[The video game-influenced Data Beez chiptune music tour hits San Francisco today, and Gamasutra talks to some of the tour's artists on their bleeptastic audio and visual work.]
The Data Beez West Coast chip music tour
is currently in full swing, with stops planned for San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. The Los Angeles stopover of the music tour, which took place on Nov. 7th, was sponsored by Adam Robezzoli
, proprietor of game culture shop Attract Mode
, and was intended to spread knowledge of the use of vintage game consoles in creating live music and visuals.
Beez got underway Saturday afternoon with a chiptune workshop, dubbed "the preliminary pollination," taking place at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. It was made possible by Eric Nakamura
and took place in conjunction with a 15-year Giant Robot anniversary exhibition
at the gallery space.
Featured speakers included chip musician Starpause
, along with visual artists Paris Graphics
and Daniel Rehn
. In this interview, several participating artists of the Data Beez micro tour share thoughts on what the aesthetic of retro game devices means to them:
How did you meet Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot?
I wanted to get some business advice from him when launching Attract Mode, and I really respected what he had done with Giant Robot. I saw ties between what he had done with Asian pop culture and what I was trying to do with videogame culture. He was cool with it and we decided to do an art show [Game Over/Continue?
] together in San Francisco for GDC.
What is your vision for the future of Attract Mode?
I describe it as a videogame culture shop. It's about doing cool projects like art and chiptune shows and building up a community here in LA. I'm planning on holding some indie game nights where people come and show off their games -- everyone plays them and has fun.
Do you see educational events like the one today being a future possibility?
Yes, I think one of the reasons that people aren't into indie games or chiptunes is that they haven't been exposed to them. My graphic designer friends that don't play games, all you need to do is show them a gameplay clip of Fez
and they all want to play, so having events where people see what it's about can make a big difference.
[Starpause gives a Game Boy + chip music talk]
How many of these talks have you given previously?
Maybe twenty. When I was living in Minneapolis I would hold workshops and distribute a photocopied one-page called "How to Get Started with Little Sound DJ
." People would come over, I would put LSDJ in their Game Boys, then walk them step-by-step through making their first beat.
I remember doing orders for a grip of ems carts that would come out to like $400 and the shipment from Hong Kong would take a couple months and get caught up in customs. It was a party when the package finally came and everyone got their toy. We'd have a Super Game Boy
in the SNES and take turns writing rows in LSDJ making mega corpses.
Are there chip music get-togethers like this one in the Bay Area?
Absolutely, there's a chip specific event in San Francisco called Dutycycle
which happens on a semi-monthly basis. I throw that party with Crashfaster
, who's the head of 8bitsf. LoveTech/LearnTech
happens monthly and is mostly about people getting together and sharing their process. Similarly there's BarCMut
which is another venue for open discourse on making electronic music in general.
Does the presence of tech gatherings in Northern California, like Noisebridge and Maker Faire, mean there are more people curious about the concept of repurposing game consoles?
It's funny you mention that because it keeps reminding me of places where I've given talks, like Linux meetups. Performing there is a lot of fun too, because people are interested both in the tech aspect and the fun of electronic music.
Do you get a sense of their being sources of tension between the chip music scene and game companies like Nintendo and Sony, because to get a lot of this software running you're required to resort to some of the same methods as pirating software.
Even now with newer systems like the PSP and Dingoo running Piggie Tracker, it's still something where you have to kind of like jailbreak it using a service battery to run your homebrew software. It's understandable that Sony doesn't want people pirating stuff, and gradually companies are giving their users more trust and respect. I think there's a trend in that direction, even in terms of companies opening up their PR a bit with blogs.
I really like iRobot's EULA which goes something like "have fun hacking your roomba vacuum friend but don't come crying to us when you royally mess him up." Being an optimist I think in time all corporations will realize they're in the business of servicing their user wishes and have a more open line of dialog.
Would the introduction of visualizer software like .detuned and Linger in Shadows be a sign that companies like Sony can find a common ground with the demoscene?
Yes, but not just common ground with the demoscene. That happened because Sony is opening up to more user-generated content. Users like inexpensive, fun software from indie companies. I trust that Sony and Nintendo will keep lowering the barrier of entry for developers to get started on their platforms and you'll see more innovation.
Do you consider your music for the PSP to be something other than true chiptunes, like an emulation or homage?
It's a common misconception that chip music requires an original sound chip. The term "chiptune" didn't come about until people like 4Mat
were making music that sounded like those classic machines on modern hardware. Before that, it was all just "computer music." That's what you made with a Commodore 64 or an Apple.
I don't think it's any more or less authentic to make it on a huge computer or to use Ableton, so long as you have it in your mind that you're making a period piece, especially if you consider the original constraints. As long as the term chiptune has existed, it's been about an aesthetic choice. My own choice of tools comes from the necessity for my rig to be portable. It's also more fun to play around with synthesis and beats curled up in bed than staring at the same screen I've been writing code at all day.
Why do you put your music out under a Creative Commons license?
My music, for me, has always just been about expression and sharing what I like with other people. I've found that putting something out under the Creative Commons allows it to be shared and distributed the most widely.
People sometimes ask me, "Well, what if people use your music in child pornography?" First of all, that would obviously suck. Second, that would mean they put the child pornography under the Creative Commons share-alike license, and what does that mean?
Honestly, I'm comfortable with people taking my music and using it in ways that I couldn't have foreseen and maybe don't appreciate. It's not my place to police their aesthetic. I'm more curious than anything else to see where people will take it.
[Daniel Rehn and Paris Graphics present on portable visualizers]
When did you decide to bring your background in mathematics and science to the chipmusic scene?
I was mostly a programmer. I'd heard cracktros
and thought they were great, but it wasn't until around 2004 that I found out people were doing it live. I caught a show in New York and started going regularly. What really turned me onto it, there was aduo out of the Netherlands called the C-Men
. I saw them play in New York, doing everything on old Amigas.
At the time I was doing visuals, but they were analog: combining oscillators that take up a whole room. Music and visuals are sort of the same thing if you work on it at on a synthesis level. Bit Shifter
saw some of the work I was doing and invited me to do a show. I did it and I loved it, and started thinking about how I could translate that onto a laptop, and then eventually to game systems.
How did your ongoing collaboration with visual artist Outpt come about?
She teaches game development at Brooklyn Poly and has a really strong math background. I was getting ready for Blip [Festival]
last year and had written some new music for the Game Boy Advance. I actually had too much stuff to control, so I asked her if she would help out and join me. She did, and we just really clicked. We must have done like fifty shows together this year.
Is there a new direction that you see yourself moving toward?
Yeah, Mary Ann (Outpt) and I are doing a new thing that is audio/video together at the same time. Hopefully we'll be doing shows soon that are all in one, so I'm looking forward to that.
[From left to right: Paris Graphics, Daniel Rehn, Starpause, Minusbaby, Adam Robezzoli, Mr. Spastic, Crashfaster, Trash80]
[More info on the West Coast Micro Tour can be found on databeez.com. Photo/ videos by Jeriaska.]