51 Shades of Geek

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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