“As impressive as the big games of today are, people still love to play games with simplicity, with that old arcade feel.”
For years it was the backing track to our gaming life and it woe took little notice of it until it was gone! Now though all of that has changed with thanks to independent developers and a rise in the culture of Retro Gaming, the 8-Bit music tracks are alive, funky and kicking today but it hasn’t just stopped with the gaming industry. A music revolution of sorts has occured and the genre is now no longer tied to just video games and has been picked up by musicians all over the world, crafting, creating and tuning their art into musical masterpieces.
One such artist is Niamh Houston or Chipzel, an Irish artist who’s work has been used in supremely difficult and highly addictive game, Super Hexagon. Niamh takes some time out of her schedule to chat with the Arcade about her work and sound and laugh when we compliment her!
Some really weird Irish girl that plays with Gameboys to make music.
Now before this goes further and for those of us who aren’t cool enough to know, what is chiptune, 8-Bit and how do you make it into such amazing music?
[laughs] 8-Bit music is made by hacking into computer systems to create and edit the sounds from the chip inside. The tracker program I use, LSDJ (Little Sound DJ) can be put onto a Gameboy cartridge and it allows you to edit the sounds to create different instruments and samples to build a track. You start from scratch though, so it’s always really fun to see what you can come up with.
When most people grow up learning music on a box accordion or tin whistle, how did you get started in this genre?
I did too, like, my dad loves his traditional Irish folk music and my sister plays cello, guitar and tin whistle. I think I was the runt of the pack to be honest. I just became very obsessed with the internet when I was like 14 or 15 and started to find all this amazing music. It was through hearing Sabrepulse that I decided to whip out my old Gameboy and buy LSDJ.
Do you think this music is only for geeks and gamers or is it growing into a wider audience?
It just depends on your taste, I suppose. It’s not for everyone. I’ve seen people just look on in absolute confusion at gigs before [laughs]! It can appeal to any age really, though. It’s got that nostalgic factor for everyone that used to spend hours playing old retro consoles, but it also has the appeal of being a “weird form of dance music” for the younger generation.
Growing up with this sort of music as the soundtrack to amazing video games, it has sort of faded out and been replaced by eccentric scores or tracks played by big selling record artists, do you think 8-Bit music has lost its place in the gaming world?
Not at all! I think there is a lot of potential for indie games to work with people who make 8-Bit music now, as it fits so well. As impressive as the big games of today are, people still love to play games with simplicity and with that old arcade feel.
Are there any particular artists or even video games that inspire you to create your own music? And on that note… how do you create the music?
I just start from scratch and write whatever melodies I’m feeling at the time. I’ve never studied music theory or anything, so I just write what sounds good to me at the time. I listen to a lot of progressive house and trance music because it’s so beautiful and melodic. My main inspirations in chip are Sabrepulse, Fighter X, JDDE3J, Trash80 and loads more. Too many to name to be honest. Non-chip, I’d say Deadmau5, Kaskade, Alpha 9, Adam K & Soha to name a few
What are your ambitions for the future? Where do you see your music going?
No idea really [laughs]! Hopefully somewhere nice. I’d love to write music for games and keep performing and releasing chiptune music. Possibly do a side project and make some progressive trance as well. Who knows?
Finally if you were trapped in the Arcade for eternity, what ONE game would you play to pass the time?
I think I’d go with Donkey Kong or Pac Man to try to beat Billy (“greatest arcade-video-game player of all time” and big time douchebag) Mitchell’s scores, just to piss him off.
If you’d like to learn more about Chipzel then you can find/follow her on the links below:
You can purchase a copy of Phonetic Symphony here!
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!