It’s time once again for the Blip Festival, about which I have written far too many times already, so this year I took a step back and used it as a way to more generally discuss the ongoing conversion of music into a heavily technical endeavor.
When his predecessor first took office, even basic familiarity with a Web browser was considered the exclusive domain of geeks, but Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his 2012 with a tweet resolving to learn programming. Facebook built an empire from thumbs-up clicks, as evidenced by last week’s IPO. The march toward the future might be relentless and inescapable, but sometimes it’s still easy to overlook the largest strides. Music is likewise an increasingly technical game, from creation to promotion to distribution. Which brings us to this weekend’s Blip Festival, the annual celebration of retro video games and one of New York’s geekiest music events.
Nanoloop 2 for the Game Boy Micro somehow packs unbelievably sophisticated filters and oscillators for subtractive synthesis into a gorgeous minimalist greyscale grid, which makes for one of the most soothing and meditative music composition spaces I’ve yet seen on any platform, bigger dogs like Pro Tools very much included. Nanoloop might actually be the best way for non-chiptune musicians to dip their toes into this world–you can’t very well duct-tape a proper keyboard to your acoustic guitar, now can you? More
Fighter X: Youngish probably-hipster dudes in tight pants and floppy hair shoveling out manic, skittering Game Boy duels. Even if they sometimes came across as a sort of sleazy fun-loving Europop compared to their fellow performers (hey, there’s a place for that stuff too), the lengthy continuous set was very impressive, as was their tendency to abandon tending to the devices and instead jump around the stage or go crowd surfing, especially given that they have such small memory banks. The Game Boys, I mean. More
First, although I’ve been published by the Voice a fewtimes before, that was the first article which was long enough to get me into the table of contents. It’s crazy to see my own name next to those of Rob Tannenbaum, Tom Robbins, J. Hoberman, and of course Michael Musto.
Second: predictably, the Anamanaguchi guys and I spent a lot of time discussing synthesizers during the interview, but since that material wasn’t really appropriate for the Voice, I instead sent the tech talk to Create Digital Music, an awesome and remarkably high-traffic niche blog which consistently publishes some of the best coverage of music technology you’ll find anywhere.
Vijith: Do you write using a guitar or a Nintendo? Pete: The music is pretty melodic, so it’s pretty transferable from instrument to instrument. Anything I write on guitar I can put on the Nintendo, and anything I write on the Nintendo I can usually play on guitar – unless it’s way too fast, which it usually is. More
Even speaking strictly as a reader, I really can’t recommend CDM highly enough; publisher Peter Kirn is both a music software programmer and, by day, a professional writer, so the posts are always informed, insightful, and far more literate than most studio trade rags. If your interest in creative technology tends elsewhere, you may want to check out Peter’s other sites instead, including Create Digital Motion, which is aimed at animators and visual artists, and the community-oriented Noisepages.
In this week’sVillage Voice, I profile Anamanaguchi, a four-piece NYU rock band in which piece #5 is a customized NES console which has been programmed to spit out complicated sequences of lo-fi beeps while the other band members play along with the more obvious instruments.
This is not as nerd-niche-y as it may sound. Ratatat turned into one of last year’s more curious indie-rock success stories by conjuring texturally comparable Fire Flower and 1-UP noises via guitars and keyboards; in 2007, Timbaland himself was caught illegitimately sampling an obscure chiptune composer for a Nelly Furtado backing track. Meanwhile, gamers have also grown more musically engaged through titles like Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, boosting the career of Guitar Hero–buoyed metalheads DragonForce, suggesting a massive built-in fanbase ripe for the harvesting. If chiptune does finally go mainstream, Anamanaguchi will surely lead the charge. More
At PopMatters, a review of Blipfest 2008, the largest chiptune show of the year.
I’ve fiddled with the programming enough to know that this stuff doesn’t come easily. There’s a certain sameness to a lot of it on the surface—all lo-fi electronic music in 4/4 with house-derived “drum” sequences which rely on filtered white noise—but after taking in a couple of sets, the differences between the artists become more readily apparent. Bucket-headed spaz-dancer Sulumi’s restless melodies were a fantastic highlight, skipping across the room like so many chips of shale across a Mario 2-2 swimming level, but geek-chic Asian chick Bubblyfish had the most depth, with an enthralling opener which expertly transitioned from jovial Katamari plinks to ominous Metroid gloom over the course of ten minutes. More
Jeremiah Johnson makes lo-fi techno using video game hardware, and you’d be astonished at how competent it is.
The assumption that Johnson is mixing together sets of different video game soundtracks is a pretty common mistake. The guts of this process are actually considerably more interesting, though: Specific timbres and pitch sequences are programmed using special cartridges—some homebrew software burns on blank cartridges made with expensive proprietary writers, others imported from Europe thanks to an industrious German—and are then sent through an amplifier several hundred times larger than the carts they start on. But it’s not quite that simple—first, the signals have to pass through Johnson himself. More