8-Bit Music: When Techno Goes Retro

Being a child of the late 70s and early 80s, I remember falling into a state of slack-jawed awe when video games began to play their own soundtracks. Not just music cues that would play every now and then, but actual soundtracks that would play a music track throughout a level and then switch to a different track on another level, and so on--almost like a movie or a TV show. Mind you, these early video soundtracks were very simple in their arrangement but back during the heyday of coin-op arcades and early home gaming consoles, the arrival of 8-bit music soundtracks hinted at the successive waves of increased technological sophistication that were inevitably on their way in video gaming entertainment. Thankfully, even though video game soundtracks have since moved on to include compositions played by full orchestras, 8-bit music has stayed alive to create an underground music genre of its own.

I recently discovered that 8-bit music, otherwise known as "chipmusic" or "chiptunes", is still being composed and distributed by artists who specialize in electronic dance music. According to Wikipedia, 8-bit music "is synthesized electronic music often produced with the sound chips of vintage computers, video game consoles, and arcade machines, as well as with other methods such as emulation. In the early 1980s, personal computers became less expensive and more accessible than they had previously been. This led to a proliferation of outdated personal computers and game consoles that had been abandoned by consumers as they upgraded to newer machines. They were in low demand by consumers as a whole, and not difficult to find, making them a highly accessible and affordable method of creating sound or art. ... (I)n its modern form, the terms 'chip music', and 'chiptune' refer to music made by the sound chips found within early gaming systems and microcomputers."

I've been listening to 8-bit music tracks on YouTube and even though some of the tracks sound like the simple compositions played on 80s-era coin-ops, the best 8-bit music utilizes the full range of sounds that the technology provides to create complex and unique music. Read on for a small selection of few tracks that I recommend for those who wish to hear the 8-bit musical sounds from decades past taken to a completely new level.

Naturally, there are many 8-bit covers of popular rock hits available on YouTube, but most of them sound like what these songs would've been like if they had been used as background tracks for a Nintendo Entertainment System game. The most impressive covers are the ones that apply an inspired selection of 8-bit sounds to the original composition in order to create something that sounds both fresh and familiar. Here are two examples of such creativity at work:

The Pixies, "Where is My Mind":

Weezer, "Just Like Buddy Holly":

Where 8-bit music maintains its ongoing livelihood is through musicians who continue to find new ways to apply 8-bit sounds to modern musical tastes, musicians such as 8-Bit Weapon and 4mat:

Anamanaguchi, "Blackout City"

8-Bit Weapon, "Bit and Run":

4mat, "Chipmusic is Dead":

The examples that I listed above are just a few of the chiptunes that I've found so far. There are plenty of other examples of 8-bit music and artists around the Web.


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