How computer games are creating new art and music

Trisan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony Tristan Perich's 1-Bit Symphony

Related Stories

The sights and sounds of old-school games like Frogger and Donkey Kong are now becoming a part of mainstream music and culture.

A burgeoning movement of musicians and artists are getting inspiration from the games of the past.

Tristan Perich is a composer and visual artist in New York. He works with low level electronics and he's about to release the 1-bit Symphony on a single microchip, housed in a CD case. An electronic circuit synthesises the music that Perich has coded and programmed onto the chip.

A small battery, volume adjuster, fast-forward button and on/off switch are added to create a beautifully minimal presentation that plays one bit sounds.

"I'm from the same generation as chip tune artists," says Mr Perich. "The aesthetic of the sound itself, the buzz and tone is something I find to be really beautiful.

"Lately I have tried to take it more toward mathematics and the limits of logic rather than chiptunes. But then it's all microchip music so I am part of that world."

Chiptune music, which enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s, was created using either a computer or video game console sound chip,

The revival of chip music is by no means limited to the United States, Matthew Carl Applegate is a chiptune artist in the UK who works under the name Pixelh8.

"The chiptune scene in the UK is exploding, we're only a little island and one person can upload a track to Myspace one night and about 30 000 people will try to copy it the next day - music moves so quickly online.

"In the States, there's the 8bit Collective forum which is excellent for beginners who want to learn. There's also tonnes of chiptuners making music in places like Indonesia. They're into hacking and that sort of culture so there's a boom."

Mr Applegate's performances cross the divide between a niche musical genre and mainstream. He has performed at Bletchley Park and will return there this month to the National Computer Museum to play live with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Others are following suit with musician and producer Mark Ronson who has worked with Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, producing tracks that bear more than a passing reference to the music of NES game, "The Legend of Zelda".

Luxuriating in the limitations
Simon Cottee's pixellated ninja bears Simon Cottee's pixellated ninja bears

The beeps and blips of familiar games is only one part of the revival. Games animation is also inspiring a new generation of artists.

Animation student Simon Cottee is based in Queensland, Australia and he has produced a ten minute documentary for the web that highlights the benefits of pixel art.

The methods of working in this way may produce nostalgic and entertaining results, but the process can be long and difficult.

Cottee points out, "It can be tedious placing each box. There's different levels of pixel art depending on the resolution you work in. It can be confusing too because you cannot move characters around as you would in other animation. The limitations can also be liberating though as you can get a lot out of the bold colours and shapes."

Video game generation
Matthew C. Applegate performs chiptunes as Pixelh8 Matthew C. Applegate performs chiptunes as Pixelh8

Some of the artists working with pixels and chips are too young to have played the vintage games they take their inspiration from. Simon Cottee is 22, but still has a GameBoy for reference.

Matthew Applegate admits that he had the games the first time around, but they were too expensive to be able to buy many, "I had a Nintendo and to go back to it is a wonderful thing. I wanted a BBC Micro but I could only afford to buy that now as an adult. It's like a second childhood."

He regrets that he wasn't able to fulfill his ambitions earlier.

"There's a sad irony that my teacher told me I would not get anywhere playing video games," he said.

"I went back 10 years later to give a special lecture on video games and entertainment industry at that same school and that was the same teacher who asked me to come back.

I failed my IT course because my work was too creative and I was meant to be making databases. Now I lecture on a course that I asked for when I was a student."

You can hear more about the project in this week's Outriders.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Technology stories

RSS

Features

  • RihannaCloud caution

    After celebrity leaks, what can you do to safeguard your photos?


  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Rack of lambFavourite feast

    Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.