Greetings, readers. Under normal circumstances, I’d have a review lined up as an article, and maybe even an interview to cap it off and give you folks a little bit of insight into the artist’s creative process. However, unforeseen hurdles caused me to scrap the review I had lined up, and I went into a creative slump. This article was supposed to publish two weeks ago today, for perspective, but now I’ve worked up the motivation to write again. So, rather than doing a traditional review or interview-review combination, I’d like to talk about something else: the community we’ve fostered for the last six or so years, and what it’s done for me in terms of my personal growth as both a writer and a human being. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Sooooooo, what was going to be a week-long series of social media posts giving brief historical context on five years of our compilation series (a little hype leading up to Friday’s V.6 launch if you will) just turned into a week-long series of blog posts featuring such. Why? Simple: there’s no word limit here. ಠ‿↼ And boy howdy, can I write a lot about this gorram project; especially this core facet of it.
And just like that, another ChipWIN Volume submission period has come and gone.
Now on to the really tough part: THE JUDGING &ROSTER SELECTION.
Rest assured that, for the next week or two, the ChipWIN V.4 Judges Team will be working really gorram hard to get everything squared away as swiftly as we possibly can without sacrificing the integrity of the project (appx 2-3 weeks).
And, of course, as soon as the roster is 100%, we’ll announce it here on the blog & fire out it through all ChipWIN social media salvos!
Hello and welcome to a very unusual and exciting installment of Office Hours on The ChipWIN Blog! As a classically-trained composer who also teaches college music courses, works from the Renaissance and Baroque eras are heard regularly in my classroom. So you can imagine my absolute delight when a new album combines these periods with another of my passions – chip music. Dear diary: jackpot!
Old Style is a collaboration between cellist Emily Davidson and her brother Chris, who is well known to us on the ChipWIN squad under the moniker Dj CUTMAN. Their project “Baroque Remixes” takes 17th and 18th century composers from a variety of nationalities and arranges their works in a mixture of chiptune and EDM-style beats. Now… if this were a commercial, here is the spot where the narrator is suddenly cut off by a record scratch.
The chiptune community is ripe (some might say “plagued”) with covers of songs in all styles, done with varying degrees of detail and care. Perhaps 20% of these “chip covers” are tolerable, 10% are phenomenal1, and the rest of them are unholy abominations2 that should be killed with fire. Friends, please continue reading because you are about to experience the upper crust of that fabled 10% category.
A Bit of Context
For this review I will be discussing each track separately to focus on the combination of styles, as well as including a small bit of historical context behind the original pieces. Click the link on the “Original” line under each track to hear the source material.
I am also doing away with my usual grading system for the review, as I am definitely NOT an impartial voice in any sense for this release (spoiler alert: it would receive 100% because I am infatuated with this album). Emily and Chris are awesome, and I just would not feel right fabricating a reason not to give the album a perfect score. Being a professional classical musician can be a brutal grind, and I wish only the best for Emily. I also greatly respect and enjoy the large amount of work that CUTMAN does in the chip community, including ‘This Week in Chiptune’ and his mastering work on the ChipWIN releases, which include two of my own tracks. Let’s just talk about the tunes and not worry about assigning points, shall we?
Even if you don’t know Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)3 from a vivisection, you have likely heard his music. Today he is largely known to the public by his violin concerti ‘The Four Seasons,’ but the “Red Priest” was widely influential in his lifetime for his instrumental compositions. This track is a wonderful opening to the album, both as a standalone track and a preview of what to expect from the rest of the arrangements. The opening is slightly modified from the original, adding a few pauses and building to the main theme. Steady drums accompany the simple melodic lines, and the ‘chorus’ as it were contains some beautiful side-chained synth chords. The orchestration at 1:45 is a nice change rather than directly repeating material we’ve already heard, and the closing octaves are a lovely standard effect in chip music.
François Couperin (1668-1733) came from a large musical family, and this French composer wrote keyboard music that was highly influential to Baroque and later composers. His collections of harpsichord works contain extensive discussion on ornamentation as well as having very evocative titles – here, ‘The Mysterious Barricade’ whose meaning is hotly debated. Couperin’s original gradually builds in energy and intensity, and this trait is left intact on the Old Style arrangement. Starting simply with a few bass notes, the main melodic texture soon enters and remains fairly constant throughout. The most interesting aspect of this track for me is the juxtaposition of trap rhythms in the drums combined with the stately, flowing harmony and melody. The little dissonant sounds that occur at the ends of phrases after the first minute are really nice touches that keep the musical texture fresh. Overall I really like the blend of styles on this track, and I could see this new genre of “Baroque chip-hop” becoming the next big thing!
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is rather infamous in the art music circle, both for his work in music theory and his radical new approach to French opera. If you think classical musicians are a bunch of stuffy, boring snobs, just take a few minutes to read up on the ‘Querelle des Bouffons’ that used Rameau’s music as a scapegoat – sometimes we really know how to sling an insult! This is the track that drew me to this album, as I am obsessively in love with Rameau’s music, particularly his keyboard works. The original depicts a Native American dances that Rameau apparently witnessed, and the aggressive nature of the music is immediately apparent in Old Style’s arrangement. A driving beat and harsh synth tones reminiscent of distorted guitars alternate with quirky synth patches that offer a nice contrast to the aggressive nature of the main section. The descending bass line that starts at 1:20 is KILLER, and the track ends with the same amount of intensity and high energy heard throughout.
Perhaps the least well-known composer represented on the album, Diego Otiz (c.1510-1570) was a Spanish composer who was also very highly important in the shift from the Renaissance to the Baroque era. His two treatises on keyboard and vocal performance were valuable resources for his contemporaries in their instruction on performance practice, and they serve scholars today as an excellent source on early Baroque ornamentation. This piece is a ricercar, an instrumental composition typical of Ortiz’s era where it explores different permutations of motives within a given melody. The sense of constant development is evident in the arrangement here, as the synth patches frequently shift and the the textures also constantly evolve. The ethereal organ patches are an interesting addition to the texture, and I also enjoy the addition of a somewhat sparse beat throughout the track. I did not know any of Ortiz’s music prior to hearing this album, but I enjoy this arrangement enough to seek out some of his original works.
This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), so there has been a surge of interest in his life and works among music scholars and performers. His music provided the transition between the late Baroque and early Classical eras; Mozart even acknowledged his influence, saying, “He [CPE Bach] is the father, we are the children.” This piece is very frequently heard in its original form, and is quite popular with piano students today. Compare the arrangement to the original, and you will hear a refreshing amount of space given to the notes in Old Style’s interpretation. The music is allowed to breathe a little more than most live performances, and the driving four-on-the-floor beat really pushes the music forward. I love the build in the introduction, and the ‘honky-tonk piano’ sound is just wonderful. This track also features several textures and styles, which is unique on the album since most tracks remain essentially in the same sound realm throughout. The pulsing bass break in the middle of the track is a staple of house music, and works well as an interlude before hearing the main melody one final time.
No Baroque remix album worth its salt would fail to include the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Composing at the height of the Baroque era, JS Bach’s music is filled with counterpoint (the simultaneous combination of independent musical lines), and is the ultimate example of Baroque musical thought. Musicologists consistently date the Baroque as ending at Bach’s death year, and if you can get more than three musicologists to agree on something, you have just witnessed a very special event… Much like the arrangement of his son’s work on this album, I really enjoy the amount of aural space between the notes here. Different registers and instrumental patches allow each line to be clear in the texture, and the addition of a steady percussive beat does not blur an already complex aural landscape. Part of this is Bach’s original writing, but I think there is also a good amount of credit that needs to be given to CUTMAN’s production skills on this track. This is one of the only times you will hear the iconic ‘Nintendo bass’ sound on the album, and I really enjoy the fact that it has unique lines to play rather than plunking out chord roots.
Old Style’s “Baroque Remixes” manages to effectively and seamlessly combine disparate musical styles that span centuries of musical thought and innovation. The original compositions were all written without percussion, and in true EDM style the drums add a driving, energetic element to each track without overcrowding the texture. The simple subtlety of the arrangements both do justice to the original material while providing a unique take on cornerstones of the late Renaissance and Baroque styles. Production value is exactly what you would expect from Dj CUTMAN; extremtly high quality work with aural clarity in all frequencies. This album sounds great in the car, through laptop speakers, and played through the system in my classroom. Fans of the composers included on the album will be rewarded with new takes on familiar material, while chip music fans may find some new (old) music to explore.
I hope you enjoyed a grade-free Office Hours this month. Don’t worry, the blue pen will be out and ready to tear into someone with a vengeance again next month!
1 – see: Beethoven/Danimal Cannon “Moonlight Sonata” 2 – see: any MIDI rendered with GXCC and uploaded to YouTube 3 – I’m performing the cardinal academic sin of citing Wikipedia only because I assume most of you do not have free access to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Yo, welcome back ChipWINers! This week I managed to get a hold of a very popular artist from the Philly scene, Chris de Pew, aka, Storm Blooper. Having started out doing open mics and quickly becoming an anticipated and often booked live act over the past year, this young man is a force to be reckoned with! So without further ado, I bring you my interview with this talented, charming and amiable artist, Storm Blooper!
Kuma: So, lets start with something I noticed shortly after we first met. One night after 8static, you, Doppel-Gengar and Shyabeetus let me crash at your place after of night of partying. While I was at your humble abode, I noticed a keyboard and plethora of other music equipment, belying how long you’ve been making music. Tell me, where did Storm Blooper get his start in all this musical hoo ha? How did your epic journey begin?
Chris de Pew (Storm Blooper): Well I guess I’ve been involved with music and everything since I was really young. There was always a piano of some sort in every house I grew up in and so I just naturally gravitated towards that wherever it was. Although I didn’t start really making music until about 2006-2007. I taught myself everything, so I can’t really read sheet music or anything like that.
Kuma: I can respect that. It seems self taught instrumentation is a lot more common that I first gave credit to the scene when I started doing these interviews. That being said, did you have any early music projects prior to chiptune? Anything on Newgrounds or OCRemix, for example, or did you not start sharing anything until much later in your musical career?
SB: Yeah, it’s really kind of nice to see that in this scene. I always thought for years that I was alone in that aspect. As for earlier music projects, yeah I had this silly “band” called Sub-Woofer Special where I made music in FL Studio. It was really terrible stuff. Like, really terrible. You can find that project on the internet in a few different places if you just search for it. Other than that though I was in a ska band called Castro Fiasco in high school where I played trombone (again, self taught). That was a fun time. But as I spent more and more time with the Sub-Woofer Special project I began to add different instruments that tried to emulate chip sounds. Then eventually, I decided I wanted to focus on making chiptune music, even if it was “fakebit”.
Kuma: Very cool. Now, during that time, when you were SWS, was there a particular artist, song or moment that gave you that spurred that catharsis? The one that made you realize that chiptune was what you wanted to do?
SB: Well for years I had watched this online animated series called Bonus Stage by this guy Matt Wilson and he did all of the animation, music, and voices for it. A lot of the backing tracks to his epsiodes were chiptune sounding (he makes his music under the name SAVESTATES) and that’s what initially made me want to start incorporating some chip elements on top of some of the orchestral instruments I was using. Then a few years after doing that I just ended up using more chip instruments than string instruments.
Kuma: Was the transition from VSTs to trackers on Game Boys like LSDJ difficult for you? Were you surprised by how much Game Boys were capable of when you finally got your hands on one for musical purposes?
SB: Oh, I was blown away! I had been listening to people like glomag, Bit Shifter, Sabrepulse and all of them for years before, but I just never knew exactly what their whole setup was. So I was always under the impression that there was more than just the Game Boy going on in their tracks. I tried a demo version of LSDJ when I was still in high school, and when I say tried, I mean I basically opened it up, stared at the screen, moved the cursor left and right, put in a 00, then turned it off. Then when I actually sat down and tried learning it about a year ago, I was just proud that I was able to get to the instrument screen and change the duty cycle.
The great thing about a piece of software like LSDJ is that I can continue to learn and do so much more every day, whereas a VST just has these set parameters for the most part and that’s that.
Kuma: LSDJ is certainly a beast of a program, but I think a lot of us have that moment with trackers at one point or another, no matter how much we want to try to make music. I remember before getting into Piggy Tracker, I tried making music with Milky Tracker. I opened it up, looked at it, was liked “cool!” and then I tried using it, and I was like “nope” and I never used it again.
SB: Haha! Yeah I never thought I would be able to get a handle on any type of tracker at all. I haven’t looked at Milky or anything but I’m sure I would do the same thing
Kuma: That being said, lets go back a bit to what you mentioned before, about being inspired by Bonus Stage. Now, recently, in fact very quickly after coming onto the scene as Storm Blooper, you found popularity through another group of internet celebs called Continue?. Let’s talk about how you first met these guys, the song they used in one of their videos, and your feelings about that song now that it’s out there.
SB: Oh god! God damn it! I knew this song would be brought up!
Kuma: What’s wrong Chris? You sound as if there’s some intense emotion towards the song.
SB: Haha. MANY intense emotions.
Kuma: Well…why don’t you tell us?
SB: Okay, so I used to be a teaching assistant for Nick Murphy for his film course that he used to teach at UArts for high school students. I’ve known him for a few years but I didn’t meet the other guys until MAGfest actually. Anyway, the song that they used was the second song I wrote in LSDJ. The song that people seem to love for some reason (I think it’s pretty terrible myself).
Kuma: Well while it’s very cool you’ve known Nick for a while and they chose to use one of your songs for their video, I still don’t understand why you dislike that song so. I suppose to each their own, but you gotta admit: aside from being semi-youtube famous for it, now, it’s also seen it’s fair share of remixes in the scene, particularly by a few good friends of yours who are rather talented. Does it bother you that they chose to remix that song, or are you indifferent towards it?
SB: You know, I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as him, but Josh Davis (Bit Shifter) said in an interview with andaruGO (I believe) once something about “Reformat the Planet” and how he feels about everyone loving that song and requesting it. I think he said something to the effect of “it’s like the chipscene ‘Free Bird’ ” and that he kind of just wants it to fade away or something like that. I think I know exactly how he feels now.
Haha… I’m sort of indifferent to the whole thing now, I guess. They’ve remixed it and covered it in so many different forms it’s a little ridiculous. You have to give them a lot of credit for that. Mainly Shyabeetus, who will find any way possible to cover it…even in Mario Paint.
Kuma: You know it’s funny you mention that song and Bit Shifter. While I certainly understand it’s popularity and that sort of vibe it has in the scene, for me, personally, “Reformat the Planet” was never that pinnacle, Free Bird song to me. For me, it was always “Strange Comfort”. But hey, what do I know: I didn’t get into chiptune until Blipfest 2k12.
That being said, I’m glad you at least feel indifferent to the remixes and requests for “Someone Stole All of the Ice Cream”, especially because one of those friends who helped remix it is also someone you’ve performed with fairly often. Lets talk about your relationship with DJ McGranaman for a bit, such as how you two first met and what made you guys want to work together, as well as any impact musically you two may have had on each other.
SB: Strange Comfort is A+. Ah, yes, DJ Bananahands. We actually met at 8static. I want to say it was my second or third 8static. I had seen him play open mic the first time I went back in May 2012. Actually before that, I saw him at this presentation I attended about music in video games. Dain Saint and Chipocrite held that during Philly Tech week. But I didn’t speak to DJ McGranaman then, I just noticed that metroid hat he had.
Kuma: Ah yes…that hat that he no longer has and now he cries every time it’s mentioned because he is without it.
SB: Jeffery was a special boy. RIP.
But we started performing this hour long combination set thing at MAGfest. It was a weird idea we came up with I think to save time on the chipstage that Piko Piko Detroit had set up.
Kuma: Was it? It seemed like you two had planned it a little more than that. It worked pretty well.
SB: Yeah I think we did maybe like 5 minutes worth of planning before we actually went up and did it haha! We would just do back to back songs so there wasn’t a whole bunch of dead time and instead constant music happening. We just kind of guessed which songs would flow well right into the next, and luckily for us it worked the first time.
Kuma: Well enough that you guys performed together again a couple months back in Philly. Tell me, how did that performance go? Did you actually prepare for it?
SB: Yeah! We’ve performed a couple of times as that duo since MAG. We played a set down at T-MODE and a few other places. The performance at TooManyGames went really well! We prepared a bit more before that show, yeah. Haha and by that time we had been playing so much together already that we sort of knew what to expect, although we constantly communicate just to give each other updates on what songs are coming next and such.
Kuma: I’m glad to hear it! That being said, lets get back to your solo career. You have an EP coming out very soon! Lets talk about it! What can we expect to hear on it? Is there anything new musically you experimented with when making this album? Will it have that definitive Blooper sound or can we expect to be surprised by this new baby of yours?
SB: There’s definitely no “Someone Stole All of the Ice Cream on it.” I can guarantee that. But yeah, there’s some weird different sounding things that I tried out on a few of the tracks
Kuma: I’m definitely looking forward to the album. Are you doing a listening party for it, by any chance?
SB: No listening party for this one (the next one though I promise!). And I don’t know if I have a certain sound at all. To me everything on the album sounds like it was written by a different person or someone with a multiple personality disorder. It’s kind of all over the place really.
Kuma: Wahhhh! No listening party! That feels so naked, so raw! But I’m happy to have something new to listen to soon. That being said, I think here is a good place to wrap things up, my friend. Before we go, is there anything you want to say in closing to your friends, fans, readers, or the chiptune/vgm community at large?
SB: I’d just like to thank anyone and everyone who’s possibly interested in my music in the first place! It’s really amazing the amount of people that actually care about what I’m doing, and in such little time! I honestly don’t think my music is that great, but for whatever reason there are people out that still want to listen to it and support me. So really, thank y’all thank y’all! Especially the Philly chipscene,Bryan Dobbins, Chris Burke, Josh Davis, you, EVERYONE!
Kuma: Thank you for making the music you do, and for being the cool cat you are, as well. it’s been a pleasure seeing you perform, hanging with you and being your bro since joining the scene. I definitely look forward to interviewing you again. Peace!
Thanks for checking out this week’s interview. Don’t forget to follow or like Storm Blooper on your preferred social media and check out his new EP, Jawn-Dis, which drops this weekend on 8static’s bandcamp page, as one of the first albums to be released under their new record label since joining foces with Dj CUTMAN!
Also, check us out next week for the long awaited release of next monster LP, Chiptunes = WIN Vol. 2, as well as another (possibly even two) awesome new interviews!!!!!!!!