Hey there, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down the finer points of some of the latest releases in the scene, then give you a numerical TL;DR to help you determine if a record is right for you. This month, I have two albums up for review that explore spaces I’ve yet to discuss on the blog. One is a metal album that incorporates vocals via the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software, and has incredibly powerful lyrics. The other is an album from an accomplished pianist who has composed a very stirring concept album using the tracker software in the Pico-8 virtual console. Both albums albums caught me off guard and have a lot to offer their respective audiences. That said, let’s not waste anymore time! Sit back, relax, and plug in those headphones as I take the time to review the latest from 8-Bit Hero and Gruber.
Hey, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots, the album review column in which I break down some of the latest albums the scene has to offer then give a numerical tl;dr to help you determine if they’re worth your time. For this month’s edition, I have two highly intriguing records that are more subdued than anything I’ve reviewed this year. One is a short debut EP from an artist best known for his illustrations on tumblr and Youtube. The other is from a musician that combines traditional instrumentation and stirring vocals to craft somber, heartfelt folk music. Both offer work that’s rather converse for the time of year, as introspection is not often an emotion associated with the summer. This divergence from the norm, however, is what made me check them out, and I think you’ll find yourself wanting to, as well, as I was quite surprised with what I found. Let’s not waste any more time. Sit back, relax, and join me as I take the time to review music from newcomers Rod-Scorpion and Three-Year Day Job.
Sup y’all? =) It’s the middle of the month so it’s time for another Hoodie Highlights interview! Today, I’m sharing a chat with another overly talented good friend that I’ve known since before any of this craziness started. And the dude is leveling up his achievements from gig to gig! Definitely a dude to watch out for in the coming years. Welcome to the blog Jameson Sutton aka Jogurt! Enjoy!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Welcome back to Raw Cuts, ChipWINners! First and foremost, I’d like to take the time to thank you all for stickin with me over the past few months! This is my 20th edition of RCwK and to help celebrate this special occasion, I decided to do something special and interview not one, but two very awesome artists who not only run an incredible netlabel, but have recently put out a stellar compilation that’s a celebration for them as well!
5 years ago, Chema64 founded 56KBPS, Mexico’s premier chiptune netlabel! While his start off was small, with only a handful of artists contributing at first, Chema64 would soon be joined by another awesome artist by the name of Atoms or Faeries! Working together, they not only put out albums that do the chipscene in their neck of the world justice, but they would go on to found and curate a chiptune music festival called Format.DF: a 3 day event that would go on to be the Blipfest of Latin America!
To celebrate, commemorate and immortalize the beauty of that festival and achievements thus far, the guys put out a bombastic 30 track compilation that manages to set itself apart from other chiptune/lofi comps over the past 2 years by being dynamic, diverse, culturally flavorful and easily accessible! From the grimey sounds of Crab Sound’s “Nooby Clairvoyence” to the intermittent wubs of Coleco Music’s “Irak Undo” to the trance/house korg inspired goodness of Anwar Sanchez’s “What’s I O”, there is literally something on this album for everyone. In short, this is one of the few times where an album so lovingly captures lightning in a bottle that the sum of the parts is truly equal to the whole.
But don’t take my word for it; sit back and relax with it as I take the time to talk to Chema64 and Atoms or Faeries about their music, the scene, the album and what comes next for them.
Kuma: So lets get started at the beginning. How’d you guys first get started in chiptune and how did you two meet each other?
Atoms or Faeries (AoF): Would you like to go first Chema?
Chema64: I accidentally came across chipmusic in 2005, I don’t even remember how, but the first chiptune I heard was by Tugboat. I made my first tunes by 2007 and in 2009 I founded 56KBPS Records, because there were no Spanish-speaking presence at the time. I met Marco (Aof) in 2013. He’s only been part of the net label since 2014 but so far he has been a invaluable piece to the label.
Kuma: I think that’s the most brief history of someone’s background in chiptune I’ve ever heard. XD Well done, Chema! What about you, Marco?
AoF: I’ve always loved videogame music. I used to listen to it every day and sometimes I just played a game because of its tunes. I studied Music Production and while I was doing so some of my electronic music teachers told me the music I made sounded like something out of a retro videogame XD I started making bitpop in 2010 under the name Atoms Or Faeries. I released my first EP on May 2013 and I came across Colectivo Chipotle. I contacted them and met Chema in person during the FORMAT DF. We got along really well and sometime later a curator position was available at his label. I jumped at the oportunity and here we are today.
Kuma: Now correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Format DF that shindig Virt performed at down in Mexico? If so, I’m glad it was you guys who organized it, because if this album is any indication, you guys must have kicked ass live!
Chema: No, those were different guys, we brought Danimal Cannon, IAYD and MENEO to a 3 day free music festival, Format.DF. It’s the biggest event of its kind in Latin America so far.
AoF: It was great bro! We played at an abandoned chapel that belonged to the Spanish Inquisition. And it was sooo cool! I wish you were there!
Chema: The ambiance was magical, all brotherly love and all!
Kuma: Oh man that still sounds awesome! like a South American Blipfestival or 8static Fest! I’m so glad the chip love is spreading and that you’re making it happen! Are there any plans to include more overseas artists in the future to the event or for you guys to travel into the US and play up north in NYC or Philly?
Chema: I’m going to do some visuals next week in SXSW, thanks to IAYD. It’s going to be my first show outside of my home country!
AoF: Regarding this year’s FORMAT we’d love to invite international musicians again, of course! We’re still in the early stages of planning, though.
Chema: And talking about bringing people, we are making slow but steady progress for this year’s Format.DF. We already selected some musicians from South America and United States. Last year we wanted to bring someone from Japan but it didnt happen
Kuma: Do you have plans on inviting some of the artists on this compilation? Cause I have to say, a lot of the people on it I’ve not heard of and I feel bad for saying that cause this albums really legit! And if so, are there any in particular you liked working with that contributed to the label that you’d like to see have more exposure?
Chema: Yes, I guess the Chilean artists have a record of exporting excellent music.
They are very professional and from what I know, they need more exposure. Talking about mexican artists, we get some top quality acts, starting with Crab Sound, such a young artist, but one of the best.
AoF: Most of the people who participated in the album will play on this year’s festival. I can’t say I enjoyed working with any one person in particular. Everyone was great in their own way and though there are people who are way more developed than others I enjoyed working with them all. A chip labor of love!
Kuma: I’m glad to hear there’s as much love where you guys are as there is where I am, and I’m glad to hear that love is starting to become more interconnected and international. Going back a bit to interconnect that idea, how did you get your gig to do visuals for SXSW, Chema? And how long have you been doing visuals for? Is it something you took up after getting involved musically or something you always did beforehand?
Chema: I started doing visuals in 2011 because the chiptune shows require it. Being a graphic designer really helps in this department. I absolutely love doing them, it`s like a natural extension of the music and the way I do it is really like playing a live instrument. IAYD was kind enough to invite us to his hometown, and what better time than during SXSW. He also got me the gig, I’m so exited to see Danimal, IAYD again and get to know the Tx Chiptune scene.
AoF: IAYD is such a great guy! He’s very talented and friendly and he parties like there’s no tomorrow! It was difficult to keep up with his partying levels I’ll tell you that XD
AoF: Yes. I have a list that’s longer than Santa’s. I especially love bitpop, so Fantomenk, Dunderpatrullenand Bossfight are high on the list. I really love Omodaka‘s work as well, the way he combines traditional japanese folk music with electronica and chiptune is so original and fantastic! I like to include hints of Mexican folk music on my music so I feel really connected to Omodaka in that sense.
Chema: Yeah I was thinking exactly that, Marco. Also in the graphic department the “Mexican style” is pretty evident. It’s not about nationalistic feelings, but about the style, that you don’t see very often in chiptune/demoscene.
Kuma: Those are some big names, and of those, I’ve only seen Omodaka, but I can def say he alone is worth the cost of a ticket if you guys can get him to come to play for you. That hint of the traditional was something I did notice in your music on your Soundcloud page, AoF, and I thought it was pretty cool to hear something with a somewhat traditional flavor in chip. Conversely, I gushed over how typically chip Chema’s Shatterhand remix was, so I’m glad I got hear a bit of both from you guys. That being said, was diversity something you were def going for when you put the compilation together, or did you have other feelings/thoughts in mind when you put it together?
Chema: I knew from the start, with this many artists, it was going to be a mess in form and style. The only criteria for this albums was: “Let’s invite our friends that make the most awesome music in the area”. I guess quality was the definitive criteria. I can finally be confident that the scene in this part of the world really matured in the last couple of years
AoF: Thanks Adam! And yeah, the music from our friends is so diverse there was no way we could’ve limited it in form or style if we wanted to remain true to what FORMAT was about. Yep, I concur with Chema. Quality was the main criteria in this case.
Kuma: It def shows. Every song on the album is a lot of fun to listen to, and even some of the songs that are in styles I generally don’t listen to are still rather enjoyable. The whole compilation is just dynamic and it’s something I love and want to hear more of in the future from every net label that puts out collections like this. That being said, once again, I’d like to thank you guys for your time. Is there anything you two would like to say in closing before we wrap this up?
AoF: I personally enjoyed working on this compilation very much. It was great to experience such diversity and growth from our friends at the scene.
Chema: I would say we still have a long road ahead of us and that this is only the beginning. I also wanna thank you and Brandon for the interview! It means a lot!
AoF: Thanks so much for having us Adam! It really means a lot to us. We’ve been struggling to get a footing on the international scene and I feel like we’re finally making it happen! Chip love for everyone! Also, have you heard the phrase “Chido-Chip”, Adam?
Kuma: No, I can’t say I have.
AoF: Chido is a slang word that is very similar to “cool”. So Chido-Chip means something like Cool Chip and it carries all the energy and enthusiasm we feel for chipmusic. I feel it represents really well the feeling and state of the Mexican scene.
Kuma: Nice man! Chido…I’ma have to remember that. I’ll def spread the Chido-Chip love and vibes here, man! Thanks again to you both for the interview!
Thanks for tuning and keeping up with us on the blog, and especially for sticking with my derpy butt for 20 issues of Raw Cuts! It’s been a truly fantastic ride and i can’t wait for what the future brings! That being said, don’t forget to check out 56KBPS as well as Chema64 and Atoms or Faeries individual work! And if you’re at SXSW, check out the chiptune and vgm showcases this week for a chance to meet Chema as well as some of the other awesome artists from across the world who are performing there! ‘Til next time!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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,
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.
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!