solipsistic NATION No. 8: Chiptunes

ChiptunesChiptune is music written in sound formats where the sounds are synthesized by a computer or video game console sound chip. The so-called “golden age” of chiptunes was the mid 1980s to early 1990s, when such sound chips were the only way for creating music on computers.

The composers had a great degree of flexibility in creating music while at the same time they had to operate under the strict limitions imposed by the medium they were working within because the early computer sound chips had only simple tone generators and noise generators.

While chiptunes are closely related to video game music the term is also used for music that uses these distinct-sounding synthesizer instruments for their artistic value.

Special thanks to x|k for provinding the incidental music that appears on today’s show.

8 Bit Movie8 Bit Movie
8 BIT is a hybrid documentary examining the influence of video games on contemporary culture directed by Marcin Ramocki and co-directed by Justin Strawhand. A mélange of a rocumentary, art expose and a culture-critical investigation, 8 BIT ties together seemingly disconnected phenomena like the 80’s demo scene, chiptune music and contemporary artists using machinima and modified games.

8 BIT insists that in the 21st century Game-Boy rock, machinima and game theory belong together and share a common root: the digital heritage of Generation X.

Johan KotlinskiRole Model
Role Model is Johan Kotlinski, the creator of Little Sound Disk Jockey. LSDJ enables the user to sequence and program music to run on the Game Boy’s sound processor. LSDJ is primarily used by chiptune artists, however it is also popular with many other musicians for writing songs featuring gameboy sounds.

Johan Kotlinski is a Media Engineering & Computer Science student at KTH, Stockholm, Sweden. Johan also runs Rebel Pet Set, a record label; and Microdisko, a Stockholm chip music club.

Swedish born Tobias von Hofsten started breaking the silence in the late nineties. Music and poetry has since then been his main form of self therapy. Tobias enjoys a light case of robophilia and is spiritual from Z to A, with connections both upstairs and below. After a complete rebirth ONE was born and Tobias continues expanding self-boundaries of reality and balancing consciousness, exploring the soul of life and the music contained within. Approved by the Interplanetary Funk Federation, and given the Wisdom of Trees, ONE is a key channel for the cosmic love on planet earth, communicating organic machine soul.

Laromlab is a chiptune music project created by Brandon Harrod in Bowling Green, Kentucky around 1998. Laromlab started out as Kid 8 Bit but was cemented as Laromlab around 2001 when Harrod desired a name change and was currently living on Balmoral Avenue in Chicago, IL. Laromlab has been through a whole slew of genres in electronic music inluding digital hardcore ( see 2004 release “That Blood Is For Real” on Komplott Records), gameboy pop, IDM, breakcore,drum n bass, and most recently the genre in which Harrod coined the term Crisco Disco. Laromlab has played over 50 shows in the United States and is currently putting together a solo tour of the entire country and some festival shows.

Nullsleep uses Game Boys and NES consoles to create conceptually unique music that blends subversive hardware hacking with powerful melodic pop. In 1999, he cofounded the 8bitpeoples — a collective of artists interested in the audio/video aesthetics of early computers and videogames. In the time since, Nullsleep has released a number of recordings which demonstrate his constant push for new ways to force the most out of yesterday’s machines and an unparalleled romantic chiptune intensity. A very active live musician, he recently completed a 20-date world tour with chiptune compatriot Bit Shifter and is now organizing the upcoming Blip Festival in New York City.

The Mikro Orchestra ProjectThe Mikro Orchestra Project
The Mikro Orchestra Project is an experimental sound – visual project, basing on the use of game console as a music instrument. The main assumption of project’s authors is to create new sound space on the base of tones generated live from console during the performance.

They use elements from archives and current pop culture, in relation to peculiar choreography of their concerts (no move at all) create a kind of an anti-performance commenting quasi avant-garde attempts to place electronic music on the stage next to the spectacular concerts of pop stars. They are also inspired by the aesthetic of 8 bit computers and old school games. The kitschy setting of their performances is purposeful, however it would be a mistake to perceive it as a mean of any ideology.

Towards the end of the 1980′s, together with his brother, Anders Carlsson bought a Commodore 64 homecomputer. Anders changed lifestyle from sporty to geeky and spent most of the following decade infront of either a C64 or its big brother Amiga, making music and collecting massive amounts of soft and hardware. In 2001, after numerous obscure demo recordings, he released Papaya EP on Bleepstreet Records. It was schlagerdubrockelectro made with Commodore 64 and a vocoder. Goto80′s eclectic approach to music was tied together by his experience in lo-tech sound programming, and Papaya EP was a hit.

In 2002 he released Bushrunner EP and Goto80 started appearing on compilations and internet releases, such as Philemon Arthur and the Vic, the 8 Bits of Christmas on 8bitpeoples and the mad C64 mega drum’n'bass track Monkeywarning on Monotonik. In 2003 he escaped fame and fortune by emigrating to Australia, to return to Sweden in 2004. He’s now living in Gothenburg, continuing his task to realise new ideas with old hardware.

8 Bit Weapon8 Bit Weapon
8 Bit Weapon is the brainchild of Seth Sternberger. Seth has performed across two continents with an arsenal of 8 bit weapons, which include a Commodore 64 and 128, a couple of Nintendo Gameboy classics, an Intellivision synthesizer, hybrid lo-fi acoustic-electric drums, and an assortment of other vintage and toy synthesizers.

Inspired by classic videogame soundtracks and electronic music from the 70s and 80s, 8 Bit Weapon delivers a sound that is as unique as it is original. Clever melodies, nostalgic atmosphere, and energetic beats create a decidedly modern sound while maintaining a fun, lo-tech aesthetic.

Photo Credit: small ape

  1. Role Model “Pop5″
  2. One “8-Bit Missionary”
  3. Laromlab “Wrathulon”
  4. Nullsleep “Her Lazer Light Eyes”
  5. The Mikro Orchestra Project “Autofire”
  6. Goto80 “Datahell”
  7. 8 Bit Weapon “Arcade!”

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1:02:44 | 57.47 MB

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  • Eric

    Laromlab is a fraud. He has openly admitted to stealing every track on his album. You can read about this on his FORMER label’s web site and CMJ has also done an article about this act of piracy.

  • solipsisticnation

    Yeah, Eric, I heard about that.

    When I first found out about it I wasn’t able to form an opinion on the matter. If Laromlab was just sampling then I didn’t have a problem with his music. Sampling is a vital form of culture so I could hardly take issue with that. What I didn’t know was what he was doing was outright musical theft. It’s one thing to sample a bit of music and recontextualize it and quite another to steal songs wholesale.

    I read Laromlab’s statement that he did it because he was creatively blocked and never expected that things would go this far. I don’t know what he was thinking. In this day of living online, how could he possibly think someone would not find out?

    Another reason why this is such a disappointment is that there are so few artists in the U.S. who create chiptunes. Not only have we lost an artists form this dynamic genres but I’m afraid it might give people a false impression of chiptunes.

  • KCross!!!

    No way, can’t believe this is the first I heard about this, I had so much respect for that guy. I don’t see how being ‘creatively blocked’ could even be considered an excuse for outright theft. I haven’t been writing chiptune music for long but I’d be extremely peeved if I had any of my music stolen.

    I just hope that what he’s done doesn’t stop new and upcoming artists from showing off their work.

  • solipsisticnation

    Sad but true, KCross. Damn shame because that pretty much means the end of Laromlab’s career as a recording artists.

  • KCross!!!
    Not exactly the same thing and don’t know whether you’ve heard about it yet but Crystal Castles, although they don’t associate with the chiptune scene, stealing work(art and musical) from us.

  • solipsisticnation

    I just got an email from Negin Farsad, the producer of Nerdcore Rising with a link to a YouTube video of the Nerd of the Week just for all you chiptune heads out there.


  • solipsisticnation

    KCross!!! I just got the Crystal Castles CD int he email the other day. I haven’t listened to it yet so I don’t know much about their chiptunes influences or theft of other chiptune artists.

    Thanks for the tip!

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