The past is all the rage and it has been for some time, including in music, where certain sounds can instantly transport the listener to a different place and time. Particularly during childhood and adolescence, these tunes make up the soundtracks to our lives. To some, myself included, such powerful music came from tiny chips in video game machines that guided us through fantastic and memorable adventures. One long-running, but relatively unheralded, musical methodology called chiptune is tapping into that nostalgia to create experimental music that is surprisingly complex and varied, considering its remarkably simple base ingredients: Namely, something like the eight bits that early gaming consoles were capable of communicating.
Music veteran Eric Brown, known as Rainbowdragoneyes within the chiptune community and around town for his drumming in Vale of Pnath and Vimana, describes his one-of-a-kind computerized music style as "extreme chiptune dance metal" and assures us that there's nobody else making music quite like him.
The thing that makes him different from most musicians is that he uses outdated hardware to draw sounds from the same bank that did our favorite gaming machines. For him, it is Game Boy and Sega Genesis, but the potential for reinterpretations of video game music are virtually endless and independent of the era in which you grew up. "Any console you can think of, people have come up with ways to write new, original music for it," says Brown. And every console, like different types of paints, gives a unique impression.
For artists like Rainbowdragoneyes, an economy of sounds is inspiration for creativity. "A lot of the appeal of chiptune is trying to stretch the hardware beyond its limits and just push it to its maximum potential," he says. "It's such a limited sound palate, so your creativity really shines through when you spend a lot of time on your composition and your sound design." Pushing the technology is the hard part because learning to use it, says Brown, is relatively simple. "It's a little bit of a learning curve when you first get into it. It's intimidating to look at, but once you start figuring out what all the little numbers mean, then it's really easy."
For Brown, it only took three days learning the software to finish his first EP, which helped land him a spot at Blip Festival (yes, that's a festival dedicated to chiptune) in New York. This, in turn, has helped facilitate tours that have taken Brown across the globe. Besides obviously appealing to video game nerds like Rainbowdragoneyes and myself, chiptune can appeal to a surprisingly large audience. Anamanaguchi and Crystal Castles, somewhat dubiously, have broken into the mainstream. Brown's own booking potential is considerable; he plays shows that feature electronic artists, DJs and metalheads.
Because chiptune is a medium and not a genre, other artists are equally as unique. Local Nintendo aficionado Dr. Zilog's music is melodic, groove-oriented and catchy, while local standout Aethernaut's music moves all over the place, pulling from a number of genres. If there's one thing that can be said of chiptunes in common, it is that they are relentlessly unique.
For a once in a lifetime chiptune experience, mark your calendar this Wednesday, 7 p.m., as "BITPARTY." Rainbowdragoneyes, the other aforementioned artists and more will each be demonstrating their approach to the digital arts at the 7th Circle Music Collective on 2935 West 7th Ave. "Expect a diverse musical lineup, but not so diverse that it doesn't go together," says Brown. "We're just a bunch of dudes that have a good time. Nintety-nine percent of us are nerds, and a lot of us are pretty socially awkward, and we really only get together to do shows like this... We're just trying to spread chiptune awareness."
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