Chipmusic is generally music made with either the original old consoles, computers emulating the sounds of those old consoles or some artists use synths. Some artists choose to also use more traditional instruments along since these consoles, like guitars, vocals or drums.
Arguably one of the best known names in chipmusic, Chipzel is the composer behind the BAFTA winning ‘Super Hexagon.’ Having played Square Sounds back in 2015, she has been one of the artists most requested by audiences to return for a repeat performance. Using Nintendo Game boys to create energetic, melodic, dance tracks, Chipzel’s boundless energy will both exhaust you and electrify you.
We chat to Chipzel ahead of Australia’s only chiptune festival set to take place at 24 Moons on Feb 23 & 24 – the last before the festival takes an indefinite hiatus.
How long have you been making Chipmusic?
I’ve been making music for ten years now, which is really crazy when I think about it. I started writing music with a gameboy at 16 – just as a fun hobby & creative outlet. Over the course of the years I began playing more and more shows, I got to travel all over the world and meet people who eventually became some of my closest friends and before I had left university I had my music featured in this incredible game called Super Hexagon, which led me into a career path as a Video Game Composer. I had no idea it would open up so many opportunities.
Is this genre of music a relatively new phenomenon?
It’s grown more in popularity over the past 5 years or so, for sure, but it’s roots are in the Demoscene of the late 80s/early 90s, a computer-art sub culture where creators were motivated to push the technicals limitations of computer hardware at the time to make new forms of art. I stumbled upon the scene around 2005 and thought it was the punk-est s**t ever.
When did you first develop a passion for generating Chipmusic?
I immediately fell in love with the sounds – I don’t know if it’s a nostalgic thing or whatever but there’s just something so inspiring and uplifting in this chaotic, stripped back form of music. You hear what can be achieved musically with a Gameboy and it’s just ridiculous – then you plug this little old school gaming machine into a PA system and it’s almost funny how great it can sound. And every artist puts their own flavour on it – whatever they’re inspired by comes through in their music so you have this mesh of styles and genres that make sense under a common entity. I loved all this about it so in 2006 I gave it a go. Within 3-4 months I had my first show and within a year I had my first show abroad. Everything just took off from there.
What’s the process like in terms of deconstructing game consoles to retrieve chips?
So the way it works is that I have this cartridge, like a Super Mario or Tetris cart – the one’s you blow on when they don’t work properly (which by the way is a common mishap at live events) – there’s a ROM on it for a piece of homebrew software called LSDJ (Little Sound DJ), which was developed by Johan Kotlinkski early 2000 for chip-enthusiasts. You put that in, turn it on and you’re greeted with this empty project screen where you can then start creating chains of sequences of musical notes – much like any Digital Audio Workstation but in this format known as a Tracker. What you can do is severely limited so you have to be clever in your use of instruments and arrangement to make something that sounds “like real music”. Because of this, you can end up making some really whacky s**t, which I love. Something so limited can really push creativity to flourish in new and weird ways.
How do you/how long does it take to string together a range of different sounds from chips?
It’s the same as with any musical creation, really. Some of my best pieces were made in a few hours, some take days, weeks, to construct.
Is this genre of music quite popular in Ireland and does it seem to be making its mark in other countries?
It’s an Internet movement to be honest. I would say there are a lot of people in Ireland that listen to Chiptune but they probably stumbled across it, like I did, or found it through more recent Video Game scores or something. It’s definitely making it’s mark globally but you’ll often find that communities are small and spread out – people will travel to go to shows if they hear of one happening so every one can meet up. A lot of the time people will fly out to bigger shows for the weekend because it’s always a good time.
Do you need a background in IT to successfully produce such a sound?
Not at all! The main reason I got into it was because it was so accessible – I could compose entire pieces myself without needing to spend big bucks on software. There’s a bit of a learning curve to come to grips with whatever software/hardware you choose (there are many more aside from LSDJ and Gameboy) but it’s the same as anything, if you’re determined to make something cool and push to evolve that over time, you’ll eventually surprise yourself.
Check it out below.
Check it all out at the Square Sounds Festival at 24 Moons in Northcote on February 23-24.
Image by Chiptography