Zabutom released Redux34 today 150918.
I’ll start with the last. Chiptunes and the chipmusic movement is supported by artists using the sound generation hardware of video game systems and older computers. Compared to modern synthesizers and samplers, the hardware in a game console or older computer like a commodore 64 is fairly simple and designed to provide music and sound effects during game play. The synthesizers in these older systems were often 4 Operator Frequency Modulation (4-OP FM) synths and sample playback was limited to low sample rates and 8-bit dynamic fidelity. Composers writing music for game titles developed a style using these simple electronic instruments that developed it’s own place in music. While simple in generation, composers would pour incredible passion and spirit into their themes and ideas, pushing the raw sounds to their limits. Many of us grew up with this great music playing in the background as we struggled toward the next power up or took down a boss at the end of a level. The sounds are raw and brash with very basic effects like delay and distortion, but these limitations gave composers a chance to showcase their ideas and creativity.
Fast forward a few decades and video game systems have become powerful computers in their own right with professional quality sample playback and effects. But the style of the older systems and the spirit of working with a limited sound palette stayed with some who found these sound ‘chips’ not limiting at all, but inspirational and cool. The Chiptune genre of music has developed of artists bringing these chips and techniques forward as their instruments of choice. The selections are sometimes incredibly authentic paying direct homage to the work of the original composers of popular game titles, but giving a fresh musical take on game classics. As a way of comparison, this is similar to classical musical development where traditional pieces and repertoire are emulated closely in style and orchestration but advancing in specific areas. With chiptunes, the traditional works are the game sound tracks, the period instruments are simple synthesizers and samplers. This is an important step for any musical movement, but very special for electronic music at large which is still young and missing works that artists elect as successes and emulate closely and perfectly for new performances. There are standards in jazz and classical music that are taught, studied and included in new performances for daring virtuosi and musical festivals. But where are these standards in electronic music? It turns out this is an ongoing development but happening in the Chiptune movement that has it’s standards, has it’s ‘classical’ instrumentation, has evolved it’s own musical system and convention using trackers and sequencers. Given these factors, chiptune artists have a special kind of legitimacy and future in electronic music because of this sort of regurgitation and emulation that happens between it’s artists, the hardware and the ‘repertoire’. It is the only form of electronic music that has these things combined and the desire on the part of it’s artists to carry them forward and evolve.
The spirit of this homage and artistic identity can also be found in another creative form; software. New synthetic musical instruments are being made by the wizards at Plogue.com such as their Chipsounds, Chipcrusher, and Chipspeech. These software musical instruments are an incredible functional review and dissertation on the history of chip based musical generation; the classic sounds, effects and voices.
To showcase Chiptunes, there are labels like Ubiktune that put out a steady stream of new releases that range from ‘classical’ chiptune works to experimental and some that are idiomatic of other syles of music altogether. Here is where Zabutom comes in as a master of all three.
Zabutom is a musical artist hailing from Sol system, Planet 3, UTC+2, Gothenburg Sweden. A survey of his releases and stream on soundcloud will treat a listener to a lesson in chiptunes. The music has a strong awareness of game thematic and compositional style, a virtuosic use of chipsounds and the incorporation of other musical styles such as funk, jazz, rock, and dance music. These pieces can be at times immersive and make you feel like you are in a frantic shooter collecting new weapons, or trying to solve a puzzle of some kind as a clock ticks down. But they are also very surprising when you realize what kind of funk and club pounding beats are happening while chipstyle leads shred and soar over the top. Even though the sounds are usually chipstyle authentic, Zabutom throws down some serious grooves, twists, stops, ramps, trills and some of the craziest lead solos over pieces that modulate and shift like jazz and progrock. I have to mention it’s tight. The Zabutom style is highly organized and polished in a way that is exceptional and regarded by his peers. Personally, it is nice to hear a new take on classic game material and then hear it get kicked into another orbit entirely with microscopic detail and chops. Chipsounds are harsh and that is an understatement. Finding pieces that encourage repeated listening that are well mixed and balanced is difficult and part of chiptune mastery. Zabutom seems to get that like Ceephax and other artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, that take the style in unexpected directions but keep a high level of production quality.
Redux34 is Zabutom’s latest release available via digital download and a limited initial run of cd’s. The title is itself clever meaning literally, to bring back. This is in the spirit of great music that brings forward a familiar style with a new twist. Zabutom is stepping out a little with Redux34 however adding to and extending the classic chipsounds with electric guitar and synthesizers. The songs on Redux34 play with formats and don’t follow necessarily the standard idiom algorithms. This is probably because they are written to gel together as an album, in concept, to be heard together as albums of yesterday used to be produced. It runs 39 minutes through 8 tracks.
Starting with ‘Initiate’, Zabutom doesn’t waste any time getting right down to an entirely satisfying groove and the theme comes out gradually in parts. It builds effectively and treats us to a nice round bass and wild syncopated beat. But then all of a sudden we get a fade and in comes electric guitar, droning buzzing bass and analog style arpy pads. What a great track to start with! Initiate does it.
Next up is ‘Jasmin White’, opening with reversed and tape echo style touches that are met with funky dancy bass but don’t let your attention drift for too long because the style might shift at any moment. Such a great mix and nice contrast to the previous that gets right in and then out. Track 3, Noor, goes into a slightly more rock direction with some minor harmonies and solid bass.
‘Resist-Exist’ comes after in a similar key but dives into 7 time and jazz with electric guitar and a tasty outro with alternating minor and major chords that taper away leaving dual guitar tracks and bass to finish.
Right after the nice electric guitar, we have a ‘Escape’ pick up perfectly with a clean synth ostinato followed by the theme that gives way to heavy chunking guitar and chiplead. It is a great combination that puts the guitar lead in front and adds harmonies between guitar and synths. The drums are very chippy and noisy but don’t sound outclassed at all. ‘Escape’ turns beautifully and shows off this new guitar and chipsound combination for Zabutom who layers these analog and chip sources in a personal way ending on a single note.
‘Cutting it close’ breaks away from Escape by immediately driving up the tempo and building a rhythm that is sliced and glitched into sudden bursts and phrases. The leads jump out of tune and shift pitch.
‘Factoid’ comes in with a quieter, older and noisier beat that is a ground for the drones and guitar drifting above it. Then, again, just as you think you feel like you grasp what Zabutom is doing, he hammers down a new bass and beat with beautiful pads that say that isn’t 8-bit rain falling from those radioactive clouds. It expands, pounds and then contracts like a midnight rose as the strings play beautiful chords to the emotional finish through synthetic precipitation.
Finally, the title track plays, Redux34, with dualing leads in harmony and a classic noise kit. He starts classic and then starts substituting instruments including piano. By the second repeat of the theme we feel time flowing by and at midpoint we get another lush drone landscape. The third theme statement hits and builds hard with skillfull layering and fast guitar picking. The theme goes into full piano mode with building polyphony and harmony as the beat fades out leaving wild synths and pads firing away at each other like the faded characters in the coin op games of our past. Redux34 ends perfectly bringing a circle within a circle. What is next? We are left hanging in a romantic way with that youthful imagination wondering if the characters in the simulation keep going, personified and doing their own dance and never ending celebration, peeling away to something else more mature and evolved.
Redux34 is wild to listen to, does not hold back, make apologies or cater to the banalities of conventional electronic blather. Zabutom’s chops are all over this release and should be appealing to those listeners outside of or new to chiptunes. Head over to the Zabutom site, take a listen, grab a copy and then turn it up.
Written by Jonathan Adams Leonard 150918