This month on the Blog, I wanted to review a beautiful album written by Australia-based artist and technologist, little-scale. Created by using modular synthesizers, this album works with a niche form of sound design well known to those into various forms of synthesis. I had the opportunity to talk to little-scale this month and it was my mission to get their take on why moving from Gameboys to modular is so appealing, while sharing the specific modules used during the performance of this album.
The world of modular is super in depth, hectic, and beautifully chaotic. Pictured here is a Buchla 200e I grew to get to know and love a few years ago.
Last week was downright facemelting here on the ChipWIN blog. It all started with Joe’s review of Danimal Cannon’s shredtacular new progressive chiprock masterpiece ‘Lunaria’, and ended with Glenntai’s curated collection of chipthrash that’s enough to make your ears bleed. Well, it’s freaking Monday again. Time to take things down many notches and focus on something much more ambient in nature. This gives me the opportunity not only to highlight a revered veteran of the chipmusic scene, little-scale (Sebastian Tomczak), but also to showcase just how versatile artists within the chiprealm can be, covering every inch of the musical spectrum. If you’re looking to relax, get lost in deep introspection, and otherwise decompress, then look no further than little-scale’s recently released EP, ‘Don’t Be Anxious’.
If we’re really honest with ourselves, there are certain kinds of chiptune that are more visible than others. If I walked up to a random Joe at MAGFest and asked who their favorite chiptune musician was, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that they’d bring up an artist known for either Game Boy or NES music, or if they’re over the age of 30 they might mention some demoscene artists and their love of the Commodore 64. But unless you really go looking for it, it seems like it’s hard to find anyone making music on the venerable Sega Genesis, or at the very least made with the YM2612 soundchip. It seems that way – but nothing could be farther from the truth. I’d like to take a few minutes and bring to light some real gems out there of an under appreciated console and, if you’re inspired by the end of it, give you the tools you’ll need to make your own original content to take to the club.
[3/18/16 Edit: Thank you to the community for reaching out to help with a few missing points/bad links in the article – these have been amended/added.]
Many a ChipWINner will recognize the Cheapbeats netlabel, not just from their co-release ‘Cheapbeats = WIN‘, but also interviews with James York here on the blog, and, of course, their slew of impressive releases within the chipmusic community. Now celebrating their ‘two point seventy three anniversary’, they’ve released a compilation featuring previously released songs from every single artist who’s ever released on their label and entitled it ‘All Stars’. The album is one hell of a ride from start to finish, and I really do wish I could give each track its proper recognition; that would, unfortunately, make for a VERY long review. As a result, I’m going to give you a rundown on my five personal favorite tracks. Let’s take a look at some of the amazing sounds this album has to offer! (more…)
I’ll be taking a leave of absence here on the Chiptune = WIN blog following this piece. Life events (positive ones!) have left me even more strapped for time than before; but before bowing out I thought it’d be best to talk you through three of my favourite artists in the scene, why I love them and where you should begin. Hopefully it’ll keep you busy whilst I’m gone! Intro out:
little-scale: Definitely in the first wave of artists I discovered who made me obsess over chiptune, little-scale has, for years, been blowing my mind whilst tugging my heartstrings. A few fun facts: he has a PhD entitled “On The Development Of An Interface Framework In Chiptune”[read: he is literally a doctor in chiptune], he wrote a new song every single day in 2010 as part of the LazerScale challenge, he has released what must be now at least 25/30 EPs or albums AND often, entire EPs are sourced from a single sample which is then manipulated endlessly (the recent ‘Heavy Deep’ was created only from noises made by a ribbon, a metal cup and a road sign).
Musically, little-scale bridges the gap between ambience and deep, experimental house/trance. The strength of his music lies in its ability to move physically and emotionally, with songs often teetering off into trance-inducing pulsations of luscious tones and massive percussion. The title track of May’s ‘Set Your House On Fire’ displays this beautifully: emotively bittersweet and crushing, all with a confident groove behind it.
My favourite release? Whittling down a back catalogue this robust would be extremely difficult if it weren’t for ‘Nothing Has Been Left Unspoken’. Released on Saskrotch’s Handheld Heroes label back in 2009, this collection of 12 tracks does a pretty sturdy job of defining little-scale’s sound. Mixing the pure euphoric feelings of warm analogue tones in tracks ‘Wake Up, Space Cadet!’ with experimental beat-laden melancholy seen it tracks like ‘Visual Confirmation’ and ‘Delusions’; not for a second does this album cease being incredible. Download it as soon as you can, if you haven’t heard it you’re missing out on one of chiptune’s greatest opuses.
x|k: Don’t ask me how it’s pronounced. Famous (or in some places infamous) for his creation, the Midines, as much as for his music, x|k has gone almost completely silent in the last few years. Nevertheless, his 2005 release on 8bitpeoples, ‘Nestek’, is still THE greatest electronic dance release ever.
Why? Well, x|k’s sound could aptly be described as a ‘tirade of rave’. Not for a second does ‘Nestek’ let up, from the ridiculously no-nonsense breakbeat-tinged opening ‘Connekt’ through the huge accented and dance-causing claps in ‘The Bytemaster’ through the glittering pulses of ‘Terminal On City’… etc. Though the dancing may never stop, neither does the effectiveness of the melodies; and it is this duopoly of melodic emotiveness and dancefloor mastery which really lets the EP shine, as every single one of the five tracks stands out as an unforgettable testament to the power of dance music when used in the right way. You’ll dance whilst you cry.
If the pure genius of ‘Nestek’ wasn’t enough, his 8bitpeoples follow-up, ‘Outra’, is a 20 minute mix of everything from chip-trance through to deep house and sparkling techno. With only a few tracks dotted around various comps, an EP on mp3death, 40 short self-written ‘midines demos’ and a far-from-up-to-scratch full-length (seriously, don’t bother), there may not be a lot of his work, but what there is is often outstanding. Now someone get him to comeback tour and I’ll meet you on the dancefloor.
Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia: A background description on this incredible talent is fruitless to attempt, as shrouded in mystery as ‘ZZZV’ is. Releases from ‘it’ stretch back to 2008, with albums on Pause and inpuj shortly following, as well as a plethora (and I mean PLETHORA) of B-side compilations, the Meep series, various EPs and an entire fan label seemingly devout towards the jazz-funk deity that he is.
As hinted at above, Zan-Zan’s sound is heavily ‘Ubik-esque’ in execution. Mixing vintage VGM sounds, 70s prog rock, jazz, funk, and possibly hundreds of other subgenres, Zan-Zan’s tracks never ever sound alike, whilst still having a very particular ‘ZZZV style’ to them. If the complexity of the compositions weren’t enough, Zan’s ability to program NES modules is, quite simply, unsurpassable.
As evidence for all of this hyperbole brandishing, I point to my favourite Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia track, the first track on the first ‘Meep’ album. Over the past few years Zan has been releasing albums entitled ‘Meep [insert rhyming word]’ with four in the series out thus far. Within, all tracks range in length from seconds to just over two minutes, are named ‘Meep #something’ with an actual title in brackets, and, most importantly, reek of a strange lo-fi genius. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Meep #002 (how did i lose those things i was wearing)’. Beginning like a soothing but extremely creepy ballad, the sliding notes eventually give way to the melody. A melody that simultaneously is disturbingly unsettling and breath-takingly beautiful, before a driving beat drives through the centre and the progjazz really cuts loose. Then, as quickly as this shift happened, the track plays nice again, with calming arps and counter melodies taking over before the disturb-o-beauty returns once again. And all in the space of two minutes and eighteen seconds. And some of his tracks are over ten minutes long.
What really gets me about his music is the depth. Everything seems bottomless, even the brief 30-50 second spurts of some tracks sound like full ideas encapsulated and perfected. Each track on the Meeps could demand their own sub-genre and following, and that limitless complexity is what makes Zan-Zan-Zawa-Veia’s music some of the best on the planet. And I mean this literally. If you’ve not introduced yourself to the fantastic work within, download the Meeps, take two hours out, get some headphones and prepare to be absolutely astonished. My mind is still being blown three years on.
And thus our brief journey ends. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the above suggestions, and hopefully I’ll be back relatively soon, but until then keep tuning in to the other fantastic writers here on the blog and all the best!