It seems I may have misunderstood the comments of at least one of the experts quoted in Wired.com’s recent story on 8-bit music. (See my original comments and ensuing discussion.) Ethnomusicologist Rene T.A. Lysloff, faculty at the University of California Riverside and author of Music and Technoculture, writes in response; here’s his letter in its entirety which, aside from being thoughtful and well-reasoned, offers some ideas for where to find really good 8-bit music:
To the editors, my name is Rene T.A. Lysloff and I am the ethnomusicologist quoted in the Wired.com article on 8-bit composition.
I want to clarify a couple of points regarding the quoted passages of my comments found in a recent Wired.com article. First, I was discussing a specific recording, a compilation of “covers” of past rock tunes done in 8-bit midi style using text to speech software (sounding much like Windows .mid files) . I was not impressed with the compilation nor did I believe that “it” (the compilation) reflected an exciting new trend in contemporary digital music. Second, using 8-bit sound is obviously a legitimate compositional technique in new digital music. I used it myself when I was creating MODs (Digital Music Modules) in the 1990s. However, just because one uses 8-bit sound does not mean the composer is freed from being creative and interesting in making music. “It” (the compilation I was asked to comment on) was not, in my opinion, very interesting nor particularly skillful, neither in the way it was conceived nor in the way the way any of the pieces were executed. I know that there is far better 8-bit music out there. Third, I differentiate between midi music (those old Windows .mid files using GM) and true MIDI based music, and I made that clear to the writer. He chose to ignore that part of my comments.
Since the late 1990s, I have moved on to MIDI based music myself, using Emagic Logic (now, unfortunately, owned by Apple) and Abelton Live, working with Reaktor and other soft synths as well as various hardware synthesizers. For me using 8-bit sounds, or scratchy old vinyl recordings, is a legitimate (and even fascinating) compositional technique. But, the idea is to use these techniques skillfully and innovatively.
There’s nothing more lame, in my opinion, than a bad piece of music hiding behind the latest trend or radical idea. To all those digital composers out there: by all means, use 8-bit sounds, use text to voice software, dust off that old 386 (or 286) in your garage, go low-tech, go retro–but do something interesting and do it well. I’d advise anyone interested in 8-bit compositions to check out the old MODs by composers such as Purple Motion, Awesome, or Skaven (go to www.united-trackers.org or www.maz-sound.com for info).
Thanks, Dr. Lysloff, for elevating this discussion — and it’s unfortunate that, as a CDM reader had suggested, the Wired story took your words out of any meaningful context. If anyone else wishes to comment — particularly on where to find music that is meaningful to you, and not just as a fad — please join in.