Growing up as part of the Commodore Amiga gaming generation of the 1990s, the electronic in-game soundtracks were just as exciting and important as the games themselves. And there was some fantastic game music – now regarded as a chiptune legacy.
When titles were announced from software houses such as Rainbow Arts, The Bitmap Brothers or Psygnosis, or when you saw names like Chris Hüelsbeck or David Whittaker in the game credits, you knew that in addition to a great game with stunning graphics, you would also be treated to a fantastic soundtrack.
The Amiga heralded a new dawn for computer arts and music, and over twenty-five years later, as I have found myself composing and independently releasing electronic instrumental music, those old game soundtracks are still as important and influential as ever.
It still amazes me today, just how much you could fit on to one or two 3.5” floppy disks – and 8-bit music and sampling technology was ever increasing. We all remember the first time we heard Nation 12’s “Into the Wonderful” on The Bitmap Brothers game Gods, or the incredible Bomb the Bass soundtrack to Xenon II.
It was however the work of German composer Chris Hüelsbeck that had the biggest impact on me, and his music for the “Turrican” games in particular. A Hüelsbeck soundtrack became like a quality hallmark! His scores always delivered a glorious stereo soundscape of rich atmospheres with great riffs and melodies, and that stayed with me, long after the heyday of the Amiga.
I always loved how each level of a game had its own soundtrack to suit the surroundings, whether you’re clambering through a rocky alien terrain or a hurtling through space and strange worlds. The music would be a great match for those different worlds, and I would often find myself looking forward to particular levels just to hear the music!
There were so many great games – hundreds – with titles such as the Turrican series, The Chaos Engine, Apidya, Blood Money and Shadow of the Beast being among my long list of favourites. Every game offered the chance to escape in a different world of time, with each looking and sounding unique. When I wasn’t playing the games, I would put a cassette recorder in front of the tv speaker and record all the various music that I loved. So much skill and creativity went into every aspect those games.
It really is no surprise that today, in making what you might call computer music, that influence has come full circle. Game music is actually an area I would love to work in.
My first foray into making electronic music was actually on my Amiga A1200 back in 1997, using OctaMED. Over that summer, I assembled a sound library of borrowed samples and found sounds, meshing them together over the software’s eight tracks with industrial drum loops and throbbing bass lines. While very amateurish, there was something exciting here, so I transferred the demos to a cassette tape, which I titled “The Light Dreams” – a name I would reprise in 2006 when I finally had a more serious shot at making my own instrumental electronic music.
With the discovery of GarageBand and later Logic Pro X on the Mac, I have been able to fully realise what I’d originally wanted to do back in 1997.
Although I’m not making 8-bit music, what inspires me is both looking back to so many brilliant soundtracks, and constructing my pieces as if I were composing for a game. Each track is a different adventure, and it is easy to imagine each being a different level in a game, carrying you through different places. This helps me to determine the structure and atmosphere of the music, scene by scene. I loved the sense of travel and adventure in so many of those games. One moment you might be exploring a city, and the next deep in a jungle, so I’ll often think about what kind of landscape would suit the music I’m making – integral for creating that sense of journey, especially on a concept album.
So that chiptune influence is still very prominent in my work today – perhaps even more evident on my latest album, Crossover, where I wanted to create an album composed of long pieces of music, but that drift through different, often unexpected moods and changes in atmosphere… not unlike progressing through worlds and levels of an adventure.
Crossover is perhaps the album that feels closest to my roots, from first hearing Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygène in the early 80s to the revelation of the chiptune era of game music that followed. It has been rewarding to put all that influence into a project of my own and to be able to put it out there for others to hear.
Crossover is out now on digital download and limited edition CD from:
Amiga 500 Render courtesy of http://www.3dpeek.de