This weekend is a huge one for gamers, as EB GAMES EXPO debuts on the Gold Coast. A celebration of all things gaming, the Expo will feature exhibitions from all the big names in gaming.
But it’s not all just about big names: POCKET MUSIC, Brisbane’s independent chip music collective, will be representing on the Saturday evening with a showcase of the finest home-made chiptune Brisbane has to offer. We caught up with RUBIJAQ, one of the artists performing at the Expo.
What do you feel is the appeal of chipmusic to audiences?
I believe chip music appeals to audiences predominantly from the novelty of using old computers and/or video game hardware to create music. There’s also a nostalgic element too, since the sounds are naturally reminiscent of that generation of electronics. This is depending on the type of audience though. I think ‘true’ chip music in the sense of only producing music with a single piece of hardware, for example a Game Boy, is still very niche as both a method of music creation and therefore not very well known amongst the ‘mainstream’ audience.
Novelty and nostalgia aside, however, chip music can be also appealing in respect to the technical aspects of its creation. For example, physical hardware hacking or circuit bending, technical limitations (in terms of limited channels/sounds that can be produced) and even ‘instrument’ creation. Generally speaking, I believe a wider audience of people are gradually becoming aware of it which is good to see and hopefully overtime will develop into a more embraced type of music.
Can you describe how you create your music?
I create my music on an original Nintendo Game Boy with a four-track tracker named Little Sound DJ (LSDJ for short) which was written/programmed by Johan Kotlinkski, who lives in Sweden. LSDJ is arguably the most utilized and user-friendly way to make chip music, and is all I have been using since I started.
The Game Boy has an on-board 4-bit sound chip which correspond to the 4 channels in LSDJ; two simultaneous square wave generators, a wave sample channel and a noise generator To explain what trackers are briefly, they are a type of music sequencer which allows a user to arrange pre-written notes and samples in a linear timeline. If you’ve ever used a sequencing program such as Reason, Logic or ProTools, you would probably grasp the concept of a tracker quite easily.
What are your thoughts on the Brisbane chip community?
Since I became aware of global chip scene, I had began to start frequenting all the online communities. It was through those that I found out that Dot.AY (Alex Yabsley) was also from Brisbane. At that point I hadn’t started writing chip music, but expressed my interest to him. I believe the Pocket Music shows started very soon (or just before) I had found out about Alex, so I decided to start attending them when I could. Sometime later, I began to actively participate in the scene/community here in Brisbane, which at the time consisted of very people. Since then I’ve become a regular performer at Pocket Music, and we’ve slowly expanded into a somewhat larger group of chip musicians and have made a lot of new friends in other beats and electronic scenes here in Brisbane.
It’s always exciting to hear about people in Brisbane who are interested in producing chip music because it’s a bit of a rare occurrence (but is more often than it used to be). For me I think it’s interesting to see what kind of creative direction newcomers take their music. One of our newest acts, Finagrin, combines chip music with trombone. I’m yet to see him perform live, but I’m excited!
How do people who have never been exposed to chip music before respond to your live shows?
A lot of the time the response has been positive. Whether or not people actually enjoy my music I think depends on their particular taste, because I don’t define my music as the standard “blips and bloops” that chip music is often associated with, though people usually do enjoy it. I think people are often awe struck and surprised when they realise that the music is coming from a Game Boy, though, and that often plays into the positive response I usually get.
What is your gaming background? How do your gaming habits and your song writing intersect?
I think the SNES was the first console I owned. I believe Yoshi’s Island 2 is one of my most favourite games of all time. Although overtime I grew weary of consoles (I’ve never owned a ‘next-gen’ console), and moved predominantly into PC gaming. I became a huge MMO freak and hopped across a lot of different games, but stuck with Guild Wars and a Korean MMO by the name of Dark Eden, which is an isometric vampire vs. humans game. I’m also a large fan of open world, fantasy RPG and games that will make you jump. At the moment I’ve just got my hands on Borderlands which I’m having fun with, although it’s hard to find time to play.
My gaming habits don’t overly intersect with my song writing, although I’m starting to write songs around particular themes which I think are being influenced heavily by games in both their themes as well as visual aesthetic. I’ve previously written theme songs to characters of a what-was-to-be web comic which was going to be written and illustrated by a friend of mine.
Currently I’m working on creating a game entitled ‘To Survive A Madman’ for my final project at Qantm College. It’s a first-person puzzle game whereby the player can use a gun called ‘The Device’ to magnetise, demagnetise and change the magnetic polarity of blocks. It’s hard to explain the mechanics without visuals, so I’m not going to try. If you’re interested, like ‘To Survive A Madman’ on Facebook or bookmark www.teamglowbug.com for further updates.
What unique challenges do you face as a chip musician?
Particularly with LSDJ, I face the challenge of hardware limitations which is also part of the fun of tracking on a Game Boy. As I explained earlier, it only has 4 channels which mean you have to be somewhat tricky about how you write the music; giving the illusion that you are making more sounds than what is possible is one of the fun things about it. As well as the 4 channels, the amount of sounds that can be synthesized from within a Game Boy is limited in some sense, but by using different commands and internal effects, you can create a wide array of interesting instruments.
Best places on the net to get chip music, as well as local chip recommendations:
The two largest online communities are chipmusic.org and 8bc.org (8bitcollective). Chipmusic.org centres more around a message board, whereas 8bc is more user-created content where people can upload songs they’ve created. I would suggest 8bitpeoples.com as probably the best go-to place for free and easily downloadable chip music.
In terms of Brisbane recommendations, definitely check out Dot.AY (dot-ay.com) and Slato (soundcloud.com/slato). Australia wise, I personally recommend cTrix, godinpants, Ten Thousand Free Men and Their Families, Abortifacient, Vicious Cyclist and little-scale.
RUBIJAQ performs at 4PM this Saturday at the EB GAMES EXPO.