What better way to end Music Week than with a look at what happens when past and present collide?
Video game music is big business. Chances are, if there’s a game you’ve been looking forward to, its soundtrack release isn’t far behind, whether it’s conveniently on Spotify or perfectly packaged as a vinyl record from iam8bit. or dozens of other specialists who have emerged in recent years. .
Still, for Remute, this is all a bit too safe and conventional. At least for a producer specializing in electronic music.
“I think the least creative time is recording music to a medium like vinyl or CD,” he tells me on Zoom. “It’s good for rock or classical music, but when you record electronic music on it, it’s dead medium – it’s just reading.”
Based in Hamburg, Germany, the techno DJ and producer is a veteran of the underground electronic music scene, and since his eponymous debut in 2006, he has released albums on contemporary techno labels like Tresor and Tron. But in 2017, he was bored.
“All [about the business] was so normal, and I don’t like normal, safe stuff, ”he explains. “I needed to find a way to present electronic music in a more authentic way, so I thought, why not present music suited to the nature of electronic music?” Ironically, his new direction took off. would inspire from the past.
As a video game fan since the age of five starting with the Commodore 64 – he cites the hardware SID chip as his introduction to electronic sound, most notably the iconic Turrican soundtrack from fellow countryman Chris Huelsbeck – the job de Remute has undoubtedly had a lot of influence in video games. Indeed, part of his career had included licensing his music for video games or even composing for games, including the interactive smartphone fictional game Somewhere, as well as a number of other games that did not exist. ‘have never seen the light of day. Some of that was later repackaged as an album aptly titled, Theme Tunes For 10 Games Never Made.
But it was precisely the consoles and computers of the 16-bit era and before that fascinated him the most. We could think of chiptune primarily as a genre or an aesthetic choice, but they literally came from the sound chip, using code to generate music in real time. It was this “living electronic sound” that essentially drove Remute’s decision to release albums specifically for game consoles.
Technically his experimentation with alternative audio formats began with the Amiga, when he released his Limited album on both vinyl and floppy disk. However, for her first full-length console album, there was no more perfect contender than the Mega Drive.
“Mega Drive has always been my favorite sound aesthetic because of the FM synthesizer,” he explains. “Streets of Rage 2 was also my favorite game soundtrack, so I thought, when I make an album for a game console, it has to be Mega Drive first.”
Of course, there is already a fair share of amateurs and retro musicians imitating the sound of classic consoles by making music that emulates the Mega Drive. Open source music trackers like FamiTracker or Deflemask were both used to create the 8-bit and 16-bit soundtracks for indie ninja Metroidvania The Messenger. According to Remute, who used the latter to write music for his Mega Drive album, Technoptimistic, it was initially a steep learning curve. “On the other hand, it was really cool and it was the kind of creative rebirth I needed.”
Not content with just converting the results to MP3, CD, or other conventional music format, he was adamant about making it into a real Mega Drive album – i.e. translating that code to PCB and then releasing it. ‘pack in a cartridge that can actually play on a Mega Drive Console. This is perhaps the most intimidating aspect, as it is not possible to do in an industrial way like vinyl or CD pressing.
“Things have to be done manually – you have to order chips, you have to order cases. In the end, it’s a lot of manual work, but on the other hand, it’s pretty fun for me because I love to build. Things!” While he didn’t give a specific number on how many of those limited cartridge albums he made, he laughs and says it was “a lot”, but also adds that each has been sold.
A bonus to playing an album on your TV also meant that a music video could be included in the cartridge, giving the package a full audiovisual experience typical of the demoscene, a subculture of programmers, artists and artists. musicians who come together for LAN parties to create audiovisual demos from old material.
For this, Remute enlisted demoscenes Kabuto and Exocet, the former member of the demoscene Titan band, acclaimed for their jaw-dropping Overdrive demo (you should seriously give it a watch) which extended the technical capabilities of the Mega Drive well. beyond anything else. You can see it in the way Technoptimistic’s “Red Eye” video uses live, pseudo-3D action effects that can work on any Mega Drive console without an additional chip, a la Virtua Racing.
Technoptimistic was just the beginning, as last year it released another cartridge album, The Cult of Remute, but made for the SNES, perhaps an unusual choice as its audio quality is generally not evoked in the retro music scene. According to Remute, however, writing music for Nintendo’s 16-bit console was actually very similar to his work on the Amiga.
“The biggest hurdle was compressing the sounds and reducing them so that they still sounded like something,” he explains. “They sound pretty muffled and lo-fi, but on the other hand, the SNES has some very special post-processing effects that make the sound more lively.”
The SNES also differed from the Mega Drive in that it didn’t have so much of a sound chip as an entire audio subsystem that played digital samples aimed at more realistic sound, like Super Star Wars’ precise albeit tiny interpretation of the classic. by John Williams. Goal.
“Soundtracks like Zelda or Final Fantasy had so many orchestral elements, that sounded completely out of tune and contrived, but somehow I liked that pseudo-realistic sound as well,” says Remute. Unlike the “cold, sci-fi, robotic” sound of the Mega Drive, he wanted The Cult of Remute to have more of a sample-based sound that reflects the qualities of the SNES. “I used a lot of samples that I had used before and converted them to a format the SNES can play. It’s kind of a ‘Best of Remute’ album, but all the songs are new too! “
It seemed inevitable then that his next Electronic Lifestyle release would be for PC Engine. It turned out to be the most difficult console album, in large part because of the console’s rarity and its unique HuCard format (“What kind of magic is it, putting stuff on a card size credit?”)
Nonetheless, Remute explains that he’s always had it in his mind to make a PC Engine album, even though he’s only been able to get one himself in recent years. “This has always been the console that I couldn’t afford when I was a kid because in Germany it was only imported and very expensive. But I looked at this console in stores and it always fascinated me because of the high quality game library. I also really liked the sound because I always thought it was a mix between NES, Amiga and Game Boy – it’s probably an NES on steroids because it has a very harsh but unique digital sound. “
Once again, it benefited from the help of another Overdrive alumnus, pixel artist Alien, as well as MooZ, a programmer experienced in creating his own PC Engine demos who was able to translate the programmed music. on Deflemask to run on PC Engine. As for the HuCards, they had to be custom made by a Swedish PCB engineer called Mr Tentacle. However, due to the difference in HuCard pins, it had to limit the numbers created for the TurboGrafx-16 version by pre-order only, which closed at the time of writing.
Yet for such a complex business, if making albums for the Mega Drive and SNES already sounded like a niche market, it must be even more so for such a rare and expensive console. Given that these albums will still be available through digital and streaming platforms, isn’t it too costly and reckless to make them for the host material?
“The business man in me is probably saying, ‘Shake, are you crazy?’” He laughs. “The artist in me says I have to do it for PC Engine! Fortunately, the artist in me has always been stronger than the businessman.”
He also happens to be fortunate that by the time he announced this album, Analogue had also revealed that he is making the Analogue Duo, which can play PC Engine, TurboGrafx-16, SuperGrafx, and PC Engine CD games. -ROM². Considering Remute owns the Mega Sg, which also came out the same month as their Technoptimistic cartridge album, they seem likely partners. “We don’t have a connection, but I like what [Analogue] do because they have a very good quality, which is perfect for modern setups. It’s just great timing and I think they go really well together. “
But could the PC Engine also be the last of his console albums? After all, by the time we enter the 32-bit era, sound chips have been ditched in favor of CD and digital audio. While many would say the PS1 was a musical revolution for gaming, Remute is less excited.
“I really miss today’s consoles that have a unique sound,” he laments. “I still find it very fascinating that these old consoles all have such unique sound capabilities that you can hear it’s NES, it’s Mega Drive, it’s Game Boy, it’s Amiga, and so they have a lot of character.”
Due to the unique qualities of the sound chip, from the SID chip of the C64 to the Yamaha YM2612 FM synthesizer of the Mega Drive, every system can almost be treated like a musical instrument with its own distinct sound. As a simple example, just compare Yoko Shimomura’s Street Fighter 2 title theme on SNES, Mega Drive, Amiga, and CPS1 arcade cards.
Whether he can continue the cycle and release another Mega Drive album or perhaps return to his first love the C64, Remute is currently low-key about his future plans, although he hints that it will involve game soundtracks.
“What I’ve probably learned from the old-fashioned platforms is that their game soundtracks are very dynamic and responsive to players,” he says. “So when I make modern soundtracks for modern platforms I always have that old-fashioned sound aesthetic in mind.”