7/17/12 - Chiptunes

I love video game music. In fact, the only reason you are reading these words on your screen is because of video game music. Like most of the other people around my age, I grew up at the perfect time to develop an addiction to video games. The NES was released in America just in time for me to have the vocabulary to constantly beg my parents to buy one, and boy did it ever work! (Actually our agreement was grade-based, but I digress.) I didn't have a clue about music at the time but I distinctly remember falling in love with the music in Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Both of these wonderful tunes were composed by Koji Kondo and I would love to meet him and say a heartfelt konnichi wa.

Back in the 1990's when AOL discs ruled the mailbox, people were kicked off the internet when someone picked up the phone, and heaven forbid you miss your desired show on the scrolling TV Guide channel, I was really into PC gaming. This was also at the time that Doom was taking America by storm and I was at the perfect age to develop a healthy obsession with both the LAN deathmatch AND with music. The music for the Doom series was composed by Bobby Prince who was perhaps the biggest influence on me as a young composer. This track from Doom II haunted my dreams and I spent several years ripping it off whilst trying to compose my own tunes.

While there are many influential tracks that I could talk about (here's another and... one more), the point of this entry is that I originally discovered music through video games and had every intention of becoming a composer in that genre. However, video game music did not quite have the "cool" factor that it now seems to enjoy when I first began college. I worked with MIDI for about 5 years before undergrad and it was a huge adjustment writing for real players. I initially struggled to write music that didn't sound like video games, with varying degrees of success. I finally left that sound world behind and focused entirely on composing for acoustic instruments for about a decade.

This summer I have been learning new software in order to expand my horizons and (hopefully) increase my marketability during the upcoming academic year. One thing that I discovered a few months ago was the chiptunes scene, using sounds from the old 8-bit glory days of video game music. Rather than blindly learning programs in hopes of improving my CV, this seemed like a perfect route to start my foray into electronic composition.

One of my friends from all the way back in middle school band has been busy creating and uploading YouTube videos to his channel with various video game themes. I loved his Quirky Minecraft series and asked if he would be interested in some original music to accompany the episodes. He said yes and told me about his latest project that would involve TNT, zombies, and a dance floor. I finally felt comfortable enough with the 8-bit tracker to create a track for the zombie sequence. Here is my first chiptune "Zombie Dance Party" --

In the Quirky Minecraft series there is a scene showing blueprints of the building or object in each episode. I thought this might be a perfect place to put a piece of music that would stay constant throughout the episodes. The second completed chiptune is called, appropriately, "Blueprint" and you can hear it right here:

I am working on quite a few additional tracks for the series and plan on releasing them through Bandcamp for purchase when they are ready. While I won't be abandoning acoustic composition any time soon, this does give me an outlet to be creative in a completely different way than my past experience. I am having a blast writing exactly what I want to hear without worrying if John Q. Composer will be judging me for writing I-IV-V or (gasp!) a tonal melody. Finally, you can watch the most recent Quirky Minecraft episode featuring my music here (NSFW language):