Robot Elephant Records’ 18 track compilation serves as a fairly definitive sampler of, and a tribute to, the incredible work of the 8-bit pioneers of the mid-to-late 1980’s.
While the C64’s SID chip was a more powerful and capable piece of technology than that of its rivals (Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad CPC et al), it was only designed to issue rudimentary bleeps and bloops.
Ingenious coding by many of the artists featured here allowed the C64 to sing; mimicking drums, bass, guitars, strings and even horns in multi-channel symphonies while still preserving a sound that is unmistakable and iconic.
What makes the pieces featured even more remarkable is that typically the musician was only afforded a small portion of the 64K RAM to squeeze their overtures into, once the game programmers and artists had completed their work the composer would be given just a handful of Kilobytes to work within, and with no room for negotiation with either colleague or machine.A surprising variety of styles, sounds and genres are represented. From Ben Daglish’s John Carpenter-esque Wastelands (from The Last Ninja) to Chris Huelsbeck’s Tangerine Dream influenced Great Giana Sisters intro.
David Whittaker was convincingly aping the action TV themes of the day (think Airwolf, Street Hawk etc.) in the likes of Panther while the astonishing Tim & Geoff Follin created complex, folksy atmospheres like a sort of all-electronica Ozric Tentacles (only far better than that sounds).Pretty much all of the key artists of the era are present, so naturally you will also find works from Jeroen Tel, a.k.a. Maniacs of Noise (Cybernoid 2), Matt Gray (Last Ninja 2) and of course Galway, nephew of orchestral flautist James, (Parallax) and the brilliant Rob Hubbard (Sanxion). The Vinyl version also comes with the bonus inclusion of Martin Galway’s phenomenal Wizball theme.
Many of us who were playing computer games in the 80’s would have enjoyed these tunes through the tinny, mono speaker of a portable CRT TV set. As much as anything it’s a thrill to have these blast out of a contemporary digital stereo sound system and hear the top and bottom ends really pop.
It’s highly doubtful that such a collection could convert someone who wasn’t already disposed towards 8-bit/Chiptunes but the amenable audiophile will get an education as to where a lot of these sounds originated from. For the middle-aged gamer this succeeds as both a nostalgia piece and a sermon for preaching to the non-convert.
by Leon Cox of Cane and Rinse