Thursday, October 23, 2003

Living in a Karaoke World

Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols Svengali, abandons ProTools and embraces "chip" music. Hacking old Game Boys to forge "a new kind of folk music for the digital age".

He writes, "Chip music is made using processors from the antediluvian 8-bit past. (Pro Tools, by contrast, starts at 24 bits.) The genre's seminal moment occurred three years ago when Role Model (real name: Johan Kotlinski) created a custom Game Boy cartridge called Little Sound DJ - LSDJ for short - that takes over the palmtop's internal synthesizer and turns the device into a musical workstation capable of playing sequences and arpeggios, but not chords."

McLaren goes on to further describe Chip music, "The essence of chip music is in reverse engineering an electronic interface - whether it's a Game Boy or a computer's sound chip - and subverting its original design. Chip music can be made using run-of-the-mill equipment, like a Casio keyboard, but first the insides must be scrambled. The lo-fi sound of the White Stripes and their ilk has a certain aesthetic kinship with chip music, but it's less tech-centric and not nearly as subversive. Kraftwerk might be the grandfathers of chip music - like today's reversible engineers, they invented many of their instruments. As for programs like Pro Tools, chip musicians don't think they're really creative. The sound isn't generated by circuitry, and you can't alter it by twisting a knob."

Low tech, minimalist technique to create what in the end is rich sounds is not new. The experiments of Fripp and Eno a' la No Pussyfooting used little more than a reel to reel tape machine and a single guitar to create highly textured sounds. It is good to see the "game boy generation" finding a new vocabulary to break the rules and who better to promote them than Malcolm McLaren, who helped to create the youth style of the late 70's while redefining rock 'n roll.

Read the whole thing here.

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