Posts Tagged ‘2 player productions’

Office Hours #3 – Zackery Wilson

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Welcome back to the first Office Hours session after last month’s Chiptunes = WIN Volume 3 release! This month I am reviewing a recent release titled ‘SNESQUE’ by fellow Longhorn and ChipWIN alum Zackery Wilson.

ZW logo
In addition to his talents as a pianist, Zackery Wilson has extensive formal training in composition and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also one of only a few composers combining contemporary classical music with chiptune elements, intended for a more formal concert setting than most live chip music.

My first exposure to Zackery Wilson’s unique musical style was his track ‘Ain’t Got Time to Bleep’ from last year’s Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 2. Clocking in at a blistering 1:39, this track packs a lot of punch in a short amount of time. In retrospect, ‘Ain’t Got Time to Bleep’ feels like a precursor to this year’s ‘SNESQUE’ release; each track on the album is a brief musical landscape exploring a variety of sounds and textures.


SNESQUE Cover
Released in partnership with netlabel Ubiktune, ‘SNESQUE’ was created using original soundfonts from a variety of Super Nintendo games and composed inside FL Studio. Each track is restricted to samples from one specific SNES game, which are noted in the titles. A further compositional guideline for each track is brevity – the longest is just under 3 minutes in length. Like most level-based video game music, the tracks loop seamlessly one time before ending. Combining authentic retro sounds with modern DAW effects is a hallmark of Zackery Wilson’s style, and it is masterfully done on each track of this album. My review separates various elements of composition into their own category, focusing on how they interact within each track of the album.

Earworms Served Au jus [Melody]
Each track on ‘SNESQUE’ is a smorgasbord of delicious melodic tidbits, full of interesting timbres and cool ornaments – I love all those pitch bends, especially in the third track. One of the striking things about Zack’s style is his use of very high registers for his melodies. The melodies on this album seem to be structured similarly to a big band trading solos between players, and you can definitely hear the influence of screaming lead trumpets and altissimo alto sax lines.

Although each track is individually a beautiful and well-crafted miniature model of perfection, my biggest complaint about this album as a whole is the over-reliance on the “freestyle solo” melodic style. I realize that I have spent significant lines talking about the uniqueness of ZW’s style, so it feels a bit like complaining that John Fogerty sounds too much like Creedence Clearwater Revival when I then complain that the melodies aren’t all memorable. However, after listening to the album several times, one does start to get a sense of repetition and melodic coherence – listen to the solos in ‘Snowball’s Chance in ‘L’ for an example of a track that sounds on the surface like one long solo, but there are definite repetitions and similarities between the individual melodies.

Grade: 9/10

We’re In This Together [Harmony]
I have to tip my hat to Zack for this category, as writing in a jazz/fusion harmonic style is incredibly difficult to pull off with any amount of sincerity and he does it with absolute skill and conviction. Going far beyond an amateurish “add diatonic sevenths to every triad” harmonic approach, this album is a textbook in jazz voicings and harmonic progressions. Zackery’s piano chops almost certainly include woodshedding Chick Corea solos, Thelonious Monk’s harmonic language, and the understated beauty of Oscar Peterson. Every single track does something unique, but my favorite harmonic moments are in the keyboard and organ comping in ‘Y So Secretive?’ – that major/minor shift in the first section is really cool.

Grade: 10/10

On the Down Low [Bass Line]
As a bass player I am very appreciative of a hip bass line, and chip music usually has its fair share of neat bass licks. Although the listener’s attention is mainly drawn to the melody and chordal accompaniment patterns in each track, there are a few moments where the bass is allowed to stand out in the texture. Honorable mention goes to the delightfully quirky synth-slap sounds in ‘Earthbound and DOWN,’ but my favorite bass moments happen in ‘Have A Nice Flight.’ Some of the little bass fills in this track and the solo that starts at 1:08 just beg for a pixelated Victor Wooten thumping along in the background of an accompanying music video.

Grade: 9.5/10

Girl, you decide how HTML elements render in a browser cuz you got STYLE [Musical Styles]
Zack describes the styles of the album as “[f]rom progressive rock to jazz fusion, samba to swing,” which is quite a wide range of disparate elements to pull together! Although I mentioned this next comment as a slight negative in the melodic design, each track flows together quite well when listening to the album from start to finish. No one track sticks out of the texture in a negative way, and there is not single sample that sounds out of place. The cohesiveness of extended tertian harmonies in each track help the music form a single sonic landscape, where electric guitars and slap bass can coexist with flutes and string pads. I don’t quite hear the prog rock influence – perhaps more Rick Wakeman than Dream Theater – but that is quite alright. The textures and repetitious melodies of ‘Suck ‘R Punch’ make this track unique on the album, but it does not sound out of place since the harmonies and occasional screaming lead lines are found elsewhere on the album.

Grade: 10/10

Studio_Magic.dll [Production]
The production value throughout ‘SNESQUE’ is incredibly high. Each instrument is balanced well in the overall mix, and the highs, mids, and lows all sound good. I really enjoy the subtle effects that are sprinkled throughout the album; reverb is not overused, and both pitch shifting and echo help bring a humanizing element to the vintage soundfonts. Perhaps the best way I can compliment the production in each track is that, to me, the post-processing is never obvious or overbearing throughout the album. No, this is not a strict use of SNES samples as it was done in 1991, but at the same time these tracks never stray too far into the uncanny valley of modern-versus-retro audio production.

Grade: 10/10

Insert Coin to Continue [Replay Factor]
While Zack uses repetition as one of his compositional constraints for each track, it never gets in the way of enjoying any given moment throughout the album. Like the best examples of looping in video game music, the loops here are seamless and completely unobtrusive to the listening experience. Essentially, when listening straight through this album you have heard each track twice, although it never feels that way! I have listened straight through the album many times for the purposes of this review, and I still do not feel as if I am tired of any particular track. The track embedded here is a collaboration with Player 2, Zack’s brother Jay who is also a member of the Volume 3 roster. I would be interested in hearing more about their collaborative writing process and if it was a peaceful Mario/Luigi experience or closer to Mario/Wario antagonism.

Grade: 10/10

Zackery Wilson’s ‘SNESQUE’ is an album of tunes that are short in length but absolutely filled with quality from start to finish. The energy of each track remains high until the final note, and there is a seamless progression from track to track. Combining original SNES soundfonts with modern production techniques is a delightfully fresh take on modern chip music and gives this album a unique sound.

Final Grade: 58.5/60 (97%)

That wraps up Office Hours for today – the professor has a lot of grading and midterm exams to copy… Until next time!

Zackery Wilson:
Website | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

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Raw Cuts with Kuma #23: Alex Mauer

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Hey, what’s up everybody!  Welcome back to RCwK!  I’m BronxKuma — Kuma for short — and this time around I managed to get a hold of a bonafide legend!  A founding father of the Philly scene, this guy’s been making tracker music for nearly 20 years and is proof that time, dedication, and hard work doing something you love can pay off in the long run.  Here to talk to us about his journey through chip, some of his more recent and notable projects, and the future, I’m proud to present my interview with one of the very best artists the community has fostered: Alex Mauer!

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Raw Cuts With Kuma #15: Star Fighter Dreams

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Yo! Welcome back to Raw Cuts With Kuma!  This time around, I hit up chipmusic.org to scope out some talent to interview, and oh lawd, did I find someone special!  A young man with skill to spare, this underrated chiptune artist shattered his silence to great acclaim when he popped his performance cherry earlier this year at North Door!  This highly adept musician recently took the time to sit down with me and talk about his music, the people who inspire him, and the dedication he has to the craft of chiptune.  So without further ado, I present to you my interview with Matthew Rodriguez, aka Star Fighter Dreams!

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Kuma:
 So before we get started, there’s something I gotta say.  I spent time listening to your music on SoundCloud and I gotta admit, not only did I like what I heard, but I’m now saddened by the fact that I missed your open mic session at Blipfest last year!

Star Fighter Dreams (SFD):  oh no that one was from 2011!  I was on the roster open mic 2012 but never got called.  I was disapointed but no worries

Kuma:  Well at least now I can say I didn’t miss an awesome set I could have made it to, ’cause god damn man!  Your stuff is good, bro!  It’s lively as hell, and it’s got more polyphony to it than a lot of other chip I’ve heard, but I take it that’s on account of your set up!  Tell me, what exactly do you use to make your music and how’d you get into chip in the fist place?

SFD:  Okay. Let’s start with getting into chip music.

I got into chiptune around early 2008.  March, I think, while I was browsing around on the then relevant MySpace for electronic powerpop bands, I came across a profile picture of Sabrepulse jumping off a table.

Sabrepulse jumping off a table

I thought to myself “What is this guy all about?”.  So I clicked on his profile and when it loaded up, some of his early chiptune works started playing.  At first I was pretty meh because I had no idea of what the process was.

Kuma:  I think I know exactly which picture you’re talking about.  What was it that was the turning point for you?  When did you go from saying “meh” to “whoa”?

SFD:  There was link to the 8bitpeoples website on his profile, so I clicked on that. At the time, 8bitpeoples and 2 Player Productions had just finished their collaboration documentary called ‘Reformat The Planet’.  On the 8bitpeoples website, the first page was the trailer for the documentary that was being premiered mere weeks away in Austin for the SXSW film fest.

That trailer changed my life.

In it was the framework for me to find out what kind of music I wanted to make and the ethos I had been looking for all along.  It didn’t glorify nostalgia for video games, it glorified people and their creative abilities to make this technology do what it was never designed to do.

After I saw that trailer I began collecting.  Information, trackers, albums, anything that could help find out more about this awesome creative force seemingly brimming beneath the surface.  After much deliberation, I bought a Game Boy and my first LSDJ cartridge in late August/early September 2008

Kuma:  Wow. That’s quite a story.  I’m glad you took that from that movie.  While, admittedly, I’ve yet to get around to seeing that documentary myself (gasp!), that philosophy behind the tech we use to make the music is one I’ve always held: that we as a disposable society aren’t pushing our tech to it’s fullest potential.  Chiptune represents us pushing to the edge.

mark thomas the cutting edge

When you finally picked up that Game Boy, how did it feel in your hands?  Was using LSDJ intimidating or did you have prior musical experience you could carry over into chiptune production?

SFD:  I had used an emulator to run a demo of LSDJ to try and figure out the controls. Trackers have a huge learning curve, and I admittedly had no idea what I was doing most of time using the emulator, but I eventually figured out how to input notes and move between screens.

Other than that, though, I was working from a non-music perspective. I hadn’t used an instrument or read music since I was in 8th grade so it was also daunting in that respect. Luckily, I took a music theory course in college and that laid a good ground for me to experiment with music theory while also learning it

Kuma:  Very nice.  Now, when you first started to feel confident with what you were making on LSDJ, did you decide you wanted to play live soon after, or did you feel there was still something missing?

SFD:  I had my first full set as Star Fighter Dreams this June so I guess you could say there was something missing.  Lurking on 8bitcollective and CM.O, I’ve learned there were plenty of people willing to get into chip and write music but only because they thought it was cool.

I felt that my music should show respect to those that came before me and at least make people feel good, which is I have only just started playing shows and still haven’t released any proper EP or album.

Kuma:  I noticed that, actually.  I scoured the net for more music of yours beyond what was on your SoundCloud, such as Bandcamp, NoiChan, ucollective, CM.O, and even Myspace.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  But from what I did hear, it was definitely very cool.

Who would you say are your biggest influences musically?  Is EDM something you were always into prior to chiptune or did it take chiptune to get into it?

SFD:  I was definitely a fan of electronic music before hand, but I really got much more into it once I started making it.  My biggest influences currently are: IAYD, Bit Shifter, Rage Against The Machine, Bath Aide, Saskrotch, Arcade High and many more artists.

Oh just fyi, I have song on TX Chip Compilation 1 and there is a super old song still on MySpace somewhere.  That one I believe is like the third song I ever wrote on LSDJ!  LOL! Memories.

Kuma:  Oh, I’ll have to look up the Texas chip one, but when I went looking on Myspace, it gave me a broken link page.  That, in turn, resulted in profound sadness.

profound sadness

Is there anything we can expect to see of you in the future?  Any appearances at major festivals, or perhaps an album form you in the near future?

SFD:  I am planning a few releases for the coming months and my next booked performance is going to be in Houston for LazyBit Collective‘s second show with some other chiptune dudes such as IAYD, MonsterVision, broken satellite, chalkboards and more!

Kuma:  Nice!!!!  After having seen IAYD recently, as well as listening to your music, I can definitely say this is a show I wish I could hit up!

SFD:  It’s in December, so save up and come on down and see how we do it down here

Kuma:  Oh man!  December?  That’s so close to MAGFEST!  Oh man, don’t do that to me, bro!

SFD:  Peer pressure!  Peer pressure!  Peer pressure!  Y’know you wanna!

fanta shokata

But yeah man, next time I’m in New York, the drinks are on me dude.

Kuma:  Like wise, bro: next time I’m down south and I know you’re around, all the pabst 5 dollars can buy…I’m pretty sure that’s all of it!  Anyway, is there anything you’d like to say in closing to our readers out there?

SFD:  It’s Star Fighter Dreams here saying it’s three words, not Starfighter Dreams, that’s dumb.

But in all seriousness, expect some pretty cool things coming up and remember TX Chip is alive and we have some stellar talent here so don’t overlook that Lone Star State when thinking of chiptune.

Love from here in San Antonio,
-S.F.D.

Kuma:  Awesome, bro!  Thanks for doing this interview!  This was a lot of fun!

SFD:  Haha!  Same here, man.  You take it easy and keep being awesome.
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Thanks again for tuning in with me here at Raw Cuts!  Don’t forget to follow SFD on SoundCloud and like/follow Lazybit Collective so you can keep up with all the cool happenings in TX!

Til next time!

\m|♥|m/

star fighter dreams photo

Star Fighter Dreams
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LazyBit Collective
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TX Chip
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