Chiptune: Martin Galway’s ‘Yie Ar Kung Fu’

The Commodore 64 computer had a lot of memorable game themes. The 9-minute title tune in Yie Ar Kung Fu is very memorable … Belfast, Ireland composer Martin Galway used many tricks to get more out of the SID chip than most other composers. (*)

You can find C64 emulator software online, and there are song collections which contain the original SID score. The performance in this video sounds pretty close to the 1985 C64 game, although the tempo is faster in the game.

People who use today’s music composition software probably don’t realize that, in the 1980s, making music on the C64 meant writing the entire score for the SID’s limited number of ‘instruments’  – note-by-note, effects, volume changes – using an editor to make a string of numbers! That data had to be sent to the SID by a custom computer program, also written by the composer. There were at most a few dozen people in the world doing that.

Many Yie Ar listeners probably didn’t realize that the tune was called Magnetic Fields, Part 4, from the 1981 album by French EM pioneer Jean Michel Jarre (UK#6, US#98).

Jarre is the son of composer Maurice Jarre. The sounds on his previous albums – like 1976 debut Oxygene which made him famous – were produced on synths. Magnetic Fields was one of the first albums to use samples … probably thanks to a (very expensive) Fairlight CMI. C64 composers – using a computer that cost a few hundred dollars, incapable of using samples – pulled pretty amazing tricks out of their hats.

▷Galway interview▹
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