A pleasant the end of May to one and all of the ChipWIN nation! This month, it was my distinct pleasure to review ‘The Blossoming Years’ by Russian artist MmcM. This Ubiktune release is a collection of his early works, spanning 1999 to 2001. Mmcm composed all but two of the tracks on the album using a ZX-Spectrum and ProTracker 3. Mikhail Ivashenko and Oleg Nikitin each contributed a remix to the album, in the way of ‘Bugs in My Mind‘ and ‘Changeability‘ respectively.
This album is truly epic in scope, weighing in with a hefty 24 tracks. I really enjoyed and appreciated most of the tracks that are here, but I can only give a fitting review to just a handful of them in the space I have. As such, these are the four tracks that were my absolute favorites on the collection. By no means does that mean the other twenty aren’t worth checking out. They are, and I encourage you to take your own listen, and find your own, be it four or all of them. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
‘Mentbi‘ opens with a synthy bass tone that is as warm as it is deep. Its full-throated power gives an initial feeling that the track will be hard-hitting and action oriented. However, as a series of haunting high tones begin playing, its pace becomes slightly disjointed. Light and short high notes quietly join them in the background, merging to create a composition that infuses desperate tension into an air of mystery. Roughly half-way through the track, this is joined by a dance between the sound of Pac-Man ghosts moving about a maze and Pac-Man racing down pellet-less corridors. As each sound fades into the other, the sense of fear and anxiety in the track ramps up. In the final minute, that initial tonal depth returns and accompanies the final Pac-Man dance as the track races to a conclude in a sudden, and fate-sealing crash.
The opening of ‘Bugs In My Mind‘ shares some of the haunting high tones of ‘Mentbi‘, but takes them in a contemplative direction. The rapidly cycling arpeggio in the background transforms what could have been an eerie feeling into the sensation of focused meditation on a difficult mental puzzle. When the track completely opens up, a certain crypticness is introduced along with a determination to get to the heart of the matter at hand. The swinging tempo that comes along with it really pushes that theme along, imparting the sensation of answers dancing just out of reach of whomever it is that seeks them. As the track flits toward completion, its bass instrumentation steps up to bring a feel of determination and passion to the latter half, closing the track with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I want to draw attention to that bass instrument, because as with ‘Mentbi‘, it is simultaneously dark, rich, and filling. Truly, a bit of masterful craftsman ship on the part of MmcM there.
In ‘Nostalgia In my Soul‘ MmcM continues in the thematic vein of contemplation, but extends his musical exploration into sounds that are reflective and wistful. The music begins mournfully, its piercing and windy high notes longing for something long since lost. When those familiar low warm bass tones join in, the cold sense of loss blossoms, appropriately, into the musical definition of nostalgia. The dichotomy between the belly warming saw waves and the high and hollow sounding arpeggios capture that swirling sensation of the pain of loss and the bliss of fondly remembering things long past. The track transitions slightly in its last few moments, introducing an unexpected swing from the high and airy to the low on the part of the wind instrumentation. This slight change allows the track to close with a atmosphere of closure and acceptance.
When ‘Suggestive‘ first began coming out of my speakers, I thought I was getting a dirge. After roughly thirty seconds of the musical sensation of pain and loss, a quick snare beat begins to quietly sneak into the track. A lively set of arpeggios appear to support it, culminating with a stimulating 8-bit thunderclap at the minute mark. In that moment, the track explodes with drive, passion, and purpose. The instruments MmcM uses in ‘Suggestive’ have the same general construction and tenor as in the other tracks I’ve reviewed here, but a few minor applicative tweaks transmute what they’re capable of conveying. With just an increase in tempo and a few tweaks in how the instruments are saturated, ‘Suggestive‘ becomes a track that imparts that empowering sensation of standing firm in aftermath of a crushing pain. By pressing this theme through to the conclusion of the track, that feeling builds to self-satisfied triumph over those terrible odds.
When I approached MmcM, otherwise known as Sergey Kosov, about doing this review, I also asked if he’d be willing to answer a few questions. He agreed, and by the power of Greyskull, provided some truly insightful answers.
VF: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MmcM: I live in Russia, city of Samara. I am 37 years old, married, daughter four years. I’ve worked as a graphic designer, and composer. I am currently unemployed, and now, trying to realize my creativity as a freelancer.
VF: What got you started composing music in general?
MmcM: Returning back home from school, I would invent tunes on the fly and sing them to myself. In my ideas played the whole orchestra. I had a dream of buying a professional Yamaha synthesizer, where I could realize myself as a composer, but at that time it was difficult to make happen. All that I could do at that point, was to learn to play the guitar.
VF: If you started someplace other than the chiptune/demoscene, what brought you there?
MmcM: When I bought a “Karat” (ZX-Spectrum 48K) computer, I liked to listen to music in games. I especially liked the music of the games Chronos, Trantor, FireFly, and AgentX. I wanted to create something like that, but I did not know how to do it at the time. I found one program, “Wham“, where I tried to create my first melody in two voices. The attempts were not very successful, because there was no music education. When I first heard AY music in games, I was inspired by those sounds,and I wanted to try this sound in my creativity. I had to buy a new computer, a “Pentagon 128K“, which had a YM2149F processor, and from that time I began to write my first compositions in three channels using the editor “Sound Tracker”.
VF: If the ZX-Spectrum isn’t where you got your chiptune/demoscene start, what brought you to compose music for that system?
MmcM: I listened to a lot of music on audio cassettes. My favorites were the bands “Kino”, Jean Michel Jarre, Ocarina The Very Best, Enigma, and Mylene Farmer. I also listened to the music of different musicians on the ZX-Spectrum, who did remixes of famous hits of the time and created their compositions for AY. I wanted to create something similar.
VF: What are some of the more interesting things you’ve learned about hacking music from working with the ZX-Spectrum?
MmcM: It was interesting to apply “envelope” in my music. This feature appeared in the programs, “Sound Tracker Pro” and “ProTracker”. It was possible to create interesting combinations of sounds in samples. As an example, you can listen to the track “Mentbi” from the album “The Blossoming Years”. In the second part of the track you can hear the acid of sound, like a Roland TB303 synthesizer. I love to make music that would be perceived as coming from more than three channels.
VF: What other systems, if any, do you enjoy working with, and why?
MmcM: Lately, I use an iMAC computer running Windows 7 on a separate partition of my hard drive. I did it in order to use the “Vortex Tracker” where I can create new tracks for AY. The program is quite comfortable, but the sound is not emulated very accurately. Sometimes I use “Buzz” and “Renoise Tracker”, so my love for trackers is still alive. The main program I use in my daily practice is “FL Studio”. I consider it the user-friendly program for the rapid implementation of ideas. I also use “Studio One 2 Pro” for mastering, and when I get used to it, as my primary tool. Sometimes I experiment with sound in Reaktor, Massive, FM8, and Absynth (a package for NI Komplete 9 Ultimate). I like to record using “Zoom H4n” environmental sounds and use them in my compositions.
VF: What convinced you to release these tracks now?
MmcM: My friend Dmitry Zhemkov, aka C-Jeff, proposed publishing a collection of my best tracks on his label Ubiktune at the beginning of this year. By April, I was able to prepare this album. Guys in the demoscene supported the release by making a version of the album for ZX-Spectrum 48K + AY. My respect goes out to them.
VF: Since these tracks are from your early career, where do you feel you’ve come from there?
MmcM: Now I have become much more experienced in terms of synthesis and sound processing, but I am still looking for a distinctive sound. I got a lot of experience in creating music and sounds working on the game projects Treasure of Montezuma 4 and Farm Frenzy 4.
VF: Where do you want to go from here? What are your goals as an artist?
MmcM: I am a modest man who loves silence and solitude, most likely I will continue to develop my skills in music by releasing new tracks and albums. In the future, I would like to be a composer for films.
VF: Any final thoughts?
MmcM: I am very happy that my music has found an echo in the hearts of others. I wish you all the best, peace and sunny mood.
VF: Thanks again for your time dude!
MmcM: You’re welcome! ;)
With such an uplifting conversation fresh in mind, I’m closing the forge for this month. All I can offer in closing is to again encourage you to head on over to MmcM’s Bandcamp and snag yourself a copy of the album to support a damned fine chiptune artist. Listen to it, enjoy it, and appreciate an excellent contribution to our shared musical history.
Now get out there, spread the love, and make some chip!