Archive for the ‘nes’ Category

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?


From Neil Baldwin to Killer Collectivism: 1980s NES-music

November 12, 2009

There is an interview with Neil Baldwin at Original Sound Version. It’s a good interview and very well-researched, so check it out. Neil did his first game music for the NES in 1990 and hasn’t stopped since. He’s recently returned to chipmusic by describing all game music he’s made at his site, work on a new text-based NES music software to make full use of the NES (mentioned before), and he has produced some new music! Don’t miss his last one, Cleptoplank, full-force triple-speed NES-action literally beyond the chips.

Neil started on the C64 and there are interesting comparisons between C64 and NES. Neil says: “I think the most difficult aspect technically was coping with the different approach required for a ROM-based medium. All those self-modifying-code tricks that you could do on C64 were just not possible. As I’ve said before, we also lacked proper technical information, so it was very much trial and error. It’s not actually correct to say I used C64 drivers, but the NES ones were definitely modeled on the same token/sequence/track format that I (and most other people) used to use, which was probably invented by Rob Hubbard.”

He mentions his bottom-up way of composing. Ehm, that doesn’t sound right. What I mean is, while some composers write the composition before the code (like Hubbard wrote scores on paper that he transcribed into assembler), others find their way through the hardware/software and gradually come up with a song. Neil: “I never sat down and planned out a song as a traditional composer might. From that point-of-view, I was constantly messing around with the audio programming side, trying to invent new ways of making the NES sound different…”

On the question of favourite NES-composers, it’s interesting that Neil only refers to Western composers “(apart from the obvious Japanese guys)”. Not being a real NES-music freak I might be wrong, but I feel like there is a gap between Japanese and Western NES-music in the 1980s (ie, Europe & America). Musically it might be a bit of a stretch to say that Western composers were more oriented towards rock. (or..?) I’m talking more about the methods of production, about how you treated technology. It seems that Western composers wanted to stretch the limits of the soundchip, to break out of the system. For Japanese composers it was more important to stay within the systemand focus on composition rather than production, so to say. Respecting the materiality, like a guitar builder.

It would be interesting to hear your views on this. Surely there are exceptions. But it is weird that on the C64 it only took a few years until the experimenting got pretty hardcore, while on the NES it is difficult to find transgressive uses of the 2A0basic master3 in the 1980s. It cannot only be becase the NES is a console and the C64 was open for any freaks to explore, right? Why did Japan never have a something like a demoscene? The first homecomputer was Japanese (pictured). Were there any network hackers in Japan? Were the 8-bit computers not so popular since 8 bits could not include all the Japanese characters? So were computers predominantly expensive 16-bit business machines? Any answers would be very welcome. Meanwhile, I have another idea.

Western composers had been fostered in an individualistic culture where hacking and (personal) computers had to do with self-realization. Counterculture and commerce united in a Californian ideology that portrayed computers as tools for Freedom. I don’t know the history of hacking or creative computing in Asia, but it seems unlikely that such libertarian ideas would develop in more collectivistic culture such as Japan. Western thought has been pre-occupied for centuries with the idea of transcendence rather than immanence. You know – free will, independence, and objectivity is better than submerging into a group and a system of beliefs. That’s the individualistic system of belief. ;) It might be far-fetched, but I think that centuries of thought is bound to have some effect on how music is made, also with soundchips. Again, I don’t know enough about Japanese culture, but maybe it could be a sign of disrespect towards Nintendo to use the soundchip in any way you please. Maybe that is a property of your culture that you are not supposed to just ‘break’. For a hardcore individualist, that way of reasoning would be a sign of Japan’s Killer Collectivism (LOL).

And Neil, if you are reading this … I don’t know what to say. I am sorry I dragged you into this mess. :)

Ready > Run Exhibition: What is in a system?

October 13, 2009

A month ago the Ready > Run exhibition opened in Philadelphia, and will run until November 7th at the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery. It shows works from Enso, minusbaby, noteNdo, Nullsleep, VBLANK, Animal Style, MET-Lab, NO CARRIER, Paul Slocum, Dan and Winckler. From the site: “Chip musicians and pixel artists work within the limitations of these vintage technologies by hacking their childhood toys to generate complex new genres of music and visual art that challenge and reflect the identity of contemporary art on an international level.” The text thus places the works as operating within the ‘limits’ of material systems, but expanding symbolic systems through ‘complex new genres’. Is that really what the exhibition does…?

As noted before, chipmusic is usually accompanied by either glitch aesthetics or 8-bit craftmanship; what Heidegger would label bringing-forth and challening-forth respectively. Videogame hardware or software are obviously used, and maybe more often than some artists want to admit (me?!) the symbolics and aesthetics of videogames are also used. This exhibition shows all of these discourses.

Enso and minusbaby represent craftmanship with their good-looking printed pixel graphics.The NES musicdisk Teletype by Animal Style and No Carrier, operates in a similar domain. Animal style also exhibits a Gameboy connected to a home made amplifier. Paul Slocum displays his old work ‘Combat Rock’ where a cover of “Rock the Casbah” has been added to the Atari 2600-game Combat.

There are several works that combine videogames and interaction, with glitch aesthetics. In Data Spills, Nullsleep hacks a NES-game and makes it spill program logic into the representational layer, producing glitch artifacts. No Carrier presents his GlitchNES that you can control with a Power Pad and noteNdo works with hardware-glitches of the NES that can be controlled by intercepting lazer lights. VBLANK also creates glitch aesthetics when he transcodes the ROM of an Atari XE onto the screen, and enables joystick interaction.

These works go beyond the limitations of systems in several ways. There are physical interfaces that are not inherent to the systems. There are no NES-printers and therefore printed NES-graphics can only exist outside the system. There are unfortunately no lazer interfaces to the NES either, and it is possible that the hardware modifications by noteNdo produces effects and artifacts that are out-of-system-experiences; things that software and emulators can only (try to) dream of. The ideal glitches; those that cannot be reproduced or explained.

To me, it is highly relevant to think of what constitutes a system and, from that perspective, define limitations and possibilities. How is a system empowering and disempowering? Chipstyled works are described both as remaining within systems, and transgressing the limits of systems, which seems quite true. But it would be interesting to study more in-depth what a system really is, by studying the transgressive aswell as traditional uses. It is not only relevant for chipmusic; such platform-specific analyses could maybe say a thing or two about popular culture in general. All photos below taken by Marjorie Becker.

Animal Style: Juvenile Amplifier

NES Landscapes by enso

Reset v2.0 by noteNdo

Teletime by Animal Style and No Carrier

She Needs to Put Some Clothes On

September 25, 2009

Diplo (currently on some sort of world tour) released “Diplo Rhyhtm” on Big Dada in 2004, using the music from the NES game Platoon, Kraftwerk, and vocals. I don’t know who composed the NES-song, but the C64-version was made by Jonathan Dunn.

Mashups are rarely done in style, and this is no exception. Enjoy!

More Soundchip Hacking: Realtime SID delay

September 23, 2009

The Norwegian composer Geir Tjelta has introduced a new trick for the SID-chip: realtime delay. The output of the third channel of the SID can be recorded, and by delaying the playback of the sample on the “virtual” fourth channel, you get a subtle echo. This routine doesn’t use much CPU-time either. A nice and elegant trick. Get the exe and mp3 here. It needs to run on the old 6581 chip, since this technique for playing samples relies on a bug that was almost fixed with the new 8580 chip.

Another modern way of making automatic echoes is Neil Baldwin‘s routine for his new NES music editor, Nijuu. Instead of sampling sounds, it detects free spaces in the tracks and triggers notes with decreasing volumes. It uses more CPU but sounds  more obvious than Tjelta’s echoes. Listen to the MP3.

As a sidenote – Geir and Neil are both chipmusicians from the 1980s having recently returned with a boom. Geir also programs an editor together with GRG, Sid Duzz It, which according to the rumours will include this echo effect along with extensive MIDI support in the next version.

Edit Oct 01: Geir says it will not be included in the new SDI.

Dancepads and Axes

July 3, 2008

Yesh yesh, some hardware/software combinations that might be of interest to you.

Via a while back, I found Musicpad64. It is a BASIC software for C64 by nicovideonico. By controlling it with a Playstation Dance Pad, he’s made this videoclip. It’s a nice song – melancholic and dirty, just the way we like it! We should let our feet do the composing more often.

And via getlofi I discoverred electrokraft who is in the process of making several cartridges for NES to play music with its 2A03. Watch a video clip demonstration of the software in action with his custom built Sonic DrumAxe here. The sounds are not really that interesting, and I am not sure what the software “Super Synth Drums” is capable of. I am guessing that MidiNes is a lot better, but on the other hand you are not programming that straight on the NES.

Gijs Gieskes Hard Soft Synth, surfacing on the web a few months ago, might not be 8-bit (for those of yous that care) but it sounds sort of like it, and it looks great!