self released, 2011, DD album, 31m 38s, $free
It’s unclear how much of this album might have been created using the genuinely simple digital resources it seems to utilise, and how much use was made of rather more sophisticated plugins standing in for them, but either way, there’s a lot more processing than would be permissible on purist chiptunes (i.e. some). The 8-bit vibe is convincingly nailed regardless, and I for one have very little time for purisms of any sort. This music’s agenda is to celebrate its digitalism, which it manages to present in a way that is surprisingly organic.
The artwork depicts what I suspect to be a frame from the original 1970s Star Wars comic (my introduction to the franchise, since illicit copies preceded the movie to these shores), and it is redolent of the first phase of mass geek culture. Odd for something so modern to inspire so much nostalgia, but it is perhaps the defining characteristic of post-modernity that culture is filled with a reflexive, contemporaneous self-nostalgia. 8-bit as a musical form is probably practised and enjoyed as much by those too young to remember a time when game soundtracks sounded that way, as by greying second-gen geeks like myself. And just as their sophisticated tastes made a digital remastering of the Star Wars franchise worthwhile, there is a real need in audio culture for updated chiptunes like these.
Irrespective of the means by which Archangel generates these sounds, there is a layering of properly 8 bit voices with more sophisticated synth sounds, and both are processed in various ways. A judicious use of reverb or delay can make these pure sines sing out in a decidedly musical way, and also creates a useful sense of distance: unprocessed, such voices can sound as though they are going off inside your skull, especially if you listen on headphones. Compositionally, the same circle is squared, in roughly the same way, combining the sing-song simplicity of 8-bit with the denser rhythms of techno and even electro-industrial.
Truly 8-bit music lacks percussion sounds by definition, although primitive sampling was used in gaming hardware from the late 80s onwards: Archangel ignores such constraints on beat-making, I’m glad to say, although some tunes either eschew, or downplay drum voices. ‘Part Two’ is dominated in the mix by an analogue sounding synth sound, but it has a driving techno beat submerged in its complex, layered soundstage. The three tunes that follow it, however, have a distinctly electro-industrial flavour, verging on powernoize, not in the sounds they employ, so much as in the way the beats are constructed. There is some serious, fist-pumping, dancefloor stomp potential in this album, and I could easily envisage dropping ‘Pel The Power Robot’, for example, into a set of rather more visceral tunes.
A considerable creative effort has gone into making this music: its artistic focus is more on its specificities of timbre, and the precise manipulation of its stylistic vocabulary, than on any compositional complexities. 8-bit is a genre whose central characteristic is its simplicity, but Project: Rave retains the value of that while manipulating its materials to create a relatively nuanced statement. Generating atmospheres that are spooky or amusing by turns, this album gives great geeky satisfaction, without sacrificing on kinetic energy, and while I doubt I’ll have it on heavy rotation for long, it’s undoubtedly catchy enough to bear repeated listening. A very fun and individual project.