ChipWIN Comps Historical Context: Year Two
Time for part two of this rambly, nostalgic blurb on ChipWIN comps “historical context”. If you missed the first entry, go read that
and then come back and continue on here after the break.
Hey there, ChipWINners! The name Twistboy might ring a bell if you recall his track from Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 2, ‘Springs‘. You may also know that his last official release was the album ‘Applesauce‘ in late 2013. Coming back with a more polished sound than ever, Twistboy’s put out his latest EP, ‘Kittens in Space’, as the premier release for a brand new chipmusic netlabel, ‘Tracked‘. Let’s see just what Twistboy’s been up to since 2013!
Hey ChipWINners! Welcome back to Raw Cuts! This time around, I took the time to chat with an artist I wasn’t really familiar with until rather recently, but in preparing for this sit down, I realized what a n00b I was for being ignorant of him til now! Combining 15+ years of experience, enthusiasm and dedication to his craft, this eclectic composer has not only blown my mind, but has recently released a new album which can easily be considered one of the best chip albums of the year! But don’t take my word for it! Sit down and join me as I take the time to get to know Paul Parr, the man also known as Petriform!
Kuma: First and foremost I’d like to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview! I know it’s early in the day for you, but it means a lot having you here with me.
Petriform: Thank you! It’s a pleasure speaking with you.
Kuma: So to start things off, I’d like to know how things started with you. When did your musical journey begin and what prompted you to take to composing and producing?
Petriform: Well, for as long as I can remember, my father was a solo performing musician; a guitarist. He played lots of covers, and must have decided at some point that he couldn’t cover everything he wanted with just a guitar, so he was an early adopter of MIDI synthesizers and sequencers – particularly ones that could accurately emulate real instruments. He would edit MIDI files to create backing tracks for himself, which he would then play back through a particularly good-sounding synthesizer for his live sets. That’s how I first got into composing – with a MIDI keyboard, a synthesizer, and some early version of the Cakewalk DAW. Just messing around with that stuff. I never took it seriously until the mid-2000s, when a friend got me way, way into Dance Dance Revolution, and, having heard about StepMania, the open-source counterpart in which one can add their own songs, I was driven pretty heavily forward to make my own songs for that purpose. That’s when I really started to step up and produce.
Kuma: Oh wow! So you’ve been at this for a while! But I notice you mentioned that you really didn’t take it seriously for a while. Does that mean you’re not a formally trained musician? Was music just something you picked up from watching your dad perform and produce over the years or did you actually take the time to take formal lessons with him or another teacher?
Petriform: I’m not formally trained. I picked up my very first composition and production habits from my dad’s setup, but I’m self-taught in most regards, having picked up things by listening closely to the music I like, and kind of attempting to emulate the theory that makes those songs so good in production after production. I don’t know much about formal music theory, and I can’t read music. I’ve always picked up instruments by ear, though I’m not particularly good at any of them. I think what it comes down to is a whole lot of listening and experimenting over the years. It builds up.
Kuma: I would definitely say it has! Having listened to the back catalog of your music available on Bandcamp, I can honestly say you’re one of the most diverse musicians I’ve interviewed on Raw Cuts! It’s that diversity I want focus on now in particular as I’ve noticed that between your solo work and your work with dtrx, your style changes a lot. Tell me what first brought dtrx together and how much of dtrx’s music is your input? Whats your creative process like with them vs when you’re working solo?
Petriform: All of dtrx is myself, actually. That’s a holdover from the years when I would use different aliases to release different genres and styles of music, kind of as a way to avoid people getting hyped for a release from me and having the result be completely different music than they’d expected. “dtrx” was always just kind of a placeholder signature, or label, to signify that whatever was released therein, I was ultimately behind. The multiple aliases deal is a very DDR thing, so I definitely picked it up from there. I think it was a good thing at the time, to diversify the styles of my projects so that I could explore them fully without having to meet anyone’s expectations. But recently I’ve felt it more appropriate to consolidate down to simply Petriform; the “dtrx” is pretty much only still there as a legacy sort of thing. It was great for me when I was experimenting with a ton of diverse projects, but I’ve been slowly phasing it out. I hope all of that makes sense!
Kuma: You dirty SOB, you pulled a fucking Peczynski on me!
Petriform: This is the part where I reveal myself to be Vince McMahon. “IT WAS ME, AUSTIN! IT WAS ME ALL ALONG!”
Petriform: But yeah, that whole gimmick was generally a tool to give me more space to experiment musically.
Kuma: Well, while I’m still hurt by this betrayal, I’ll attempt to gather my composure and continue this interview.
Kuma: That being said, I find it funny that you felt the need to live up to your following so much that you felt the need to create aliases just for freedom of expression. I wasn’t nearly as hardcore into the ddr scene as some of my friends were, but was that really a necessity now that you look back on it? Did you really feel you’d let people if you went from like…drum and bass to footwork?
Petriform: A necessity? Maybe not. From drum and bass to footwork, definitely not. But I’ve done some pretty off-the-wall stuff like harsh noise, drone, and speedcore before, stuff that isn’t actively featured on the front page of my website and whatnot, where there’s a real night and day difference that I feel a lot of people wouldn’t really be down with. I think it gave me more peace of mind than anything, but another component to it, and perhaps this one is more reasonable, was that I was still making songs for StepMania, where the whole DDR alias diversification really starts to become immediately relevant. Many of my friends who I met through DDR or StepMania who have started composing music have done or still do the alias thing, too. I still think it’s helpful for composers and producers who don’t really have a grip on their style yet, and want to try new things.
Kuma: That’s a fair enough answer. My sadness is less profound now. That being said, your work has become much more streamlined over the past 2 or 3 years, and in particular I noticed this with the release of ‘Brown Plaid‘.
That’s not to say you don’t still diversify even within that album, but it flows much more cohesively than some of your previous work. What was your creative process like on that album and how did it differ from work you had previously done?
Petriform: ‘Brown Plaid’ is an odd one for me because I had been working on it on and off for the better part of three years, which is far longer than the work period of any other album I’ve released. In years past, I would cap off my albums with the more moody stuff that you hear reflected in ‘Brown Plaid’, but after my album ‘Exposition‘ in 2010, I stopped, because I wanted to have an album full of that kind of stuff, and I wanted it to be special. So I would write songs for it on the side in tandem with the other projects I was working on – The Cross Section’ EPs, ‘Relentless Eventful‘, and even most of my newest, ‘Veneer‘. I counted – by the time it was finally plausible for me to form ‘Brown Plaid’ cohesively, I had over 40 works-in-progress that I was considering for it. I whittled that down to the fifteen tracks I though were best suited to each other and made the most cohesive album, and that’s what got released. I haven’t had the luxury of doing that with my other albums, so its cohesion probably is far smoother. With regard to my older work, pre-2010, I was still making StepMania songs and throwing them together into albums. Cohesion in my work didn’t really exist until I was making it for myself and not as what essentially amounted to game design.
Kuma: The amount of time and focus you put into BP really shows and I’m glad you took the time to make it. For as much as any of us like a scene or feel the need to give back to it, being able to create for ourselves is just as important and I’m glad you found the time to do so. I have to say though, whittling down from 40 tracks down to 15 is quite impressive. I haven’t heard anything like that since I last interviewed SSD engage and S.P.R.Y. said that he had some 50-odd mostly complete songs laying around he still had yet to finish and release.
That being said, since you brought up the topic of your newest album, lets discuss that, shall we? By the time this interview is published, the album will have been made public, but I’ve had the pleasure of listening to it early, and I have to say, and I mean this without intent of kissing ass or buttering you up, but ‘Veneer’, along with ‘Brown Plaid’, has cemented you as one of my fave musicians in the scene. Tell me, what into making ‘Veneer’ and what did you want to get out of the experience of bringing it to fruition?
Petriform: Thank you! I created ‘Veneer’ because, since very early 2010, I hadn’t put out a full-length chiptune album – only EPs, most notably ‘Cross Section‘ and its follow-up, ‘Cross Section Part II‘. With those I was testing the waters of combining the backbone of drum and bass music with predominant chiptune leads and accompaniment – something that had certainly been done before, but I hadn’t seen a lot of personally. That, I think, might be my favorite music to make, and it turns out a lot of people liked hearing it! I knew immediately that I wanted to bring that concept to a full-length release, and the ‘Cross Section’ EPs laid down the framework for it. That desire strengthened considerably when I became close to the chiptune scene in and around the San Francisco Bay Area and started playing shows, something I hadn’t done for a few years, and under different names.
The combination of releases I’d put out recently and the experiences I’ve had thus far in that scene made ‘Veneer’ logically the next thing that I needed to make happen, and it’s happening. In creating it, I hope to have strengthened my skills in chiptune tracking, which I’m always working on improving, and concept album authorship, which I kind of halfheartedly shot for. But most importantly, I want to have created something that others can enjoy and share. I hope ‘Veneer’ fulfills that for some people.
Kuma: I definitely feel you have, and I know this will be one of those albums I share with people when I intro them to the chiptune. That being said, you mentioned performances, and you have a very big one coming up very soon, don’t you? Why don’t you tell us about Rockage 3.0 and how you got involved in this amazing follow up to Frequency 3.0!
Petriform: Yes! I’m extremely excited to participate in Rockage 3.0, and to experience it in general. Rockage 2.0 last year was probably the most fun weekend I had for all of that year, and it was also my first real exposure to the chiptune scene in my area. Previously I had simply thought that nothing was going on in local chiptune outside of San Francisco, but I was wrong – I just wasn’t looking hard enough. And, of course, I wanted in on it. So, on the last day of Rockage 2.0, I spoke with maybe three or four people and gave them a sampler of some of my chiptune material – one of those people being Eric Fanali, who runs Rockage and puts on chiptune shows, among many other shows, in and around San Jose, and my involvement in the local scene kind of snowballed from there.
What I can tell you about Rockage 3.0 is that the lineup is amazing; even better than last year. I’m so very excited to be playing the same event as many of my friends and many chiptune and VGM musicians that I have a ton of respect for. And on top of that, the plethora of free play arcade games and tournaments for prizes (if you’re going, readers, fight me at Hydro Thunder) is staggering – the fun never ends! It’s unmissable. Rockage 3.0 is at San Jose State University from February 7th to the 9th, and I hope to see you all there!
Kuma: Oh man that sounds like MAGFest all over again! I’m super upset I can’t make it and mad jelly of my friends who are going! That aside, is there anyone you’re sharing the stage with you’re especially looking forward to seeing perform? Slime Girls? Danimal Cannon? Space Town Savior? Who are you most looking forward to partying with?
Petriform: I try to make it out to see the local acts as often as I can – Slime Girls, crashfaster, Matthew Joseph Payne, Together We Are Robots, Super Soul Bros., the list goes on. Seeing Space Boyfriend, Mega Ran, and Danimal Cannon is always fun when they roll through town. Bit Brigade kicks ass. I’ve never seen The Megas before, so I’m looking forward to that, too! Gnarboots is a fucking experience. I love seeing my friends in Curious Quail and Cartoon Violence. Sorry that I’m practically going through the whole damn lineup, but it really IS stacked – it’ll probably be the best I’ve ever attended. It’s a party, for sure.
Kuma: Definitely sounds like it, and I know my friends who are attending definitely can’t wait to get out there and get stupid with you. That being said, I’d once again like to thank you for taking the time to sit down for this interview. Is there anything you’d like to say in closing–shout outs, promotions, thank yous–before we wrap things up?
Petriform: Well, I’d like to thank you for having me, and ChipWIN in general for being so damn awesome! Readers, I hope you enjoy my new album, ‘Veneer’, and come out to Rockage 3.0! Let’s party!
That wraps it up for this edition of Raw Cuts. Don’t forget to follow Petriform on your fave form of social media, as well as checking out his music, including his newest release, ‘Veneer’, and my personal favorite,’Brown Plaid’, both of which you can listen to below! Last but not least, if you are in the San Jose Area next weekend, do yourself a favor and get your ass to Rockage 3.0! It is a party that is sure to impress! Peace!
Greetings and salutations, chip brethren! While you’re munching on some cake cookies, why not sit down and listen to the penultimate group of ChipWIN Volume 2 tracks?
Track #42: Guantanamo-A-Go-Go by National Broadcast Network
I’m quite thankful to ChipWIN for introducing me to National Broadcast Network, because hot damn! This song is. Just. So. RAD! It has all the punchy glory of oldschool punk mixed with chiptunes, and as the Internet says, it has taken away my ability to even. I cannot even. When I say this song leaves me speechless, it isn’t just some sort of trite cliché – it’s just something you need to experience and angrily bop your head to, possibly while punching someone. Also, very good blend of traditional instruments and chiptunes – some acts don’t pull that off well, but NBN absolutely does.
Track #43: Ascension by Viciosul SID
‘Ascension’ is an excellent follow-up to the last song – a very calming wind-down, if you will, but with enough movement in the drums to keep you interested. As difficult as it is to place things into the myriad subgenres of electronica, I’d say this one leans a little into trip-hop. (Which is great! That genre doesn’t get enough love.) If it were a little slower and had a bit more reverb, I’d say it would be reminiscent of an ice cave theme in a videogame (like Donkey Kong Country 2), but as it stands it maintains enough speed and brightness to make one think skyward. Ascension is actually a perfect name for this song, because with the slow and bright choral-sounding chords under the melody, it certainly sounds like the perfect theme music for someone ascending to Heaven, or maybe just gaining UNLIMITED POWER – but in a calm way, not with the whole lightning-ing your apprentice way. This choral effect is really underused these days – it makes me happy when artists use multiple programs to compose their tracks so they can do cool stuff like this.
Track #44: Shadow Mainframe by The Syntax Sin Tax
Maybe it’s just because of the word Mainframe in the title, but ‘Shadow Mainframe’ immediately sets my mind in the area of over the top hacker movies. Maybe that’s just me though – but it certainly sounds like music appropriate to be played only in epic circumstances (that is, the Ancient Greek sense of the word epic, not in the Internet circa 2010 sense). It has that nice fat sound you get when people go for the really punchy stuff in LSDJ. It reminds me of all the best parts of the Castlevania soundtrack because of how it builds over time to get you focused and pumped for the level at hand.While some tracks you listen to and you can tell they’re meant to be enjoyed sitting at home (and if you’re Hoodie, drinking summa dat Cherry Wheat!), this track has the ability to draw you in. It’s a meant-to-be-heard-live track – one where you can sway and headbob with other sweaty nerds in a cramped room, which is obviously how all of us like to experience live shows.
Track #45: Journey Through Galaxies by DjjD
If I had to describe ‘Journey Through Galaxies’ in one word, it would be “swag.” If I had to do it in two, it would be “hella swag.” It definitely does all the things it needs to to make me think of space, via big airy chords and using the heavily electronic sounds we’ve established as being “stereotypically spacey sounds” over the past thirty to forty years of electronic music. The marimba in the beginning was certainly an interesting choice, but it totally got me into the song. And what’s more, though, is that it’s all done in FL Studio with a bunch of different VSTs. Like I mentioned with ‘Ascension,’ when an artist branches out of just using one program and one sound to make a song, the result is (almost always) better, or at the very least more robust. It’s like using one section of the band for a piece of music – yeah, sure, people love the brass section, but when you’ve got brass and woodwinds and strings and percussion, then you’re cooking! I feel the same about chiptunes – one voice, be it that of the 2A03 or the VRC6 or whatever, will sound less robust than multiple voices and effects acting in tandem.
Track #46: Under The Moon by Ap0c
Wrapping up this block, we’ve got ‘Under The Moon’ – and what a note to end on. This song makes me think of what if someone took Kirby and Megaman (read: the best soundtracks), shook them up, strained them out and got this. The fact that this song can juggle both having a coherent melody and having crazy breakdowns is so sweet – it’s a song that keeps you guessing. Also, I commend Ap0c on his use of drums, because making convincing drums in Famitracker isn’t horribly easy until you get the hang of it, so the fact that he pulls it off flawlessly is a great credit to his skill.
And that’s it for this time! We’ve only one more of these left, and then the Volume 2 reviews are done! But hey, with that mission accomplished we’ll have empty room in the schedule for you to meet all the wonderful new writers we’ve been picking up lately! Not to mention new content every M-W-F (plus bonus stuff on the off days), so don’t split just because these are done! HYPE TRAIN JUST KEEPS ON CHUGGIN’!
Until next time, kids.
Greetings all! It’s Chip Mom’s turn to introduce your ears to five more delicious musical morsels cooked up for you by the artists of Chiptunes = WIN: Volume 2!
Track #32: NEStonic by Decktonic
With Decktonic’s entry your ears are immediately delighted with tribal beats melded with the bevy of futuristic sounds that are Decktonic’s signature sound. While these two textures may seem mutually exclusive, the artist blends them masterfully. If your booty isn’t moving by the 45 second mark, you’re doing it wrong! Now, as a chiptune newb I can’t regale you with an in-depth analysis of the techniques used to create this composition. What I can tell you, however, is this: If Ayla and Robo got together and had a dance party at the End of Time, it would sound – appropriately – like ‘NEStonic’.
Track #33: Take a Look by The Flight Away
With that in mind, if you think back longingly to a time when music was made up of sharp drums, synth-laced keys, reverbed vocals, and puppies, then this song is right up your alley… and mine! In this song, The Flight Away has managed to capture the spirit of the 80s with a chiptune twist. Keeping with skrunchie-laden tradition, ‘Take a Look’ melds melancholy content with upbeat music ultimately producing a track that is joyful, endearing, and sinfully sing-alongable.
Track #34: Reasons by Dire Hit
And now for something completely different: Dire Hit’s ‘Reasons’. From the first moment of the track, the layering and panning of different elements is engrossing. While the sexy grooves and dirty beats would beg anyone to get on the dance floor, for me it’s the hook. Something about that melodic hint crawls into your ears, down into your gut, and lands in your hips. Before you know it, you’ve grabbed yourself a partner and are riding the electric wave out into the universe.
Track #35: By the Bit by Ayoshutduff
Ayoshutduff’s entry to the compilation is a cool respite from some of the more blistering dance tracks of Volume 2. When I first heard ‘By the Bit’, I thought of an overnight trip I spent in a cave when I was young. The smooth, rhythmic patterns of this song, punctuated with the heartbeat like thump of the bass, carries with it the same sense of anxiety and wonder I felt while I was there. It is almost as if I’ve become lost in the depths of that deep cave, and, as the layers of the song change, I am discovering new mysteries around every corner. But will I ever find my way back?
Track #36: The Longest Distance by Talkboy Arcade
If ‘By the Bit’ conveys the depth of a cave, then Talkboy Arcade’s ‘The Longest Distance’ is the emergence from that cave into the bright light of victory. The high energy and bright sounds make you want to dance with wild abandon. Unlike some of the compilation’s dance-y tracks, this song is not sexy, but celebratory. The feeling it evokes is indicative of the carefree joy of a time when life was simple, the good guys beat the bad guys, the Cheerios were honey-nutty, and Mr. Rogers was your favorite neighbor. Listen to it whenever you need lift!
Thank you all for your kind attention. Each of these artists worked their butts off to give you their best, and they deserve it! Until next time…