Archive for November, 2014

Office Hours #4 – Old Style

Posted by

Hello and welcome to a very unusual and exciting installment of Office Hours on The ChipWIN Blog! As a classically-trained composer who also teaches college music courses, works from the Renaissance and Baroque eras are heard regularly in my classroom. So you can imagine my absolute delight when a new album combines these periods with another of my passions – chip music. Dear diary: jackpot!


Old Style is a collaboration between cellist Emily Davidson and her brother Chris, who is well known to us on the ChipWIN squad under the moniker Dj CUTMAN. Their project “Baroque Remixes” takes 17th and 18th century composers from a variety of nationalities and arranges their works in a mixture of chiptune and EDM-style beats. Now… if this were a commercial, here is the spot where the narrator is suddenly cut off by a record scratch.

The chiptune community is ripe (some might say “plagued”) with covers of songs in all styles, done with varying degrees of detail and care. Perhaps 20% of these “chip covers” are tolerable, 10% are phenomenal1, and the rest of them are unholy abominations2 that should be killed with fire. Friends, please continue reading because you are about to experience the upper crust of that fabled 10% category.

A Bit of Context
For this review I will be discussing each track separately to focus on the combination of styles, as well as including a small bit of historical context behind the original pieces. Click the link on the “Original” line under each track to hear the source material.

I am also doing away with my usual grading system for the review, as I am definitely NOT an impartial voice in any sense for this release (spoiler alert: it would receive 100% because I am infatuated with this album). Emily and Chris are awesome, and I just would not feel right fabricating a reason not to give the album a perfect score. Being a professional classical musician can be a brutal grind, and I wish only the best for Emily. I also greatly respect and enjoy the large amount of work that CUTMAN does in the chip community, including ‘This Week in Chiptune’ and his mastering work on the ChipWIN releases, which include two of my own tracks. Let’s just talk about the tunes and not worry about assigning points, shall we?

oldstyle

Sonata Pop (Vivaldi)
Original: ‘Allegro’ from the Cello Sonata in E minor

Even if you don’t know Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)3 from a vivisection, you have likely heard his music. Today he is largely known to the public by his violin concerti ‘The Four Seasons,’ but the “Red Priest” was widely influential in his lifetime for his instrumental compositions. This track is a wonderful opening to the album, both as a standalone track and a preview of what to expect from the rest of the arrangements. The opening is slightly modified from the original, adding a few pauses and building to the main theme. Steady drums accompany the simple melodic lines, and the ‘chorus’ as it were contains some beautiful side-chained synth chords. The orchestration at 1:45 is a nice change rather than directly repeating material we’ve already heard, and the closing octaves are a lovely standard effect in chip music.

Mysterious (Couperin)
Original: ‘Les Barricades Mistérieuses’ from the second book of collected harpsichord works

François Couperin (1668-1733) came from a large musical family, and this French composer wrote keyboard music that was highly influential to Baroque and later composers. His collections of harpsichord works contain extensive discussion on ornamentation as well as having very evocative titles – here, ‘The Mysterious Barricade’ whose meaning is hotly debated. Couperin’s original gradually builds in energy and intensity, and this trait is left intact on the Old Style arrangement. Starting simply with a few bass notes, the main melodic texture soon enters and remains fairly constant throughout. The most interesting aspect of this track for me is the juxtaposition of trap rhythms in the drums combined with the stately, flowing harmony and melody. The little dissonant sounds that occur at the ends of phrases after the first minute are really nice touches that keep the musical texture fresh. Overall I really like the blend of styles on this track, and I could see this new genre of “Baroque chip-hop” becoming the next big thing!

Savages (Rameau)
Original: ‘Les Sauvages’ from ‘Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin’

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is rather infamous in the art music circle, both for his work in music theory and his radical new approach to French opera. If you think classical musicians are a bunch of stuffy, boring snobs, just take a few minutes to read up on the ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ that used Rameau’s music as a scapegoat – sometimes we really know how to sling an insult! This is the track that drew me to this album, as I am obsessively in love with Rameau’s music, particularly his keyboard works. The original depicts a Native American dances that Rameau apparently witnessed, and the aggressive nature of the music is immediately apparent in Old Style’s arrangement. A driving beat and harsh synth tones reminiscent of distorted guitars alternate with quirky synth patches that offer a nice contrast to the aggressive nature of the main section. The descending bass line that starts at 1:20 is KILLER, and the track ends with the same amount of intensity and high energy heard throughout.

Ortiz Reprise, ft. Absrdst (Ortiz)
Original: ‘Recercarta Octava Sobre La Folia’ from the ‘Trattado de Glosas’

Perhaps the least well-known composer represented on the album, Diego Otiz (c.1510-1570) was a Spanish composer who was also very highly important in the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque era. His two treatises on keyboard and vocal performance were valuable resources for his contemporaries in their instruction on performance practice, and they serve scholars today as an excellent source on early Baroque ornamentation. This piece is a ricercar, an instrumental composition typical of Ortiz’s era where it explores different permutations of motives within a given melody. The sense of constant development is evident in the arrangement here, as the synth patches frequently shift and the the textures also constantly evolve. The ethereal organ patches are an interesting addition to the texture, and I also enjoy the addition of a somewhat sparse beat throughout the track. I did not know any of Ortiz’s music prior to hearing this album, but I enjoy this arrangement enough to seek out some of his original works.

Solfeggietto, ft. James Landino (CPE Bach)
Original: ‘Solfeggietto in C minor’

This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), so there has been a surge of interest in his life and works among music scholars and performers. His music provided the transition between the late Baroque and early Classical eras; Mozart even acknowledged his influence, saying, “He [CPE Bach] is the father, we are the children.” This piece is very frequently heard in its original form, and is quite popular with piano students today. Compare the arrangement to the original, and you will hear a refreshing amount of space given to the notes in Old Style’s interpretation. The music is allowed to breathe a little more than most live performances, and the driving four-on-the-floor beat really pushes the music forward. I love the build in the introduction, and the ‘honky-tonk piano’ sound is just wonderful. This track also features several textures and styles, which is unique on the album since most tracks remain essentially in the same sound realm throughout. The pulsing bass break in the middle of the track is a staple of house music, and works well as an interlude before hearing the main melody one final time.

Suite Jam (JS Bach)
Original: ‘Badinerie’ from the ‘Suite #2 in B minor’ for orchestra

No Baroque remix album worth its salt would fail to include the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Composing at the height of the Baroque era, JS Bach’s music is filled with counterpoint (the simultaneous combination of independent musical lines), and is the ultimate example of Baroque musical thought. Musicologists consistently date the Baroque as ending at Bach’s death year, and if you can get more than three musicologists to agree on something, you have just witnessed a very special event… Much like the arrangement of his son’s work on this album, I really enjoy the amount of aural space between the notes here. Different registers and instrumental patches allow each line to be clear in the texture, and the addition of a steady percussive beat does not blur an already complex aural landscape. Part of this is Bach’s original writing, but I think there is also a good amount of credit that needs to be given to CUTMAN’s production skills on this track. This is one of the only times you will hear the iconic ‘Nintendo bass’ sound on the album, and I really enjoy the fact that it has unique lines to play rather than plunking out chord roots.

jsb-dwi

Old Style’s “Baroque Remixes” manages to effectively and seamlessly combine disparate musical styles that span centuries of musical thought and innovation. The original compositions were all written without percussion, and in true EDM style the drums add a driving, energetic element to each track without overcrowding the texture. The simple subtlety of the arrangements both do justice to the original material while providing a unique take on cornerstones of the late Renaissance and Baroque styles. Production value is exactly what you would expect from Dj CUTMAN; extremtly high quality work with aural clarity in all frequencies. This album sounds great in the car, through laptop speakers, and played through the system in my classroom. Fans of the composers included on the album will be rewarded with new takes on familiar material, while chip music fans may find some new (old) music to explore.


I hope you enjoyed a grade-free Office Hours this month. Don’t worry, the blue pen will be out and ready to tear into someone with a vengeance again next month!

1 – see: Beethoven/Danimal Cannon “Moonlight Sonata
2 – see: any MIDI rendered with GXCC and uploaded to YouTube
3 – I’m performing the cardinal academic sin of citing Wikipedia only because I assume most of you do not have free access to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Old Style
Bandcamp | Facebook WordPress | Twitter (Emily) | Twitter (Dj CUTMAN)

V.3 Logo - (250x250 pix for blog)

Stoking the Forge: ‘The Next Level’ by Jredd

Posted by

Welcome back to the Forge ChipWINizens, and I hope November finds you all as well as it finds me, riding the wave of All Hallows Eve wonder through to Thanksgiving.  October gave us quite a wave of excellent releases, and among them was Jredd’s latest, ‘The Next Level’. A follow up to his 2012 release ‘Vector Nova’, ‘The Next Level’ lives up to its claim of being ten tracks of FM madness.

The latest in a long history of chip composition, ‘The Next Level’ highlights Jredd’s talent, how far he’s come as a composer, and has me looking forward to where he’s going to take his career in the future.  If you’re at all curious about the adventures Jredd has had on the path to today, the Retro Obscura podcast did an excellent one on one interview with Jredd on the 19th of October.

TheNextLevelFocusing on the present, the album art is the first hint that something pretty epic is going down here.  Put together by Michael Penta, this lovely piece of sci-fi apocolyptica might prime the listener with a particular mental backdrop for the album to come.

(more…)

Aydan Appreciates: ‘FEARLESS LIVING’ by Benjamin Briggs

Posted by

Hey, ChipWINners! Many of you are probably familiar with the prolific and talented VGM remixer Benjamin Briggs, especially all of you OCR veterans out there. Benjamin Briggs’ music is always of the highest quality, and his newest release – filled to the brim with completely new and unique music – is no different, and could honestly be one of his greatest releases thus far. Hot on the heels of his ‘Patreon EP’ is ‘FEARLESS LIVING’, an album based on the last six months of Ben’s life itself.

The album opens with the triangle bass-heavy ‘Recurring Dreams’. Kick-snare patterns common in electronic music are combined with octaves, string voices, square-tone melodies, and several unique chordal sequences in order to achieve a very mysterious sounding tone. The album’s namesake and its fourth track, ‘Fearless Living’, introduces the listener to a simple chromatic note progression, and builds on it with a glitchy, breakbeat-esque drum pattern before segueing into its sawtooth bassline and eerie, danceable tones. The track changes in mood close to the two-minute mark, and Ben’s musical prowess really shows with a flawless key change to go with it, finishing off with a return to the main theme of the track, but slower, adding a slightly more relaxing feel to what was previously a tense track.

Influences from dance, funk, jazz, and game music can all be heard on ‘FEARLESS LIVING’. The album’s third track, ‘New Game Plus’, is a perfect meld of dance and game music, for example. The track’s melody may remind the listener of the end credits to an old game that they just can’t quite put their finger on. A looping percussive rhythm, the likes of which appear in many popular dance tracks, helps encourage the listener to pay more attention to some of the more intricate touches in the track, such as the quiet arpeggiated square chords behind the melody around the 2:18 mark, or the harmony played behind the same melodic phrase at about the 2:30 mark. Upbeat, swing and dance vibes abound in this track that’s sure to be a fan favorite.

FEARLESS LIVING

As can be heard in tracks from his previous releases, such as ‘The Grinding of Isaac’ from ‘The Briggs Effect 2’, Ben’s music displays hints of jazz and funk overtones. One track where the influence really shines through is ‘Sweet Berry Wine with Flexstyle’, a mellow, melodic solo-driven song. Memorable chords in a bluesy key provide a backdrop for square-tone riffs and FM-esque synths that are sure to please. The chip melodies in ‘Selecting Continue’ are also reminiscent of jazz music, being laid over a very catchy rhythm. The album closes out with ‘We Could Quest Together’, featuring some seriously phenomenal guitar work that works very well with the chip and other electronic voices throughout the track. Improvization is a huge aspect of jazz music, and a majority of the track sounds improvised to a great extent, making this one of my personal favorites.

Ben Briggs isn’t the only musician to show his incredible talent on the album, however. Two guest artists provided remixes for Ben’s tracks, the first of which being ‘Methods (Flexstyle’s Mad Scientist Remix)’. The track screams house and electro influence, and an extremely aggressive bassline in this remix helps to bring this danceable track to an awesome climax at the three-minute mark. The second remix, ‘We Could Quest Together (General Offensive! Remix)’, changes a number of the voices and solos in the track and gives it a much more heavy metal feeling, but not before faking the listener out with a calm, acoustic opening, making for a flawlessly expectation-shattering introduction. Chip instrumentation is prevalent, and the snare roll buildup morphs the track into a headbangingly excellent ballad.

Each individual track holds a lot of meaning to Ben Briggs, as was hinted at near the beginning of the article. The album details his own journey for the last six months of his life, and you can really feel the emotion and love put into every song. The album is available as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, and this is definitely something that every avid chipmusic enthusiast should pick up. Keep your eyes peeled for an exclusive interview with Ben Briggs himself about ‘FEARLESS LIVING’ soon, right here on The ChipWIN Blog!

Much love!

Benjamin Briggs
Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Twitter

V.3 Logo - (250x250 pix for blog)

ChipWIN-tern Spotlight: ‘Labyrinth’ by Monomer

Posted by

Happy Friday, cats. It’s funny – here I am, right on the cusp of my 24th birthday, and I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t going to get anything nice. Turns out the universe proved me wrong once again, because Monomer just dropped his new album ‘Labyrinth,’ and boy howdy, this album is, as the kids say, “most ill.” Let’s dive right in, shall we?

a1408569545_2

I distinctly recall back in April last year during the ‘Quite Operational’ launch party on Arecibo Radio that I said that listening to Monomer was like “rolling around in a vat of distilled 80’s.” As it turns out, that continues to be true. While still sounding recognizably like himself, Gavin has gone out of his way to make this album stand apart – which, given his mission statement over on the Bandcamp page, that makes sense. He says: “My main goal after ‘Quite Operational’ was to create an album where each song had a unique character, not only in the composition but also in the arrangement, production and mixing. This led to a lot of new territory for me, which was both exciting and terrifying, but I’m extremely happy with the end result and can’t wait to share it.”

I feel a track-by-track analysis would diminish the overall experience of this album, so I’m gonna let you absorb it on your own instead. What I will say, though, is that the new auditory maneuvers Monomer pulls in ‘Labyrinth’ are something to be feared and respected. While still maintaining the signature “splashy drums, punchy bass and heavy synth” sound which is so evocative of the 80’s, this album features all sorts of new additions, like the use of vocal samples and some pretty stellar drops leading to something evocative of a slower, funkier hardstyle. Like his last album, Monomer seamlessly blends in the chippy sounds you might expect with more traditional synth and drum sounds, as well as the occasional guitar riff snuck in the background – a sound palate which is at once familiar and unique.

As far as what track shines above the rest, I really can’t say. Eponymous tracks are usually the best on any album, and ‘Labyrinth’ does not fail to impress. However, every song evokes something different – some go for the aforementioned hardstyle feel, some feel like they could have been ripped right out of Tron Legacy’s soundtrack (y’know, that one by Daft Punk – so yes, I am unashamedly putting Monomer on the same level as Daft Punk in terms of quality). Still others feel like the 80’s power ballads of the same type that The Protomen went to emulate in ‘Act II: The Father of Death.’ All in all, I’d say Monomer definitely accomplished the goals he set out with for this album and then some. If you love Monomer, you’re going to love this album. If you don’t love Monomer, you might still love this album, but if not… that’s just, like, your opinion, man. I can abide your poorly chosen opinion, dude.

Pick up the album on Bandcamp from Monomer’s page, on the Ubiktune page, and if you want a physical copy of the album, grab it from Telefuture.

Seats out!

Monomer Links!
Facebook | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Twitter

V.3 Logo - (250x250 pix for blog)

Glenntai Got: Please Lose Battle’s ‘Bedroom EP’

Posted by

Hey everyone, Clipstream’s Resident Fearless Leader here with yet another new and exceptionally cool chip act’s EP that I want to share with you today.  This time around, I’m bringing out Please Lose Battle‘sBedroom EP’.  I’m just going to say this first and get all the silliness out of my system…

Bedroom EP?

oh my

Ahem…  Alright, back to business after the jump.

(more…)