Archive for Music

The gAtari looks silly, sounds rad

I think my favorite part about the gAtari 2600—besides, you know, the body of the guitar is an actual 2600—is how the “frets” are just these ginormous footpedals, all fused onto the “fingerboard” in a row.

No, I realize the pedals are actually being used to play loops (Right?? And then the “whammying”), but they look hilarious. This machine does not sound hilarious, however. Rather, it sounds awesome.


The core basics of Bit.trip Core

I really liked Bit.trip: Beat. The combination of retro gaming style, excellent music, underlying narrative, and addictive gameplay put it up among my favorite Wii titles. So imagine my surprise last Monday (editor’s note: Jenn sucks) when I noticed that a sequel, Bit.trip: Core had been released on WiiWare for 600 points!

As its predecessor had done for Breakout-style games, Bit.trip: Core takes the notion of classic, single-screen shooters and spins it off into a new, equally rhythmic direction. Whereas in the first game you were a paddle bouncing pellets to create musical notes, here you are an icon in the center of the screen capable of aiming and firing a beam in four directions, albeit only one at a time. Pellets will appear from all corners of the screen, and you must shoot them before they escape. It sounds deceptively simple, but the game is difficult. Ample reflexes, pattern recognition, and spatial skills –- which block will enter your range of fire first?—are important, but as with Bit.trip: Beat, to truly excel at the game you must lose yourself in it and the music. It’s a zen gaming experience.

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Remembering Michael Jackson


Jackson’s popularity was such that his influence has permeated the gaming medium, whether through his direct involvement, composers riffing on his yelps and yowls, or just a bit of cheeky satire. Yet what I’ll remember most about him is how his music became an essential component of the sonic texture of arcades, along with the distant warble of a dying Pac-Man, the chime of a stage beginning in Galaga, a bold narrator extolling the virtues of Dirk the Daring.—Jeremy Parish

While it’s true that 1UP’s Michael Jackson retrospective skipped over my favorite homage—the ‘Thriller’ dance sequence near the beginning of Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (video link)—it’s certainly a nice gesture. More meaningful, though, I think, is Jeremy’s short and heartfelt little ode to MJ over at 1UP’s Retronauts blog.

edit: Oh, my.

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Dear God OK OK I am posting it

Subject: Kansas City’s Antennas Up Creates Custom Space Invaders Drum Kit

Date: May 7, 2009 2:02:23 PM CDT


First off, I want to introduce myself. I work with a music promotions company in Boston [...] where I help a bunch of great artists get their music heard, plus send a lot of fun videos and absurd music news to blogs across the web. Now I know you don’t usually post about music but I thought you might be interested in checking out this new band.

They’re this really fun danceable, electronic 3-piece called Antennas Up who are self-proclaimed “nerds of geekdom.” They take a lot of their influence from the 70’s and 80’s disco and dance eras and blend it with contemporary electronica. I don’t know if you’re a fan of the old video game, Space Invaders, but the drummer (The Ryantist) just got a custom drum kit made with multi-colored invaders all over.

The makers are C&C Drums who have made kits for Ringo Starr and other contemporary drummers. The Ryantist got to work with them closely on the design and he said: “After some brain stew, we realized this was an opportunity to build a classic kit on multiple fronts, and to celebrate high geekdom. We had in mind a kit with vintage drum shells, and vintage sound at heart, combined with a classic video game exterior. Evil 8-bit alien crustaceans marching in attack formation. Oh…and the sound? It’s fucking sweet. The snare drum is unreal. Sensitive, yet focused and fat. Gotta hear it to believe it.”

If you’re interested in the band you can visit their page and check out their bio, pictures, or music:

Thanks! Have a great day!


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Tripping to the blips of Bit.trip Beat

Kevin Bunch’s Otocky retrospective reminded me that Bit.trip: Beat just arrived on WiiWare!


After rearranging my Wii’s disk space to accommodate the comparatively large download—catch you on the flipside, Paper Mario—I settled in for some truly excellent, old-school synesthesia.

Bit.trip: Beat is a paddle game: think Arkanoid, Breakout, Pong or, ahem, Circus Atari. Here, though, the paddle control is gracefully approximated by very gently rocking the Wii remote forward and back. As with classic paddle games, the controls are ‘twitchy’ and require only very fine movements.

Your onscreen ‘paddle’ (which is to say, your avatar, or, you know, the line) moves vertically along the far left of the screen, and little pellets fly onto the screen from the right, hurtling toward the paddle. And the point is to hit them. Simple. Each pellet represents a kind of a musical note, too, so as you bat the pellets away, the game’s melody emerges. So far, easy enough.

But as you progress through the game, the choreography of the pellets becomes increasingly intricate. Soon those specks are weaving in and out of one another, changing shape and size, or cruelly altering their course midflight. In that way, Bit.trip: Beat is a classic gamer’s classic game: it’s all reflexes and pattern memorization.

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Synesthesia in early gaming, NES style

To say the NES’s musical capabilities are famous is an understatement. With tunes like the Super Mario theme and the soundtracks to Mega Man 2, Castlevania, Contra, and dozens of other games, the system’s little sound chip can pump out some incredible music. The NES is practically a founding member of the chiptune musical genre, alongside such luminaries as the Commodore 64 and the Atari 800. Thus when I heard about an oddball, Famicom Disk System-only ‘musical shooter’ entitled Otocky my interest was piqued.

Otocky is the brainchild of Toshio Iwai, known more recently as the developer for Nintendo’s Electroplankton, and was released in 1987 by the ASCII Corporation. You play a weird little orange thing with cartoony eyes, arms, and legs that flies through inconsequential backgrounds populated with even stranger enemies. Your objective is to collect musical notes to fill a meter at the bottom of the screen, at which point the stage will end and you will face off with a giant, foe-spewing musical note. You must then fire off your collected musical notes at the holes in the boss until you’ve used them all. You can collect a bomb power-up, and your normal, boomeranging shot can be tweaked by collecting certain items.

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The Ocarina of Rhyme

The Ocarina of Rhyme, a hip-hop mashup of Zelda music, is pretty intense.

Supposedly this is the second time this has been done, but Team Teamwork’s version is pretty jaw-dropping anyway.


Rapping about Facebook friends

“MC Lars knows a lot of people! These are some of them in alphabetical order!”

Here is a music video about how MC Lars has a ton of Facebook friends (warning: video contains geysers of fake sperm). Which doesn’t have a ton to do with videogames, I guess, except that it’s nerdy and the glitchy beat is likably 8-bit. Also, check out DocPop—he’s the one flexing.

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I Love the 80s: Michael Ian Black is REALLY into Ms. Pac-Man

“And dere’s one special lady who’s found her way through my vinyl-treated denim shirt and into my heart—and that’s this lady behind me. Meez Pac-Man.”

In an Angle Dance -caliber performance, The State’s Michael Ian Black—surrounded by dancers clad in Blade Runner raincoats—sings a love song to a Ms. Pac-Man upright arcade cabinet.

Dig that pompadour!


Michael Jackson’s old arcade games up for grabs


They told him, “Don’t you ever come around here,
“Unless you’re really good at Soul Calibeer”
There’s Frogger in their eyes
And Crystal Castles in their leers
So beat it, just beat it

This April, Michael Jackson will auction his arcade collection, including Frogger, Soul Calibeeer, and an old Zoltar machine. Zoltar, you guys.

Check out the Julien’s catalogue—either MJ doesn’t own a Moonwalker, or he ain’t sellin’ it.

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“Generation Gaming” alludes to several video games in an extremely short period of time

This video, set to Dan Bull’s new track “Generation Gaming,” is actually pretty amazing:

Taking control of / Somebody else’s console / With no remorse / That was so debauched! / My only thoughts were total scores on Tony Hawk / Or running amok in smug-g-ler’s runs / Smug-g-lin’ guns and drugs for fun / And pullin’ a gun on any NPC I see or stumble upon / GTA3 / made me inclined to kill repeatedly / The spinal chills / Of Silent Hill / Are still on my mind and creepin’ me / The fuck out!

Want more? Last month, Dan Bull released his first album, Safe—generously, it’s available as a free download, too, if you can suffer the lower audio quality.

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Nintendo music on the melodica

I love vintage children’s instruments, and I try to collect them. (It goes along with the edutainment thing, I guess.) I really like miniature accordions, toy pianos, and different types of glockenspiels.

Usually I troll YouTube for ukulele covers, but tonight I figured, hey. Ukulele is stale. I ought to listen to melodica covers instead.

Now, the melodica is an interesting instrument. It looks like a child’s instrument, like some common recorder or penny whistle, but it has a really warm, organic sound that hints at its relation to the accordion and harmonica. But it doesn’t sound quite like any other instrument—the melodica is inscrutable. With both the melodica and the accordion, you get the sound of breathing, of little air valves pumping, which lends these instruments a “voice” that you don’t usually get either with wind instruments or with keyboards.

And that is why I like the melodica.

With no more ado, here are a handful of classic Nintendo songs as played on the melodica.

This is the Super Mario Bros theme.

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1UP Show theme song on the ocarina

I have a major soft spot for the Squadron of Shame, a videogames book club built around zealously attacking those artful games that no one seems to get around to playing (hence the titular, “shameful” feelings). The club’s frequent game playthroughs eventually and inevitably spun off in a podcast, for which the Squadron’s founders periodically assemble across the globe and Skype together.

In the most recent episode of their podcast, A.J. suddenly announces that he has uploaded his video performance of the 1UP Show theme song (here, also) to YouTube, as performed on the iPhone’s “Ocarina” app. I’m familiar with the Ocarina application—it’s a nice little nod to Zelda—because “Ocarina” was named among TIME Magazine’s Top 10 iPhone Apps of 2008.

There is nothing more resplendently geeky than announcing, on a podcast, that there is a YouTube video of you whistling into your iPhone, and more specifically, that you recorded it in honor of a popular videogame webcast. Here’s A.J.:

Isn’t it eerie and melancholy? It’s perfect.

I promise to type about something other than 1UP’s staff cuts soon.

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‘8-Bit Jesus’ is now my favorite thing about December

It’s nearly that time—and by “that time,” I mean Yule Time!—which means I am making my annual holiday mix CD. It’s a great way to save money on gifts.

And thanks to Brian Kent’s blog, I am about to fill my mix with the styling sounds of Doctor Octoroc’s 8-Bit Jesus, a half-finished chiptune album of traditional carols. Currently, nine complete tracks are available for download.

But here’s what is amazing: each carol has been reworked in the style of a treasured NES game’s music. So “The First Noël” is reconsidered as a moving Zelda theme. “Silent Night” inexplicably translates into a powerful Mega Man anthem.

And then there’s my favorite song—although at least five other tracks are competing for the title—the Christmassy ditty, “Little Drummer Nemo.”

What a perfect track! What was a sombre melody about wide-eyed wonderment is reenvisioned as snappy action music from my favorite game about childhood. So it’s unexpected, but it makes perfect sense.

8-Bit Jesus’ first nine tracks are available for download, whether one-at-a-time, or all together as one giant RAR/ZIP file, intending for unzipping/disRARing.

  • UPDATE: Download or stream 8-Bit Jesus here.

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Lead: synesthesia homebrew for the 2600

I cannot wait for Lead to come out.

Granted, it’s already out. You can download the ROM (edit: no, no, download this one) and play it right now in a 2600 emulator like Stella. A warning: it’s tough.

Lead is a music shmup from programmer Simone Serra, designed for the Atari 2600. It boasts unforgiving gameplay and a catchy ‘glitch’ soundtrack.

As for the game’s music mechanics, freelancer/archivist/programming hobbyist Jess Ragan says, “Simone [Serra] has done what Tetsuya Mizuguchi could not: create a ‘synesthetic’ shooter that is not entirely dependent on pretty graphics and a pretentious art direction.” His review of an earlier build of Lead, below:

A little over a week ago, AtariAge announced the winner of the Lead Label Contest. The game will ship—with pretty labels on real Atari carts, as God intended!—this December.

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