September 23, 2010 6:05 AM | jeriaska
At the recent Blip Festival Tokyo concert, musicians from around the world performed original compositions on vintage gaming platforms. Among the participants were contributors to the soundtracks of independent game titles PongVaders, Darwinia, and Bit.Trip Beat. In taking a brief look at the participation of game composers during the live event, it might be worthwhile to consider the influence that chip music has had on the independent game scene as well as future potentials for collaboration.
The same weekend that game enthusiasts in Seattle celebrated the lasting appeal of chip music with a live performance by Anamanaguchi of Bit.Trip Runner at the Penny Arcade Expo, New York’s Blip Festival commemorated its first ever outing in Japan. Taking place on September 4 and 5 at Koenji High near Shinjuku, the venue and nearby dance clubs have established a reputation for showcasing hard-hitting punk and rock acts. Visiting artists from Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Europe, the United States and South America joined local chip musicians, their repurposed Amigas, Commodores, Game Boys and Famicom consoles in tow.
New York-based organizers Mike Rosenthal, Nullsleep and Bit Shifter have maintained pivotal roles in the East Coast chip community since the first Blip took place in in 2006. (The concert was the subject of the documentary Reformat the Planet, recently released on DVD by filmmakers 2 Player Productions.) The 8bitpeoples crew organized the event with help from Tokyo-based musician David Adams, who performs under the name Lazerbeat. Hosting a two-day chip festival in a city that many identify with the origins of 8-bit music resulted in a spectacle that was both overwhelming and difficult to forget.
Darwinia's Trash80 with K-> of Chiptuned Rockman
Tokyo is often characterized as a city bristling with energy, where self-discipline and restraint are seen as crucial to maintaining harmony within such a densely populated city. For many, Blip was an opportunity to shed inhibitions and revel in the often chaotic aesthetic of low-fi computer hardware. A prime example was offered by Bit.Trip Void musician Nullsleep, who performed on two Game Boys with luminescent red monitors set in jet-black casings. The artist’s compositions have in recent years increasingly favored themes of malfunction, destruction and collapse.
The invitation to dance and shout imbued the nature of the live performance with a different quality than can be enjoyed in Nullsleep-scored homebrew games like Return of the Quack. A wall screen above the musician displayed pixilated infernos roaring and dissipating, manipulated in real time by No Carrier. A contributor to the Playpower Foundation non-profit organization, the Philadelphia-based artist has helped design NES carts distributed in India that instruct young people how to prevent the spread of malaria.
Another veteran of the Blip Festival, Bit Shifter brought a set brimming with untested new material. The musician thrust his fist in time to Game Boy tunes that will be familiar to those who have played Bit.Trip Beat by Gaijin Games. For his set, Tokyo-based video jockey M7Kenji set black and white visuals strobing and exploding on the monitor in the background. Trash80 closed the first night of the festival, satisfying demands for encores even after he had exhausted his main set. The musician contributed the majority of the soundtrack for Introversion Software's Darwinia, whose source code was released earlier this year.
"Trash80 is sometimes called out for making fakebit," said fellow performer Starpause in an interview with IndieGames.com eariler this year. "But by analyzing the properties of his favorite sound chips he was able to build a synthesizer called 'digitek' that sounds a lot like the Little Sound DJ WAV and NOI channels but can can be tweaked beyond the original limitations. I think writing your own software is maybe worth more points, or at least deserves just as much credit, as buying LSDJ and plugging it into a Game Boy."
Performing second to last, Hip Tanaka.ex was something of a headliner for the concert. As the composer of iconic Nintendo games like Metroid and Dr. Mario, Tanaka was for Blip Festival Tokyo the personification of the Golden Age of chiptune music. While snippets of NES tunes popped up here and there as reference points, the classics yielded effortlessly to a startlingly modern sound. Raggae and dub influences executed on low-fi hardware elevated the predictably nostalgic experience to the cutting edge of the chip aesthetic. Sprite-based visuals were provided by No Future, the pseudonym of two employees of Tanaka's company Creatures Inc.
Letting tidal waves of glitchy noise overtake the game creator's familiar melodiousness invited the crowd to dance and mosh with gleeful abandon. Starpause was so taken by the set, that he rushed the stage following the encore and kissed Tanaka on the cheek. Further video coverage of Blip Festival Tokyo is planned for release in coming weeks.
Blip Festival Tokyo performers and audience members following the show. Photos and video by Jeriaska