A music diary

Fanfarlo – “The Walls Are Coming Down”

September 22, 2009
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I really like this Fanfarlo video for their track “The Walls Are Coming Down.” The costumes and symbolism are great, and how many music videos have an escapologist performing the “classic Houdini upside-down strait jacket escape”?

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I Fight Dragons: Behind the Scenes on NES-Rock

September 18, 2009
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For Chicago band I Fight Dragons, saving the world–and sounding great–is all in a day’s work. This week I caught up with lead singer Brian Mazzaferri, who explains the band’s mix of pop-rock and sweeping electronic melodies–those cute beeps and bloops from old video games.

“When I heard the distinctive waveforms and patterns of the NES soundcard growing up, it was always associated with adventure, with epic journeys,” he said. The band channels that energy into their songs, be they clever tributes to video games or just plain knock-your-socks-off rock. To play the NES components of the songs live, they use various modified video game controllers, and even a guitar from the game Guitar Hero.

To start, here’s a video of Brian demonstrating the practice studio:

For those who don’t know, how would you explain NES-Rock?

Well, I’d explain NES-Rock (as we define it) as Pop-Rock music plus Chiptune, which is music made using old video game soundcards (specifically Nintendo ones like the GameBoy and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)).

How did you get the idea to combine NES sounds with your music?

It sort of happened backwards. Bill Prokopow and I were making a demo of an early version of “Heads Up, Hearts Down,” and I suggested we try to make an intro that would be the chorus as if it were coming out of a Nintendo system. After making the demo and being immensely pleased with ourselves, I stumbled across the chiptune scene in earnest.

There’s tons of artists out there making original music using obsolete equipment like GameBoys, NES, Segas, Commodore 64s, etc, and as soon as I discovered that scene I started listening to TONS of it, and I knew I wanted to find a way to integrate that with Pop-Rock. So we set about to do it!

Do you have any advice for musicians who want to experiment with Chiptune?

Well, for anyone who wants to experiment, I’d say if you have some recording background check out free plugins like YMCK’s Magical 8-bit and Chip32. They work with garageband, audacity, protools, etc. and make it very easy to start hearing sounds right away.

For people without the background in DAW stuff but with a mind for tweaking, some of the easiest programs are Famitracker, Nitrotracker, or Nerdtracker, all of which let you program within the restrictions of the NES sound card, but there’s definitely a learning curve.

For the very hardcore, get a Little Sound DJ or Nanoloop cartridge and a Gameboy! It’s very fun to mess around with, and there’s great tutorials online.

Thanks Brian! More about I Fight Dragons:
on Myspace
on thesixtyone

(Note: I originally posted this piece on maxbumps.net on Aug 20.)


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My First Earthquake video

August 7, 2009
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You only wish you were as cool as My First Earthquake. The San Francisco indie-rock band, generally known for being awesome, released their music video for “Cool in the Cool Way” in late June.

Their songs are delightfully quirky, and worth a listen for their hilarious lyrics, groovy beats, and fantastic vocals and delivery. Their first full-length album, Downstairs, is out now.


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