Documenting Chip Music

Last week I received my order from Fangamer. It consisted of the “Reformat the planet” DVD and the videos from Blip Festivals 2006 and 2007. A bonus in my order was a BitBoy T-shirt, stickers, and the CD compilation from Blip Festival 2008.

If you want to get an idea what’s this hype about “chip music” make sure you watch the documentary, “Reformat the planet”. It’s very interesting to see the point of view of artists and organizers on the latter. My own encounter with this material has given me the impression that chip artists want to convince the public that they are not “playing” with their devices, rather they make interesting music, different than all the stuff that is in the market right now, adopting a “less is more” ideology.

I’m fond of the nostalgic attire of the phenomenon, as well as the idea of retro music making. Until this day, I believe though that chip music underlines a quite critical problem that new musicology faces: the problem of genres.

To explain myself, it seems like the last 50 years (if not more than this) in music history, have been reigned by revival genres. For example, back in the ’60s you had The Beatles. In the ’90s we see Oasis, reviving the pop-rock adding a contemporary touch to it (perhaps the attitude and the element of fashion but also British culture). Another example would be the new wave of the millennium, with artists like Interpol and the Editors reviving the ’80s new wave/post-punk scene (again, with a contemporary character). And now chip music, reviving the first era of computer music, adopting punk ‘DIY’ ideology, adding the ‘hype’ of vintage chic (if it’s old it’s cool).

Sociologically, chip music is quite interesting, as it opposes to the commodified music production scheme by means of experimentation. However, it does exactly the same thing as other contemporary pop genres! Does this really mean the end of creativity and originality? Or could it be that creativity is restrained?

Another element that draw my attention was the Japanese artists’ performance. Having read David Novak‘s dissertation on Japanoise, their performances struck one word in my head: “NOISE”. Pure Japanoise. And I was thinking how cultural can noise be and to what extent this is possible. See the following video, Aonami’s performance at Blip Festival 2006:

To this, it’s quite interesting how geographically specific scenes are grouped and related to genres, e.g. Japanese scene with Noise, Swedish/European scene with eurodisco etc.

After 90 minutes of the documentary, I managed to pull out 3 chapters for my dissertation:

1) Genre: the theory of revival

2) Hacking and repurposing

3)The Politics of DIY

I would also like a mini chapter on “liveness”, the politics of performance, the visual culture of chip music & circuit bending.

As if it wasn’t all this enough to tickle my poor brain, here comes the last question:

“WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CHIP MUSIC?”

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Few artists believe that the future of chip music is in the mainstream. Others say that creation is central, so as long as they create they will go on. Mike Rosenthal (founder of The Tank, organizer of Blip and Bent festivals) is eager to see what the next generation will do with repurposed XBOXes and PS3s and all the materials they had when they were growing up. Hmm. Still. What’s the future of chip music? I don’t know. Will there be any? I honestly don’t see it lasting more than 5-10 years. Everything can become outdated even a manifestation of the retro culture.

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