning theory newbies get on with these vids. It’s a heavy topic, both wide and deep with details. Anyway, enjoy John’s playlist!

And I’m sure there’s more to come in the future.

Microtonal chiptune music with One-SF2 VST

UPDATE: Xen-Arts plugins are no longer available, but if you’re looking to make microtonal music with SF2/SFZ soundfont files, I’ve had a good experience with TAL-Sampler.

Sonic the HedgehogI grew up as a gamer. Luckily my aunt was into games too, so I got the chance to play oldschool systems from before my time such as the Atari 2600 and the NES. All of this cemented my interest in electronic music from a young age. (For what it’s worth, my ongoing fascination with drum & bass probably came by playing Rage Racer on the Sony Playstation).

Some years ago, fueled by the nostalgia of umpteen million nerds, the chiptune music genre took off and is still going strong today. For some, the only way to make this music happen is to record from the original hardware itself. For others, it’s good enough to cheat and use VSTs which recreate the sound. Today I want to share one method of writing microtonal chiptune music using a VST called One-SF2.

OneSF2 - SNES Secret of Mana gamelan tuned to slendroOne-SF2 is a free soundfont player VST for Windows, and it has microtuning features baked right into it. Actually, it supports the MIDI tuning standard, so it can load all of the crazy scales I’ve been collecting in my tuning packs.

  1. Download One-SF2 and extract it to your VST folder. It’s about 30MB because it comes with a bank of sounds.
  2. Download the top soundfont “Famicom” from this collection. The Famicom soundfont contains many sounds recorded from the NES. Save it to your One-SF2 folder.
  3. Load up One-SF2 in your DAW!
  4. Let’s get a nice NES synth sound first. Look for a button that says “SF2” and click it. Now you can load the Famicom soundfont downloaded earlier.
  5. This soundfont contains multiple instruments. Find “SF2 Patch Name” and click the left and right arrow icons to scroll through the available sounds. I quite like #2 “Square Wave 25%”
  6. Switch the synth to mono mode. Now when you play a melody, it will sound more like the actual hardware and less like a polysynth. To do this, find the menu labelled “Control Edit”. Select “MIDI” from the list. Now you will be able to find an option called “Mono Mode”, turn this on.
  7. Here’s the key step, let’s make it microtonal! Find the button that says “MTS”. Clicking this will let you load a scale file.
  8. Write some dope xenharmonic chiptunes.

Remember the NES only had 5 sound channels. 2 are pulse/square channels, 1 is triangle, 1 is noise, and the last was used for low-quality digital sampling. You could recreate this capability by using 4 instances of One-SF2 (each using the Famicom soundfont), plus one audio channel with a bitcrusher effect. Read the technical specifications of the Famicom/NES sound chip if you want to strive for the most realistic result.

Here’s some xen chiptune drum & bass I cooked up a few years ago, in a game boy style.

Now, if only someone would make a version of Clotho from Columns tuned to a beautiful meantone, I could die a happy man…


Where to find more video game soundfonts

Here’s a collection of soundfonts from various game systems.
And here’s a mother lode of soundfonts ripped from SNES games.


Alternative pathways to microtonal chiptune music

Plogue Chipsounds supports Scala tuning files, emulates several oldschool chips, and opens the door to microtonal chiptune on Mac OS X and Windows (32/64-bit). Costs about 95 USD (as of early 2017).

Plogue Sforzando is a free and simple soundfont player much like One-SF2, but it works with the SFZ file format instead.

Pick up a second-hand console system and do it the old fashioned way, with tracker software and a soldering iron. Some trackers support microtones natively!

One-SF2 has a big brother, XenFont. This free, 32-bit Win-only VST adds heaps of synthesis functions on top of the basic soundfont player. A plethora of options exist for creating deep sound designs, so my own work always features XenFont instead of One-SF2.

Tony Dubshot goes deep in Deep

Tony Dubshot - deepHere’s something new from the Dubbhism Netlabel, a naughty lil’ instrumental album called Deep by the demented dub scientist Tony Dubshot. Sometimes I get the appetite for trippy electro dub, and Deep has got me feeling full right now.

(Stream Deep on Soundcloud)

Actually Deep is the instrumental counterpart to the 6-track EP High that is set to come out soon, featuring Sarah Winton, MK-Ultra and I-Lo. I can’t wait to hear that one when it drops. (September 8th – digital stores)

Until that time comes, let’s dive down to the depths of Deep. It’s a 42 minute spin out across 10 tracks, which blend together into one oceanic ODDyssee. All united by profoundly bassy bass, and dripping wet with analog dubbiness.

Good Morning Sunshine and Mixup kick off the journey, both tracks bringing jolly vibes and a wobbly kind of sound.

From Madd Science, the album goes into a phase of space-faring utopia jams. That segue between Aura and The Capricorn Speaks!!! Can’t get enough. This is like a story told in dub.

Every track on the album seems to directly lead to the next with no gaps. The effect is like listening to a DJ set, only the transitions are totally abrupt. It works surprisingly well and keeps the whole playlist shuffle-proof.

You’re a Fish sounds like flipped out Crash Bandicoot music. Then comes Soul Fire—I caught the vocal version of this track on the radio, featuring Sarah Winton from the forthcoming High EP, and loved its funky, steadfast groove with all the stops and starts.

United in Battle… I subconsciously make screw faces as the descending bassline rips through me. Also, there’s something distinctly fresh about this. Ah that’s right, Tony Dubshot is in the know about the art of xen (aka microtonal music). A few years ago I wouldn’t have guessed that any music could sound alien yet funky, at least in the same way this does.

Knock knock… I almost can’t take it, this is too low. My brains are trying to break out of their monkey skull prison. Just like the previous track, Knock Knock is xen, owing to its tropical punch. Deep reaches a chill conclusion with Anti-Matter.

I’m deeply impressed over here. Dubshot is raising the bar higher for himself with his every release. Get this freebie album immediately and listen for yourself.

Download Deep here: