► Rico Zerone – Passenger

September 8, 2014

Passenger, design by Enso

Chipflip proudly presents a new release from Rico Zerone and his Austrian world of computer funk and sensual space music. Passenger is his newest release with 21 minutes and 8 tracks in his characteristic styles. The drone-ish synthy ambient of Simulacrum and Morphic Resonance,  the easy-going stroller style of Cosmic Stroller, the dreamy cheese of Restart, to name a few. Short tracks that get the message across!

Check out the release here in a custom web interface designed by Enso and coded by Freedrull. You can also download all the songs as MP3, for free. Chipflip keeps it simple.

Get more from this powerful trio of lo-fi aficiandos: Rico Zerone / Enso / Freedrull

Documentary on 80’s Japanese Game Composers

September 5, 2014

This documentary on Japanese game music from the early 80’s is interesting because:

  • It’s not exactly easy to get reliable info in English on the history of the Japanese chipmusic. But here you get interviews with experts like Hally and the original composers like Hip Tanaka.
  • It shows a little bit about the process. How these early 8-bit composers were designing their own waveforms, much like the Amiga chipmusicians in the 1990’s. I’m glad to see custom waveforms getting some love, and perhaps more people will learn about the massive 1990’s Amiga chipscene.
  • To see a notebook with drawn 8-bit waveforms talked about with so much love and affection, is pretty much all we need in life.

It’s the first episode in a series. The angle seems to be the influence of Japanese 8-bit music on contemporary dance music. Kode 9 is there, and he’s bound to say some very smart stuff. Still, these episodes will most likely leave out a lot of stuff that I (and probably you) think is relevant and important. But that’s probably how you get a proper budget to do these kinds of things, eh?

 

A Rant on Limitations

August 26, 2014

In the lo-fi arts, it is common to say that limitations serve as a source of inspiration. It’s such a common phrase that it’s become nearly as hollow as saying that less is more. This paradoxical expression basically means that less can be good despite not being more. Less is good only if it’s like more. If you flip the expression around into more is less, which Barry Schwartz does when arguing against freedom of choice, it actually means the same thing. Less is always worse.

It’s a truism to point out the ideological connection with a capitalist focus on eternal growth. Much less obvious, is how this belief permeats so many artistic, scientific and journalistic accounts of lo-fi computing. There’s a strong  focus on limitations when it comes to lo-fi computers, but not when it comes to hi-tech stuff. There’s a fetish with lo-fi limitations that I think we can all recognize, and therefore there is also a fetish with the hi-fi unlimited. Right?

***

We should probably talk about verbs rather than nouns. Saying that certain characteristics are limitations or not… well… says who? All systems have limitations, depending on how/who/when/where you ask the question. Can you imagine something that is actually unlimited? Invisible? Isn’t it actually the “limitations” that gives character to something? A piano without the limitation of discrete notes? Well, now that’s just not a piano anymore, is it?

But anyway – the real question is: how are those characteristics limiting? Can it be limiting to only have squarewaves and 3 oscillators? Yes, of course. And can it be limiting to have 3 million custom waveforms and 12 million super oscillators and a frictionless interface between man and machine? Yes, that too can be limiting. It can be too much. It can push is into making the familiar, because it requires a mega fresh brain to get out of the path dependence. It’s much easier to have an interface that suggests unfamiliar ways.

A lot of artists show love and respect for the technologies they use. In the digital art, not so much. For digital artists, the tools are mostly commercial products, and it’s not exactly arty to celebrate a commodity (unless, you know, you have a conceptual reason to do so). Computers are hidden in art galleries, screens are turned away from the audience at laptop gigs, and so on.

***

We’re also quite obsessed with critical and transgressive uses of these technologies. We imagine that we’re doing something that we’re not supposed to do, and call it critical uses or hacking or appropriation or something like that.

Smells like humanist spirit. As if we’re in control, eh?

8-bit artists, on the other hand, are often positioned in a much more posthuman way. As slaves of technology. Underdogs. We often portray ourselves as suffering artists – or even handicapped – who make stuff despite technology. And yet, that once again reinforces the idea that hi-fi tech is somehow less limiting than old tech. But here’s a few reasons why a lot of old tech is superior:

* Fast, reliable, sturdy. It’s not your work laptop that you have to be super careful with. It doesn’t take 1 minute to boot or shut down. It doesn’t break if you check your luggage in. It’s fixable and still cheap to buy.

* Super control. For me as a musician, I can do almost anything that the platform allows me to do. That’s not at all the case with hi-fi platforms, that hides most of it potential.

* Aesthetically, you can work with instant genrefication. If you keep it simple, your song/picture/animation is instantly recognized as 8-bit/retro. This can be negative, but also positive. No need to worry about aesthetics. Just let the machine provide it for you.

(this post was revived from the 2012-archives)

More Data – Less Knobs! About Tracker Music Remakes

June 17, 2014

Two old Amiga music legends have recently decided to re-make some of their olden goldies. Lizardking and Mantronix made melodic synth music, somewhere inbetween … Koto and Jean-Michel Jarre? German space disco meets Italo Disco? As cheesy as some of it is, it’s kind of hard not to like it. Atleast when you’ve been brainwashed by it when you were young. In the Amiga scene this style is known as doskpop.

After a new Facebook group popped up, with an amazing energy supplied by Slash who started it, plenty of old tracker celebrities have been showing up. Moby finished some old songs, for example.

Many of us have probably wondered what tracker musicians could’ve done with more powerful technologies. Some people seem pretty convinced that it would automatically be better, because there’s “more possibilities”. Let’s move back to the 80’s first, when Rob Hubbard made synth-versions of his songs before programming them on C64. Let’s look at One Man and His Droid. Listen to the first version here recorded with various synth gear (among them TR-606 and TB-303!). Then listen to the C64-version below.

The first version is much more rough than the second one. Understandably, of course, since the first one is a sketch. But if we look at other music that exists as both tracker music and “synth music” (in lack of a better word) it’s not unusual that this is the case. I’ve heard it in most game musicians who “re-master” their old songs to sound more modern, for example. The tracker versions are just more detailed, intricate, ornamental. Anal? Crazy? Yes, perhaps.

Check the original version of Act of Impulse by Tip & Mantronix, and then listen Mantronix’ 2012-version. The new version is better in many production-wise ways, like clarity and punch and bass and all that. But one thing is, atleast to me, better in the old version. The melodies. It’s a lot more expressive. In the original mod-file you can see all the effort of the composer with setting custom vibrato, glide and volume tweaks for individual parts, and even notes. That’s sort of a pain in the ass with modern DAWs, but in trackers you were encouraged to do so because otherwise it looked empty and “sounded lame”. The more the better. Aesthetic maximalism, as I’ve called it before.

I have a similar feeling with Lizardking’s re-makes of his own songs. It’s miles better than all the generic SID/MOD-remixes that are out there, but I still miss some of that tracker trickery that is so characteristic of tracker music. It needs to sound more “data” like we say over here in the Swedish scene. Less generic knobs, more detailed numbers. No more synth! hehehe

Ok, well, this might be the most grumpy-old-man post I’ve made so far, so I think it’s better to just stop here. But just to clarify: this is not meant to diss anything. I love the data-sound, yes, but most people obviously prefer knob music. My point is that the newer software sort of brings us away from these “hand-made” solutions that were more common before, and drives us into a different kind of sound. Because even these “unlimited” platforms have a sound to them, don’t they?

 

Top Amiga Scene Composers

May 23, 2014

Eurochart was a disk magazine that published perhaps the most well-respected charts of the Amiga demoscene. It was a big thing to be #1 there! Among other things, it ranked music composers and I found a list of all the #1-composers over the years (1989-2006). Made by Slash/Citron in a Facebook-group. So, I’ll just leave this here with links to their current work (not necessarily music).

Oh and just so you know – the Amiga scene didn’t die in 2006. There’s still plenty of good music being made by people like Hoffman and my group mates in Up Rough. Anyway:

Top Amiga composers (amount of #1-spots @ Eurochart)

1. Revisq – 7
2. Muffler – 6
3. Jester, Romeo Knight – 5
4. Audiomonster, 4-mat – 4
5. Tip, Moby, Jogeir – 3
6. Dr.Awesome, Reed - 2
7. TipMantronix, Dizzy, Ganja, Yolk 1

#1-spots for all Eurochart issues

#1 1. DR. AWESOME – CRUSADERS
#2 1. DR.AWESOME / CRUSADERS
#3 1. Romeo Knight / RSI
#4 1. Romeo Knight / Red Sector Inc. 
#5 1. Romeo Knight / Red Sector Inc. 
#6 1. Romeo Knight / Red Sector Inc.
#7 1. Romeo Knight / Red Sector Inc.
#8 1. 4-Mat / Anarchy (RSI?)
#9 1. 4-Mat / Anarchy 
#10 1. 4Mat (Ex.Anarchy – last appearance)
#11 1. 4-mat / Anarchy 
#12 1. Tip / Phenomena 
#13 1. Tip / Phenomena 
#14 1. Tip / Phenomena 
#15 1. Mantronix & Tip / Phenomena 
#16 1. Audiomonster / Silents 
#17 1. Audiomonster / Melon Dezign 
#18 1. Audiomonster / Melon Dezign 
#19 1. Audiomonster / Melon Dezign 
#20 1. Jester / Sanity 
#21 1. Jester / Sanity 
#22 1. Jester / Sanity 
#23 1. Jester / Sanity 
#24 1. Jester / Sanity 
#25 1. Moby / Sanity 
#26 1. Moby / Sanity 
#27 1. Moby / Sanity 
#28 1. Dizzy 
#29 1. Jogeir/Scoop
#30 1. Jogeir/Pulse&Noiseless
#31 1. Jogeir/Pulse&Noiseless
#32 1. Revisq/Anadune&Floppy
#33 1. Revisq/AND&FLP&NAH 
#34 1: Muffler of Haujobb&DCS 
#35 1: Muffler of Haujobb&DCS 
#36 1: Muffler of SCX&DCS&LVB 
#37 1. Muffler 
#38 1. Revisq 
#39 1. Revisq 
#40 1. Revisq 
#41 1. Ganja 
#42 1. Muffler 
#43 1. Muffler 
#44 1. Reed 
#45 1. Reed 
#46 1. Revisq 
#47 1. Revisq 
#48 1. Yolk

 

 

New Media is More Obsolete than Old Media

May 18, 2014

Cory Arcangel, Golan Levin and others have done some great work to retrieve old Amiga graphics that Andy Warhol made back in the day. This is some great work! And I think it’s great that the Amiga gets some attention in terms of computer creativity instead of the constant Apple-ism. But.. what kind of attention is it?

Many artists, media scholars and journalists have a special way of talking about old media. The term hacking usually pops up. Even if you just download software and use it in a very normal way – like most chip music is made for example – we still love to call it hacking. But why? There are several possible explanations. First – we love to believe that humans are in control of technology and that fantasy can flourish with these old and supposedly non-user-friendly machines. Human intelligence can tame even this uncivilized digital beast! Secondly – the term hacking oozes creativity and innovation and has become an omnipotent term used for almost everything.

Obsolescence is another popular word. I’ve written about this many times before, for example in relation to zombie media. Let’s put it like this: new media is permeated with planned obsolescence. Old media is not. Amigas were not designed to be obsolete after a few years like so many modern platforms, systems and programs are. So from our current perspective it seems totally incredible that these old floppy disks and file formats can still be used. Because we’re not used to that anymore. Most people don’t know how easy it is to copy that floppy to a flash card and view the images with UAE or even Photoshop.

It’s also common to think of old media as fragile. But then why do nuclear missiles rely on 8″ floppies? Why do so many airports use DOS, matrix printers and Hi8 video? Why did Sony sell 12 million 3.5″ floppies in 2009?Why did so many gabber/noise people use the Amiga for live shows? Because these things are stable, sturdy and built to last. And because it’s expensive to change it, sure, but the point is: old media is clearly not as fragile as many people seem to think.

To summarize this discourse we can say that 8-bit users are hacking media that is fragile and obsolete. While there is obviously some truth to that statement, a general adaptation of it rests on some pretty problematic ideological assumptions that we all need to relate to in order to get by in a consumer culture. For example:

“New media is better than old media because in technology, change = progress”.

I think we can all be more careful with how we discuss old media in order to move away from this dangerous misunderstanding. I know that there are many contexts where that is not suitable, possible or meaningful. But technological change oozes with politics and it doesn’t have to be conservative or retro-cool to criticize or reject the new. So bring it on, hipster!

 

The Truth Behind E.T + Something a Lot More Disturbing

May 2, 2014

In case you missed it – for the past week the internetz has been going bananas about Microsoft digging out tons of Atari cartridges in a desert in USA. Microsoft? Yeah, they are sponsoring a documentary about the “urban myth” that Atari’s game E.T was so bad that they buried it in a desert in USA in 1983. And now they’ve dug it out, and revealed the truth! Well…

1. It’s not news. It’s always been known that they buried cartridges (New York Times from 1983). Wikipedia even claims that kids looted the site to find not only E.T-carts but also Raiders of the Lost Ark, Defender, and Bezerk.

2. The E.T game was an experiment made in a few weeks. Whether the game is crap or not is up for debate, but it was a bold move in a flood of boring.

3. Atari made bad business choices and market predictions. They over-produced and over-priced their games, under pressure from their owner Warner. This was one of the factors of the North American video game crisis. It wasn’t about one single bad game. It was a bubble that burst. And it took years before it would inflate again, when Nintendo stepped up to show it’s done…

4. We now know for sure that it wasn’t only E.T in there, but several other games. In total more than 700,000 cartridges.

It’s going to be interesting to see the documentary, I guess. But the reporting of BREAKING! single game actually buried in the ground wow! is just wrong. The true story is more like a tech-bubble leading to tons of crap in the desert, which pissed off the locals living there. And that is actually not so far from how it works today. Only a lot more toxic, on a much larger scale, and completely normalized.

Planned obsolescence and “e-trash” commerce makes sure that tons of toxic tech-stuff  is shipped to e.g Africa and China to kill the kids who work with it. It’s a tech bubble – since both the production and disposal of consumer tech is ecologically and socially unsustainable – only this bubble is out of sight, and way more serious. Hey, maybe that could be topic of your next documentary on Xbox, Microsoft?

e-waste_kids2-6661

Toxics e-waste documentation (China : 2005)

FACT Magazine Gets Computer Music All Wrong

April 22, 2014

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FACT magazine just published 14 pieces of music software that shaped modern music. It writes a history that seriously portrays computer music history as going from “bad” to “good” and from “no options” to “anything you want”. It’s quite strange, since it’s written by Xela who did his first (?) release on the demoscene label Monotonik back in the days. Ok, well:

*initiate uncool data-rant*

1980’s computers are portrayed in the article as word processors that only a few people made some experimental sounds with (of course, USA’s computer music inventor is mentioned as always). First of all – as much as I love text mode, computers had been using colours and vector graphics for ages. They had also generated pop music in 1956, made christmas carrols and TV-music in 1958, played Bach in 1959 and in 1960 you could draw music with a light pen. And in 1968 Douglas Engelbart did that demo that sort of featured all those gimmicks we still use today. So no, it wasn’t like computer music was just a grey little blob in the 1980’s. But that’s what the article claims. But it was followed by a revolution in quality!

Over time, however, music software blossomed, and transitioned from fiddly time wasters, doomed to the forgotten directories on an Commodore Amiga cover disk, to the plethora of usable and sturdy apps we have available to use today.

“Plethora of usable and sturdy”… what? Let me count the times that Ableton Live has crashed compared to how many times Protracker has crashed. Let me count how many years that your spankin’ new [DAW/VST/whatever] will be usable for, and then compare that to the sequencers and softsynths from the 1980’s. Let me count the amount of bloat that got added to music software in the 1990’s, and compare that to the ultra-fast interfaces of 1980’s trackers. Let’s look at the huge archives of MOD-files and chiptunes that are freely available today. And if we strip away all the normal stuff, there’s a quite fair amount of innovative or impressive works. Just like today. Made “despite of” or “because of” the software, depending on your perspective. I can only assume that these things are not important for the author, but let me say this: usability & usefulness are not exactly objective concepts.

I know the purpose of the article is not to give a thorough history lesson on computer music. Seems more like a click-bate, although there are some very interesting bits in there too. But if you start at 1985 and basically only say what the software did and who used it, you’re not going to be able to say anything about “shaping modern music”. And I don’t know, the tone of that first page of text just pisses me off, actually. The author might not like people (“hipsters”?) who don’t use computers to record audio nowadays, but he does it on the expense of more or less thousands of years of music that didn’t have these “apps” that have been fashionable for, oh, 20 years?

Oh and one last thing: The article opens by saying “We’re at the stage in history where using music software isn’t so much an option as it is a necessity.” What does that even mean? Hardware and software need eachother – you can’t have one without the other. And in fact, the software metaphor as we use it today leads people like Florian Cramer to say that software has existed for thousands of years in magic, music composition and poetry.

Sorry Xela, I guess you just touched a sore spot…

6C9xaUN

Tomorrow: Speedcomp 9

April 17, 2014

A while back I wrote a short history of hardcore chipmusic, where I outlined the proto-breakcore pioneers of Australia. As some people suggested I forgot to write about the current situation there. Which is that the lo-fi tracker hardcore is still alive and kicking. At Thematics Radio they do themed shows, and some of it is tracker hardcore with people like Hedonist, Xylocaine and Abortifacient being involved.

They also do competitions called Speedcomps. You get a bunch of samples and have 30 minutes to make a song with nothing but those samples. Here s a link to the Facebook-page of the previous one, on March 15. So yeah, now go find the link to the next one and have some fun!

Don´t forget the time difference, though. This takes place in Australia which is always one step ahead of the rest. So set the alarms, load your software and get ready to rumble! You should be able to find more info here, but I am not sure since this post was written in the past and sent into the future so I wouldn´t forget.

Wider Screen: Authenticity in Chipmusic

April 16, 2014

Yesterday I wrote about the new scene issue in Wider Screen, where several noteworthy scholars write on chipmusic, demoscene and warez culture. Today I return to that, to discuss the ethnographic study of authenticity in the chipscene. Chipmusic, Fakebit and the Discourse of Authenticity in the Chipscene was written by Marilou Polymeropoulou who I’ve met a few times around Europe when she’s been doing field studies for her dissertation. Her article is refreshing because it deals with technology in a non-technological way, so to say. It takes a critical look at the ideologies of chipmusic (which I also tried to do in my master’s thesis) and she doesn’t get caught up in boring discussions about what chipmusic actually is (which, uhm, I have done a lot).

Polymeropoulou divides the chipscene into three generations. The first generation is described as a demoscene-inspired strive for being an original elite, by challening the limitations of original 8-bit hardware from the 1980’s. As I understand, this generation is everything that happened before the internet went mainstream. The second generation is internet-based and focused on mobility (read Gameboy), learning by copying and making more mainstream-ish chipmusic. The third generation is characterized as “chipsters” that are more interested in sounds and timbres rather than methods and technologies.

The first generation of chipmusicians would be a very diverse bunch of people, activities and machines. Perhaps even more diverse than the chipscene is now. Back then there were not as many established norms to relate to. I mean, we hardly knew what computers or computer music was. The terms chipmusic or chiptune didn’t exist, and I doubt that it was relevant to talk about 8-bit music as a general concept. It was computer music, game music, SID-music, Nintendo-music, etcetera. People were using these 8-bit home computers to make music for school, for games, for art, for their garage band, for themselves, for Compunet, for bulletin boards, the demoscen, for crack-intros, etcetera. However, looking back through the eyes of “chipscene 2014″ it makes sense to zoom in on only the demoscene during this period, as it is normally considered as one of the most important precursors.

Chip Music Festival, 1990

In the demoscene there were many people who ripped songs to copy the samples, look at their tracker tricks, or just use the song for their own demo. Copying was common, but it wasn’t exactly elite to do it. There was certainly a romantic ideology of originality at work. But I’m not so sure about ascribing a technological purism to the demoscene of that time. Sure, people loved their machines. But most sceners eventually moved on to new platforms (see Reunanen & Silvast). So I’m not sure that this generation would be the anti-thesis to fakebit. In fact, when the chipmusic term first appeared around 1990 it refered to sample-based Amiga-music that mimicked the timbres of the PSG-soundchips and the aesthetics of game music.

So, in a sense, the Amiga/PC chip-generation of the 1990’s (when the 8-bit demoscenes were very small) was actually not so far from what is called fakebit today. And that’s obviously why this big and important momentum with tens of thousands of open source chip-modules is so often ignored in histories of chipmusic. It just doesn’t fit in. (It’s also worth noting here that many if not most 8-bit demoscene people today use emulators such as VICE or UAE to make music, and use the original hardware more like a media player.)

My theory is that the hardware-fetish of the chipscene is a more recent phenomenon, established sometimes in the mid 2000’s, and I think that Malcolm McLaren’s PR-spree had something to do with it, regardless of the scene’s reaction. If you listen to the early releases at micromusic.net and 8bitpeoples today, you could call it fakebit if you wanted to. Just like with the Amiga-chip music of the 1990’s. So it seems to me that this generation didn’t build much on what had been done in the demoscene, other than perhaps using tools developed there. Games, on the other hand, were a popular reference. So to me, the post-2000 generation of chipmusicians feels more like a rupture than a continuation from the previous generation (something like hobbyism->crackerscene->demoscene->trackerscene->netlabels).

At this time I was still a purist demoscene snob, and I thought that this new kind of bleepy music was low quality party/arty stuff. Still, I decided to gradually engage in it and I don’t regret it. But I was one of very few demosceners who did that. Because this was, in short, something very different from the previous chipmusic that was characterized by lots of techné and home consumption. Micromusic was more for the lulz and not so serious, which was quite refreshing not only compared to the demoscene but compared to electronic music in general (you know, IDM and drum n’ bass and techno = BE SERIOUS).

It’s funny, but when Polymeropoulou describes the third generation of the chipscene (the chipsters) it actually reminds me a bit of the early demoscene people, perhaps even during the 1980’s.

Chipsters compose chipmusic – and of course, fakebit – on a variety of platforms, including modern computers, applying different criteria, based on popular music aesthetics rather than materialist approaches. [..] Chipsters find creative ways combining avant-garde and subcultural elements in order to break through to mainstream audiences, a practice which is criticised by purists.

In the 1980’s they used modern computers to try to make something that sounded like the “real” music in the mainstream. They borrowed extensively from contemporaries such as Iron Maiden, Laserdance and Madonna and tried to make acid house, new beat, synth pop, etc. There was definitely some freaky stuff being made (“art”), and something like comedy shows (Budbrain) and music videos (State of the Art) and later on so called design demos (Melon Dezign) and those demos appealed to people who were not sceners. And the megamixes! Here’s one from 1990:

Okay… how did we end up here? Oh yeah — my point is, I suppose, that the demoscene is not as purist as people think, and never was. Atleast that’s my impression of it. But even if I disagree with the generational categorization of Polymeropoulou’s text, I consider this article as an important contribution to the field of techno-subcultures. Also, I am even quoted a few times both as a researcher and as an anonymous informant. Maybe you can guess which quotes are mine, hehe.


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