I’m sitting here listening to a chiptune music stream, of whose origin I don’t even remember. It’s been in my winamp playlist for the past few days and the only info that pops up when I play it is the current song playing. No commercials or station signifiers. I’m sure I’ll be able to find it again after browsing through my recent downloads or web history.
I was looking for a chiptune online radio station to listen to that was just the perfect mix of demoscene and video games songs. Something that didn’t drift too far into the territory of 90’s dance or EDM, which I find some chiptune related stations tend to do from time to time.
So I found this perfect station and have been listening to it more regularly than I listen to any other music (that is unless you count my consistent shower time sing alongs with Sarah Mchlachlan’s “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”)… and I keep coming across these amazing tunes that for the first time in a long time, make me want to download some tracks and start a personal collection of chiptunes.
I tend to be the kind of person who just downloads best-of’s, or listens to complete albums, but I hardly do the “single” thing because when I fall in love with a band, I tend to fall in love with an album or their entire work.
I also hardly tend to fall in love with music in a deep and meaningful way, which is important to me, which is why I always feel bad when people suggest I listen to something because it’s very rare for me to really love music… and I love music, I just don’t love-love music. That is to say, I appreciate all sonic work, but I also fucking love music, like… I dunno man, on a level I find is hardly matched by even people who say they really like music. I would gladly have no problem taking a song I enjoy and pausing it every few seconds to explain to you why every lyric, note, instrument and texture holds a multitude of perfection in its placement… even in songs I know other people would consider shit.
So when I come across a song I like, I really like it, and that happened today while listening to this mysterious chiptune station that I feel as though I am holding onto as a precious gem.
Here’s the song. My commentary on it, and how nothing has changed below.
It starts out so simple and pleasant, as though a lullaby from a 16 bit era RPG, and then the bass comes in and you hear what is a high fidelity influence, something from jazz, from a time when a fretless bass seemed like a good idea… and the ethereal fluttering synth so characteristic of C64 SID based music… and then the lead hits.
A vicious texture. I’m immediately drawn in to what feels like a glamour knife piercing the veil of the lullaby with a violently purposeful statement that must-be-heard but does not-know-how as it then drunkenly stumbles around a lazy progression that ends in a glorious explosion of certainty.
This isn’t the first time this radio station has blessed me with such amazing glory. It happened yesterday. I was certain I would start a collection of chiptunes. I heard a song… I thought it was Star Fox but turned out to be Metal Slug. I looked it up but realized there was no place to properly download the track. No place to give the artist money or thanks for their work. I got lost in a “Who made this song?” rabbit hole that led me to discover a little about the composer of the SNES Star Fox soundtrack and how he went on to form his own company of which he is still the CEO of… a company he named Faith.
Hajime Hirasawa is his name, who is also Deputy Director of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra who before his time there, was the orchestra who in 1984 performed the soundtrack for The Return of Godzilla.
One of my other favorite chiptune composers of the 90’s, who once went by the name, Purple Motion, is also now involved with classical music under his birth name, Jonne Valtonen, a conductor and composer whose musical creations used to dance around the demoscene world with such high intensity and inspiration, who now has taken that energy and put it into the concert hall, the orchestra, who now arranges and conducts incredible live video game music performances.
I am happy for him, but sad for the genre of music I so enjoy and yearn for, where the limitations of sample based software sequencers, known as trackers, bumping up against popular music genres, european techno, the thrill of digital interactive adventures, drugs, and the promise of an inter networked, highly connected, true and genuine freedom of information and art and the expressive buzz of such things surrounding and pounding and vibrating the world to life with ALL THE THINGS was Juuuuuuuuuuuust around the corner.
But it wasn’t, and it was.
The once free net didn’t need to be censored by any government.. we chose to do it ourselves.
By making online social networks a mandatory part of our lives where we filtered out information from the net ourselves, where we became so lazy / hungry for the click click click and nom nom nom of easily digestible info that we don’t even question where the information comes from anymore, and if the info isn’t what we want it to be, we ignore, block, and filter out the world wide web until it’s just a few strands that give us an endless supply of juicy bugs, and I guess that’s good enough.
No alarms and no surprises, please.
But I digress.
Actually, I guess I’m on point, because as we filter out the stream of information that comes to us online. As we only engage and process the information that comes to us the most easily and satisfactorily, hardly caring where it came from, as long as its entertaining there, in the moment…. so much is being lost.
The internet used to be a place where information was stored and then accessed.
Now the internet has become a stream.
A minimally interactive television.
… and this shifting shape of the net means we are losing so much.
In 30 – 60 years when the people streaming these chiptune stations, if we are so lucky to have them that long, are dead and no one else thought to broadcast their playlists or save the archives… when the next generation does not care, too close to the past to care about what once was, and not far away yet enough to be curious as to what came before… where will this music be?
When I heard Hein Holt’s “Ticking Timebomb” today… I was floored. It was a revelation of C64 / SID era sounds… hell, SYNTH sounds I had never experienced before. It was as though I was hearing a Sonic Youth or Pixies song in chiptune form. I immediately went about trying to find information on the artist and track, and of course the first few places I found were scattered repositories of information on old chiptune artists but with no readily downloadable audio file… and I was looking at the youtube version of the song I posted in this article when it occurred to me I was really frustrated with how hard it was to download and find and support all these amazing artists I hear when listening to these old chiptune stations.
And it occurred to me how many times I’ve looked them up only to find they are grown, with a family, working some other job not related to the punk alternative drug and game fueled era of the demoscene and early gaming industry.
And it occurred to me the best way I could get a hold of these tracks I hear on these stations were… to record them as they play… to wait for them to come up again, with a recording program ready, and… like we had to do in the 80’s and 90’s with cassettes, record the song live from the stream to have it in our own collection.
Nothing Has Changed.
Everything Has Changed.
– – –
Some final rambling thoughts.
The truth is though, for now since there is a decent amount of people who continue to host and archive this era of music, with enough digging around I can probably find each track, and in truth the only reason I even considered recording the songs as they come on is because have grown accustomed to an internet age where everything is NOW NOW NOW instead of anything you have to seek out.
When I was young I used to have to ask around when it came to finding a book, or go to the library or local book store. There was no directory anywhere in the world to easily find books.
Books. Let alone music or movies.
Everything we knew we learned from the people around us, from TV and Radio, or from the businesses and services that offered such media.
Now we have the world at our fingertips, yet more than ever we just let it wash over us rather than seeking it out, and as the world washes over us, the past washes away.
Just as with the early era of Film when no one thought to properly archive the great early works, so much was lost.
It’s happening again, this time with the digital age, the early internet, early video games, chiptunes, art.
We will lose so much as we already have time and time again.
We have the power to archive and secure the whole of the world’s creations yet in our gluttony of information consumption we do not care.
I wonder if this is how early historians felt with the rise of books.
So much opportunity to preserve the present and past for the future, but so much squandered in poor record keeping, in the power of history controlled by those who could preserve and broadcast it.
How much of the past has been lost? How much lives on because those in power deemed it so?
It’s amazing to me that we are still facing this kind of erasure of history when we have so much ability to prevent it from happening.
I say we institute mandatory service from all art, music, literary, and video game critics that for every piece of work they write about, they must help archive a dozen more.
But that kinda proves my point eh? Culture is more interested in consuming than it is preserving. We don’t care about where the things came from or where they go. More so where they fit in our lives right NOW NOW NOW.
It seems a rare thing, to be honest, that preservation of history matters more than in what way it benefits the few who care about such things, and I think this is why we tend to see this a lot in such things involving power structures, such as religion, politics, and established culture. The narrative of what has come before builds towards something important to keep a certain level of structure for the present. It could be argued that the same can be said of entertainment mediums as well. As money funnels into movies, TV, and music, it becomes important to people within those areas, who have the power to preserve such things, to do so, so that the narrative of their beginnings is preserved, because they have the ability to place value on those things due to their own “important value” given to them by wealth and fame.
It really makes you wonder all the amazing underground creators who were on the fringes of the great rise of Popular Culture through out history who we will never know of. Who will be erased from the record.
Quickly. Name three creators who influenced Philip K Dick.
Name one movie based on Philip K Dick’s work.
Name one full length novel Philp K Dick wrote.
The rise of what is deemed culturally important and the preservation of such information is fascinating.
Living it, even more so. Everything surrounding the demoscene in the 90’s fills me with such joy and dread of the nature of reality. The importance of creative work and the fleeting temporariness of it all.
Maybe the modern age has it right. Exist in the moment. Enjoy what is here and now. Filter out what is unpleasant. Live in the now.
Row your boat.