Howdy Chipfolks! As I’m sure many of our long-time readers are aware, we here at ChipWIN are very fond of doing interviews with our favorite artists – but as it happened, I recently realized that I had yet to contribute one to the blog! I usually just opt for chatting up people at live shows without ever doing anything official (read: fangirling and generally making an ass of myself). As luck would have it, during the process of writing my previous review on an0va’s ‘Ego Depletion’, Daniel took some time to shoot the breeze with me. And I thought you, our readers, might enjoy reading the transcript of this process, and gaining some insight into ‘Ego Depletion’ straight from the source; as well as some thoughts on the chiptune scene and performing in general. So, without further delay, here goes!
Adam: Okay, I’ve got a two-part question to kick this off: How long have you been studying/playing/making music? Because I’m pretty sure you didn’t go to school for it, but you damn sure sound like someone who did. Part two is: What started you on the path to making music instead of just enjoying it?
an0va: Well, so I’ve been playing guitar for about 10+ years, I think? I never took lessons or anything. I learned a bunch of other instruments along the way too, like keys, bass, and drums. I’ve actually performed live on every instrument in a traditional band setting – so like, guitar/bass/drums/keys/voice. But I’m definitely most comfortable on guitar. I’ve been experimenting with making sounds as long as I can remember – and I know that sounds generic, but ever since I was a kid I was recording random stuff with a tape recorder and laying them on top of each other into new recordings.
Adam: So what you’re saying is that even as a kid, you were overdubbing things. Exactly how many times did you drop your bass?
an0va: [laughs] I never dropped da bass- WAIT NO, I DID: Once, live in a blues band, I was playing bass for some stupid 12-bar blues crap and my strap broke.
Adam: [laughs] Right, sorry, so back to your childhood overdubbing.
an0va: Yeah. So back in the day there was a toy called a Yak Bak – it was basically a little recorder that held like five seconds of audio, tops, and you could retrigger it. I also had that thing from Home Alone 2…hang on a second, let me find pictures.
Adam: Whoa! Nostalgia bomb, I remember those. Much 90’s, such nostalgia, wow.
an0va: Haha, yeah. But anyway, I recorded VGM tunes on the TalkBoy, and then used the Yak Bak to record SFX from a Sound Test, something like Streets of Rage, to get a “HUAH” on the Yak Bak. Then, my mom had a third tape recorder, something cheap like a Panasonic, and I’d hit record on that, play the VGM from the Talk Boy and trigger the HUAH on the Yak Bak. I was totes just a little kid here but like that’s the earliest I can remember making music: It was just mashups in the simplest manner. But as to the other part of the question, on when I first started moving towards making music, it was probably my first year of playing guitar. All I’d learned was like NoFX and maybe some AFI, and I wanted to write my own tracks but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to be in a band (or everyone else was way better than me). So, this girl I used to hang out with showed me this program called TabIt – It’s like Guitar Pro, but a little simpler (and the interface is way faster too, in my opinion), and it output to General MIDI. So I actually wrote albums of General MIDI music – most of those songs were early an0va demos far before even knowing what 8bit/chipmusic was.
Adam: Ooh, that segues nicely into my next question – How’d you make the transition from traditional instruments to chiptunes? I’m assuming because you were already familiar with music software, it was an easy leap?
an0va: Funny story! I went to college with Kirby of Metroid Metal/Temp Sound Solutions fame. We both like bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, and so we were jamming one day and he introduced me to VGM covers. And to be honest? I couldn’t get into it back then! Standard music snobbiness on my part, I guess. My rationale, though, was like “Man, these guys are making the VGM sounds sound awesome, but I actually miss the old synth sounds.” Later on in like 2006 I got a MicroKorg, because that was the hip thing to do at the time, apparently, and instead of using the presets I wanted to learn how to make my own patches, all of which required you to initialize the patch, or basically start from scratch with raw waveforms. Every time I initialized a patch, I ended up jamming on like a simple triangle wave or a square wave for hours. I had too much fun trying to make the synth sounds more complex. I made a few demos and a really dumb singer-songwriter EP I released (and subsequently deleted.) My one friend saw it before I deleted it, noticed the simple waveform synths all over the record and said “Yo, check this out!” and sent me Bit Shifter’s ‘Information Chase.’
Adam: Oh! Uh…I’m sorry, I’m not as up on my Bit Shifter as I ought to be. Let me go listen to that right quick.
an0va: dfjhgdkjdhfg What?! Dude that’s like Chiptune 101! You gotta get on that, homie. It’s the classic of classics. [laughs] You’ll love it, guaranteed. It’s so good – sorry, I’m a hyper fanboy to him. I still fanboy out to him in IRL, haha.
Adam: Let’s see, looks like checking Bandcamp here, there’s a 2013 edit, but not the original one from 2006.
an0va: Oh, yeah! It’s just an updated album with additional tracks, it’s still the same thing. That album started everything for me, man.
Adam: So where’d you go once you got that album? Just bought a Game Boy and slapped it until it made music?
an0va: YES EXACTLY THAT. Haha, no, I mean, I did my research on what he did, listened to a crapton more of that style – Anamanaguchi, Glomag, Bubbly Fish, nullsleep, you know, all the classics. And stuff like trash80, covox, folks like that.
Adam: Oh, so basically the NYC chip scene?
an0va: Lots of the NYC cats, of course! I listened to other people too, of course. But I liked the NYC people because they were the only ones I knew about who were doing it live back then. And that makes all the difference in the world to me – it doesn’t matter how tight of a release you have out, if you can’t prove it at a live show, people will notice. In my opinion, anyway. I see this with a TON of chipcats, and honestly, I don’t blame them – live performance is only learned with tons of experience. I’m finally getting somewhat comfortable with it over a couple of years now, but looking back, man I SUCKED!
Adam: You know, that brings up something I’ve been wondering. I feel like if you’re not one of those guys who plays guitar, or sings, or whatever too, then what exactly can you do at a live performance which isn’t akin to just playing the song off of a CD?
an0va: Oh man, SO MUCH! I think people might be afraid to experiment with it, though, is the thing. You can buy external effects, or use other hardware, or modulate the paramaters inside of the software itself. I did a ton of an0va shows like that with just the Game Boy. I mean, you can always do the standard Solo/Mute channels during a transition, or make segues inbetween, but one thing I like to do is change the instrument settings during playback. Like, a lead will be playing and I’ll change the waveform in rhythm with the song. Or one thing I do a LOT is change the entire octave of a melody while it’s playing. You can do it in a rhythm that is literally like you’re playing the actual instrument. (I learned that from Chipocrite once.) But even still, on top of ALL THAT though, when people are too concerned with what they look like live, or what they’re doing, that usually contributes to them having a horrible show presence because that self-consciousness SHOWS. I’ve seen people literally go up and basically press-play for each song and transition between songs basically DJ-style, and their sets KILLED. Performing live is way more than just knowing what you’re going to be physically doing on stage: it’s also what you say, how you look, how you act/react, how you arrange.
Conversely, I’ve seen people go onstage and play 8 million instruments and their sets were just awful because it was like watching them play in their bedroom. I like seeing people embrace shit and take risks. Even if the worst thing ever happens, if it’s a good show it’s a good show – and you’ll hear people talk about that in the future, even the bad part in a good light. Say someone goes up and plays a KILLER and WILD set, and then during one song, they run out of batteries, or break a guitar string, or even worse, something like explodes, hahaha, like a Game Boy just BITES it. If it truly was a good show, people will look back on that and say “Man remember PERSONX? That Game Boy blew up onstage?” “Shit was RAD!” That shit will be much better remembered than “oh man they were tight that night,” because real talk: everyone can fucking play tight. Just like how everyone has bad days, everyone has good days too. But you really need something extra to have people like, remember you. I dunno, sorry, I was ranting.
Adam: It’s cool! Rants are good! Bitches be takin’ stances ‘n shit. More people need to do that. But excuse me for a second as I throw this interview back on the rails and off of our tangents, since this is all about you, basically. If I’m looking at Bandcamp right, you’ve got three releases as an0va.
an0va: Well, two EPs and two singles. “Visitors” was a single of old stupid dance tunes which I don’t care about, and I did a song for NoiseChan’s super awesome compilation with superstars like virt (for some reason I never put that link on my Bandcamp…hmmm), and the two EPs, ‘The Teaching Machine’ and ‘Ego Depletion.’
Adam: Oh, which, by the way – ‘Teaching Machine’ is really stupid good. It’s how I knew you couldn’t have just been someone who picked up a Game Boy and went to town. I mean, nothing against people who do that, I know there are a number of people who did that and are fantastic, but there’s a large degree of polish there that you don’t really see on someone’s first release. Or, well, “first release” anyway.
an0va: [laughs] Well thanks my dude! I really appreciate it. I mean, I wrote a lot of tunes before that too but I didn’t “release” anything till way later. Although, I put a ton of tracks up on 8bc that sucked, ugh, haha. But it wasn’t till I started going to shows IRL that i knew i had to step my game up.
Adam: Which reminds me, I should ask – have you been in Philly the whole time you’ve been doing chiptune stuff and going to shows?
an0va: Mostly! I was in grad school in basically Bumblefuck, PA when I saw the documentary Reformat the Planet, which covered Blip Festival. On the DVD, there was a bonus feature, talking about an upstart in Philly. It wasn’t too far from me so I moved there right out of grad school and lived there ever since. I’m kinda in transition now though and might relocate soon but Philly chip scene started to boom at like the exact same time I got into it, I was real lucky. All these really talented and pro people just all moved into the same location at one time.
Adam: I was gonna say, when I came up for 8SF it looked like there was a crazy amount of local talent.
an0va: Yup. People just gravitate towards each other.
Adam: It’s true! Personally, I’m liking that it looks like Philly is becoming a stronger hub for the East Coast, because while it’s still hella far away for me, it’s a little more towards the middle of the East Coast than Rochester or NYC. A little more centralized. Definitely why I like MAGFest too.
an0va: Definitely. I can’t wait to see what the 8static cats are up to next – they’re taking a little break right now, probably to find a stable venue, but regardless I’m sure they’ll rock it out again soon enough.
Adam: Yeah! It’s a pity it’s such a schlep up there for me, or I’d be there more often. BUT. I feel like we need to draw this to a close, but before I go, I wanted to ask you: So where’d Ego Depletion come from? I vaguely remember you mentioning you studied psychology. But like, beyond that, what were you going for with it?
anova: OKAY. Big psychology dump time. [The song titles are] all concepts from Jungian psychology, with the exception of Flow from Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, most of which being the obvious persona titles. And there’s a special relationship between anima and animus but I won’t bore you with the details. But the title Ego Depletion comes from a separate psych theory – it’s the basic idea that self-control can be quantified as some limited resource, almost like an energy bar in a video game, and when it runs out, funky stuff happens. (I’m intentionally trying not to get too heady here.) The entire basic theme of the album is letting completely go of your self-control, gradually unleashing some huge powerful force inside you. (Almost Super Saiyan status, haha.) But then I combined it literally with the Jungian song titles – anima, the shadow, animus are all personas for the Jungian Self (or rather, Jung’s interpretation of the Self I should say), and basically I wanted to kinda show that destruction musically as well with having five ridiculously techy Game Boy songs, and then the title track (also being the final track) purposefully being only some simple repeating melody line that basically dissipates and implodes into itself.
I kind of thought of it as a simple statement that you know, maybe there’s a giant sense of self in chiptune as it is. We compete so much for the best programming but the reason we all started to like it was just the actual timbre and sometimes a simple melody is all you need. And the actual melody that makes up the “Ego Depletion” track is actually scattered and plays in songs all over the album, so from start to finish you have this hinting of this melody, almost like a theme for “the Self,” among all this chaos and then finally at the end you get the melody untouched. The Self, the Ego, got depleted and you’re left with pure subconsciousness that fades away into reverb. (You could say now into the Collective Unconscious if you’re a psych dweeb like me.) But that’s how I like to interpret the album, anyway. Obviously that is all 100% just me, and if people want to see it as just a collection of Game Boy songs that is more than OK with me too, but I like telling stories with this stuff.
Adam: Hey, this isn’t an English assignment, we don’t have to practice Death of the Author here. Your interpretation of your own work is certainly valid, haha.
an0va: Well no it’s like, my previous release, ‘The Teaching Machine,’ originally came with liner notes booklet that outlined a story I made up for each song. And then I realized, some people just don’t want stories to be told to them. They like to make up their own. So that was the whole idea with ‘Ego Depletion,’ a response to that. Also: There was a lot of problems with making those transitions in ‘Ego Depletion’, too. I ended up butting heads with a lot of people who helped me produce this record and the topic was mostly on the segues. Because I actually got a bunch of musicians all together IRL and we recorded about two hours worth of improvised audio, and I told them all upfront before we even started that it was only going to be used as quick segue clips between songs, and the musicians were all OK with that, and tracking that was a TON of fun in the studio. But I showed the finished product to a lot of people and they thought it was just weird as hell. It seemed jarring to have just Game Boy, chiptune, “8bit” or whatever as songs and then fade into actual, “real person music” in between, but I stood my ground for sure. It was something I really wanted to do, to be honest. I like to think of the segues as sometime of pure Id peeking through the self, like pure instinct. I also just noticed that a lot of bands, especially metal bands, were adding electronic music segues in between tracks on their releases. So I literally just wanted to do the opposite: electronic music tracks with “real instrument” textures in between. That’s why at the end of basically each track you get a huge wash of guitars, synths, and field recordings each time. It like kind of fakes the listener, especially if they’re not familiar with this form of music, that all of a sudden a band is going to come in on the next track, and it never does.
Adam: Well, it’s certainly awesome, regardless. Anyway, I think I’m about out of time here – thanks a lot, man! We certainly covered a lot here. I look forward to seeing you the next time I can get up to an 8static!
an0va: Yeah man!
So there you have it. You learned some psychology, the mysterious origins of an0va, and my dark, dark secret about not being knowledgeable about Bit Shifter. If you caught an0va live at Rochester Institute of Technology, awesome! I’m jealous. The rest of us are just going to have to wait until he announces something else! If you’re starting to go into a fit of shock from withdrawal, though, never fear! I’ve got all the links you’ll need to get your fix below.
And keep an eye out! We’ve got a few more surprises for you here at ChipWIN before the new year…buhahahaHAHAHAHAHAHA! -coughs- Sorry. Cheers kids! Seats out. See you dorks at MAGFest!