This Month in The Overworld: Uctumi

- Posted November 21st, 2019 by

Always witty and to the point, this month’s The Overworld guest once said about hardware limitations “Challenge is the fuel that turns the cogs of creativity”.

Uctumi playing live.
Uctumi playing live.

Born in Buenos Aires in the year 1981, Uctumi is an Argentinian musician that began composing tracker music in 1996. Very active in the current local demoscene, he shares his views of Chiptune music and innovation in general in this interview.

Everybody talks about Chiptune like a consolidated style, but for you, personally, what is Chiptune and what is the first image that comes to your head when you think about Chiptune?

Chiptune is for me a way of creating electronic music with minimal resources. This means few voices, simple waveforms, low bitrate, small samples, noise, etc.

It’s kind of a liberation in a way, just strip away all the fancy stuff and focus on the important.

It’s embracing raw sound as a form of art much like a graphic artist would embrace blocky pixels or rough sketches. It’s also got political implications because it’s a way of saying no to consumerism and the need to constantly own the latest technology or follow the latest trends.

How was it that you found out about the existence of Chiptune?

The first time I got in touch with chiptune music was when I used to download Amiga modules from the BBS’s back in the 90’s. There were these “chiptune sounding” .mod files that mentioned the word “chiptune” in the sample name data, a place usually used for the description and credits. So I really thought at the time that “chiptune” was an Amiga music thing and that it meant a music module that used small samples.

I think that in the 90’s nobody talked about NES or C64 music as “Chiptune”, let along gameboy music, which wasn’t even considered to be anything of value save for a few visionaries. And regretfully I have to admit that I wasn’t among them, but I did enjoy what I considered Chiptune music back then.

What was it that made you decide that you wanted to get involved with the creation of Chiptune music?

Back in the mid 90’s I just wanted to compose computer music. Using trackers was the only way I was able to put it into practice for many reasons.

I didn’t need any expensive equipment like synthesizers or samplers, I didn’t even own a soundcard at first. I just modded the buzzer connector of my PC into a miniplug output so I could plug in some big speakers. I was amazed that I could just borrow a couple of samples and compose whatever I wanted, with the computer I already had.

Also Amiga/PC modules sounded the same no matter where you played them because they had the samples inside of them and you could just type in precise hexadecimal parameters for effects, volume, etc.

The first tracker I “fell in love” with was Fasttracker 2, I still think it has a gorgeous interface even today. I guess it spoiled me because I composed almost exclusively in .XM format until 2002-2003. Only after 2015 I took on Commodore 64 composing which is something I always wanted to try, and now I can say I “fell in love” again with the C64.

Glitchy photo of Uctumi.
Glitchy photo of Uctumi by PH Victor González IV.

As an active participant of the Argentinian Demoscene, how do you feel that Chiptune music is perceived within the local community?

I think we have just a small local community that’s really interested in Chiptune in the “traditional way”, which means they would consider attending a Chiptune event as a regular night out or buying a Chiptune album. If we broaden it to people that are “curious” or would casually listen to Chiptune music the audience increases considerably.

But you need something to “grab their attention”, because unfortunately they’ll not go for Chiptune just for the sake of it. For example we released a couple of Chiptune disks for Commodore 64 with covers of popular argentine music and these have thousands of argentine views and many comments on Youtube and Soundcloud, and if I play these songs live they tend to have a stronger audience reaction than if I just play my original compositions.

And, speaking about the local community, what is it that you like and don’t like about the scene itself?

I’m really happy that at least there’s a community. Back in the mid 2000’s I really thought that nobody would ever be interested in anything related to tracked music ever again, that I had lost my time and music composing was something I was never going to do anymore. Luckily I was wrong!

What I don’t like about our community is related to the previous question, that there’s a small audience and you have to work really hard for people to be interested in what you do.

One virtue we have is artistic variety, we have really strong personalities, we come from different places and don’t try to imitate one another in terms of style, platform, etc.

How was it that the artists collective “Pungas de Villa Martelli” was born and where does the origin of the name comes from?

First of all, I have to say I’m not a founder, though I have been friends with the group almost from the beginning. The group started in the suburbs of Buenos Aires in 1996, and the name means something like “petty thieves of Villa Martelli”.

Back in the 90’s it began the current trend of stigmatizing the poor young boys from the suburbs as criminals so they thought naming the group like that was a way of defying the norm and owning a term that was (and is) considered negative.

By the way, “Villa Martelli” is just a name of a neighborhood, and nobody from the group lives there exactly, they just picked it because it sounded ok.

Did you feel that you had to create your own spaces, or that the road was already paved by other artists that came before you?

There are always people leading the way. Back in the 90’s it was the BBS community in general, Fidonet, and of course the first self-aware and self-proclaimed tracker musicians and demosceners in Argentina which I think were FEDCON, MTX and AMBUSH groups.

There are also those who organized Flashparty until 2007 (some PVM members and some not).

In the 2010’s the BlipBlop party organizers kept the Chiptune and tracker music scene alive.

There are also other events being organized that are related to retro gaming and retro computer arts and also the retro computer scene and forums on facebook and other social networks.

I think we kind of take advantage of the work of one another to build this community.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the process of composing your album “Pop SIDS”? It’s very catchy!

First of all, thanks for saying that! Catchiness is one of the things I strive for in my compositions. POP SIDS is comprised of separate original compositions I presented in different demoparties from 2015 to 2018, I selected them for being pop and catchy and put them together as an album.

That’s why there’s some variety and songs don’t appear to have a common theme, but of course you’ll notice that there’s a common hand behind them.
I usually try to base my composition around a strong melody line and add the accompaniment later on, maybe that’s why the tunes are catchy and pop.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of playing Chipmusic live and how do you manage to work around it?

I played live several times. The most challenging part of playing live for me is how do I transmit to an audience a live experience while playing music that I crafted alone while sitting on a computer. Do I bang my head? Do I jump? Do I dance? Do I just stand still? Sometimes I pull it off, sometimes it feels a bit awkward.

Also I can’t play all the voices live, that’s why a computer is doing it, but what parts do I play? Main lead? Accompaniment? Percussion? Do I just mix parts? Do I play from real hardware or from a DAW? It’s really complex.

Uctumi playing live.
Uctumi performing with a Commodore 64.

What is your preferred way to compose Chipmusic?

I mostly use my PC with Windows, I use openMPT for PC modules, Goattracker for Commodore 64 and for other platforms I generally use Deflemask. My songs for the Argentine Songbook vol. 1 album were mostly done with SidWizard on a real C64.

I think a real C64+SidWizard is a great combo for composing C64 music today, and you can open a Goattracker workfile in Sidwizard which is a plus.

Is there any advice that you’d like to give to composers that are just starting out to create their own tunes?

If you really love music try to improve and always push it a bit further, but don’t take it too seriously, because this is not math.

The best musical ideas come when you’re distracted and not trying too hard. When an idea pops up in your head, quickly record it or note it down.

Don’t release the first thing you do, let it rest for a couple of weeks then listen to it again and be critical.

Don’t get discouraged if not a lot of people pays much attention to the music you compose, this happens to about 99% of us.

What fascinates you as an artist?

I’m fascinated by how you can convey feeling with electronically composed music, and I believe in that. The demoscene in general but specially the Commodore 64 music scene has many tracks that can give you goosebumps ‘cause they’re so good and full of feeling.

Do you feel that your day job influences you, creatively speaking?

Actually no, when I compose music I’m in my own limbo where nothing from everyday life has any influence at all. The few times I tried to reflect my environment in my music I wasn’t pleased with the results. Of course feelings and everyday situations must have an indirect effect on my compositions but I’m not consciously aware of it nor try to be.

Regarding current Chiptune musicians, which ones you feel are your favorites, and why?

I have a soft spot for melodic Chiptune and if it’s Commodore 64, even more so. Thus my favorite Chiptune artists at the moment are: Dane, Wiklund, Gaetano Chiummo, Stinsen, Lft, Flex, c0zmo… there are others, and I also like some of the more rhythmic artists, but right now I’m a sucker for melody.

I also appreciate the work of Latin American Chiptuners that’re getting the local rhythms into Chiptune music, like Niño Virtual and Los Pat Moritas. I think the effort of bringing something new to the table and mixing genres must be praised. And of course I have to mention Toni Leys, the famous fellow Argentine melodic Chiptune composer whose music I enjoy immensely.

Uctumi playing live.
Uctumi photographed by Victor González IV.

What is your favorite band of all time and why? And single artist?

That’s a tough question, I get tired relatively quick of the bands I listen to and need to switch to new ones often. Just to mention a few classic ones I’d say: Queen (I used to be pretty obsessed with that band), Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre (duh!! half the C64 music scene is based on him), Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Laxity, Rob Hubbard. From the oldschool Argentine tracker scene I have to mention (G)eorge as maybe my favorite one, though I also praise Madbit, Panoramix, Rave-n and others!

And, last but not least, do you feel that Chipmusic as a genre should look to the musical past for inspiration or it should try to break the established rules and look forward?

Wow, that’s a pretty philosophical question, honestly I don’t know. I think it’d be pretty boring if Chiptune musicians were to draw inspiration from past Chiptune works only. We need to feed from other genres, cultures, sound palettes, otherwise it’d be like inbreeding.

That’s related to what I mentioned earlier about the Latin American music genres in Chiptune.

But at the same time we have almost 40 years of Chiptune music history (more if we take into account the first noises made by big mainframes and such) that means it’s developed into a culture. So to sum things up, I think we should mix the classic Chiptune styles with the new rhythms, ethnicities, etc.

Uctumi’s Overworld Map

Uctumi's Overworld Map by Pixel Syndrome - Lan Party edition.
Uctumi’s Overworld Map by Pixel Syndrome – Lan Party edition.
  1. (G)eorge, an Argentinian demoscener and tracker music composer.
  2. Giorgio Moroder, an Italian singer, songwriter, DJ and record producer.
  3. Queen, a British Rock Band.
  4. Laxity, a C64 composer from Denmark.
  5. Rob Hubbard, a British C64 composer.
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre, a French composer.
  7. Vangelis, a Greek musician and composer.
  8. Kraftwerk, a German electronic music band.

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