A retrofuturistic collision of synth and chip

This interview was originally published on Neon Vice by Jordan Stella (January 12, 2016).

Hey there Amplitude Problem. You've been a guest with us here at NeonVice before and we're ecstatic to have you back. Your newest release Synchron Assembly just came out today and I've gotta say it's quite good. Can you talk to us a bit about this release? I know it's dedicated pretty heavily to the demoscene of the early 80s and 90s. For our readers who may not know what that is, could you give us a brief explanation? What drove you to create an entire release dedicated to the scene? What were your biggest inspirations while making these awesome tunes?

Greetings! It's great to be back.

Simplistically, you could think of the early demoscene as a bunch of groups from various cities and countries creating computer animations with accompanying music in an effort to show who had the best programming, graphics and composition skills. This was back in an era where home computer CPUs ran at speeds from 1MHz to 8MHz and had RAM in the range of 64KB to 4MB; not a lot of horsepower. Further, they were very limited in how many colors they could display and how many channels of music they could play (and what types of sounds). These constraints forced demosceners to be extremely creative, and there was fierce competition to be the first to achieve a variety of near-impossible effects.

Chiptune today sounds the way it does because of the sound chips in those old systems, and because of how early computer musicians from the demoscene (and video games) learned to use their limited hardware in creative ways. Perhaps the best (and most familiar-sounding) example of this is how extremely rapid arpeggios would be played back on a single channel in order to fake chords. On a three-channel sound chip, that's a big deal because it leave two channels open for, say, drums and bass.

It's been about 25 years since I left the demoscene. The early demoscene started fading with the rise of more powerful PCs. It felt like it was time to take advantage of my present musical skills to make a tribute to an important part of my younger days and all the incredibly talented people in it. My chip music inspirations will forever be Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Martin Galway and a few other pioneers from that era.

I'm a producer myself so I'm always curious about what programs you use and if you incorporate any hardware into your workflow. What DAW do you use? What are your most used VSTs? Your most used pieces of hardware? Did you use any samples in this release that are particularly noteworthy or interesting?

I do use some hardware, namely a Moog Sub 37 and also a Yamaha Reface DX which I added only recently. Primarily, however, I use Reason with a variety of Rack Extensions (Reason's proprietary version of VSTs) from Propellerhead and third parties, which I control with a Roland A-800 PRO MIDI keyboard.

Pretty much everything is recorded; you won't find me drawing many notes with a mouse. My general rule is "if I can't play it, it doesn't belong in my music". That's not so much to be a purist about it, it's more to ensure I never slack off maintaining my skills with the keys. Plus, for me, it's far more fun. An exception would be the balls-out arpeggios in Precalculate (off the EP), which consist of bar after bar of 32nd notes; they're simply too fast to record live.

For this EP, I used the Chip64 Rack Extension by Ochen K a lot; it emulates several Atari, Commodore and Nintendo chips very well. There are a few layered one-shot SID samples, such as some of the kicks and snares, on the EP. Outside of this EP, being a bit of an FM nut, I use the PX7 Rack Extension by Propellerhead a ton. It's an excellent DX7 emulation. I'll have to see to what extent my Reface DX might replace the PX7 as time passes, but I suspect not much. I also make frequent use of Korg's PolySix Rack Extension and AudioRealism's ReDominator, an Alpha Juno emulation, for a lot of the synthwave stuff. Outside of electronic music, Propellerhead's own Radical Piano is amazing. Most of my songs begin their life on the piano. It's an unmatched instrument.

So, now that 2015 has come and passed, what were your favorite albums of the year? Did any new artists particularly draw your attention? It's always fun to hear what kind of music artists are listening to.

My top three favorite releases from 2015 in no particular order are "Neon Highway" by San Dingo, "The Violence Suppressor" by Irving Force, and "I Wish My Car Was a Transformer" by Opus Science Collective.

We've interviewed you a few times before so I'm going to keep this one brief (for anyone that wants to read more about Amplitude Problem, check out the search bar over on the right), but I like to end my interviews with strange questions so I've got a good one for you. If you could be a member of any band, past or present, which band would it be and why?

I'd drag Kraftwerk, Alphaville and Nine Inch Nails into a room and force them to start a new band together, then I'd conveniently join with JM Jarre in tow. We'd call it The Nine Kraftville Jarres and the music would sound accordingly.

Thanks for stopping by Amplitude Problem. It's always a pleasure to have you. Do you have any closing thoughts? Is there anything you'd like to say to our readers and your fans?

Thank you for taking the time! Neon Vice tirelessly provides something very valuable for the community. Keep up the great work! 2015 was a great year for me and from what I'm seeing engagement-wise, my fan base grew substantially. I'm super grateful that people are listening to my bizarre music. 2016 looks to be a great one as well with the upcoming release of Power Drive 2000 and more. Thank you everyone!