terça-feira, 20 de julho de 2010

Contemporary 8-bit Music

As a kid, I frequently found myself listening to the music emitted by the TV speakers as some NES game ran unplayed - thus perverting the device from an entertainment computer to a MIDI jukebox. In a matter of fact, I can still recall the entire song that played during combat in The Immortal as if I had just listened to it - and I still love it!* To my surprise, I recently discovered I am not the only one who fondly remembers those timbers that so distinctly bring back a whole era when games came in cartridges, shoulder pads were fashionable, and garage bands had demo tapes.

True, it's been a few years since a Russian musical project called 386 DX gained relative fame by presenting the audience to synthesized music performed by a PC powered by a processor of the family that names the unorthodox band. However, even though it was a musical project - albeit it probably transcends music as more of a general aesthetic proposal - and featured undeniably dated sound synthesis, the endeavor seemed more like an experimental take on music than nostalgia-driven creation of music by means which mimic the results obtained by the hardware existent within a certain time frame. Nevertheless, I find 386 DX quite an interesting artistic effort and really recommend you watch this video if you are not acquainted with it, even if just out of curiosity.

The focus of this article is on the contemporary 8-bit music scene, which aims at achieving characteristics of what was once considered a necessary evil as storage space was very restrict and videogame sound synthesis produced what I am sure drove a whole generation of unsuspecting parents crazy as their children enjoyed one of the many gems of the time. Perhaps the most radical example of such music is that of 8 Bit Weapon - as their website says: "8 Bit Weapon has performed across two continents with an arsenal of 8 bit weapons, which include a Commodore 64 and 128, a couple Nintendo Gameboy classics, Nintendo N.E.S., Intellivision synthesizer, Atari 2600, Speak n Spell; Speak n Music, some hybrid lo-fi acoustic-electric drums, and an assortment of other vintage and toy synthesizers." Pretty amazing, in my opinion. If you wish to listen to some samples of their interesting and engaging music, just follow the links I've placed below:

As gaming is an inexorable aspect of 8-bit music - to the point where some artists perform live playing consoles instead of the usual instruments and equipment - it is only natural that the composers of our time take advantage of the same phenomena that allows for the current boom of game developers and distribute their work within the titles those promising programmers are releasing. VVVVVV, for instance, is a great independent game with vintage graphics and audio that is linked to a website that sells the excellent game soundtrack. It sounds like such a good idea, I am seriously considering adopting this business model, at least partially, with the games I am currently developing: make a great game, score it remarkably, and you just got yourself two marketable products instead of just one! Moreover, I believe it is more profitable to sell a pair of correlated items that promote each other than to offer two unrelated products, as the person who enjoys your game might not even know about your CD, and vice-versa.

If you are a musician, Tweakbench offers three awesome VST plugins for free: Peach (a NES-resembling synthesizer), Toad (NES drums), and Triforce (a synthesizer that closely emulates the sounds of the NES, plus an arpeggiator). Another very useful plugins is Bitboy by Darkware - which is also freeware, by the way. Finally, Magical 8bit Plug is not one to be missed, as it offers great quality, also demands no investment, and comes both in VST and AU forms.

If you do not own a sequencer with VST hosting capabilities, there are plenty of free options online. In despite of the probable initial learning curve, I trust the trouble of getting used to one will pay off when you start creating with those powerful tools. Of course, there is an infinity of different methods one could apply to make 8-bit music, but software emulation and simulation are the easiest and cheapest I am aware of.

Overall, it seems the scenario is getting better and better for those who, like me, had been missing the atmosphere that only carefully arranged bips and bops can provide. I truly hope you have enjoyed this first post of mine - hopefully, the first of many!

Thank you for reading, fell free to post your comments, and, please, do come back - as I've got a lot of nice subjects I plan to develop here.

* If you wish to listen to the soundtrack of The Immortal, you will have a much better time with the NES version, since the Genesis port featured less interesting arrangements - even though the themes are the same. There are other ports which I really never played - so, I really cannot testify on behalf or against their quality.

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