‘Pretty in Pixels’ by Marissa Hapeman is the start of a beautiful chiptune friendship.
Hit play on the title track ‘Pretty In Pixels’ below, get hooked, and jump into the full review!
A graduate from Duquesne University’s School of Music, Marissa Hapeman puts her studies in Technology & Composition to work presenting ‘Pretty In Pixels’; Marissa’s first foray into chiptune music. Marissa notes her inspiration by modern chiptune composers like Disasterpeace (‘FEZ’ soundtrack) and Jake ‘Virt’ Kaufman (‘Shovel Knight’ soundtrack), and “wanted to create (her) own homage to retro video game soundtracks” with a focus on more ‘traditional’ styling akin to that of the old games she grew up with, citing Mega Man and Chromo Trigger as childhood staples.
‘Pretty In Pixels’ is a clear example of what happens when fresh direction approaches chiptune music. Marissa’s musicality has a traditionally classical overtone; an uncommon foundation within the usual fare gobbled up by the discerning chip-fan. This classical foundation is where ‘Pretty In Pixels’ pulls away from the pack and cements itself as a left-of-centre debut album not to be missed. ‘Pretty In Pixels’ draws heart and raw emotion from its technological components with an ease that only a rock-solid classical foundation can provide. Marissa Hapeman explodes out of the gate as a newcomer to the scene. If ‘Pretty In Pixels’ is any indication, Marissa is clearly right at home with chiptune and we should be so lucky to get a follow-up album in the future.
‘Lemonlime’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Lemonlime’ kicks off ‘Pretty In Pixels’ with a deceptively simple melody, riding over a grungy bass warble and clap track, drawing you in before a harmonious accompaniment and cascade of descending chimes envelops the collection together in full force, presenting a warm opener to Marissa’s sound and the level of evocative integration you can expect from ‘Pretty In Pixels’.
‘Confetti’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Confetti’ is a soft-rock track, playing with a lighthearted melody over a simple drum kit over echoes that widen the scope, building and building, adding more drums and harmonies until ‘Confetti’ is a collection of notes falling past your ears in a controlled explosion of delight.
‘City At Night’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘City At Night’ gives a full all-encompassing sound to this low key number with sparkling chimes and piano undercurrents while harmonic synths play the night away. Marissa’s ability to change direction on a dime within the worlds she establishes is a delight, avoiding stale traps of the genre with confidence the comes from her background in traditional composition.
‘Taipei Type A’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Taipei Type A’ gets immediate points for wordplay, but this light-hearted track draws some high-octane inspiration, drawing out a sense of impending contest in between adorable moments of what I can only describe as “sugar-pop happy-time”. This juxtaposition between ‘fun-loving freedom’ and ‘do-or-die serious’ works so well, and is easily one of the album’s tentpole tracks.
‘Born Under Some Blue Star’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Born Under Some Blue Star’ is a deep well. A sense of foreboding sets the tone with bold use of silence and echoes before laying groundwork with a droning bass, erupting into a somber melodic run that works to crack that aforementioned foreboding with directed purpose; bringing hope through the darkness. The sense of progress through hardship is present here, emerging through trying times under your own power to the other side. Marissa’s control is spotlighted here, and succeeds in spades.
‘Pretty In Pixels’ by Marissa Hapeman
‘Pretty In Pixels’ takes it home with a rocking beat for Marissa to float contrasting chimes and woven melodic strings over, making use of silence to tease and switch up expectation, gaining more and more steam throughout until this anthem’s rocking at full power. Intriguing compliments of harmony draw your ear away form the core in a brilliant distraction, only to snap you back into the middle of what Marissa calls her “…big colorful Bollywood number… but chip tuned”.
Marissa was kind enough to share some insight into her process creating ‘Pretty in Pixels’, and that interview continues below:
PixelRecall: How long have you been involved with music? What was the catalyst for your musical pursuits?
Marissa Hapeman: I’ve been involved with music, in one capacity or another, since I was very young – my family is very musically-oriented, and I owe my love of music to my parents. I started piano lessons when I was 8, and have been constantly playing and listening ever since. Actually, the score from The Nightmare Before Christmas is what I attribute to sparking my interest in ﬁlm scores, and therefore studying and writing music seriously. It wasn’t that I never paid attention to ﬁlm scores before, but that one made me consider the possibility of composing music, in addition to listening and playing. Professionally, though, I’ve been involved with music since 2009, when I started college. I studied music technology and composition at Duquesne University, which is where I really grew into writing in different styles and techniques.
PixelRecall: What draws you to electronic music, and the chiptune sub-genre?
Marissa Hapeman: Electronic music greatly inspires me, just as acoustic music does. I think what draws me to electronic music speciﬁcally is that there’s a bit more freedom in the manipulation of the sound. With acoustic instruments, there are more strict limitations – range, timbre, even extended techniques – but electronics open up a lot of possibilities. Sounds can be created and tweaked and arranged as far as your creativity will reach, but you still need chops to make it all sound balanced and coherent – that’s what I’ve always admired about electronic music and electronic musicians. My love of chiptunes, speciﬁcally, came directly from playing video games and listening to their scores (from “Mega Man” to the modern “FEZ”, as well as everything in between that isn’t chiptune), and I aim to get into the game music industry myself.
PixelRecall: How did ‘Pretty in Pixels’ come to be?
Marissa Hapeman: ‘Pretty In Pixels’ started because I had never written chiptunes before, so one day I just sat down and tried it. There’s a certain simplicity to retro chiptune music that I really love, and I wanted to emulate those characteristics in the tracks on “Pretty In Pixels”. Game composers in the 80s wrote with hardware limitations out of necessity, but despite that, the scores had a complexity that made the music magical and memorable. That simultaneous technical simplicity and musical complexity is what I wanted to pay homage to with “Pretty In Pixels”. Another goal was to write chiptune versions of various styles of music. For example: “City At Night” has some R&B vibe to it in the groove of the bass and drums; “Born Under Some Blue Star” has more of a songwriter feel, with singable melodies that lend themselves easily to words; and “Pretty In Pixels” is a big, colorful Bollywood number… but chiptuned.
PixelRecall: What equipment/software did you use to create your album?
Marissa Hapeman: All of “Pretty In Pixels” was created in Logic X with the “magical 8-bit” plugin, played on an M-Audio 88-key MIDI controller.
PixelRecall: What challenges did you have to overcome in composing/engineering/creating your album? Or, did you have a moment during your process where you discovered something new or insightful that may be good advice for other musicians?
Marissa Hapeman: There was a unique challenge to composing and engineering “Pretty In Pixels” simply because it was the ﬁrst time I had ever undertaken a chiptune project. It was tricky to get the mixes and masters just how I wanted them because of the tracks being electronic, and therefore relatively “ﬂat”. Electronics don’t “ﬁll up”, per se, space the same way that acoustic instruments do; they don’t “breathe”, so you have to make that happen. The “Exciter” plugin in Logic X was my best friend during the engineering of the EP – it really makes the tracks sparkle.
PixelRecall: What do you hope listeners will take away from ‘Pretty in Pixels’?
Marissa Hapeman: ‘Pretty In Pixels’ is the most bubbly, exuberant, grooving thing I’ve ever composed – other songwriting and composing of mine always comes from a much darker, more serious place. Even “City At Night” and “Born Under Some Blue Star”, which are slower and more minor-oriented, have a bit of glow to them, I think. I’ve always associated chiptunes with good, happy, nostalgic memories, so when I write chiptunes, I automatically go to that mindset. I hope listeners enjoy “Pretty In Pixels” with that same feeling of happy nostalgia.
PixelRecall: Do you have anything you’d like our readers to know? About you? About your music? About the Pittsburgh Chiptune scene? About something completely different?
Marissa Hapeman: Since I’m brand new to the chiptune scene overall, I’m still getting acquainted with the Pittsburgh chiptune scene – I’ve learned of a few chiptune artists here that I hope to collaborate with in the future! Although I listen to and compose all different styles of music for all different types of media, video game music is one of the genres that is closest to my heart. Because of that, these deﬁnitely won’t be the last chiptunes that I write – they’re infectious in every way, and ‘Pretty In Pixels’ is just the beginning of much more to come.
‘Pretty In Pixels’ is a thoughtful exploration of composition, harnessing technology to express emotion found in traditional contemporary composition with grace and nuance. Marissa Hapeman’s first dive into chiptune spotlights her raw evocative musicality, and hopefully this is only the beginning of the incredible offerings to the chiptune community from Marissa in the future.
‘Pretty in Pixels’ comes highly recommended and is available now on bandcamp for $5USD(or more).
PixelRecall (R. Morgan Slade) ~ Support the artists you love ~
(Bonus post-review extra: In doing my research for this review, I stumbled onto ‘Sacred Chamber’ on Marissa’s soundcloud. It’s an orchestral instrumental composition that simply blew me away. Enjoy.)