J-Pop: How Low-bit Can You Go?

Posted by Guest Author on May 18, 2009 in Fandom |

Nick's Nippon Notebook

In a previous article where I explored Japanese pop singers who sound like robots I mentioned Aira Mitsuki having a strangely trashed sound which has little to do with poor quality Youtube sound:

On further listening I’m sure what’s going on is bit-reduction, sometimes called bit-decimation where hi-fidelity sound, meaning 16 bit audio or higher, is processed down 8 bits of audio info. A bit (ahem) like vintage computer games with only 256 colors.

Working in what’s frequently called the Chiptunes genre, YCMK seem to use only genuine game produced sounds.

While sometimes called 8-Bit music, technically that’s not always the case. It’s usually game hardware driven by software programs and usually is not made up of samples. Some of the chips involved are digital and technically less than 8 bits while others are at least partly analog technology when the (in)famous Commodore 64 SID chip is producing the sound.

Brooklyn-based composer Tristan Perich has been exploring the limits of low bit depth with a number of projects involving 1-bit music. 

CDs contain 16 bits of data heard at 44.1 thousand times a second, a rate most people consider hi-fi, though some people disagree. The quality of the digital to analog converter, speakers and of course the quality of the recording determine the overall fidelity of the sound. 

On the other hand if one attaches a speaker to a voltage being turned on and off 30 or more times a second, the ear perceives a simple electronic tone at that frequency

As an album he released an empty CD case with a pre-programmed microcontroller glued into it. The microcontroller contains code for an album of compositions as well as a small pushbutton that advances to the next piece. The chip has no digital to analog converter in it but it can be programmed to pass a fixed voltage out a pair jacks at a rate that is perceived by humand as audio. The Youtube video has poor sound. You can hear a few tracks on the album’s site.

Nick Kent is a New York based artist who works with electronic media and is an occasional pop culture pundit.

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