[Editor’s note: this album was moved elsewhere on Bandcamp well after the article published, so none of the embeds work. ƪ(‾ε‾“)ʃ ]
Happy November, folks!
This month, Spaceman Fantastiques is back with yet another gorgeously articulated record, scoring his life from the previous month, entitled ‘October (2018)’. Combining a mixture of well mixed sound textures with smartly composed arrangements, this record took me on an adventure that was left waiting to be continued from his last release.
One thing I deeply admire about Spaceman Fantastiques, and a couple reasons I review his work so much, is because I not only love it, but there is also a never ending stream of real creativity that spews out of every variety of instruments used for each album. A multi-instrumentalist, Spaceman Fantastiques uses each acoustic texture or synthesizer to new brinks of limitations, combining that art with both storytelling and beautiful, listenable music. This record, and his previous, have been so easy for me to write about because they’ve been so relatable.
Social media has its ups and downs and this month’s blog post will focus on one of its positives: this past month has brought to my attention yet another Spaceman Fantastiques release! ‘I Just Want to Go Home, Why is that so Difficult?’ is an exploration of sound and music used to describe the issues of traveling via plane when you just want to be with your family. Filled with lo-fi grit, sampling, and on location ambience, Spaceman Fantastiques has a knack for creating poignant narrations through music and sound.
Anyonewho releases music knows how tough it is to actually put an album out for the world to see (at least, that’s how I roll). There’s getting an idea, writing it, trying to create instruments that sound like how you hear them in your head. Then there’s the getting frustrated, producing, mixing, mastering, self doubt, and excitement. However, on January, 23rd, NYC based artist, Spaceman Fantastiques was able to defy any negative law that would normally convince an artist to stall on sharing their music to the world, and released two. Writing music for games, film, and for our ears, both albums own a sense of depth and storytelling with one focusing on guitar composition (From The Inside), and the other veering towards synthesizers, electronics, and chip (199X). This month, we’ll take a look at 199X and interview Spaceman Fantastiques learning more about his writing process, what brought him to NYC, and what his goals are as an artist.
Sup y’all? =) President Hoodie here, ready to happily introduce this multi-writer full review of our newly released chipWINter Wonderland compilation! Kicking off this collaborative writing project is none other than Mr. Viridian Forge! Do it to it, Wayne!
‘Snowball Fight Tonight’ by Aethernaut
Infused with the magic of fresh snowfall, Aethernaut’s ‘Snowball Fight Tonight’ is undeniably the correct choice to have opening this year’s ChipWINter compilation. Warm toned arps, rising riffs, and a steady beat merge together to give the piece a backdrop that belongs on a Christmas card. The authenticity comes from the vocal samples that appear throughout the track, which truly convey the feeling that you’re in the midst of an old fashioned impromptu neighborhood snowball melee.
Building on the childhood reveries Aethernaut may have left the listener with, ‘Tinsel Time’s twinkling opening hearkens, perhaps, to warm evenings decorating the old tannenbaum with loved ones. About thirty seconds in, powerful chip-based shredding slaps the sense back into them, tearing apart any preconceptions about what’s going on here. tiasu moves between these two themes skillfully, illustrating both the reverence and exuberance that imbue the spirit of the season.
Switching up the tempo and tone of the compilation, Polar Sunrise has the feel of a more ‘traditional’ holiday piece. Appropriately, the richness of the music, authenticity of the bells and reflective pacing encourage taking the time to appreciate the chance to reflect on the events of the year. Moreover, the warmth of the composition really brings home the spirit of spending time with loved ones during this time of the year.
With Cool Winds, the fluctuations in how the spirit of winter is evoked continue. Subdued compared to the previous tracks, Joshua Morse’s submission to the compilation is meditative, and space-y. With a sound palette consisting of fat sweeps, twinkling plucks, liquid droplets, and remote sleigh bells, Mr. Morse has put together an honestly evocative track. To my ear, this is the perfect soundtrack to gazing quietly out onto a frozen lake from snow covered hills, as a gentle breeze pulls snowflakes across the starry twilight.
Four tracks in, and this review is just getting started. Hold onto your hot cocoas, because Glenntai is taking the reins for the next section of the release!
‘Borealis Palace’ by Toni Leys
“Borealis Place” starts off as a smooth jazz piece accompanied by round bells and pulse leads before nearly manically-transitioning into a very bright and driven trance vibe. While the latter is the concept the song eventually focuses on, Toni Leys demonstrates a clear and exemplary knowledge and execution of not only both concepts but maintaining a tasteful amount of drama both between transitions and on the beginning and end of the song.
To break a personal rule of mine, I would genuinely compare this track to what sounds like: an experiment between fusing together the soulful and jazzy vibes of the Breath of Fire III soundtrack and (apparently a “controversial” opinion time) what the “NiGHTS Into Dreams…” OST should have sounded like.
As much as “Borealis Palace” rhymes brings on a strong smooth vibe, anyone familiar with Yoann Turpin’s music knows to prepare themselves for a soul-villed journey through a grove-filled jazz track that’s bound to make you feel good from the inside-out. “Bit’s Carol Groove” is no exception! Every chorus is impressively written, the melody from the top of the head onward is not only memorable but varies enough to where every embellishment of a note and their following solos stand out and give life to every note it plays. From legends such as Dubmood, demoscene veteran and amazingly-cool-person Ultrasyd, all the way to newcomers Please Lose Battle, France has had a variety of incredibly talented artists in the chip scene (and let’s face it, a ton of other music scenes.) That said, I’m incredibly delighted to see Metz’s Yoann Turpin finally contribute a solo track to a ChipWIN project.
Coming in from a completely different, yet equally masterfully crafted perspective, Kartmaze is a stellar example of 80’s synth aesthetic and chipmusic blending together to create an incredibly grand soundscape full of pads, reverb and melodic harmony. “Cyberia” is very much a track that has a heavier march pattern to its rhythm to give a sense of urgency to its accompanying chord progression, tasteful use of arpeggio accompaniment and a haunting but clear melody that sticks with you. Half-way through the song we get to some pizzicato solo elements with the rest of the track resting for the better part of a measure and a half. It was a very clever way to disguise the fact that Kartmaze included a change in both the rhythm and time signature, making what seemed to be a great conceptual reference to “Carol of the Bells.”
‘Pieces of Eight + Azuria Sky’ by Ave Maria (Bach, Gounod)
Of course, with me making reference to Pieces of Eight’s fantastic drum solo on Volume 3, it only fits perfectly that the last track I get to review is one made by the artist from North Carolina that I’ve had the honor of collaborating with on the “Merry Chipmas” compilation curated by MicroCollective (‘lo Sam!)
What we have here, of course, is a cover of “Ave Maria.” While normally I’m the type to shrug most covers, Pieces of Eight has solidly demonstrated in previous covers that he can take a song and accentuate it to bring a larger, more dramatic tone, resulting in some sincerely show-stopping pieces. This is no exception to that rule. Along with covering the track’s melody, bassline, and key, Adam mixed in Enya-esque backing vocals from Azuria Sky, which mix well with the barrage of what sounds like double-single-channel echo and reverb on arpeggios going over the entire scale of each section’s key.
I think, somewhere buried deep down inside all of us, is a tune or a sound font that we associate with a place or a person. The same thing goes with winter, and that’s exactly what Jredd’s ‘Snow Day’ gives us. This track sounds near identical to what I would have expected to hear in a 90’s anime for a snow day episode – if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought this track was lifted right out of Sailor Moon. It’s upbeat, it’s happy, it’s bouncy, but it’s not too saccharine as to make you roll your eyes. It is, the musical quantification of how you might feel on a snow day, walking around town, bubbling inside because you know you get to skip that test you had today. Leave the responsibilities to the adults – jam out to ‘Snow Day’ on your snow day!
‘Fun with Fractional Freezing’ by Spaceman Fantastiques
When I saw the name of this track, ‘Fun With Fractional Freezing,’ I had to look up what that meant. I knew I had heard it before. Turns out, that’s the process you use to make one of my favorite liquors, applejack – it’s used to separate out water in liquor like distillation but so, so much simpler. And it struck me, that name is actually quite appropriate. Fractional freezing, like this song, is a very relaxed process: it’s slow, it’s calm, it’s simple. Also like its namesake, you know you’re getting something done while you’re doing it and this song continuously builds: it slowly getting louder and more complex. And, like any liquory treat, you end up with an end result you really like. This song is exactly that: smooth and chill with new elements appearing until the end result is something you know you’ll enjoy going back to.
I have a firm belief that any track willing to open up with a “WOO” is either going to be amazing or horrible. The good news is, ‘I’m Better Than You’ turns out to be in that first category by a wide margin. You’ve got the super tight percussion Reckahdam is known for thrown in with beats that would seem at home in a Bare Knuckle Streets of Rage game. At the risk of sounding entirely too cheesy, this track puts the “win” in winter – while you have the high, sustained notes and the twinkly sounds from time to time, this track is all about getting down and rocking out. If ‘Snow Day’ was a group of kids walking down the road on a day off, ‘I’m Better Than You’ is the soundtrack to the inevitable snowball fight. The track wraps up with the familiar “gleamy” noise from the Sega – and I can just imagine Roger finishing banging out the final drum solo and then flashing a thumbs up and a smile while it happens.
After such an intense track, you probably need something calm to…cool down with, right? Riiiiight? Good, because ‘Cold’ is exactly what you need. This track is 89% ambiance and mood building – it’s a tune out and chill kind of track (no pun intended…this time). This song is the auditory equivalent of soaking in a Jacuzzi with the jets on low – soothing, with just a little bit going on to keep you from completely detaching from reality. Although I wouldn’t call this song trance, it will definitely put you in a trance. Just don’t listen to this song in an actual snowstorm, because none of us here at ChipWIN want you to space out while listening to the album and get hypothermia and become popsicles. Chiptune responsibly, people.
Reviewing the final 4 tracks of the compilation is R. Morgan Slade aka PixelRecall!
‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ by Russellian
‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ is an assault on your senses. Harnessing a winter storm as a foundation, ‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’ by Russellian shifts and changes in and out of melodies and speeds, delivering a sense of loss and bewilderment, much like one could feel on patrol in an isolated arctic complex. Russellian succeeds in creating a fluid, disconcerting attack on your perceptions and expectations, delivering an intense stream-of-consciousness with ‘Guard Duty on Station Arctemp 323e’.
Delightful, minimalistic, hopeful. ‘Snowflakes Are Falling Stars’ by Matthew Squibb does a lot with very little. ‘Snowflakes Are Falling Stars’ employs what sounds like fewer than 6 channels, capitalizing on the freedom that comes with such a limitation and disregarding the urge to shoehorn unnecessary bells and whistles, resulting in a thoughtful and purposeful little chiptune-track-that-could.
Over a continuous chorus hum, Square Therapy delivers a beautiful rendition of Silent Night with ‘A Very Squarey Xmas’ that takes its time, and builds with true feeling, ultimately abandoning the serene choral sounds for a rockin’ rendition of Gloria in Excelsis Deo to bring the house down. High octane; ‘A Very Squarey Xmas’ by Square Therapy is the holiday jam you didn’t know you needed, and will no longer live without.
‘Fireplace’ by subPixel takes swing-chip to funky places to close out the album, leaning into slides and transitions with such organic timing that you could confuse it for a live set. subPixel takes an entertaining tangent away from the established melody to experiment with unexpected swinging synth alternatives and the welcome jingle jangle of bells that synch the holiday cheer together with ‘Fireplace’s funky swing in a nice chiptune bow.
Some funky chip swing winter fun going on right up in here.
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.