Tuesday, February 08, 2005

As always, it's not the SIZE of your joystick, it's how you use it.

glisten: 8 + 16 bit edition

Time to put your quarter up, as the Hut is investigating the world of videogame music!

Some of the best music in the '80's on video games came from the Commodore 64. That machine had a revolutionary music chip called a SID, or "Sound Interface Device", that allowed for some fairly complex and beautiful compositions. Several sites still offer these songs for download in their original form, as SID files. To listen to the tracks, you'll need a SID emulator installed on your computer. You can find both an emulator and a VAST collection of SID tracks at the High Voltage SID Collection; give these a closer look.

Commodore 64 music was, for several reasons, generally much more highly regarded and artistically considered in the UK than in America; for this reason, you're more likely to find Brits with a familiarization with the composers and the sound than you are to find an American who would be able to remember what a C64 even looked like.

Here's a pair of some of the better tracks for the C64, by two of the masters of the genre: Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard.

Martin Galway - "Comic Bakery"

Comic Bakery, occasionally mislabeled "Cosmic Bakery", is a long forgotten Commodore 64 game. Even though this song is almost twenty years old today, Galway's synthetic bounce and echoing electronic harmonies are surprisingly contemporary.

The dischordant wave of sound that this track fades out to would make for a gorgeous DJ break.

Read these interviews with composer Martin Galway.
Download .SID files of every song Martin Galway ever performed.
Buy "Project Galway", a double CD collection of Galway's music, coded and performed and recorded direct from Galway's own Commodore 64 SID.

Rob Hubbard - "International Karate"

Rob Hubbard is generally considered to be one of the greatest video game composers. His work has already appeared on the musicblog circuit; his classic theme for Commando appeared earlier on last year on gabba, shows up occasionally on the web and is ubiquitous on soulseek.

Hubbard's distinctive and exciting sound is years ahead of its time; had he been born twelve years later, he would likely have been another Richard D. James.

As it stands, Hubbard's work seems doomed to be labeled ephemera, but here's one vote that this electronic pioneer receives his due from the IDM community. A retrospective compilation CD (say, from Warp or Astralwerks) would be much appreciated.

Visit this exhaustive Rob Hubbard fansite.
Read this review of the "International Karate" game.

Richard Munns - "Blip"

"Blip" is a galloping, jaunty cut that strangely ends on a riff from the Police.

Anybody else hear "Don't Stand So Close To Me" in there?

Download a few more Atari 800 Munns tracks in MP3 format.
Read this review of "Blip".

Want more? Here's a selection of some of the best places to find video game music for download on the web:

The Video Game Music Archives is an astonishingly deep repository of midi files (their banner claims over 18,000 tracks and I'm inclined to allow them that boast). If you want to hear the music to ANY game you've EVER played, this is the place to start.

Unfortunately, a MIDI file isn't really the best way to listen to the music for it's artistic merit; it's more just a suggestion of what the original track sounded like. Compare the tracks I have up today with their MIDI counterparts on VGMusic and you'll see what I mean. If the art of the song is what you're looking for, I can't recommend Overclocked Remix enough. You won't find much of the games original music there; what you will find is a thriving and dedicated collection of music and video game nerds tinkering with what they clearly believe to be the classical music of tomorrow.

OCR's mission statement defines the site as "dedicated to reviving the video and computer game music of yesterday, and reinterpreting that of today, with new technology & capabilities. This site's mission is to prove that this music is not disposable or merely just background, but is as intricate, innovative, and lasting as any other form." It's a pretty tall order and one that webmaster dj pretzel has done a helluva job of ushering into reality. He runs the place with an eye towards positivity but clearly goes out of his way to make sure that all the music posted has a definite professional sensibility.

OCR is a great site with amazing depth, wonderful interface and a real open sense of community; the remixers and remakers often work together on side projects such as this Donkey Kong Country remix soundtrack.

The music itself is, by and large, surprisingly good; often taking a musical riff and running it into a completely different direction. If you've never conceived of 'Zelda' as a bossa nova/orchestral piece/brass band/electronic rave/IDM/rock and roll jam... here's the place to find it.

NES Horsemen has a fine array of fighting music, most of it from the ill-considered flop that was the Neo Geo.

VGMP3 offers a selection of tracks in nice and clean MP3 format, along with guitar tabs for the aspiring musician.
Speaking of video game music performers, there's any number of bands that specialize in live renditions of the blips and bloops of yore. Here's a few of the better known:

The Minibosses and The Advantage are probably the most notorious of the video game rock crews.

The Minibosses take their name from the slang term for the penultimate baddies that lay in wait just before a game's majordomo; the Advantage got their moniker from a nicely designed and justly-ballyhooed NES joystick. Both bands have MP3s from live and studio performances on their sites and both are worth a peek.

Ice Climbers take their name from the iconic Nintendo Entertainment System game.

Megadriver is "a Brazilian heavy metal band devoted to videogame music" who have whole albums of their material available on site.

8-Bit Peoples don't make game music, per se; they use the sounds and motifs of eight and sixteen bit game music to make their OWN music.

The Gameboyzz Orchestra Project use the Gameboy as an instrument unto itself, connecting the systems up to a soundboard and mixing from there. The result is surprisingly listenable.
Read this brief annotation of the history of video game music (with plenty to DL and listen to).

One more:
Toshihiro Nishikado - "Space Invaders [Ambient]"

Space Invaders took over the world when it was first released, famously causing a shortage of 100 Yen coins in Japan... they were all being socked into the machine!

Even today, the sound of the aliens creeping slowly down the screen evokes anxiety and dread in anyone who ever fell under the arcade spell. Outside of the "weeeeeeeoooow-wunt-wunt" death of Pac-Man, nothing sounds quite so much like utter defeat as the crispy fart of the Space Invaders gun exploding.

Play Space Invaders at the Ultimate Space Invaders Online Shrine.
Read this tribute to Nishikado's unnerving audio.
Download instant nostalgia from Arcade Ambience: CD length recordings of 1980's video game arcade sounds.

learn more about urban artist invader



FORKSCLOVETOFU SEZ: Anthony Miccio is a poprocka and th' Hut's expert on all things big, radio-friendly and glistening that might otherwise escape our more rockist readers earholes.
Anthony dispenses wisdom and choice bon mots at Anthony is Right.
Prior to sending off today's overlooked punk/pop classics from the criminally underappreciated band SCRAWL, Anthony let me know that he was "gonna drop something CREDIBLE on ya! Gasp!". These tracks do drift a bit from Miccio's general popist stylings but as they're closer to INcredible than credible, I can hardly complain.
Let's hear it for th' boy!

Scrawl - "Charles"

Scrawl - "Public Image"

While Scrawl's 1998 release "Nature Film" was not a hit (in fact the band was dropped by Elektra weeks after its release and hasn't released anything since), I wish that more prolific indie acts would follow the album's template. Over half the songs are re-recordings of anthems written throughout their decade-plus career. Few of their midwestern indie-alt peers wrote numbers as straightforward as "11:59 (It's January)," "Clock Song" and "Charles"; frank, mature songs that deserved tighter renditions and a chance to be heard by fans who didn't have access to Simple Machines 7-inches and out-of-print releases on Rough Trade.

They also included a fierce performance of "Public Image," giving the classic star tantrum a more earned sense of frustration and defiance. Had the album come out in 1993, Nature Film might have been remembered alongside such seminal albums as Last Splash, Star and Exile In Guyville. As it stands, these songs wait for some younger groups to give them the same treatment Scrawl gave "Public Image."

Since Scrawl went on hiatus, bandleader Marcy Mays has led an AC/DC cover-band (always a hott idea) and performed solo shows around Ohio. I'd almost wish for a lyricist as impressive as Mays to wind up with a career like Linda Perry's, but I wouldn't want to see her forced to put her words behind an adolescent surrogate. There's been talk of new material for years but the wait has been excruciating.

Read this interview with Scrawl by Jenny Toomey of Tsunami.
Buy 1993's "Velvet Hammer", the only in-print (that I know of) Scrawl release.
Read these reviews of Scrawl's albums and EP's.

spiffy special redux: THE MUSICBLOG HITS KEEP COMIN'

Two weeks. That's how long it took me to find another MASSIVE pile of musicblog tastiness. Honestly, if it's not reaching critical mass yet, I can only assume that we'll soon be near the point where it'll simply be impossible for me to keep up.

Until that day arrives, I'm going to continue trying to accumulate new links. I would appreciate it if any of you music afficianados/bands/labels would drop me a note at forksclovetofu@gmail.com if you start a new musicblog.

The only rule for inclusion is that you offer complete tracks on your site for download and that you try to be reasonably respectful of the artists/copyright holders in question (i.e. don't be posting full-length, in-print albums for DL).

Anyway, here's all the blog that's fit to print.

A Paper Noose Won't Get You Far but this rarely updated musicblog shows a bit of potential (Tori Amos, Cobra Killer); Music Forest is the first Japanese run musicblog I've found (tho' not the last, I'd wager) but there's no Japanese music to be found, just lots of Electronic and IDM (Aphex Twin, Plaid, Daft Punk); similarly, the French speaking among you may well dig the "éclectique et légal" musical-blog-Ô-logie (John Mayall, Camper Van Beethoven) or the somewhat more esoteric Blog Up (Will Shatner, Salim Nourallah, Hot Chip); We're Here To Help With Your Changes is all OVER, from offbeat Elton John to Oi! musicians Splodgenessabounds to the utterly filthy rnb of Andre Williams; mixing and mashing on the fly is reduced to a roux and then whipped up when you fly with the Iron Chef of Music (five dj's battle with six samples and two hours to cook, the results are posted); Bradley's Almanac offers a weekly selection of live and rare hipster goodies (Arcade Fire, Fugazi, Pedro the Lion); An American Parrothead in Canada is more than just Buffett... sorta (Joe Walsh, The Donnas); don't be skittish about checking into the Bates Hotel, you're likely to leave with a healthy knowledge of Norwegian pop music[!]; Cred Central explores albums and shares the cream of the crop (Pere Ubu, Martin Carthy, Gogol Bordello).

More (much more!) tomorrow.

why so long between posts?

1: MIA at Knitting Factory (Fun! Thanks ever so, Eppy!
2: Ray (Shitty! Why didn't anybody tell me how bad this movie was?)
3: Football (No surprises, just an ugly three quarters of play.)
4: Work and general malaise.

I'm visiting my folks this week; hopefully I'll have enough backup posts ready that you won't even miss me.

So, why do we see YOU so rarely around here?

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