You could remember Hypnogram, aka Noah Deck, from his self-titled debut EP released through chiptune netlabel Smoking Mirrors. You could also remember him from his contribution to µWIN, ‘Ephemeral Emerald’. Maybe you’ve seen him live at Little Sound Assembly among the likes of Tri Angles, Saskrotch, PANDAstar, or numerous others. Or, maybe this article will be the first you’ve heard of the man at the forefront of chiptrance music, in which case you’re in for a delectable aural treat. Hypnogram is a newer face in the chipscene and has seldom released music, but the few tracks this artist has revealed establishes his style and the sheer amount of polish that goes into his craft. With the release of his first full-length release, ‘Eye’ (again through Cincinnati-based netlabel Smoking Mirrors), this chiptrance master is ready to unveil his latest masterpiece to our beloved scene!
Starting off this review will be the album’s featured track on Bandcamp, ‘Phantasm Dragon’. Pitch-bending in the WAV channel combined with a consistent, fading chord provide the introductory layering for this textbook example of a trance beat. A main melodic phrase is introduced and the fading chord is morphed into 16th-note runs, which transition into a mesmerizing, harmonized drop. Of note in this particular section is the slightly off-beat kick at around the 1:15 mark; trance music is characterized by a very constant and unfaltering beat and this very slight change to an otherwise formulaic approach is an excellent touch. A very wide variety of pitch bends are applied to a base note in the subsequent verse segment as Hypnogram demonstrates how much a single note can contribute to a track when modified. Noise voices are extremely diverse throughout this track as well, featuring almost innumerable permutations on what may have started as simple hi-hats and snares.
‘Zenarchy’ is arguably one of the most experimental tracks on the album, but it’s certainly one that shows the darker side to trance music quite well. Quick hi-hat rolls give the track a feeling of anxiousness and contribute to a well-crafted and frantic overall vibe. Octave-spanning square sweeps at the 1:30 mark are impressive and segue into a series of sampled claps – and the phrasing that follows – very well. Arpeggiated chords are played at different speeds starting around 2:09 to create a constantly modulating rhythm, which transforms into a series of offbeat, accented chords; this moment in the track, alongside the incredibly deep WAV growls that follow, are highlights of the album, and the instrumentation is some of the best I’ve heard in all my years listening to chipmusic. The ending to ‘Zenarchy’ is also notable in that a constant kick-bass pattern has individual notes removed or simply truncated, and allows for the track to come to an end through a downward pitch bend.
‘Nebulous Effulgence’ is a fast-paced track that sounds like it would fit pretty well as a chip-hop beat. Percussion consists almost exclusively of hi-hat and snare, but a quieter and less prominent WAV kick in this track gives it a vibe different than the rest of ‘Eye’. Upward WAV pitch bends sound as if a UFO is abducting the listener with some kind of tractor beam or other futuristic technology, which contributes further to this song’s otherworldly tones. The punchy snares that open up this track are pretty brutal, and when combined with catchy melodies and rhythms, the shortest track on ‘Eye’ stands out in more ways than one.
The final track I’ll be covering today is this album’s penultimate track, ‘McKenna’s Antenna to Heaven Dilemma’. Opening up with panning square voices, a hi-hat ride, a deep kick and a solid bassline, this track quickly proves itself as another stellar example of chiptrance. Sixteenth note runs are prominent in the first phrasing but take a back seat to higher pitched square chords soon enough. A new melody is introduced around 2:46 and in this brief moment many other instruments are phased out before they’re put back into the mix; a very solid decision and really emphasizes what may have otherwise been only a slight change to this song’s tone. This new melody is modified yet again just after the four minute mark and just prior to the track’s closing percussion fades entirely in order to bring in an absolutely phenomenal harmony. The track closes in a similar manner as it opens; the sheer structure of this song and the numerous interesting things Hypnogram does to the melody make this one of my favorites on the album.
‘Eye’ is a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp, so if you find yourself itching for more chiptrance music after this brief introduction to the album there’s zero excuse that it shouldn’t find itself in your music library. Smoking Mirrors has numerous other trance albums available for download, including Hypnogram’s first release, an album by S.P.R.Y., Russellian’s debut EP, and a few other solid releases. ‘Eye’ really showcases Hypnogram’s phenomenal talent in writing trance, and I personally can’t wait to see how this artist progresses in 2017.