On March 10, independent game designers and game-inspired musicians were brought together under one roof for the GAMMA IV one-button game festival at the San Francisco Mezzanine. Featuring music acts by chiptune artists and indie game creators, the GDC kick-off party was organized by Heather Kelley and the Kokoromi game collective. Based in Montreal, Quebec, Kokoromi sees events like the GAMMA series as a way of showcasing the creative possibilities of the gaming medium.

Among the artists that helped bring the GAMMA IV concept to fruition is Crashfaster (Morgan Tucker). A chip musician that creates original tracks and arrangements on a Game Boy running Little Sound DJ, his richly evocative old school beats add texture to his sung vocoder vocal numbers. His music can be seen live in the San Francisco area as part of the 8bitSF and Dutycycle shows, while his chiptune tracks have appeared on free online compilations including the March 8bitSF Show Sampler, An 8bc Tribute to The Smiths, and the IWADON: Hiroyuki Iwatsuki Tribute Album.

Did you feel this year's GAMMA managed a successful convergence of the independent game and chip music domains?

Crashfaster, chip musician: There was a simpatico aesthetic running through the music, visuals and games. I definitely believe there is a cross-over audience. What we saw at GAMMA, with talented people from all disciplines getting together to create a successful event, was similar to the original vision of 8bitSF. I feel very fortunate to have played that show.

What in your observation are the motivational areas of overlap between the indie game and chiptune scenes?

I would say it's the DIY mentality. A lot of indie games are made by one or two people. It's about having a great idea and getting it done, whatever it takes. In the chip music scene a lot of that is true as well. You pick up what you have lying around, whether it's a Nintendo, a Game Boy, an old toy... and try to make it sound great. There is also a support network in chip music, where people really try to help each other. I imagine the same is true for indie games - a community working towards the common goal of making awesome things happen.

Do you have an interest in working with independent game developers yourself?

Absolutely. I've worked on sound design for independent films in the past, and games have been a big part of my life. I would love to be involved with one on some level. The one-button games at the Kokoromi event were fantastic. The level of creativity and discipline that went into the control schemes and artwork were breathtaking. To me, watching the surge of activity in independent games over the past few years is like witnessing the birth of a brand new creative medium.

Does your fascination with the Game Boy stretch all the way back to when the portable console first appeared on the scene?

Definitely. I'm a child of the '80s. I got a Game Boy for Christmas when it first came out. In fact, the Game Boy case that I take with me to shows is the same one that I used when I was a kid.

It has always been amazing to me that these one-minute videogame loops from my childhood stuck in my head, more so than a lot of pop music. I find that they still evoke an emotional response today. There is something really powerful in the simplicity and purity of these tracks.

About 12 years ago I started stripping away the fancy layered sounds in my digital synthesizers, the result oftentimes being a single oscillator outputting a square wave. I was trying as best I could to emulate an 8-bit console. When I started making songs in that space, it was definitely an homage to the Nintendo music that I grew up with.

I had virtually no knowledge of the chip music scene when people were getting into LSDJ on the Game Boy almost 10 years ago. When I eventually learned that people were making music using the actual physical hardware, I got really excited. It just seemed perfect.

At PAX East, I presented on a game arrangement compilation that I did research for, called IWADON. How was this experience for you of remixing Iwatsuki's Spanky's Quest Boss Game Boy tune for the Game Boy?

The piece is short, a thirty second loop, but it's incredibly complex. It took me a couple of days just to transcribe it by ear. I was listening to seconds at a time over and over until I had it mapped out in Ableton, just to figure out what he was doing with the sound. From there I went back and re-wrote it using LSDJ and midiNES.

I have an immense amount of admiration for Iwatsuki's tracks. The tune I worked on is amazing and gets stuck in your head immediately. It's intricately composed and has a great level of energy. The original Game Boy composers didn't have anything as convenient as Little Sound DJ to create with. It fills you so much respect for what these guys were able to do back then. Every time I get frustrated with a composition, I think about how hard it must have been twenty years ago. That calms me down a bit.

When did you first begin using the vocoder in the live environment?

I've been using different vocoders off and on for the last fifteen years. I've loved them as far back as I can remember. Growing up, my favorite Transformer was Soundwave. His voice was made using a Roland VP330 vocoder. A vocoder was also responsible for the voice of the Cylons, amongst several other things, so it's got some great history behind it. One of the lesser known and most personally inspiring vocoder-based albums is Neil Young's Trans. It's a really fantastic, heavily electronic record in which he sort of pays tribute to Kraftwerk.

You have mentioned that your first album is close to finished. How long has it been in the works?

The idea of it has been around for awhile. When I started really getting into creating chip music I made a conscious decision that everything I wrote would be something I could play live, so I ended up making some compromises. If I had been writing a studio album from the start, it might have sounded richer or more complex, but I wanted to make sure that I could still manipulate the sounds live and that the setup was portable.

The past couple of years have been a highly iterative process...trying out different gear and setups until I'm satisfied with the output. One of my biggest regrets has been not having a CD to give people who come to the shows. I think any independent musician should have physical copies of their music to give to people who come out, so they can walk away with a reminder of the performance.

The last time your Game Boy "Bigmouth Strikes Again" cover showed up on GoNintendo, there were some comments along the lines of "The Smiths wouldn't approve of this" or "Morrissey hated electronic music." How do you respond to those kinds of comments?

I don't let it bother me. When you do a cover it should be a complete and total reinterpretation, otherwise it's not interesting - and then why bother? You should put your own distinct spin on it. I'm a huge Smiths/Morrissey fan and I hope that my love of the material comes through in my version.

Are there visual artists associated with the scene that you have found inspiring?

Paris out of New York. He saw people using portable consoles to perform music live, ran with that idea and modified/programmed a Game Boy Advance to produce his visuals. On the occasions where you perform with him, you see him rocking out based what you're doing and in turn that gets you even more hyped up. It become this nice feedback loop of energy. I think when you are dealing with electronic music in a live environment, you need something extra to convey that excitement.

As far as working with Paris, what was your impression of the experimental West Coast micro-tour Data Beez?

Whenever these consolidated events take place, it gives us the chance to meet all the people we've been friends with online. Jordan [Starpause] and I are putting together a monthly show in San Francisco. We have been working with Adam from Attract Mode, who is getting something going in Los Angeles. Also, the guys from 2 Player Productions have started a monthly show in Portland. It would be great if we all collaborated so that if an artist flies out to the West Coast, they automatically have a few venues waiting for them.

[For more about Crashfaster, visit the artist's website. GAMMA IV Video is by Jeriaska]