The Commodore 64 Orchestra – classical music from the 8 bit era

December 8th, 2007 | Categories: retro computers | Tags:

On the morning of my 8th birthday my life was changed forever when I received a shiny new 48k ZX Spectrum + – the year was 1985 and this event signified the beginning of my love affair with computers. Back then the school playground was divided into two main camps – those of us who had Sinclair Spectrums and those who had a Commodore 64 and the rivalry was fierce – I even remember once being involved in a fist fight that started with a Speccy vs Commodore argument (it was probably the most pathetic punch up ever – 8 year old proto-geeks are not well known for their fighting prowess).

Of course there was the occasional oddball who had something weird like an Amstrad CPC464 (or in the case of my mate Tom – an Oric of all things) but in the main it was C64 v Spectrum and, I guess, this was my first ever technical holy war (and the only one that ended up with a physical fight).

22 years later and, like all first loves, the Speccy still holds a place in my heart but my opinions are not as polarised as they once were. These days I occasionally admit that the C64 was a good machine and, when no one is looking, I might fire up an emulator to have a game on something like the Great Giana Sisters or Wizball (the spectrum version was a bit poor you see).

One thing that I simply cannot deny is that the music on the Spectrum was just plain awful whereas that of the Commodore was quite simply stunning for its time. The sound chip on the C64 was called the Sound Interface Device (SID) and was probably the most advanced sound chip on any 8-bit home computer. Game designers used the chip to great effect in titles such as International Karate, Spellbound and R-Type – this stuff was as close as you could get to ‘proper music’ on an 8-bit computer.

Some C64 compositions are so good in fact that an an orchestra in Holland decided that they would perform full orchestral versions of them! If you head over to their myspace page you can listen to some of the results and, in my opinion at least, they are quite beautiful. What’s more – they have produced a CD with their music on it – just look at this CD Box:

Now it’s not exacty cheap – once postage and packing was taken into account it cost almost 30 pounds but I just had to order it. Expect a review here soon.

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