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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Soundtracks to Imaginary Video Games

Never has electronic music’s inherent debt to the arcade been explored as broadly and, at times, magically as on Blip, Bleep (Soundtracks to Imaginary Video Games) (Lucky Kitchen). A dozen-plus musical acts mine the familiar sound effects of videogames to create 18 new instrumental pop songs. Some of the musicians take the opportunity more seriously than others, but the best tracks, including Colongib’s “MegaBlasterFiend” and Jake Mandell’s “Botanical Seppuku,” milk the conceptual art-pop project for all it’s worth: finding a common ground between Aphex Twin’s brand of syncopated synthetic music and Pac Man’s manic, mindless pace. Most common motif on the record? Perhaps the suggestion that the music accompanying the mid-game death of a player is the arcade composer’s equivalent to the bridge in a traditional song. All the samples you’d expect are here: phaser fire, a race car’s “vroom,” the inevitable “Game Over.” Sometimes, the sound quality says enough on its own, as with V/VM’s “The Swedish Model,” which imagines a raspy 8-bit synth-organ adaptation of Bacharach and David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” And the descriptions of the games are often a riot unto themselves. Wheaton Research has no delusions about the complexity of the average quarter-sucker; its “Soul Transport” involves “Walking around and getting zapped.” Suetso & Underwood get more carried away; their “Family Tree Polo” is described as follows: “Bounce through time in your ambulance. Save your injury prone ancestors so you may eventually be born.” The joystick may just be the conductor’s baton of the next century.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of Disquiet.com.
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    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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