If you’re over the age of 35 and you saw who I’m writing this article on, you probably just went “Wait, what? Why?” If you’re under 35 and don’t listen to The Adventure Zone and you saw who I’m writing about, you probably just went “Wait, who?” In a rare departure from talking about upcoming chiptune releases, I thought I might take a moment and talk about one of the early Moog synthesizer pioneers whose music has largely been out of print for the last ~40 years in hopes that a look at this particular time capsule might have some worthwhile stories to tell us in this modern era. Today’s article is on the rerelease of Mort Garson’s ‘Plantasia,’ courtesy of Sacred Bones Records.
Hey y’all! ( ´ ▽ ` )ﾉ It’s once again time for this month’s edition of my blog interview column, Hoodie Highlights!
April’s down-to-Earth chat features a talented singer/songwriter, chipmusician, knowledgeable curator, and all around swell guy. He’s also a lover of both sharks and donuts, so of course I’ve gotta talk to him.
Everyone, welcome Sam Mulligan to The ChipWIN Blog!
What’s up, chip peeps? This month, I’d like to bring your attention to a duo specializing in the creation of refreshing music made from vintage gear and classic synthesizers. That duo goes by the name of Conquer Monster. I look for artists who love what I love. Groups of people who hang out in the underground scene. Those who would rather own a synth than a car, who spent time circuit bending when other sounds become standard and stale, and those who just feel their sole purpose on the planet is to express themselves through sound.
CM released their album, Metatransit, on October 16th, 2015. It serves as the score for the comic book Purge Worlds , written by Joshua Oman and illustrated by Chris Black. This concept album refers to tragic hero Brandon Lao’s adventure to seek revenge for his partner Anna’s death, through the exploration of different planets. The album is dark, futuristic, while also beat driven and nostalgic. Metatransit explores the themes of the comic with 80s style drum beats, chopped voices, catchy riffs, great melodies, and inspiring sound design work. So, without further ado, let’s enter the world of Joshua Faulkner and Daniel Romero, of Conquer Monster.
Hey wassup ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down the highs and lows of new releases, then give you a numerical TL;DR to help you decide which new releases give you the most bang for your buck! This week, I’ve got two albums that are very much skirting the fringes of what can be considered chiptune. But, they’reboth incredibly bodacious records from two rad artists thatyou guys should be paying attention to. So if you’re in the mood for something new, straps yourselves in and take a ride with a black guy as we check out new music from Hyperultra and Slothfella!
Some of the most successful and inspiring musical endeavors are concept albums, more narrowly defined as albums with a specific message to deliver, story to tell, or idea to convey. One of the most recent chiptune concept albums, Spaceman Fantastiques’ prog-rock-chip amalgam entitled ‘C.O.M.P.A.S.S.’, was released through The Waveform Generators just this past September. Admittedly, I missed the debut of this album, but discovered it not long after its release, and loved it so much that I decided that it absolutely had to be the topic of my monthly column. So let’s see where ‘C.O.M.P.A.S.S.’ takes us!
As with many concept albums, the first track – the introduction or exposition to the story – can be considered the most important song in establishing the theme behind the project. ‘SSW’ opens with a cascading flow of different sounds; cymbals crash, chip voices sweep through octaves, and white noise builds up mysterious vibes before a cadence reminiscent of a transmission of sorts. From here, the track decrescendoes into nothingness and leaves the listener with a sense of awe before its silent transition.
‘C.O.M.P.A.S.S.’ spans an enormous number of different moods as it tells its tale. The second track, ‘SW’, is a near perfect example of how seamlessly these different emotions can flow into one another. The opening guitar strumming and quickly decaying chip voices provide a sense of wonderment and feelings of exploration and curiosity. Percussion enters, and more voices build up tension until the track peaks for the first time, energetically and brimming with excitement. A simple yet memorable chip riff segues perfectly into a secondary calming segment, just before ‘SW’ climaxes with dueling guitar and chip solos into a phenomenal ending.
Different musical influences throughout the album and entirely unique sounds span far and wide, as well. Calls to the symphonic and choral can be heard in combination with progressive overtones through the almost vocal-sounding instruments present in ‘NE’, for one. In contrast, it’s difficult to place a specific genre onto ‘WNW’, and that’s not a bad thing in the slightest. Spaceman Fantastiques sculpts a track that has me imagining the reversal of time; ‘WNW’ sounds almost like a track being played backwards for an alternate piece.
Avid chipmusic fans may notice that in a majority of the pieces on Spaceman Fantastiques’ latest work, chip voices take on a rhythmic role in order to let organic melodies shine through. This isn’t always entirely true, however. For example, in ‘W’, the first half of the song has chip take on a majority of the melodic element, while Spaceman Fantastiques’ guitar work is more rhythmic in nature. Melodic focus is slowly transitioned from chip to organic around the midpoint of the track flawlessly; shifts in melodic focus are something I rarely hear done well, and Spaceman Fantastiques really nails it with ‘W’.
I’ve only covered about a third of this phenomenal piece of work, but describing the entire album the way that I do with my other reviews would be almost too deconstructive and detailed in nature. This album is truly an experience that needs to be had in order to be fully understood in all of its glory. In order to fully comprehend the purpose and motivation behind this ambitious album, we have to be able to understand the meaning of ‘C.O.M.P.A.S.S.’ from the eyes of Spaceman Fantastiques himself. So without further ado, I present to you my wondrously fruitful interview with Spaceman Fantastiques on his latest masterpiece. ______________________________________________________________________
Aydan Scott: What ideas or themes are being expressed through “C.O.M.P.A.S.S.”?
Spaceman Fantastiques: The main theme of the album is exploration. It’s about a man who is looking for direction in life. He learns of a fabled artifact called the C.O.M.P.A.S.S. and goes in search of it. The problem is that anything he reads about it tells him something completely different in terms of finding it. So he sets out on a journey to gather more information and hopefully find what he is looking for. After a journey around the globe he talks with someone who tells him an introspective that changes everything. All the things he was looking for and all the things he has done ARE the C.O.M.P.A.S.S. He finds out that it is not an object but a journey in and of itself. a Collection Of Many Paths Altering Self Synapse.
That being said, the album is really about exploring life and trusting yourself, no matter where your travels take you.
A: What different genres did you take influence from with regards to composition?
SF: When I started this project it was actually much smaller in terms of songs. It was only going to be 4 main songs and 4 intermediate ones. I really just wanted to have 4 different styles of songs and then blend them in between. What I ended up with was much more grand. I drew inspiration from a lot of places. For the main songs I wanted them all to be epic in their own ways, from well thought out rock solos to sporadic stream of consciousness solos…from [me being] completely obsessed over note placement to one night of me messing around on the keyboard. Specific influences are hard to nail down as there are often several within the same track but I will do my best. In no particular order: Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Aphex Twin, The Sound of Animals Fighting, Nobuo Uematsu, the music from Hotline Miami, the Braid sound track, Mystic Quest, post rock outfits like MONO and Godspeed You, math rock like LITE and Jizue, chill stuff like sleepytimejesse, aviel, and Lifeformed, crazy arpeggios from Makeup and Vanity Set, Miles Davis, Tool, The Protomen, Queens of the Stone Age, Smashing Pumpkins… the list is much longer than that, but those are the main ones that I can think of at the moment.
A: What does your creative process entail?
SF: The creative process… this is something that is so strange for me. Initially it happens very fast. Most of the main songs were almost completely written in a single day (each). Then came the perfection. Once the main track structure was down came the obsessive listening and re-listening, losing myself in the music only to find one extra hi-hat hit or a bass fill. The main songs were something that, even with [them] being mostly completed so quickly, it could [take] months or years in between the tracks. They almost all started with me sitting in bed messing around on guitar and once I recorded that riff the writing took over. For some songs the progression was effortless (W for example); [for] others it was far more tedious (E). Even with both of those songs switching time signatures, one was far easier than the other. I can’t really say why. I think a lot of the composition depends on mental status. When writing W I was happy and healthy, and when writing E I was sick, the weather was shit, and it was hard to stay focused (which is kind of appropriate considering the directions).
As for the notes themselves, I have many ways of composing. The most common way is with guitar and a loop. I loop what I have, and then just noodle on guitar. When I find something I like, I transcribe it into MIDI or record it. A lot of it is just feeling expressed through strings. A lot of the songs have large gaps between them in terms of when they were composed. The first song I made (not even knowing it was for this album at the time) was SW. I went home on a Friday night, got a beer from the fridge, opened it and never finished. I started recording and got so lost. I had just found an old Moog synth on the side of the road and was so excited to use it that I couldn’t stop messing around. I worked for about seven hours and that is SW. It did change a little, but the structure is the same as the night I wrote that song. The problem I find with this writing process is that I get so into it and then I have no other ideas. I put everything i had been storing up into a song. This is absolutely why this album took so long. I wrote songs based on experiences I had…and those take time.
AS FOR THE INTERMEDIATE SONGS: Most of these were made while sitting at [a] local coffee place on my lunch break. I wanted these tracks to be more simple…things that were nice little slices amidst the epic cardinal and secondary directions. I made rules for these songs. No changing parts. Under 5 instruments. Nothing fast or intense. They are meant for resting between the other tracks.
A: Why did you choose to release this on TWG?
SF: I have known Andrew for quite a while now and he was one of the first people I talked to about the album and the idea behind it. He asked me to release it on TWG and I absolutely agreed. I actually think I was asked when he first started the label… and then I released as it was closing. haha. At the time, I wanted to branch out from solely chiptune, and my talks with Andrew led to a lot of excitement and ideas. He is a really great guy and is absolutely going places. I am glad I got to be a part of TWG even if [it was] only at the end.
A: How long did the project take to finish? Also, did you do it all in one go (was it your one and only focus in terms of musical projects) or did you piece it together over a long period of time?
SF: I mentioned this a little previously, but the album took about 3 years to make. From the initial idea’s conception back in 2011 to writing songs that ended up being used for other things (‘The World According To Mr. Meleon‘) or walking away from it completely to write different stuff (‘[sleep]‘), it has been a looooong journey. I think that really helped with it all. The first song that was written was SW (back then Song 1), [which] was followed by the first 30 seconds of NW (originally Song 2). Song 2 was abandoned until this past summer, where I was able to pick [it] up effortlessly and turn it into what it is now, NW. In that time I wrote a few different things. A few one-of tracks, a lot of b-sides from ‘tWAtMM’, ‘[sleep]’, and ‘a thousand days and a day‘. I think making all the other stuff while still working on this helped immensely. Using my experience from ‘[sleep]’ and ‘aTDaaD’ I was able to refine a lot of my writing process and boil down ideas a lot stronger. I also discovered several new techniques in Logic along the way that helped.
A: Are you pleased with the way this project turned out? If not, is there anything you’d change now if you had the opportunity?
SF: I really am pleased. I make music firstly for myself. I make things I want to listen to over and over again. It can be frustrating at times, but it is almost always worth it. As with most art, there are always blemishes that maybe only the artist will notice or care about, but…I call [them] something I like to just have that be part of the project’s charm.
There are things I could have leveled out, or fixed some sloppy notation, but the way I released it is something I am more than happy with.
A: What’s next for Spaceman Fantastiques?
SF: This is something I have been asking myself since I realized I was done with the album… Hm… I do have some things I am working on, but nothing I can really mention at the moment, but as always… it’ll be something fantastique. ______________________________________________________________________
‘C.O.M.P.A.S.S.’ is truly a modern masterpiece. Spaceman Fantastiques takes us with him on his journey to find the legendary C.O.M.P.A.S.S. and shows us immeasurably beautiful sounds and ideas along the way. Priced at just under $5 USD, this is an incredibly small price to pay for the sheer excellence contained within. I’m honored to have been able to showcase this piece of work for you, and I hope that your own C.O.M.P.A.S.S. leads you to happiness. Never forget that life is a journey, not a destination.