West Coast Chip Tunes

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chrismEven in the world’s most isolated city, the humble, decades old, Commodore 64 is still being put to good use. Chris McCormick ( one half of ChrisM & Fenris, and Sciencegirl records ) is one the culprits responsible in Perth, combining ye olde game synths with his own custom programmed software, all manner of loops and samples, and a dash of turntablism to make his swimmingly fresh improvisations. Eastsiders can catch Chris at Plug N Play on Thu Jun 29 from 8-11pm ( 201 Smith st, Fitzroy, Melb ). +Bonus=Stax-o-trax.
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>>What attracts about combining old hardware and new software?
There are a variety of motivations for that. There’s the nostalgia aspect – everyone remembers and loves computers and hardware of times gone by, and often the software tools that we have now can be kind of retrofitted to work with that old hardware and do things that would have been harder to do back then. For example, I can now develop Commodore 64 software on my desktop PC using nice editors and compilers and emulators, and only transfer it to the hardware for testing and use at the end. In the old days you had to develop on the very machine you were deploying on, which would have been annoying to say the least. There’s also an economic aspect to it – artists tend not to be the richest of folk. So it’s pretty cool to be able to take an old piece of crap and make it do something more wicked than an expensive laptop running VSTs or Ableton Live or whatever kids are using these days.

>>What do you think is the legacy of the tracker software so popular in the nineties?

Newer tracker software is the legacy of the old tracker software. I am speaking from a very small and weird corner of the music
software market, and not very well informed about what people are using to make music these days, but when it comes to trackers, I know there are some wicked dope ones still floating around and being developed etc. There are a lot of great open source trackers that run under Linux and sometimes Windows. Some of them are exact copies of those oldschool trackers, and some are doing interesting new things. I do most of my remixing in tracker software, I think because it’s particularly well suited to taking samples of things and making something new from those samples; as opposed to generating sounds completely from scratch.

In my opinion the ideal music software would combine patching software like Puredata or Max/MSP, with tracker software.

>>Why did you write ‘Looper Advance’?
Looper Advance is like a drum machine for the Gameboy Advance. I wrote it because I was sick of lugging a desktop computer (an old 486 with all the panels ripped off) to Chrism&Fenris gigs, and I wanted some kind of small package we could carry our loops and beats around in. Plus the girl I was dating at the time was doing my head in, and programming was my only refuge.

>>And your c64 sid synth?( what do u like about the sid sound, how is your sid-software different to other emulators out there? )
It’s a cliche, but I am a massive fan of the SID6581 chip. It’s like a digitally controlled Moog on a chip. The main attractions are 1. Every SID chip is a little different and they all have their own subtle character somehow. I guess this is due to manufacturing errors or something. 2. So fucking phat. 3. It has everything you need for a wicked synthesizer, but nothing more. It’s the Occam’s Razor of old school synthesis.

I wrote aSid for those reasons. We needed synths to play with live so we use aSid installed on two commodore 64s. Sometimes we each play one, and sometimes Fenris plays one with each hand. We connect game paddles which serve to control the cutoff and modulation filters. It’s basically just a software front end for the chip itself – the code just links the keyboard and paddles to the synthesizer.

The real c64 SID chip is always going to sound different from an emulator, unless the programmer of the emulator spent a really (really really) long time coding in all the non-linearities, quirks, differences between chips, chaos, and general cuteness of the real thing. The SID outputs analogue, and there are already lots of arguments about digital vs analogue which I won’t go into, but suffice it to say, people with distinction, style, and taste often choose the SID chip over an emulator.

>>How long before we have emulators of emulators to recapture faux-vintage sounds?

Oh man, that hurts to think about.

Which directions of software and hardware evolution do you see as being most fruitful for future performance?
We are going to see a lot more AI in creative software in general, so that making art will become more about the computer generating something and then you saying “yeah I like that” or “no I don’t like that”. If you look at photoshop plugins and VSTs and stuff, it’s already going a long way there. So that one day the greatest artists will not neccesarily be technically skillful, but will be the people with the most taste. There have been some really wacky constraints based audio environments and genetic audio processors and stuff released under the radar lately, in the open source and academic worlds mostly, which I think in about ten years will be pretty widespread.

But people will still play wicked sizzling jazz at two o’clock in the morning and we’ll still be able to go and watch a human make something wild on skins and strings and keys in real time, raising the hackles whilst we drink red wine and have buzzy conversations with new faces amidst the mayhem.

>>How did the ScienceGirl label come about?
Sciencegirl records is kind of just an online repository for the music of Fenris and myself. I guess it’s more of a net label than a real label. We don’t have an ABN or anything like that. The whole idea of it pretty much comes from Fenris who used to put his stuff online; I think it was under the name the Guild of Mad Scientists, and sciencegirl was like a sub-page under that. I said to him one day, “Hey why don’t we register the name sciencegirlrecords.com and both put some stuff up there?” and he was like “yeah cool.”

>>What do you like about the Perth music scene?
There are some excellent indie bands here that nobody has heard of who write the best shit ever and have been around forever, and will never go anywhere, which is kind of nice because it means we get to enjoy them exclusively whilst the rest of Australia and the world just get to hear all that mediocre WA pop shite that streams out of here at a pretty quick clip.

There’s also some hip hop stuff coming out of WA which is really floating my boat at the moment. There’s these kids from the northern suburbs who are like hardcore toothless bogans spitting hard mining town raps and really shaking the house y’know. Clandestine, Drapht, all good scary stuff. There used to be this crew of three who didn’t use any samplers or anything and just made all the noises with their mouths. Beatboxing like. Two of them would be doing the bass and drums or whatever, and the third would rap, and then they would switch seamlessly in mid song. They were called Micadelic but I don’t think they’re together any more.

>How does being the most isolated city in the world effect it?
It’s harder for people to get their stuff out there. People in Perth tend to be surprisingly discerning and well listened, but often it’s the case that for any given type of weird off the wall music, only about 3 people will be into it. Which can make gigs kind of a bummer if yr playing progressive squeaky shoe core. I think that’d be different in somewhere like London or Berlin. You’re always going to be able to find a crowd for yr weird sounds.

There’s always the internet though. People here in all kinds of creative industries tend to compete on a global stage because there’s no immediate challenge in the vicinity. What I mean is you have kids here in their bedrooms trying to write stuff that’s better than Squarepusher, because there’s not much here remotely like it; often succeeding.

Also, I should note that there are currently 185 people migrating to Perth per day. Things are changing pretty quickly. There’s a lot of new constructions going up. Contemporary Perth architecture is like empty, un-painted concrete prefab held up by steel rods, because half of Perth is only half built.

>Desert island gig ( with sandproofing onstage ) – which 5 acts perform with you?
That’s a tough one. Fugazi, Gate, Team doyobi, Taskforce, Autechre.

>What music / video have you cooked up for Melbourne?
I am playing some of my own stuff, put together in the Puredata patching soft synth. If I get these visuals ready in time, which is looking pretty likely, there will be some tron like low-poly stuff synched up with music in a bit of a synesthetic kind of way. I’ll be using my laptop, but I keep the lid closed and never touch the mouse. Almost everything is realtime and improvised.

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