When I was a 10-year-old, I used to play video games strangely. I’d hook everything up to the television, get to a level I liked, turn up the volume to the max and leave the room.
When did that get to be so cool?
The reason I did that was to record the stylin’ beats to tape. How else could I take the sound with me? I loved my Super Nintendo. Of course, you can’t forget the cannon of the old school either — Bubble Bobble, anyone?
It’s strange to think that so many bands are remixing old video-game tunes. Mr. Bungle has a cover of the original Mario theme, Ozma is rocking the Russian folk song that plays in the background of Tetris, and Horse the Band is proudly declaring their allegiance to Zelda.
It’s not a new trend, either. I well remember the time when the PC exploded onto the home scene, offering up the amazing technological goodness of MIDI. Suddenly, everybody could encode their own songs. And what did they choose? Video games.
Though it has been a long, long time since I’ve surfed the music directories of AOL’s video-game channel, it used to be a haven for raving video-game music nuts who would encode transcriptions and remixes of their favorite songs and upload them at a frantic pace.
These days, even the Grammy awards accept submissions from video games. Since 2000, composers have been allowed to submit video-game compositions independently to three categories: Best Soundtrack Album; Best Song; or Best Instrumental Composition for a Motion Picture, Television, or Other Visual Media. Although there hasn’t been a strong force yet, there are a few dedicated followers who even hope for a dedicated Grammy category in the future.
A collective of artists is even turning things the other direction. 8bitpeoples is a group of musicians whose mission statement is “to push the medium to its very limits.” Their medium: Gameboy, Nintendo and other “classic” video games. The collective has spawned more than 30 releases in the past five years with everything from Depeche Mode covers to originals.
They even released a Christmas CD titled The 8-bits of Christmas. The CD features “the sounds of Yerzmyey on the Spectrum, Nullsleep on the NES, Vim on the VIC20, Paul Slocum on the Atari 2600, Bit Shifter on the GameBoy, Goto80 on the C64, Dma-Sc on the Atari ST, and Hally on the X68000.”
I can only dream that I, too, will one day be credited as the Commodore 64 player on an indie release.
It’s not just the total indies who are making the backward jump, either. Although it may be heresy, I can hear a certain 8-bit echo in straightforward digital approach of The Postal Service and Ms. John Soda, and there’s something undeniably Atari about “Kid A” if you just scale back Thom Yorke’s vocals.
Even the usually stodgy classical-music society has embraced a select few — Nubuo Uematsu, for one. Uematsu was the guy who composed all of the music for the Final Fantasy series. Now he plays with full-scale orchestras around the world to packed audiences. Some people compare him to John Williams.
Although digital artifacts seem to be catching on, the time period that the good stuff comes from remains pretty dated. After everybody upgraded to the CD format, people started abandoning the decidedly minimalist approach to composing. When Wipeout came out for the Playstation, it had songs from The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy — both capable of manufacturing international hits on their own — and since the limitations were removed from the medium, it just doesn’t seem as fun anymore. Video games aren’t the untapped resource they once were, now that there’s nothing inhibiting them. Call it nostalgia.
I guess there’s no shame in being plugged into the mainframe. It’s just strange to think that where the Beatles pulled riffs from old blues legends, our generation may turn to the console.
It makes sense. Video games are new. They’ve only been around in pop culture for about 30 years, and that’s if you count Pong. If our parents had to deal with explaining the difference between Alice Cooper distortion and Frank Sinatra’s class to their ‘rents, we’d have to tell ma and pa that they just don’t get our bleeping music — pun intended.
I say, “Take it for all it’s worth.” I want to see a composer sitting around meditatively cradling his Simon Says. I want to see Radiohead do an overhaul of Bad Dudes. I want to see A Boy and His Blob in glorious 5.1 surround. Give me MegaMan 2 and 3 with a little bit of Ninja Gaiden thrown in for Kicks. I’ve never heard of Redbook Audio.
Give me a Commodore 64 and an ADAT.