Former Sex Pistols manager, mayor of London candidate, and Buffalo Gals
rapper, Malcolm McLaren has recently been openly speaking about what he
calls 'chip music' in the media. Whilst micromusic.net welcomes interest
from the music industry we feel that Malcolm's statements have been at
least inaccurate, certainly without acknowledgement of the 25 years of
chip music history, and possibly even using ideas and concepts taken from
us. In this open letter we question Malcolm about these points.
We wish to comment on your recent statements in 'Wired' magazine, 'The
Observer' newspaper, and 'Eschaton TV' on the subject of chip music. Whilst
we are happy that you are interested in the style, your words have in
some cases have concerned or even angered us. This letter voices our feelings
and those of hundreds of chip music fans and composers.
To start, in your article in November 2003's Wired magazine you make
the statement "then I discovered chip music". Chip
music existed since even before 1977 - the year attributed by many as
being the birth of punk. Perhaps you can understand the outrage of many
chip musicians that you make this statement - claiming that you personally
discovered the music?
On this theme, in the interview you gave with Eschaton TV, at the time
of the Paris micromusic party, you mention that "these are the
early days of this sound, but the beginnings lie here". Again,
we would dispute this for the reasons above. As we said, chip music has
been around since the seventies, and micromusic has been active worldwide
since 1999, so we feel that our style is already well developed. It is
true that it has enjoyed only a little commercial success in the West,
however in Japan video game music is considered by many to be a commercial
style. We would bet that every person in the industrialised world has
heard a video game tune at some point in their lives.
Returning to your article in Wired magazine you mention that the phrase
"FUCK PRO TOOLS" perfectly described what you'd "been
feeling for months". However we wonder if you were aware the
phrase 'Fuck Pro Tools' was one original voiced by the founders of micromusic
in the Spring of 2000, and one that we still stand by?
When you talk about "an entire lost tribe of Game Boy musicians".
We have to snigger - surely they don't feel lost themselves, with several
internet sites and forums. Just search for 'gameboy musicians' on google
and see what we mean :)
Next, we would like to correct the points you made on the aspects of
making chip music. In Wired you mention that "to make this music
costs only 15 euros. You can pick up an old Game Boy [on]... the Paris
flea market". It is true that the first generation of Gameboy
preferred by artists costs 15 euros... but to make music on it you need
first need a (currently unavailable) software cartridge which costs more
than the Gameboy. In fact, the cheapest way to make micromusic is ironically
using the computer you probably already have, with software that is free
to download from the internet - total cost 0 Euros. Almost any computer
that is able to make sound has free music software available for it.
You go on to say that "[the Gameboy music software] LSDJ may
be technically illegal, but who cares? It's the only way Role Model and
his cronies can afford to make their music". As we've said this
is actually not true, there are many other ways to make chip style music
than using a Gameboy, for instance using an Atari, Commodore or even a
modern PC or home keyboard. At micromusic we are less concerned with how
the music has been produced, rather we love its lo-tech/hi-tech aesthetic.
The comment "As for programs like Pro Tools, chip musicians
don't think they're really creative. The sound isn't generated by circuitry,
and you can't alter it by twisting a knob". Is true in part,
however your reasoning is absolutely the opposite of the truth. It’s
highly unusual, but not impossible, to make chip music by twisting knobs.
In fact almost every popular system works with a keyboard, mouse or joystick
like any other computer. These interfaces are something that we chip musicians
love - synthesisers with knobs suggest expensive and professional equipment.
A chip music program, driven entirely with keys, and possibly a mouse,
embodies the very essence of home computer culture - its restrictions
form the music we create. With software like ProTools the beauty of these
interfaces are corrupted by being forced to emulate analogue components
Chip music is entirely digital, we sneer at analogue techniques, completely
the reverse of the quote you cited in Wired magazine: "'The digital
medium may have more accuracy, but it doesn't have as good a vibe. Playing
with an analog machine that has an inaccurate bpm' - beats per minute,
the dance-floor gauge of tempo - 'can be a bitch. But when you can hear
the sequence and feel it, it's like listening to a live band rather than
someone singing along with a digital karaoke machine.'". Chip
music is absolutely not an analogue medium, it’s actually the most
digital form of music, which is its attraction for home computer heads.
Chip music is exactly reproduced each time it is played, indeed we are
proud that it has a very accurately controlled tempo :)
The Observer newspaper article (March 21st 2004) concerning your recent
activities is wildly inaccurate when its states "Chip music is
created by hacking into old video games and using the sounds to create
your own, totally new 'folk music for a digital age'". This
is entirely untrue, making chip music is far from hacking into video games,
and does not require such a detailed technical knowledge. It’s easy
to make chip music using one of the many tools available, listed for instance
on the 'microwarez' section of our website - micromusic.net. Further on
this point it comments "One of their member, Role Model, worked
out how to hack into video game chips and make music 'as though Twiggy
were stuck inside Space Invaders'". In fact RoleModel's music
software for Gameboy does not hack into its sound chip, he made it using
programming tools which can be freely downloaded on the internet.
We also dispute another comment in the Observer newspaper's article.
It says that "for the scene to go global, clearly it would have
to be 'sexed up' a bit; and Malcolm was the man to do it". We
feel that the micromusic scene is already global, with members in every
continent, and local headquarters in Basel, Berlin, Brussels, Enschede,
London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Stockholm, Newcastle
and in Poland. Aside from micromusic.net, the wider chip music community
stretches further even than this! Malcolm, we welcome your support, but
we managed to get this far without any outside assistance, and we haven't
even got started yet.
Our last point is a question that we would like you to consider. The
Observer newspaper turns the disturbing phrase "...some of the
ideas McLaren has been hatching over the past year or so, particularly
his recent discovery of 'chip music', which he thinks is the most significant
new phenomenon since punk or hip hop, two earlier cultural styles which
he pillaged, packaged and took credit for". The main concern
of chip musicians regarding your involvement in chip music is voiced in
this quote. We are wondering if it is your plan to pillage, package and
take credit for chip music as well? We are uncertain of your motives -
would you care to explain them?