The Power Up talks to Nullsleep about ‘chiptunes’ music

Our host Narz is bringing you a breakdown of everything happening in the world of gaming, introducing you to rising stars in the industry and special guests every episode in this collab with Complex Networks.

“Chiptunes” is a music genre forged by gamers. It’s synthesized, electronic music created with vintage video game consoles.

In this episode of The Power Up, host Narz interviews Nullsleep, a.k.a. Jeremiah Johnson, a chiptunes musician. The artist, who resides in Tucson, Ariz., uses Game Boys and NES classic consoles for his signature sound. 

“The Nintendo devices have like a very characteristic sound to them and there’s something exciting about working with that sound palette and that set of limitations and seeing how far you can push it,” Nullsleep told Narz.

While chiptunes dates all the way back to the mid-1980s with Haruomi Hosono’s pioneering album Video Game Music in 1984, much of Nullsleep’s influences hail from the ’90s and ’00s. 

“The Streets of Rage games, I think the music in those particularly made an impact,” Nullsleep said. “Then along with that some of the arcade shoot ’em ups. Games like DoDonPachi DaiOuJou, Ketsui, I think both of those soundtracks were composed by Manabu Namiki.”

Manabu Namiki is a video composer who has scored dozens of shoot ’em games in Japan since the ’90s. 

“His stuff is just amazing in terms of the energy and sort of tension that it builds,” Nullsleep added. 

But chiptunes isn’t about artists reimagining old video game soundtracks, it’s about using the actual video game hardware and old computer sound chips to engineer entirely new sounds.

“What we’re doing is essentially saying is a Game Boy is not just for playing video games, a Game Boy is a computer that can run any software you want on it,” he explained. “And what we’re doing is running audio software and software to synthesize and sample sounds and then create original compositions with that.” 

While Nullsleep is counting down to the “imminent” release of new music on his website, you can check out his recent drops Reality Dynamics and Chasm on Bandcamp

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If you liked this story, check out The Power Up episode on the intersection between basketball and video games.

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