Digital Life

Kraftwerk Gets a New Sound on '8-Bit Operators'

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Jeremy Kolosine is executive producer of 8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk Performed on Vintage 8-bit Video Game Systems. He talks about the project.


This piece was performed at the Bent Festival a few years ago. Written by Jeremy Kolosine, it's called "I Bent My Heart in New York City," and it's played on a Gameboy, those little handheld devices where various videogames usually live. In this case however, it's been loaded up with special music software.


CD: The Music of Kraftwerk." It's a compilation of cover versions of songs by the influential electronic music band Kraftwerk. All of the music on the new CD is performed on vintage 8-bit videogame systems.


NEARY: This kind of low-fi music is part of an electronic music genre known variously as bit-pop or chip tune. And to understand what it's all about, we're joined now by Jeremy Kolosine from the studios of member station WVTF in Roanoke, Virginia. Thanks for being with us today, Jeremy.

JEREMY KOLOSINE: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

NEARY: Now, can you explain to me exactly what 8-bit music is and how it's created?

KOLOSINE: Well, it's - not to go back too far, but originally when arcade games in the '70s were putting some arcades along with pinball machines and the like, there had to be a soundtrack to get along with it. And so that was digital music that was made with the chips that were available in those arcade games.

Currently, the genre of chip tunes and bit-pop entail mostly Gameboy artists who are taking game-oriented devices - be they handheld devices, joystick- operated devices such as Ataris or Nintendo systems - using the chips that are provided to make music of a new kind.

NEARY: So it's kind of fun, it sounds like you're saying, to make the music this way.

KOLOSINE: Yes. The exploration itself is part of the fun, and there's an emotional attachment to a lot of these sounds. These sounds were first introduced to people along with videogames and tiny little figures, you know, where you've invested these emotions into. So a lot of times people hear this music for the first time and strange emotions appear: nostalgia and, sort of, the retro-futurism. It is one of the words that gets tossed around a lot with.


KOLOSINE: When I first saw Gameboy musicians holding Gameboys on stage playing these instruments, it reminded me very much of the 1981 Computer World Tour, at which Kraftwerk, at the end of the show stood up on stage, all playing handheld devices they had devised themselves, controlled it with some pocket calculator. So that made me think that, you know, this is perfectly suited for a Kraftwerk compilation of covers.


RALF HUTTER: (Singing) I'm controlling and composing. By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody. By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody.

NEARY: So can anybody do this?


KOLOSINE: Yes. And, again - and that's one of the beauties of it. In a way, it's punk in this respect where one could equip oneself with an 8-bit studio for probably under $100, you know, on eBay. You can get, you know, an old Commodore 64, you know, for $40, $50 at the most maybe. And, you know, a cartridge. You see, one of the great things about this genre is there are artists that create their own cartridges, so not only are they creating their own music, they're creating a platform for you to create your own music, too.

One of the people in question here would be Johan Kotlinski, who created the Little Sound DJ or LSDJ, a cartridge that's used for the Gameboy. And Paul Slocum from Texas created the Synthcart, which is a cartridge you plug right into the Atari 2600 and it turns your old $20-Atari 2600, you know, from your parents' attic into a four-track synthesizer.

NEARY: Jeremy Kolosine is executive producer of "8-Bit Operators: The Music of Kraftwerk" performed on vintage 8-bit videogame systems. He joins us from the studios of member station WVTF in Roanoke, Virginia.

Thanks so much for being with us, Jeremy.

KOLOSINE: Thank you very much.

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