A little over a month ago, Chiptunes4Autism released their highly anticipated ‘Volume 3: Forces of Neurodivergence’ compilation. Spanning around an hour and a half, the album is part of an ongoing fundraising nonprofit run by Gustuf Young (Asperkraken), focused on promoting autism positivity, and empowering people on the spectrum. Uniting a diverse group of chiptune artists from all around the world, with all kinds of backgrounds, Chiptunes4Autism organizes live showcases and a yearly compilation album. The earnings are donated to a few different causes that support opportunities, advocacy, and resources – all while giving musicians, neurodiverse or otherwise, a helpful and accepting community in the process.
I’m proud to have been a part of this effort, contributing to the past two comps, as well as performing in their Chipspace showcase at MAGFest 2018. But I’m just one of many people involved – this latest release has a whopping 26 tracks, and *every single one* surpassed my expectations. I would also be remiss not to point out the amazing album artwork by Randolph Waddell (Dachampster), or the fabulous new bandcamp/banner artwork by Cris Vargas (Viridian Kurisu), both of whom have also submitted music to Chiptunes4Autism before! So many wonderful folks put their time and energy into making this project the best it can be.
One thing I definitely want to highlight about this album is that Gustuf accepts submissions from nearly anybody, and while I do love this for the sake of inclusivity alone, it’s also a testament to the skill and commitment involved in organizing this, and mastering it too (Erik Peabody did that this time around, solid work!). The opener and closer are fantastic choices: Shakaboyd’s tunes are full of relentlessly enthusiasm, with natural but jumpy writing that’s sure to both catch your attention and flow well enough to keep it. And ‘The Wilderness of My Mind’ might be my favorite Asperkraken track yet. Introspective and unique, he paints a picture of the kind of open expression this compilation is about, which makes for a conclusive ending.
The track order does a good job balancing the many styles that show up throughout its duration as well (this impresses me especially because I can’t even do that with my song alone). For example, the three tracks with vocals are spread out, which helps us to appreciate each one – all coherent and fun, but each being dramatically different in terms of both the overall sound and the lyrical message. Meanwhile ‘March of the Goblins’ and ‘Wings of Mind’ are vastly different – one is a harsh romp, the other pleasantly strolling – but with similar instrumentation and a ton of spirit, they work well together! The latter’s relaxed pacing also matches up with the lovely Glowing Nights, slick and atmospheric electronica, with chaotic percussion that goes nicely with d0ppl4’s enigma of a dance track, infused with sexy retro synths and progressive rhythms. Later, the longest and shortest song are put back to back. It’s hard to follow after Rust Easy’s phenomenal slow building Nanoloop journey ‘Cafecita’. However, Tristan’s ‘8-Bit Resistance’ is short and sweet, and feels like a much needed interlude, a happy arcade-y fanfare before diving into ‘PC Datasmith’ – an aptly titled track evocative of a totally different kind of machine. Glitchy, modern, and artificial, this one is even more effective with that contrast.
Even with artists from all different levels of experience and knowledge, this turned out so consistent and quality. While tracker veterans like Dya and Stig knocked it out of the park as always (hot leads, guys!), I was equally as excited hearing the tunes from newer artists such as Blight and Erjaeger, both of whom left an impression on me with some infectious arp usage and solid percussion. Actually, if you read the liner notes for Blight’s ‘Taro’ you’ll see that this was the first song he has ever composed, which is incredible. It’s so good!!! There’s this part in the middle with added harmonies that’s just 😭🔥👌 –
Alright, I’m getting a little carried away.
Speaking of liner notes, I really recommend looking through them (click on each individual track on bandcamp) – there are various links for most of the artists involved. Plus, folks like Faux Marmmer and MPG Music added inspiring words alongside their entries. These tracks speak to how we can approach a message from different places and show it in different ways, but still come together for a valuable cause. This release encourages me. For many reasons, of course, but the diversity is a big one. It shows just as much in the music itself as it does artists’ stories. We have smooth and melodic songs like ‘Wait Mom’, a thoughtful gameboy tune by Vault Kid, which conveys a moment with a dreamy feeling. On the polar opposite side of things, we have Das Wakechip’s sporadic and immersive ‘Super Chronique’, which tells a story through bizarre noises and unbelievably interesting ways of moving the beat forward. Despite how different they may be, these two tracks are arguably the most genuine, uninhibited, and emotive on this album. Again, the liner notes are quite insightful here. Context can make art even better.
The variety stands out in other ways. On one hand, there’s 3D63’s gritty and beautiful lo-fi, complex and downright chilling, created under the limitations of LSDj. On the other, you have Holborn’s ‘Open Arms’, with a downright majestic acoustic opening, establishing flowing melodies and a guitar for this gorgeous hybrid sound. Both of these tracks are mesmerizing to me. There are straightforward tunes such as the infectious ‘Concentrated Validation’ which grabs a hold of a catchy groove and plays around with it – but then there’s ‘Beezou’ which just throws you for loop after loop while you hang on for dear life. These two are genius and bring a huge grin to my face every single time I listen. I’m dancing in my seat as I write this.
There are laid back tunes as well, Moonwave Audio’s ‘Smile’ for example, which carries you along a nice relaxing ride fitting for its title. Then there are tunes like ‘Shutdown’, just screaming with tension, coming out of the gate swinging. Yes, I know, that’s my track, but it’s frigging amaaaaaazing and I love it. Besides, the intro riff that shows up again and again is the very thing Kry.exe sent me which led us to work together. Right off the bat, he gave me a strong entrance and from then on his input was crucial. Please check out Kry’s stuff! He was so much fun to bounce ideas off of, and he’s made some great music since then! I seriously wouldn’t be able to make this kind of track without the friends I turn to for help, feedback, and support.
Just as I couldn’t have done this alone, ‘Chiptunes4Autism Vol.3’ couldn’t have been done without each and everyone, which is why I’ve tried to include them all in this write-up. We may have all written our submissions individually, but I don’t think this music exists in a vacuum. The message this group spreads is an important, inclusive, and powerful one – one we’ve shared together – and I think that unity is a part of it. It’s why I care what I bring to the table. As a creator, I’m so glad to be in a community full of wonderful people, a community that has made something as diverse and well done as this. But as a listener, that also means there’s “always too much music to keep up with”, the struggle to make time for things, or pay attention. A compilation like this is an excellent way to make up for that, and it is especially so as part of a open group devoted to voices that aren’t always heard.
So if there’s one thing I want to reiterate: listen. This album is good, and it will surprise you. Listen closer to something you thought was simple. Listen to something you don’t remember too well, see if it grows on you. Listen to more music from an artist you found interesting. But most of all, listen to what they’re saying. Listen to each other. Being a part of C4A has made me a better musician, but this group has helped me learn to be a better listener, as a person. And after staring at my own words for an hour without knowing how to wrap this up, perhaps I should take my own advice. To quote Chiptunes4Autism’s website:
“If you’re autistic, we want you to know the ways you can express yourself. If you just want to help, we are glad to have you here. And if you just like listening, that’s great too. Thanks for being here. You are incredible.”
Thanks for being here. You are incredible.