8 Bit Weapon – Class Apples

8 Bit Weapon - Class ApplesI remember the Apple II. By way of the Franklin ACE 1000 clone that was later sued off the market, I grew up with the Apple II as my first computer. I programmed it – or tried to – endlessly. Trying to get music and sound right with the native Apple II speaker was an especially bruising experience: endless data tables, pokes, and very seldom getting what I wanted out of the machine. A whole sub-industry was born to bolt better audio capability onto the Apple II via add-ons like the Mockingboard sound card. It was never as easy as just plugging a MIDI-capable keyboard into it and just playing what was in your head.

Except that now, it is. And that’s how we got Class Apples – a new MIDI controller interface, and a modern-day software hack allowing for samples to expand the sound of the Apple II, and 8 Bit Weapon doing what 8 Bit Weapon does. The entirety of Class Apples is performed on Apple II computers, with minor post-production tweaks providing the finishing touches that the Apple itself can’t (reverb, stereo tricks, a bit of flanging here and there). It’s still the same lo-fi machine that it always was, but the Apple II can do more musically thanks to persistent fans of the machine grafting new abilities onto it, inspired by technological developments that have taken place since the Apple II’s heyday.

The music here is all from the classical repertoire, and heavy on pieces with complex counterpoint. Everything has a beat to it, and there’s a strong Hooked On Classics vibe to the whole thing. It’s hard to nominate any one track as a standout – each of them have their own charms – though I’m always a sucker for “Ave Maria” and, well, just about any flavor of Bach.

4 out of 4Computer music may be nothing new, and classics filtered through computer music may be nothing new, but there is something new here – significant musical capabilities have been grafted onto a machine that was known for little more than the plaintive PR#6 “BEEP” that accompanied a startup or reset. Just as 8 Bit Weapon helped alert the public to the possibilities of the NES and Game Boy as musical instruments, the same can now be said of the not-especially-musically-inclined Apple II. It’s a musical tech demo that is, if you know anything about the Apple II’s native sound capabilities, surprisingly listenable. You had me at INIT HELLO,S6,D1.

Order this CD

  1. Sheep May Safely Graze (Bach – 2:55)
  2. Two Part Invention (Bach – 1:03)
  3. Prelude and Fugue 1 in C Major (Bach – 1:29)
  4. Für Elise (For Elise) (Beethoven – 2:14)
  5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) (Mozart – 5:24)
  6. Invention 8 (Bach – 0:51)
  7. Prelude in C Minor (Bach – 1:35)
  8. Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart – 2:07)
  9. Invention 14 (Bach – 1:13)
  10. Air Tromb (Bach – 1:29)
  11. Ave Maria (Bach & Gounod – 2:52)
  12. Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven – 4:43)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: July 22, 2017
Total running time: 27:55

8-Bit Weapon – Disassembly Language: Ambient Music for Deprogramming, Vol. 1

Disassembly Language Vol. 1An interesting new experiment for 8 Bit Weapon, Disassembly Language returns the chiptune duo to its Commodore 64-centric SID-sound-chip roots, but trades in the usual punchy three-minute originals for epic-length new-age chiptune instrumentals. The effect is nothing short of hypnotic.

“Phase I: Lexical Analysis” opens with mesmerizingly looping sequences over a gentle, slow pad; by the end of the track, the pad has gradually taken over as the dominant sound. “Phase II: Debugger” sticks with the hypnotic repeating figure idea, again to great effect, while “Phase III: Refactoring” and “Phase IV: Release” concentrate on slowly changing harmonies. The first two tracks have enough variation to relax you while still leaving you awake; the last two tracks are not listen-in-the-car material.

Is it great going-to-sleep material? Yes – it’s been sending me off to the sandman for a week now, and it even sent my oldest, also a chiptune fan, off to sleep. Can you ask for better depreogramming than that?

4 out of 4Fans of such hypnotically mesmerizing synth music as Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack, Tangerine Dream at its dreamy best, and the trance-inducing repeating musical ideas in Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds For Baby trilogy will find a lot to love here. And perhaps the most promising thing is that, like Scott’s Soothing Sounds, this album promises to be just the first volume.

Order

  1. Phase I: Lexical Analysis (13:37)
  2. Phase II: Debugger (13:08)
  3. Phase III: Refactoring (20:16)
  4. Phase IV: Release (22:44)

Released by: 8-Bit Weapon
Release date: February 9, 2016
Total running time: 1:00:45

8 Bit Weapon – Bits With Byte

Bits With ByteLogging in with the first full-album-length effort since the remixed Confidential 2.0, chiptune duo 8 Bit Weapon proves why it’s still practically the dictionary definition of this genre of music (i.e. “Chiptune music – you know, like 8 Bit Weapon”). It’s not enough to just slam the sounds (or samples) of old game machines together; there’s got to be a memorable tune under it. The earliest era of video game music turned out several hummable earworms despite the limitations of the day, and 8 Bit Weapon “gets” that. There’s always a tune behind the tech, and one often suspects the songs are strong enough to survive being transferred to more “traditional” instrumentation. (Now there’s an idea for a tribute album.)

The sound is so old-school that, halfway through Bits With Bytes’ 18 tracks, one can imagine a “side one/side two” break (for those of you old enough to remember turning over the record or tape). The first nine songs are brand-new numbers, all instrumentals, with “The Art Of Video Games Anthem” (accompanying an upcoming exhibit at the Smithsonian), “We Fight For The Users”, “Escape From Xenon” and “Galactic Invasion” emerging as highlights. The title track is no slouch either (check out the official video below the jump at the bottom of the review). I got a kick out of the actual recording of a typically noisy, disk-drive-rattling Apple II boot-up (oh, the memories…) at the beginning of “Apple Core II”. There are enough melodic hooks here – or, at the very least, interestingly unconventional musical ideas – to keep you going for a while.

Starting with the tenth track, some of 8 Bit Weapon’s older material is revisited, with a positively hyperkinetic remix of “Closer” from the Electric High EP. Appropriately titled “Closer 2.0”, it’s definitely an upgrade. A revised “Micro Boogie” (one of my all-time favorites by this group) follows, though the differences may take a couple of listens to spot. The 8 Bit Bandit remix of “Closer” and the Sanxion7 remix of “Chip On Your Shoulder” (another revised Electric High number) substantially rearrange the DNA of the originals to make completely unique versions of each – again, this version of “Chip” may be superior to the original.

Demo versions of “Bits With Byte”, “The Art Of Video Games Anthem” and “Galactic Invasion” round things off; some artists demos show a striking difference in sound and production quality, but these instead offer a snapshot of the arrangements of each song in flux, not quite having landed on their final versions. Another new tune, “Vic XX”, closes things out nicely.

4 out of 4I’m normally the first person to call shenanigans when almost half of a purportedly new album consists of older material, but here at least the material has been polished to an even higher shine than the originals – sort of like they’re in HD now. All of it’s worth a listen, especially if you don’t partake of 8 Bit Weapon’s shorter EPs (note: if you’re actually doing that, you’re depriving yourself of even more good stuff).

Order

  1. Bits with Byte (3:01)
  2. Galactic Invasion (3:03)
  3. Apple Core II (1:57)
  4. The Art of Video Games Anthem (3:12)
  5. Miami Dub Bounce (2:39)
  6. We Fight for the Users (3:05)
  7. Drive Grinder (3:11)
  8. Escape from Xenon (3:08)
  9. Goodbye Cochise (1:36)
  10. Closer 2.0 (2:45)
  11. Micro Boogie 2.0 (3:45)
  12. Chip On Your Shoulder (Electric High Mix) (3:20)
  13. Closer (8 Bit Bandit Remix) (6:02)
  14. Chip On Your Shoulder (Sanxion7 Remix) (3:30)
  15. Bits with Byte Demo (2:54)
  16. The Art Of Video Games Anthem Demo (3:16)
  17. Galactic Invasion Demo (2:54)
  18. Vic XX (3:18)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2012
Total running time: 56:36

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8 Bit Weapon – Tron Tribute

8 Bit Weapon - Tron TributeChiptune champs 8 Bit Weapon pay tribute to one of electronic music’s true pioneers, Wendy Carlos, by way of reinterpreting Carlos’ music from the 1982 movie Tron. With Tron slowly bubbling back into the public consciousness by way of Disney’s attempt to revive the franchise on the big screen later in 2010, Tron Tribute is an inspired project with good timing.

Available as a free download, Tron Tribute basically cycles through variations on two different pieces of music from Tron, namely “Tron Scherzo” and the movie’s end credit suite (or at least about the first 1/3 of it). 8 Bit Weapon deploys its usual arsenal of classic Commodore 64 and Game Boy sounds for the occasion, and adds an Apple II-based synth for good measure. (The custom-made Apple II synth program is also available on their website.)

The variations aren’t wildly different – it’s more a case of subtly swapping out “instruments” – but the result is still quite an enjoyable new take on the music from Tron . (It’s also worth noting that 8 Bit Weapon isn’t the first act to take on such a reinterpretation – there was also a track of Tron music, appropriately arranged for the sound hardware of the Intellivision, whose maker had the license for home 4 out of 4video games based on Tron, on the Intellivision In Hi-Fi album.)

8 Bit Weapon’s take on Tron nicely splits the difference between Wendy Carlos’ complex harmonies and the unique harmonics of the machines used to play the music – and you sure can’t beat the price.

Download it!

  1. Tron Scherzo (Sark’s Revenge Mix) (2:00)
  2. Tron Theme & Ending (Flynn’s Farewell Mix) (1:10)
  3. Tron Scherzo (Solar Sailer Mix) (2:00)
  4. Tron Theme & Ending (Yori’s Game Boy Mix) (1:10)
  5. Discuss it in our forumTron Scherzo (Clu’s Game Boy Mix) (2:01)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 8:21

8 Bit Weapon & ComputeHer – It’s A Chiptune Holiday!

It's A Chiptune Holiday!A fun little EP released just in time for the holiday season, It’s A Chiptune Holiday! is a selection of traditional Christmas music, done in old-school video game style with 8 Bit Weapon’s usual arsenal of custom-programmed classic console sound chips.

“Deck The Halls” kicks things off with harmonized vocoder vocals – it’s like a cheerful choir of Christmas-caroling robots. “Jingle Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” also have robotic vocals, though the latter has a kind of strange diction that makes me wonder if it really is a voice synthesizer as opposed to a human singer’s processed vocals.

The instrumentals are a treat too; “O Christmas Tree” is given a polyphonic arrangement that makes it sound like a “win” tune from Pole Position; “Ave Maria” actually comes closest to what I was expecting to hear from an EP of 8-bit Christmas tunes.

4 out of 4The only problem with It’s A Chiptune Holiday! is that it’s just too short! I instantly thought of about a dozen other Christmas tunes that would sound great with the 8 Bit Weapon treatment; I realize that it’d mean venturing into non-public-domain territory, but I can just about hear a chiptune version of “Christmastime Is Here” from Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas special soundtrack in my head.

The good news is, I hear they’ve already scheduled Christmas for next year – you’ve got 12 months to get on the case, 8 Bit Weapon!

Order this CD

  1. Deck The Halls (Nos Galan) (1:52)
  2. Hanukkah (Festival Of Lights) (1:01)
  3. O Christmas Tree (O Chanukah) (1:31)
  4. Jingle Bells (One Horse Open Sleigh) (1:14)
  5. Joy To The World (2:09)
  6. Greensleeves (What Child Is This) (1:51)
  7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (2:13)
  8. Ave Maria (The Well-Tempered Clavier) (3:25)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 15:16

8 Bit Weapon – Electric High

8 Bit Weapon - Electric HighAnother group that I file under “doesn’t release new material as often as I’d like,” veteran chiptune pioneers 8 Bit Weapon are back, now pared down to a duo, with some incredibly catchy new tunes. The opening volley, “Closer (Bitpop Mix)”, is an infectiously catchy song with the welcome return of a female vocal. While still heavily processed (a la vocoder epics like “One Last Mission” and “Micro Boogie”), it’s an interesting sound and one that, surprisingly, is a stand-alone here; it’s not as if 8 Bit Weapon’s instrumentals are suddenly chopped liver, but I wish they’d sing some more. When I look back at the group’s post-Confidential output, the songs that stick out as my favorites are the ones with vocals. 8 Bit Weapon has a gift for catchy tunes and their instrumentation gives them a unique sound by default; their vocal offerings, more often than not, have clever lyrics and just a little extra something that turns a good instrumental into a great, addictive, fleshed-out song. With only six songs on the Electric High EP, it would’ve been nice to have two, even three songs with vocals. I’d love for 8 Bit Weapon to bring the vocal-to-instrumental ratio to parity.

Not that the instrumentals are anything to complain about here; “Kiss My Bits (ComputeHer Mashup Mix)” and “Macro Disko (Minimal Mix)” are early favorites. “Chiptune Attack 2600 A.D.” features a rare foray into the nearly-atonal sounds generated by an Atari 2600, and yet still manages to be a catchy – if quirky – tune. All of the tracks on Electric High are worth a listen, and at only six tracks, there’s no filler material – the EP makes a strong statement and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

8 Bit Weapon has a unique, fun sound – so much so that Sony’s production music department singled them out to build an effects and instrument library so that anyone with Nuendo, Cubase or other sequencing software can start cranking out chiptunes. (That, in and of itself, could be a great thing, or it could lead to a flood of dreck – part of the compelling appeal of chiptunes artists is that they are, in fact, using this old computer and game hardware to make these sounds. Sequencing and sampling one’s way to a new chiptune opus 4 out of 4almost seems like cheating. Of course, there’s probably some string quartet out there staring me down for all those string samples I mess around with in Cubase, so it’s all down to your point of view.) They’re still on top of their game (literally!) with Electric High – I just wish they’d belt out some words more often. (Seriously, guys, if you need help with lyrics, if that’d get some more songs with vocals out there, just call me.)

Order this CD

  1. Closer (Bitpop Mix) (2:52)
  2. Kiss My Bits (Computeher Mashup Mix) (2:05)
  3. Chip On Your Shoulder (3:24)
  4. FUNDanalogue (2:22)
  5. Chiptune Attack 2600 AD (3:16)
  6. Macro Disko (Minimal Mix) (3:38)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 17:37

Reset Generation – music by 8-Bit Weapon

Reset Generation - music by 8-Bit WeaponA collection of short, punchy instrumental pieces composed for Nokia’s Reset Generation game – which itself pays tribute to numerous games of yesteryear – 8-Bit Weapon’s soundtrack has a lot in common with the old video games that I like: the tunes are addictive, make me want to come back for more, and don’t hang around long enough to get old. Not a bad combination, really.

One thing that may throw listeners off, however, is the brevity I’m talking about above: many of the tracks barely clock in at over one minute, and many of them begin and end very abruptly. The latter is no accident: the tracks are meant to “loop” repeatedly during specific scenes and levels of Reset Generation itself. Fortunately, the tracks are timed out in such a way that one tune’s end leads directly into the next track almost seamlessly. Any one track by itself might seem to be an abrupt listening experience, but the entire soundtrack is a fun listen.

Highlights include “Power Up Pumpin'”, “Micro Anthem 2a03” (named after the NES’ sound chip), “64 Rocker”, “Rock Music Entry 6581” and the Leviathan mix of the Reset Generation theme – to name just a few. Those are just my favorites, but to an extent, all of the Reset Generation tracks are earworms that will prove difficult to dislodge from your head after you’ve heard them.

Included as a bonus track is “2D Died”, a riff on Don McLean’s “American Pie” (as in “the day 2D [gaming] died”) which does a great job of updating the original song into a chiptune extravaganza with vocoder-ized vocals. My one issue with “2D Died” is the same issue I have with “American Pie” itself (or, for that matter, “Sweet Home Alabama”: the first three minutes or so are okay, and after that I start looking at track time remaining because the same melody/chord structure is just repeating. I don’t know if that’s even 4 out of 4something to dock points for: 8-Bit Weapon is only paying homage to the 7+ minute original. And in any case, I like it better than Madonna’s update of the same song, but it’s just not something I feel compelled to listen to repeatedly, though its lyrics are pretty clever. But the rest of the album – which, by the way, can be downloaded free via the link below – is 8-Bit Weapon gold: repeat listening is compulsory (and with the loop-ready nature of the tracks, it’s even repeat-button-friendly!).

Order this CD

  1. Reset Generation Anthem (3:42)
  2. Aphex Tweek (1:26)
  3. Dungeon Derivative (0:54)
  4. Blip Bwop (1:16)
  5. Little Lost Lazer Boy (1:01)
  6. Lethargic Menace (1:16)
  7. Bubble Twin Bonanza (1:04)
  8. Where Fools Tread (1:01)
  9. Chiptune Chump (1:19)
  10. Commodore Base (1:20)
  11. Micro Anthem 2a03 (1:35)
  12. 64 Rocker (1:12)
  13. Krafty Noob (1:16)
  14. Tricky Game (1:04)
  15. Reset Generation Anthem – Leviathan Mix (1:22)
  16. Nin10do Raver (0:59)
  17. Breakin’ Bits (1:20)
  18. Macro Boogie (0:57)
  19. Power Up Pumpin’ (1:20)
  20. BootySoft Inc. (0:57)
  21. Corrupt Conscript Festival (1:25)
  22. SID Vicious (1:55)
  23. Rock Music Entry 6581 (1:04)
  24. Reset Generation Anthem – Sinister Mix (1:13)
  25. 2D Died (7:43)

Released by: 8-Bit Weapon / Nokia
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 39:41