While games have been the major force behind the rise of the retro scene over the last decade or so, one of the most interesting side-effects has been the resurgence of music created using the soundchips of the 8 and 16-bit eras. Combined with the explosion of digital self-publishing this has led a number of artists and ex-demo scene members to be able to return to the formats of the ’80s and ’90s, creating some quite remarkable BLIPTASTIC! music using hardware which was previously considered only good enough to provide primitive bleeps and blips.
Michelle Sternberger has been at the frontline of the chiptune movement since the earliest days of this revival, both as part of the band 8 Bit Weapon and via her own solo project, ComputeHer. BLIPTASTIC! is ComputeHer’s third full studio album and another solid demonstration of her talents.
Rather than choosing a particular soundchip and writing tunes for it, Michelle instead uses a variety of popular 8-bit computers and consoles as individual instruments, with a vintage drum machine and a couple of classic synthesizers providing more traditional backup. This makes for more variety than you might imagine as the capabilities of the soundchips used vary widely; from the Commodore 64’s smooth and complex SID chip to the Atari 800’s classic electronic twang and right down to the Apple II’s basic one-bit beep, each sound is easily recognisable to the seasoned ear but when put together they make for something far greater than they could ever accomplish on their own.
Each of the nine tracks on offer here mix up the instrumentation slightly but all follow the same electronic dance style – up-beat and fast paced with a thumping drum track that practically begs you to hook up some speakers instead of using your headphones. For the more casual chiptune fan some of the tracks will be an easier listen than others (the SID and synth-lead sounds of ‘SIDuction’ and ‘Sugar Cube’ provide a smoother sound than the harsher, more traditional ‘Outer Space’ for instance) but providing your not totally unfamiliar with this style of music there is plenty to like and enough variety to provide something enjoyable for fans of both classic chiptune and electronic music alike.
Clocking in at a shade over 27 minutes, BLIPTASTIC! is perhaps a little on the short side but it’s difficult to come away feeling short-changed, and all too easy to jump straight back to track one as soon as the final notes fade. For the hardcore chiptune fanatic this is a great example of the form; for those simply curious about what can be achieved when you use old gaming systems as musical instruments it’s an excellent introduction to the genre.
BLIPTASTIC! is free to stream and available to buy as a digital download from ComputeHer’s Bandcamp page here.
User Blerk – gamer, retro gamer, coder, writer, ZX Spectrum fanboy, miserable old git. Best before 1990. May contain nuts