While the popularity of retrogaming can sometimes be difficult to understand or accurately gauge, one of the more interesting aspects of its resurgence is the following that has developed around chiptunes. Though it would be a bit of a stretch to say that chiptunes music is massively popular, there’s no doubt that the genre holds a strong appeal for many gamers, especially those who grew up playing on older systems.
But the current chiptunes scene is hardly limited to old game soundtracks–thanks to software like Little Sound DJ, producers can make complex music that manages to be both old and new. And the best example might be a new release titled Sonus Antiquitatum, a sonata for two Game Boys in F minor, that not only sounds good for a chiptunes album but is actually a really enjoyable musical experience!
Though most people probably don’t think of Game Boys as instruments, it turns out that they are capable of quite a lot. Little Sound DJ (LSDJ), an unlicensed piece of software, can turn any old Game Boy into a surprisingly powerful music workstation, complete with a sequencer for composing, a sound design module for making your own sounds, and a number of built-in samples. While it’s obviously limited by the hardware, the music produced with a Game Boy with LSDJ can be downright impressive. You can even connect multiple devices using a Link Cable for, as the LSDJ website says, “party fun or for added polyphony.”
California-based musician Soleviio went the “added polyphony” route and has produced one of the best examples of the power of the old hardware with Sonus Antiquitatum, his sonata for two Game Boys. Obviously, the album, which he says is “actually an original, four movement sonata, structured after those typical to the early/mid 19th century,” still sounds like Game Boy music–it just happens to be rather sophisticated Game Boy music. You can almost imagine Mario donning a top hat before jumping on a goomba. Whether or not you’ll enjoy it will probably be up to how much you enjoy chiptunes music, though we’d definitely recommend giving it a listen. Even if you think chiptunes music is annoying now, one listen to this might be enough to change your mind.
The complete album is available on Bandcamp for as little as absolutely nothing. While it may drive Taylor Swift crazy to hear this, Soleviio is offering the music on a donation basis, though we strongly encourage you to actually plunk down some real money–this is definitely a high-quality production! And if you’re looking for more chiptunes music, be sure to check out Soleviio’s previous album Daydreams and Dragon Kings, also on Bandcamp.
If you’re curious what LSDJ looks like in action, here’s a video by Japanese YouTuber Take Ryo playing a song using LSDJ and iKaossilator. The iPad app might kind of be cheating, but the majority of the music is all from a Game Boy!
Finally, if you’re looking for something a bit more modern, you’ll not want to miss the dubstep chiptunes of Chibi-tech, a video game sound designer based out of Chiba Prefecture. Check out her 2012 performance at Blip Festival Tokyo below–complete with 8-bit bass growls produced on an NES–and head to her Bandcamp page for more music.
While it may be hard to imagine chiptunes ever achieving major mainstream success, it’s obvious that there’s a lot more to the genre than pure nostalgia. Soleviio’s sonata proves that a lot can be done with nothing more than a Game Boy and a tiny piece of software!