Video game

Plug and Play: music created for video game cartridges


Plug and Play: music created for video game cartridges

By Zoe Camp Illustration by Marcelo Lavin November 04, 2021

With the meteoric rise of virtual reality and Twitch, the arrival (and subsequently the overwhelming demand) of bloated ninth generation consoles and the rebirth of indie booming on platforms like STEAM, the world of video games encompasses one of, if not the, dominant forms of cutting-edge global entertainment. What was once the makings of geeks has grown into a cultural canon in its own right, inspiring films, visual arts, memes and, of course, music. To put it simply, in 2021, gaming (and by extension, video game music) is synonymous with innovation. Denis Karimani, also known as the magician VGM Remute, belongs to a new generation of artists who drew inspiration not from the future of the medium, but from its distant past, taking physical cartridges from the first systems (the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and Gameboy being the most popular) and filling them with original music.

A ‘geek born’ from Hamburg, Germany, Remute’s background is in techno: before his 2019 pivot to make full-time video game music, he spent 15 years recording for notable techno labels like Tresor and Ladomat 2000. It was always inspired by both video games and video game music, but was unable to fully integrate them into its sound due to the technological limitations of the time. “Back then the only thing I could do was sample sound effects here and there and try to sound like video games, but I wasn’t able to make music directly from it. the game console. ”

That changed in the early 10s, with the advent of tracking programs for MegaDrive and Super Nintendo, which interact directly with the sound chips on consoles. As Remute explains, “It’s not that kind of music programming where you communicate directly with the sound chip; it’s more like coding than making music. This code is recorded on the chip of the cartridge. When this software became available, I was able to communicate directly with the sound chip and not only record sounds here and there, I had a direct connection to the console. Unlike chiptune, a popular style of synthesized electronic music created by manipulating the sound chips of old-school consoles like the Game Boy, Remute’s musical spectacle doesn’t stop at the notes themselves. Instead, he seeks to capture the holistic experience of the medium as we remember it; a painstaking replication process that requires the assistance of coders, graphic designers and other 8-bit helpers.

Much like playing a video game, the process of composing and programming music for decades-old equipment comes down to trial and error. For The cult of discretion, the very first plug-and-play music album for the Super Nintendo, it started out the traditional way, using digital audio workstations and sequencers and jamming on keyboards and synthesizers. These PC recordings were then transferred to a formatted chip that could be read by the console. “It’s like writing music in your mind,” Remute explains. “Of course there is a lot of trial and error at first, but after a while you start to hear the sound in your mind and then when you write it into the program it’s almost exactly like you heard it in your bother. “

The end result, which feels like an improved version of the sound test menus on most classic titles, is a deeply rewarding listening experience that feels like a game in itself, probably because, in some ways, it’s the game. case. “It’s definitely a different music listening experience than putting on a record or playing something, because you have to turn on the console. [and] insert the correct cables into the television, ”explains Remute. “I think it’s kind of an adventure for some people to release the album.” He laughs and adds: “In the end, they are rewarded for their work. The fact that the power of music lies in active engagement, rather than passive listening, is precisely what makes it so special to Remute and his peers. “It’s probably a more rewarding listening experience than the hands-on way… it definitely shapes the fun factor of music when you’re rewarded with sounds at the end. ”

Below, Remute introduces us to some notable artists and labels translating original music into video game cartridges. From experimental noise floppy disks designed to run on old PCs, to soothing vaporwave albums playable on Game Boy Advance and Sega Genesis, there’s something for everyone. (For those who don’t have an old-fashioned console on hand, fear not, all of these versions are also available digitally.)

“Tronimal is an incredible German artist that I discovered a few years ago. I think he made the first Game Boy album, Hi world! He’s also an incredible live artist; I have seen him live in Germany several times. It basically uses a real Game Boy and runs the Little Sound DJ tracker on it, which does live manipulation like changing channels and changing models and everything. It is very made to play live: very practical, very fun to use. When he plays live, he just rocks on his Game Boy. It does a lot for the Zedex Spectrum, an 8-bit home computer from Britain. He’s very talented, and also a very technically gifted guy, and he’s definitely someone I admire when it comes to music for players. I think he’s going to do another album in the next few weeks!

“I’m a huge vaporwave fan, and I follow a lot of vaporwave artists. This scene is particularly interesting for me, because a lot of vaporwave artists are experimenting with different formats: mini-discs, floppy disks, VHS tapes. And, of course, I also really like music. One day I came across Oasis Ltd .; they use Game Boy Advance cartridges and also put videos on [the cartridges], which is quite astonishing. The Game Boy Advance sound chip was, as the name suggests, quite advanced; it can represent quite complex music, like vaporwave. The Oasis Ltd. press releases [designed by artust mingkurray] all of them have their own style, and I think what’s fascinating here is the mix of video and music. The fact that it’s compressed on the cartridge is pretty cool; you could probably compare it to a VHS video tape. It’s not the best picture quality, but on a little Game Boy Advance… who cares? It’s an amazing audio-visual experience. They put out so many cool releases, and they sell out really fast, but if you follow them, they always release cool stuff.

“Basically every song on this album has its own mini-game, which is totally amazing. You can play any song, literally! I also like the musical style. It’s not that eye-catching, but super experimental and funky, and also playful, which fits the theme of the player. [Laughs] I also like the overall graphic design, and the fact that it produces a real chiptune, communicates with the sound chip, and encodes the music. It’s kind of like my approach. It’s a really interesting audiovisual mix and an exciting art concept.

“If you compare it to the Oasis Ltd. albums, they use pre-recorded sounds produced in a conventional way, with digital audio workstations and synthesizers, then recorded as an audio file and transferred to the cartridge. It does not communicate directly with the audio chip, it is simply read. But on the other hand, Mike and I’s music is just note information data that is saved in a code on the chip and then played back in real time by the sound chip. Each time, it sounds different. When you give a sheet music to a band, every time they play it, it won’t sound exactly the same. Of course, with an electronic device, the sound is generally the same 99% of the time. But this remaining percent is always different.

“The milliampere diode is a very special case. Obviously, he doesn’t release music on cartridges; it uses floppy disks instead. What’s very interesting about his music is that he produces music for the Sound Blaster sound card, which was the first audio chip ever used in PC games. The Sound Blaster sound card is very similar to the Sega Megadrive sound card; it uses the same Yamaha sound chip, so Diode Milamperre’s music is pretty much like Mega Drive, but works on a PC. As far as I know, he uses the same technology as me and Mike; it writes the music to a tracker and the code is generated in real time. Plus, the music is just amazing: the sounds it generates from the Sound Blaster are so varied, so colorful, and so interesting. He does a pretty wide range of dance music on the Sound Blaster, and I think I have all of his releases. A very amazing guy.

“I’m a huge fan of the Commodore 64. It was the first computer I got from my parents when I was five, they said, ‘Hey, become a programmer’, so I got it. made. [Laughs] I have fond memories of the C64 and use a lot of C64 programs at home. Of course, I follow the C64 scene quite closely, and I came across this label, DataDoor. DUBCRT was made by a popular C64 artist from Sweden named Goto80, so I had to check it out, because I’m a huge fan of this stuff. Music on DUBCRT is very trippy, very glitchy… I think a lot of the music is created at random and sounds slightly different each time. It just delivers a unique listening experience every time you turn it on. It’s modern music, a kind of work of art that you can turn on at any time and enjoy it.