FACT Magazine Gets Computer Music All Wrong

April 22, 2014

10155759_676783215712475_7322100098723588883_n

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.

Rewiring the History of the Demoscene: Wider Screen

April 15, 2014

skenet-scenes-petscii

Wider Screen has just released a themed issue on scene research, including scientific articles on the demoscene and the chipscene. It seems to be some very good texts, although I’ve only read one so far. So let’s talk about that one!

Markku Reunanen gives a long-awaited critical examination of the history of the demoscene in How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners. He notes that the traditional story is basically that people cracked games, made intros for them, and then started to make demos. He problematizes this boring story by describing different overlaps between the worlds of games, demos and cracks. The first time I really reflected on this issue was in Daniel Botz’ dissertation. It is indeed obvious that this is a complex story full of conflicting narratives, and we can assume that (as always) The History is based on the current dominant discourses.

What do I mean with that? Well, take Sweden as an example, where the scene was always quite large. These days the scene is usually, when it is mentioned at all, described as a precursor to games, digital arts and other computer-related parts of “the creative industries“. When Fairlight’s 25-year-anniversary was reported in the Swedish mainstream media, cracking was portrayed as a legal grey area that contributed to the BNP. The forth-coming Swedish book Generation 64 seems to be telling a similar story. The scene was a bunch of kids who might have done some questionable things, but since these people are now found in Swedish House Mafia, Spotify and DICE it seems like all is forgiven. But it’s not.

Look at what the other sceners are doing today. The ones who didn’t get caught up in IT, advertising and academia. Piratbyrån, The Pirate Bay and Megaupload all involved scene people and, from the previous story, appears as a darker side of the scene. The data hippies, the copyists, the out-of-space artists, the dissidents, the fuck-ups. The people who don’t have much to gain from their scene history. But also the BBS-nazis (one of them living close to me) is interesting to consider today, when far-right discussion boards are frequently mentioned in the media. The info-libertarians at Flashback also remind me of the scene’s (in a very broad sense) spirit of “illegal information” and VHS-snuff movies that I mention in The Forgotten Pioneers of Creative Hacking and Social Networking (2009). Something else I mention there, as does Reunanen, are the swappers and traders whose sole function was to copy software around the world. But they are not really part of the history since they weren’t doing that Creative and Original work that we seem to value so dearly today.

No, the scene wasn’t a harmless place for boys-2-men, from geeks to CEOs. And also – there were plenty of people making weird stuff with home computers that were not part of the scene. People at Compunet were making audiovisual programs that looked really similar to the demoscene’s, but are usually not regarded as part of the scene. Possibly because of its apparent disconnection from the cracker scene. I’ve sometimes seen STE argue about this with sceners at CSDb. Jeff Minter did demo-like things, and people had been doing demo-like computer works for decades already. And all the hobbyists who wrote simple or strange sonic and visual experiments on their 8-bit home computers, but never released it in the scene? Well, they are effectively being distanced and erased from the history of the demoscene by not being included in archives like CSDb and HVSC that exclude “irrelevant” things.

So yeah – thumbs up to Markku for this article! Let’s not forget the provocative and subversive elements of the scene (read more about that in the 2009-article I link to above) because they might become very relevant sooner than we think.

Chip Folk Music

April 14, 2014

Folk music is almost as hard to define as chipmusic is. You have a feeling you know what it is, but if you start to explain it you’ll run into trouble quite easily. “Yeah, so you have to use certain instruments, but, eh, it’s not like you have to use those instruments. And not all music made with those instruments belong in the genre. Because there are typical aesthetical elements. Or atleast some people say that. Yeah, maybe it’s more like a community or lifestyle… so…”

Dragan of Bodenständig 2000 sometimes calls chipmusic home computer folk music. And he has a point. Some people say that folk music are basically traditions developed by “uncultured people“, as opposed to the people who talk about art, philosophy and culture all the time. People who just sort of do what they do, without talking too much about it. Stuff that develops almost naturally within a group at a specific time, using certain musical technologies (mechanical, digital, whatever). Most likely, this is how we’ve played with sounds together for centuries, before it was even packaged under the term “music”. In that sense, folk music is perhaps a retronym just like chipmusic is. And to me it makes all the sense in the world to call chipmusic folkmusic. But not to most other people.

But anyway. Balún posted a jibaro (Puerto Rican folk music) song made on C64 in 1987, which led @gusandrews to ask for more folk chipmusic. So I saw that as an opportunity to continue my quest to examplify various chipmusic genres. CrillFactor suggests that bag pipes sound similar to square waves, and I’ve atleast heard one (unreleased) chiptune by Nemo that mimicked this sound.

Minusbaby suggests reggaeton, which makes me think of Super Guachin but even more so Meneo who’s electrified many dance floors with his Gameboy reggaeton noise dance nudity. Reggae could also be thought of as a contemporary folk music, and there’s a book coming out soon about 8-bit reggae actually.

For me personally, growing up in north Europe, folk music means something else though. In ye ol’ colonialist Europe I guess black folk music is often labeled as “world music”. I made a song called Volksing once, which was supposed to capture that uncultured brutal schlager singalong folk style we have over here. Much white, very barbarian. Something more mature in that vein would be for example Bud Melvin and Mark DeNardo. It also makes sense then to mention Manou, Dorothy’s Magic Bag and 386DX here, I think. Maybe even the industrial Amiga poet Arvid Tuba.

But this is all contemporary folk music. How about the oldschool traditional kind? I’m talking about things like Education of the Noobz (by Dragan in Bodenständig) and Rugar. Melodic, emotional and something quite different from dance music, pop music or singer/songwriter stuff. I don’t think there’s much of that in the chipscene, since it was always dominated by danceable music. We’d have to go digging through games and demos to find more of this.

My head hurts a bit when I think about that though. If you have any suggestions, I’d be very grateful if you comment. Here are some suggestions where to start. For some reason it’s all Amiga music, and most of it is from Finland. Probably because their folk music is ze best! (though I don’t know what it is)

Pic Saint Loup – West History (more like country, I guess)

Bruno (rip) – Modern Surf, Serenade to…, Uralvolga fine

Dean – Sunset & Audiomonster – X-mas (calypso pop)

Dizzy – Johdattelupolska (and also Alternative samba, Fanatic Waltz, Girl from Ipanema)

Oh yeah, and if you want to play these songs I think the easiest way is to use VLC.

Two Years of Text-Mode

April 7, 2014

whale2

For the past two years, myself and Raquel Meyers have been running text-mode.tumblr.com. It’s a collection of text-mode graphics (ASCII, Unicode, etc) and related practices, and it goes back thousands of years in history. When we started it there wasn’t really any good place to find for example PETSCII or teletext graphics. There was plenty of ASCII and ANSI around. Sites like asciiarena and sixteencolors are incredible resources, but since they are not ‘curated’ you have to know what to look for. So we picked our favourites and posted it on Tumblr. Then we discovered a whole new world with the Japanese line ASCII at utf8art and the new Chinese BBS-graphics at ANSIart. And then we started to posts textiles, architecture, and other things that had a similar look as text-mode. Now there are more than 2300 posts!

On an average day we’ve made three posts with about 80 notes each (reblogs, likes, etc). In total there’s now 5000 images, and some videos. On ze Tumblr. Yeah. One thing that fascinates me with Tumblr is how quickly things spread around. And what kind of people that interact with it. It’s pretty cool to have obscure BBS-graphics being reblogged by both emo-teenagers and Bruce Sterling. But as the archive grew bigger we needed a better platform to search and browse it. And I’ve slowly started to write a sort of book on this topic, too. So something needed to change.

That’s why we’ve made t3xtm0.de - a WordPress site, where you can navigate the collection a lot easier. There is still work to do, but you can for example check two tags simultaneously to see things like typewriter art from the 1930′s, Chinese ANSI, ancient architecture or teletext art by Raquel Meyers. Or – you can get random posts here (highly recommended). Both sites are updated with the same content, but t3xtm0.de has been cleaned up and corrected, especially with the tags. Oh, and there is also a Twitter-account.

Go and check for example Advertising, Mosaic, Poetry, Scene, Square kufic and Toys. And other than the typical technical standards (ASCII, ANSI, Unicode) I can recommend ATASCII, FANSI, Minitel, PETSCII, shift-JIS, SharpSCII, Telidon, videotex and a lot more.

Alright, but back to Tumblr. How do our posts match up to all the memes, pr0n, hippish artish creative cool yeah stuff omg? Well, here are the most popular posts we’ve made, counting reblogs+likes. It’s a strange selection, that’s for sure..

tumblr_mx4jdr6f7K1rpiyaso1_250

tumblr_mqcyjd5XX61rpiyaso1_500

tumblr_m5eui9Z5691rpiyaso1_500

tumblr_mwxz6eErli1rpiyaso2_400

tumblr_mkbpqrfJUV1rpiyaso1_500tumblr_mmvxw3TVbc1rpiyaso4_500

tumblr_mtnjmmMT2F1rpiyaso1_500

tumblr_mi64j8aoXg1rpiyaso9_250tumblr_m9ugp2hPLy1rpiyaso1_500tumblr_m9ugp2hPLy1rpiyaso2_500

When Misuse of Technology is a Bad Thing

March 25, 2014

I found myself in an interesting discussion a few days ago about the term hacking. We all had different perspectives on it – art, piracy, demoscene, textiles – and it was quite obvious that this term can mean maaaany different things.

It can refer to a misuse of a system. I’ve written before about how appropriation reinforces the idea of a normative use and therefore daemonizes other uses which in the long run, I argue, is dangerous. Because then we learn to accept that software has to be approved by one company before it’s made public, or that it’s ok to fine some acne-generating teenage geek billions of dollars because he used internet “the wrong way”.

Hacking can also refer to a new use of a system. Something that hasn’t been done before. That’s often but not always the same thing as appropriation. This strive for the new is built into pop culture, but also in things like urban planning, party politics and science. Or, you know, capitalism. It has to be new and fresh! Creative! Groundbreaking! Share-holder-fantabulastic! Cooool!

1175686_10100431554652963_785619528_n

But new is not always new. Retromania and remix culture means that it’s ok to just combine or tweek two old things, and then it’s new. In fact, that’s the only thing we can do according to all these artistic and corporate views of creativity. Romantic geniuses and ideas that are not based on focus groups and “public opinions” are out of style. Steve Jobs is dead.

But these things all put the emphasis on two things: humans and results. We can also look at something else instead, which I think brings us closer to the oldschool meaning of hacking with model trains & telephone lines. The interplay between the person and the medium. Man machine. The process. I don’t mean that in some buddhist digi-hippie kind of way, I think. No, I mean it more in a media materialist ooo kind of way.

3000575-poster-942-wi-fi-ass-tastic

Then we can say things like:

• Originality is when something is made without too many presets, samples, macros, algorithms and automated processes. The results are irrelevant, it’s the process that matters. Hm.

• It is possible to disrespect the machine much like you disrespect a person. By making it look like something it’s not. Pretending like you know that it can’t do better than it actually can. Machine bullying. Human arrogance. Hm.

• Machines don’t have intended purposes per se and we can never fully understand how it works and what it can do. To say that this is a zombie media or this is unlimited computing is, from a strict materialist perspective, equally irrelevant. It is what it is. Hm.

So: Imagine if a future view of creativity or hacking would be to make the medium act as well as it can, from some sort of  “medium-emic” understanding. The role of the human artist would just be to make digital media look as good as possible, sort of like a court painter. Computers understandefine human culture, humans glorify computers for computers.

Finding new combinations of ideas seem like a kind of machinic way of making stuff anyway. Book publishers that are completely automatized might just produce trash so far, but bots are already invading peer review science (!). Pop music has been computer generated since 1956 and classical music since a few years. But in a way, the music itself is not so important anymore because computers can put garbage in the charts anyway.

Disrespectful uses of technology is already illegal, or makes you lose your warranty, or locks the consoles, or makes it impossible to start the car, etc. Fast forward this perspective, and we have a world where artistic uses of technology might be punishable too. By death! Human arrogance leads to electric shock. Bad coding will lead to deadly explosions. Syntax error – cyberbullying detected!

So be nice to your machine. It’s the new cyberkawaii!

tumblr_mfvqx2JXi01qljfuho1_500

A Short History of Hardcore Chipmusic

March 9, 2014

This post is an attempt to save some of the history of the harder kinds of chipmusic, before all of us forget what happened. Please comment or get in touch with corrections and more suggestions. This post will be continuously updated thanks to people like Alex Yabsley, Peter Swimm, Takashi Kawano, Abortifacient, Ant1, Nordloef, C-men, Rioteer, and … you?

Glenn Rune Gallefoss' C64

Those who think that chipmusic is cute and innocent will be surprised to know that there are thousands of evil, rough and hard chiptunes around. In fact, what we call breakcore today developed in the mid 00′s by using the same tools as chipmusic had done a few years earlier: amiga trackers.

In the mid 90s, the hardcore 4×4-pounding of gabber slowly evolved to a slightly more, uhm, “mature” genre. This evolution, I’ve been told, was driven forward by the Australian Bloody Fist label. Many of their artists worked with Protracker on Amiga. The label manager Mark (aka Nasenbluten) told me that they made 20 releases during 1994-2004 that were more or less only made on Amiga (see timeline).

The Amiga was likely used because it was affordable and available, reasonably portable, and also very sturdy. So it wasn’t only Bloody Fist who did this. I did it too, although there wasn’t exactly much interest for it. Elsewhere in in Europe the labels Fischkopf, Fifth Era and Digital Hardcore put out plenty of amiga hardcore with artists such as Patric Catani and Cristoph de Babalon. In USA, Milwaukee seems to have had a big Amiga following with eg Davros and Unibomber, later followed up by Dispyz who is now running Radio Graffiti that puts out plenty of hardcore Amiga music.

This music is sometimes called amigacore. This is not just a geek term – I saw it used in a record shop just a few years ago. It seems to be characterized by a raw and unedited sound, and isn’t necessarily made on Amiga. Remember, it was during the 90s that sample chopping and VST-wankery became popular, so this formed a sort of anti-thesis to that.

But in fact, the choppers and wankers of IDM wasn’t so far away from amigacore as you may think. Chopping and wanking had been done for years with trackers. And trackers are still well-suited to mess around with samples and create intricate beats by easily assigning effects to individual trigs and so on. Famous breakcore artists like DJ Scud and Venetian Snares seem to have started on Amiga, though I’ve yet to confirm this. But many famous IDM-artists started with trackers, such as Bogdan Raczynski, Brothomstates and Machinedrum.

After the 90s boom of amigacore, the next 8-bit hardcore booms came along with the growing hype of chipmusic. In the mid 00′s, gazillions of artists started to mix chipsounds and breakcore. My impression is that chipbreak often uses quite poppy and even trancey harmonies, along with amen breaks. I was doing quite a lot of this too at the time, and I really enjoyed the combination of happy & hard, like in Comsten. But I think Sabrepulse (UK), Saskrotch (USA) and possibly Bit Shifter (USA) were the biggest names in this field, and later maybe IAYD (USA)?. Tons of other artists worked in high tempos, such as Paza & Psilodump (SE), David Sugar aka Logic Bomb (UK), Divag and Computertruck (FR), Dorothy’s Magic Bag (SE), USK & Maru & BSK (JP), Jellica  & his Kittenrock label (UK), Eat Rabbit (FR) and Uoki Toki & 777 minus 111 (RU).

In tandem to chipbreak, others worked with darker atmospheres, sometimes bordering to noise and rock. Overthruster and Timeheater from USA seemed pretty outstanding at the time, and were also aggressively anti towards the more lightsided chiptunery. :|krew was an early-2000s group including Overthruster & Starpause. The mp3death-labelmaintained by Starpause, also put out plenty of evilry, as did 8CYLINDER. Baseck (MP3), though operating a bit outside the chipscene, put out plenty of good stuff too. American artists like Shitbird, Stagediver, CCDM, Kool Skull, WizwarsYatagarasuNarwhalz of SoundWet Mango & the label Datathrash continued to work in this field. 

In Europe there’s plenty of rave/noise/breakcore/gabber-disco people like Mobb Beep (DK), DJ Scotch Egg (UK), Next Life (NO), Gijs Gieskes (NL), Huoratron (FI), Dr Von Pnok & Zombectro (FR),  Hexadeci (UK), Kodek (LV), Distortled Box (ES) Lo-Bat (BE), Rioteer (NL), Unas (FR), and the French label Chip’n’Damned released some good stuff. Japan also had many artists, but right now I can only think of Aonami and Hizmi (and the rest of Ground Zero). Also check Kizan518. In South America I remember Una niña malvada used to get some pretty harsh stuff out there, and now Yz Yx is delivering some new goods.

Australia has continued to deliver the goods ever since Bloody Fist years. Ten Thousand Free Men and Their Families and Godinpants with a taste of punk rock, Abortifacient, Peaches the Wale… The Thematics Radio had tracker specials with lots of the aussie low-res hardcore, including links to mod and xm-files – check here.

Ok, that’ll have to be enough for now. Feeling pissed off that X wasn’t mentioned? Please help me to document this history by making a comment or get in touch.
Update: ()

New Documentary on Chipmusic: Europe In 8 Bits

March 2, 2014

Europe in 8 Bits is perhaps the most ambitious chipmusic documentary to date. It has good cinematography and editing. It features people from most parts of Europe (I think they made something like 100 interviews). And it shows off both famous and unknown people from the chipscene, including an unusual appearance from the Nanoloop author, Oliver Wittchow.

I recommend you to see it for three reasons. First, it captures the generational shift that’s going on in the chipscene right now. New people, new styles, new approaches. To be honest, there are many aritsts in the documentary that I haven’t heard about before. A good thing! Secondly, I think that enough time has passed to start to make sense of what actually happened in the 00′s. This documentary has a very different feel compared to for example 8 Bit Generation (see below), that tried to capture something during its formative years. It usually takes a decade or so to be able to describe and contextualize what a subculture is and does. There’s more room for reflection. Thirdly, I think that Europe in 8 Bits captures the diversity of the scene. It’s not too arty-farty or party-party, not to geeky and not to philosophical. It’s somewhere inbetween. You get a bit of nostalgia, hacking, dumpster diving, DIY, games, etc.

There are now four main documentaries on chipmuic. Except for Europe in 8 Bits (2014), it’s 8 Bit Generation (2006), 8 BIT (2006) and Reformat the Planet (2008). Since some of them are pretty much impossible to come by, I thought I’d give a quick subjective summary of each ot them here (eventhough it’s been 8 years since I saw some of them).

8 Bit Generation (Lionel Brouet) was made in France and I think I saw it on some micromusic event in the south of France. I was interviewed for it when I played in Paris in 2005. It features Role Model, Bodenständig 2000, Manou, me, Relax Beat, Malcolm McLaren and, I can only assume, plenty of French micromusic artists as that movement was quite strong. Paris_HQ yeah! But anyway, as far as I can remember this documentary relied heavily on McLaren to contextualize chipmusic as a sort of punky fringe of techno-pop culture.

8 BIT (Marcin Ramocki). I saw this at the first Blip Festival in New York in 2006. It’s about how videogames has influenced art & culture and it includes a big focus on chipmusic. Ramocki is a media scholar, so there’s lots of philosophical discussions, often following a marxist tradition of appropriating commodities. I remember this as being very good, but unfortunately it was never released to the public. Rumours say it’s because of licensing problems with some huge artist, but I don’t know. 8 BIT featured people like like Nullsleep, Role Model, Cory Arcangel, Bit Shifter, Glomag, Bubblyfish, Teamtendo, Bodenständig 2000, Treewave, Gameboyz Orchestra, etc. I didn’t contribute anything to 8 BIT.

Reformat the Planet (2 Player Productions) is a documentation of Blip Festival, the New York chipscene and the artists engaged there. 2PP had recorded several Blip festivals, and did a good job in explaining the recent history that made that happen. They asked me to write a more in-depth history with some reflections on how to define chipmusic, which I did. It dawned on me, however, that the American history of chipmusic is quite different from the European one. Which is yet another reason that Europe in 8 Bits is a good idea. Anyway, Reformat the Planet features artists such as Peter Swimm, Tristan Perich, Aonami, Nullsleep, Bit Shifter, Mark DeNardo, noteNdo and Random.

 

Soundchips as Modular Synthesizers

January 16, 2014

I recently found the SID Guts rack, which turns the SID into a rack unit for modular composing. It seems to be really interesting to work with, and follows in the footsteps of eg POKEY.synth and myriads of DIY-projects. Long before that there was the Sidstation that made commercial synthesizers from the SID-chip. We’ll probably see more of this in the future, seeing that modular synthesizers is getting popular again.

So far, these platforms lack features (and bugs) that you get when working with these chips on a computer. With the original setups you could do multi-speed, sample playback, new waveforms, etc. To put it differently: you can’t use these systems to play the original chipmusic files, which rely heavily on various software trickeries.

Good riddance, maybe. To me, these rack units detach the soundchips from a context that has been tormenting them for decades: cheap and simple, nostalgic and videogamey, and used more for “programming than playing”, if you know what I mean.

Working with modular units means that you can have sounds/electricity affect eachother in complex setups. This is something that trackers are really bad at, because they work according to a linear logic, from top to bottom or vice versa. With these new machines, you can work in a more chaotic way, setting up systems that will play new music forever.

Or you know, “music”. Of course, it often turns into noise/drone/ambient which is a lot more introvert than the dance/pop aesthetics of the chip- and demoscenes. It seems to come with the territory. But anyway. These new gadget show two things that I think is important:

1. Soundchips are not as different from synthesizers as many people think. In fact, some of the early “synth music” like Cindy Electronium (1959) sounds very much like chipmusic. But in the 1990s these sounds were hi-jacked by 8-bit references, instead of being called analogue.

2. Even if you can technically make “any music” with a computer+soundchip+tracker, the music made with the rack interfaces are very different. For one, the cultural contexts crave for different music. The chipscene has been pretty obsessed with dance music, and modular synth geeks are … not. Secondly, the interfaces affect the way you compose. Trackers influence you to make music in certain ways. And I think this is an important point, which I was reaching for in my thesis. But if you want to make music, it might be a good idea to stay away from that topic…


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers