I was watching a documentary on TV about a Norwegian artist called Pushwagner (born 1940). Suddenly I heard arpeggios. And ring modulation. And wavetable drums. Hm, what’s this C64 stuff doing in a documentary like this, I thought. That raised some questions, so I got in touch Gisle Martens Meyer who made the music for Pushwagner, and he was kind enough to answer my questions.
It turns out that he once smashed an Amiga 500 on stage, composed MODs and also made some more recent chip-releases under the name Ninja 9000. But I was curious about how he works with chip sounds for soundtracks. Apparently he always uses SID-sounds, more or less, but some clients are more conservative than others…
Listen to the Pushwagner songs on Soundcloud (fyi, Goblin Roadtrip is the most chippy one)
CHIPFLIP > Could you tell us a little about the process behind it? Was it your idea to include these sounds? Did you have any specific ideas behind it?
GMM > Actually the process of providing music to the film is less old-skool writing-to-locked-image and more supplying-directors-with-material-to-work-with. The directors had access to all my stuff during a rather long production period, for maybe four years I think. So they always worked on the film with bits of my music (from all of my projects), but I didn’t write specifically for them during this preproduction. I just kept releasing stuff, or giving them unreleased stuff.
Then, during editing, the last six months, I’m properly involved, mostly in discussing track or cue selections, and if they need musical edits to fit their cuts I arrange it as we agree. In some cases I rewrite or adapt tracks so they work better with the scene. So it’s not scoring in a traditional sense. The directors work with mostly finished music all the time. I work like this with multiple directors, it’s like a sliding scale from sync license to adaptive score… So to answer the question; no – I did not “add” the arps and SID stuff there during scoring, the directors did by choosing those tracks, and we actually discussed their sound and how/if they would fit.
The directors (like me) grew up with C64 and Amigas and we all love those sounds, but also know they could appear alien, depending on context. So it wasn’t me, it was all of us making a deliberate choice.
CHIPFLIP > Did you or the directors have any relation to the demoscene?
GMM > I can’t remember if the directors were active sceners or quietly contributing / creating without making it public… So I can’t speak for them. I was a young and clueless musician and didn’t really participate much in groups or front of scene, I was lurking far away. I made some music disks on my own, mostly under pseudonym Gnosis and through a Czech group called Torture Of Music. I think some of it is available in scene archives.
CHIPFLIP > Do you, or anyone else, think that the common associations of these sounds (videogames and 8-bit) was problematic for the atmosphere of the documentary?
GMM > No, and I never heard anyone else either, rather the opposite I think, it really works. The kind of people who would react negatively to SID-sounds wouldn’t watch this kind of documentary. If they exist, how can anyone not like those sounds…
I think people “into” these kinds of things recognize particulars, like it sounds like a C64. Other people just recognize or label it as “the kind of videogame sound”. Other people again (like kids) just like the bubbly fun or the playfullness of it.
And in general I think if you use SID-sounds – as any other sound – as a balanced musical element in a larger context, it works fine and it can hold it’s own. It’s just there and it sounds right.
CHIPFLIP > Some would say that by now, chipsounds stand on their own feet, separated from the 8bit/videogame thing. What do you think?
GMM > I agree and agreed a long time ago. I hear it lots of places in all kinds of contexts. It always makes me happy, there should be more :)
CHIPFLIP > What kind of feedback have you received?
GMM > Positive. Kids seem to love the bubbly C64 tracks. Adults seem to like the span of genres, sounds and atmospheres in the music. The soundtrack was featured in some online services like Spotify and Wimp when it was released. I don’t read reviews, but I understand the movie in general was well received. The score was nominated for best film music at the Norwegian film awards Amanda this summer, and is also nominated for Nordic Film Composer Awards.
CHIPFLIP > Did you use SID-sounds for other soundtracks aswell?
GMM > Yes, always, and got them into several, but mostly as an element and not complete solution. And sometimes very subtle, like a cameo…. I also did some conceptual work on a film score using deliberate Amiga Protracker sounds and programming, but that one has been in funding phase for ages. But curiously I note that in my TV work there is rarely room for or approval of SID-sounds. TV is perhaps more conservative.
CHIPFLIP > When your SID sounds are not approved in TV-productions, how is that usually expressed? What do they say that they don’t like?
GMM > It’s never an angry director or producer wanting to remove it, it’s usually intuitive understanding by me not to waste time trying to sneak it in, because there is so little time for everything in TV. I usually work with people I am very well in sync with, so I mostly just “know” it wouldn’t work, because of the total sound or aesthetics of the series or project. I am sure there are situations where it would work wonders, I just haven’t been exposed to them yet.
Like I did a sci-fi puppet series for kids, and the sound was “orchestral symphonic”, and trying to make it “hollywood”. I didn’t even think of chipsounds, it didn’t fit. But I can use “chip” techniques, like a subtle one-time +12 octave arp at the start of sounds to make it stand out quicker for a theme signal, things like that.
I think TV is often shorter “everything”, shorter time for production, shorter span for telling something, shorter room for experimentation. TV’s just hectic, in all ways. That’s maybe why less chip there, or if it’s there, it’s really obvious there. Don’t know. Interesting to think about, good questions!