Hello dear readers! I’m Pixel Syndrome, and if you love anthropomorphised Game Boys, rainbows and cool characters with green hair, then you may already know me from my colorful entries to the ‘Chiptunes WIN: Volume 7’ alternative covers!
I’m stoked to introduce my monthly international artist focused column titled The Overworld. Of course, being a fan of classic style NES games like Adventure Island II and Legend of Zelda, when trying to find a suitable name I could not shake the concept that sometimes when playing, we cannot see the bigger picture, and so it’s helpful to see the interconnection of all levels and locations of a videogame that’s an overworld map. Hopefully this international column will help everyone discover hidden areas in places we normally wouldn’t even think about; hidden locations and bonus levels of the world of Chiptune music as we know it.
This Chiptune auteur was born in the cold lands of Trelew (Rawson department of the Chubut Province), in southern Argentina. Growing up in this small, desertic climate city, with lots of wind, where the ocean dominates the horizon, and southern winds cause sudestadas (a.k.a. Intense wind storms that may bring heavy rain) has definitely left an imprint on her art.
Going back and forth from Rawson to other provinces, and then to Chile and back again in her childhood years since her father is a Basketball Teacher, she started realizing that in the small town of Rawson, there were only three notable career choices: either you were a fisherman, a cop or a public servant.
As some may say, she found herself in the eye of a hurricane in more than one occasion, when her journey into the lonely community of southern punks in her teenage years brought her some sense of belonging, solidified when she formed her own all female punk band when she was 15 years old, called “Mokientas”(Snotty Girls), motivated by the lonely feeling of being the only girl active on the local scene. She recalls that era fondly, even though she admits she wasn’t truly a great singer, and mostly screamed in the shows and went over to the spectators tables to rattle things up (a feeling shared by modern experiences such as what you might witness in current times by going to the british grunge band LOOM’s shows (where the main singer jumps off stage and starts walking all over the mosh pit giving the audience his infamous mad dog’s stares).
She started to realize the power of performance, bringing anarchy to the mix and breaking the small town’s traditionalist principles. She found the uncomfortable feeling that the surprised audience experienced motivational, because making them see the things her way was taking a stance, albeit political and controversial, that a girl could rock, and that she existed far beyond the designated small town roles. But she didn’t stop there, she moved over to General Roca, a city in the province of Rio Negro, and for a year studied acting and started her own punk fanzine.
Afterwards, she moved to Buenos Aires and survived harsh times, with a mixture of living on the streets and crashing on friends couches, working as a street juggler, she started playing guitar and created a noise band called Mielcitas Trash Me (Little Honeys Trash Me) where improv and spastic movements now formed a crucial part of their live performances. After going through some other projects that involved circuit bending and synthesizers, namely Aureola Eléctrica (Electric Aureola), Katrinas Da Triangla and Gelatina Club (Gelatin Club), she realized that she needed a backup personal project that she started developing on 2009, which is currently her main one, the noise infused RRayen, a full on chipmusic endeavor, which was a natural step for her after the era of circuit bending experiments.
Everybody talks about Chiptune like a consolidated genre, but for you, personally, what is Chiptune and what is the first image that comes to your head when you think about Chiptune?
When I think about Chiptune, I think about integrated chips, still associated with the hardware aspect of things, even though what I do is actually programming with LSDJ. Thus the first thing that comes to my mind is integrated chips and the Game Boy, which is my instrument of choice. I don’t like to think that Chiptune is a consolidated genre because I really care about the message of my songs, a stance of the recycling culture against planned obsolescence, and from having a personal artistic consciousness when producing them, without following genre conventions.
What is your earliest memory of Chiptune music?
It is fiddling with a Casio keyboard that my grandfather gifted me on the brief period where my family lived in Chile. My grandfather was an accordionist and he teached me how to play, and whether I wanted it or not, that keyboard had a very vintage and chippy sound which was almost 8-bit. Another early memory of mine is not having any money to purchase a Game Boy as a kid, since that’s not the latin american reality that we lived in. At that time, my father gifted me a Game Boy-style handheld bootleg made in China, that had a chinese girl as a protagonist, and as a result, that was one of the first chipmusic soundtracks I ever listened to.
What are your views regarding the local Chiptune scene in Argentina?
I think we were a very small group at first, when I got to the scene the BlipBlop chiptune artists collective had been formed and we were just a handful of artists, one of them was my boyfriend at the time, and I started playing at the Blip Blop parties we organized, and as the years progressed I was mostly the only girl playing chiptune, I really love them but I think their group is somewhat of a social clique, very closed up. I felt that what I was doing was something very different to what they were proposing, not only musically, but also the fact that I wanted to go deeper regarding meaning, delving into other aspects other than just creating pleasing music that you can dance to.
Did you felt you had to create your own spaces or the road was already paved by other artists that came before you?
It was totally necessary to create new spaces, to open the playfield for women and dissidents that even though everything’s ok with everyone else, it was very hard to be something more than just a supporting act. After splitting from BlipBlop, and I felt the need to generate new spaces for my music where I could feel comfortable playing as RRayen, and so I created the women’s group “Feminoise” in March of 2017, a group where everyone can feel safe, and feel that nobody is judging you or measuring you for what you know, but a group that you can feel that you have real peers. Within Feminoise, women that started doing 8 bit style music appeared out of the blue, like Sofía Zeta, Luz Casares (Kion) and Dominique Pelletier (Rainbow Trash), and all of a sudden we started growing in numbers, which is something I will always be supportive of, and makes me very happy.
What drives you as an artist to compose Chipmusic?
Having that special connection with the audience and making the audience a part of the performance itself is what motivates and drives me to push forward. I also feel a strong motivation comes from the artivism part of music, as in playing for a cause, and not for the music itself. All of that plus the hugs I get from my friends afterwards!
Do you feel that you carry any aspect of nostalgia when creating Chiptune music?
No, there is something about that feeling of nostalgia that definitely exists for people who have lived that golden age of video games, but that is a reality that doesn’t exist in middle or lower class’ Latin America. The nostalgic aspect of it is also very male centric, which is somewhat of a downer because I don’t feel it’s constructive to compose chipmusic from that common place, since even though it’s something that’s implicit and goes through all the aspects of chiptune, I don’t identify with that nostalgia. I like to deconstruct it and to be able to think that Chiptune has a lot more to do with the DIY scene, and so what I lean upon is not trying to make music that’s similar to the video game music of that time, but to try to experiment and fiddle around with other ideas, to try to nurture myself from other places than the past, and at the same time to understand that we are currently in 2019, and even though the years have passed by and we still use the same consoles, the music has to represent the current times.
How do you explain the concept of Chipmusic to the people who are not on the scene?
I think it’s what I call the demeaning attitude to women that makes a bit hard for everyone on the scene to understand simple things such as: that I know how to plug things to the console, that I know exactly how I want to sound, to be allowed to do my own equalization, and that if I ask them to up the bass, even if they believe that it doesn’t sound well, that’s the sound I want. This continuous struggle with sound engineers, in which they are always evaluating your skills and adore to ask you very technical questions in shows to measure you up, and even though if you are knowledgeable and can answer them, this is a huge joke since men aren’t usually under the same scrutiny. Another barrier is to be able to get paid for gigs, for people to understand that it’s real work and that you should get paid to at least cover your travel expenses and that you have to be firm and demand to be paid accordingly. People usually believe that because you use a Game Boy or modified toys and you are not playing with known expensive gear you don’t have the same value and therefore these prejudices appear.
The way I feel anyone can work around this is to: either do the sound engineering part yourself, bring your own sound engineer, train more women to work with sound and do an internally conscious work to value yourself, and avoid feeling less worthy with all this pressure that appears in the venues where you might have to play by being empowered to be able to charge what you deserve because of the work you do.
How do you promote and nurture your local Chipmusic scene in Argentina?
I do this through the projects of Feminoise Argentina, this artist collective that sets out to gather people who are in the fringe of the art world and support them, creating a safe space for women and non binary individuals that are starting out. From that place we try to generate opportunities for the artists to get paid, even a minimum fee, and to also help them develop their own sound, collaborate with others and get their projects on the spotlight. To remove the personal ego out of the equation is a personal philosophy I have against discrimination and cliques, and I like to share knowledge with them instead of keeping it all to myself.
What is your preferred way to compose Chipmusic?
I use a Game Boy model DMG-01 and LSDJ as my preferred tracker.
What is your favorite place to compose Chipmusic?
I generally write my songs while I travel since I can be a bit more in touch with nature, but I also like to hear a lot of the sounds of different cities. I get inspired by everyday things, but at the same time I like to listen closely to noises and sounds within the spaces where I move in, and doing a sort of thorough and deep listening to ambient sounds. So you could say that my favourite place to compose Chipmusic could be, for instance, commuting on a bus.
Where do you go to spark ideas for new music?
I get together with my group of friends and start improvising, generating new things to explore and rediscover music not only from RRayen, my project, but by sharing my music and playing with others, new perspectives start to take form from their echoes. One starts mutating phrases and adapts to what the other does, and it makes us do things that take us to places, musically, that by playing alone we wouldn’t even think of going.
Do you think Chiptune is slowly making its way into mainstream, or do you feel that this is something opposite to the essence of Chipmusic?
Within the Chiptune scene we can find everything. There is something that has to be taken in consideration, that Chiptune music is “in” right now and it had a lot of time in the spotlight due to the retrogaming trends, but I think that it depends on each artist and of what’s behind every creative act. If there isn’t something behind that act, it shows. However, it’s hard to tag something as “mainstream”. Is it doing well with your music being “mainstream”? I think that it’s important to find value in the things you produce and to be able to make a living out of what you like, but at the same time to be conscious of what is your stance on chipmusic. Going mainstream can be one of the paths that it can take, but if the essence of the Chiptune scene [as a collaborative and innovative place] is kept as it is, I think it can be a cool type of “mainstream”.
What is it that you don’t like about the local Chiptune scene?
I feel like it’s an exclusive scene, dominated by males and a single group, that it’s the same artists that play time and time again, repetitively, that the available spaces are always given to those artists who form the same social clique, where the artists from europe or other parts of the world are given more value than latin americans in their own continent. From my personal perspective, I think latin america has a lot more creative potential, since we nurture ourselves from having to do a lot with less resources, and that makes music have a different, deeper perspective.
The fact that we as a small group of artists that started Chiptune in Argentina had the chance to get a Game Boy, and add things like backlights, cartridges and custom sound mods is something not to be taken lightly, because you have to order everything from other countries, something very expensive when you are in Latin America, and with retrogaming being a trend, these older consoles are highly priced now in the local market. Those facts make me feel that I have a responsibility to share my knowledge with people who might not have the economical means to get all the gear to start right away, or needs help understanding how to program with trackers.
I understand that people can think differently but I hate when artists and people are measured through the places where they are from instead of their body of work and art itself. I believe in promoting equality and a non-competitive atmosphere where we can deconstruct prejudice. We should enjoy making music from outside of our need for recognition, as well.
What do you feel it’s the future of Chiptune music?
I always thought that the music I am producing is not for this generation, that it is for future generations. This chip sounds are everywhere in our culture, and it’s something that is always evolving, and it’s a bit like musical miscegenation, it’s important for it to be open and for it to mix with other things, and specially for everyone to get to know its technological and musical language and to be able to experiment with it. If I had to think of an ideal future, it would be: to write music as an interpretation of our life experience, for the scene to be inclusive, and to have it available to everyone around the world that wants to do produce.
Have you ever taken your Chipmusic on tour?
Yes, it was very tough but it was amazing! The most important tour I had so far was in 2016, when I played on Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I am currently on my first tour of 2019, in Madrid (Spain), and then I have some more dates on europe, namely on France and Italy. I’m looking to get some more dates confirmed for europe before I go back to Argentina.
What is your essential live gear?
The truth is that I could just play with a Game Boy and an RCA cable and that would be fine, but I also like to add a delay and loop pedal to fill up the spaces between songs. I sometimes spice up a live set by adding some home made synths, but the essential live gear is the Game Boy itself, and a stereo out because my songs have a lot of panning carefully added to them.
Do you use social media?
I use Instagram and Facebook a lot, sometimes doing live streams. I also use Bandcamp, where I have my records, and I also have a Youtube account where I post my official videos and live show recordings.
Each month, this column will end with the featured artist’s map of influences, that can show anything, from a special place, people who inspire them, movies, records, heroes, etc., as a way of sharing a piece of their world with you.
I’m already looking forward to next month’s journey, which will take us to the distant lands of Fukuoka, Japan, to talk with the chiptune artist Synnoske Matsumi, a.k.a. Breezesquad. Care to travel with me?
RRayen’s Overworld Map
- Alejandra Pizarnik
- Shark Teeth
- Evelyn Glennie
- Small Seashells
- Sea Animals (Commerson’s dolphin, Sea Urchins, Dolphins, Crabs)
- Amanda Palmer
- Nancy Spungen
- Kim Gordon
- Villarino (Buenos Aires province)