In 2005, duo from Switzerland CUBE-C & EMIGLIO LASER start POCKETMASTER, a chiptune lowtech band. They self produce for years, bring us two EP and one album, attend festivals, events and other microparties. In 2010, under the label Daheardit Records they launch the Residue album for the great pleasure of our ears.
You can create art and beauty on a computer
— Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution
Chiptune? Lowtech? The group uses the audio microchip capabilities from old consoles, personal computers and other synthesizers. Their instruments of choice are the classic Gameboy and MOS Technology SID from Commodore family (popularized by C64). Sounds are output directly from operated machines. They are not sampled or reworked but mixed with other sounds, other samples. The machine is an instrument and their lives reflect their actual musical performances.
Enthusiasts, explorers and sounds hackers, they push the limits, twist, extract, arrange and compose inebriating and high quality melodies with familiar sounding.
Hello CUBE-C & EMIGLIO LASER. Thank you very much for accepting this interview. How can we present POCKETMASTER for someone who does not know anything about chiptune?
emiglio laser: pocketmaster produce music with old computer soundchips. At the time computers were slow and didn’t have much memory space, they were equipped with special sound chips, which were used like synthesizers. So each computer or video game console had its specific sound. The roots of our music are classic game music and punk, as well as the micromusic and chiptune scene
And for the chiptune lover?
What are the categories, the various aeras of chiptune? Where do you put POCKETMASTER in this family?
cube-c: We are aware that there are various styles out there in the chiptune / micromusic scene but we don’t like to categorize our music in that way. We want to make music and not care about styles or conventions which are implicitly connected with micromusic / chiptune.
What is your motivation to start this project?
emiglio laser: Grown up with sounds of C64, Atari ST, Amiga, Gameboy I always loved the sound. As a child I recorded tapes of my favorite game music composers like Chris Huelsbeck, Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard and I couldn’t stop listening. After other music projects in the field of punk and singer/songwriting we stepped on micromusic.net. Having seen concerts from bands like egotronic, plemo or dropdabomb, we were convinced chiptune or micromusic also works as live music. Cube-c started tracking music alone, and I joined the project later.
cube-c: Same with me. Grown up with home computers and loved the bleeps and blops coming out of these machines. Years later then, I began to play around with emulators in order to get the old gameplay feeling back and started to fiddle around with trackers. Then I got in contact with micromusic and realized that’s the sound I’ve been searching for and I would like to produce myself.
By creating POCKETMASTER, what was your goal? (Production, live experimentation …?)
emiglio laser: Primarily, it was all about having fun creating music, we love to listen to. All the rest evolved from the micromusic network and the reception of our music in the internet. We received requests for playing live and continued.
What are your sources of inspiration?
cube-c: Daily life, news, listen to various styles of music, films
emiglio laser: …and daily madness on TV
Which artists or music do you listen?
cube-c: At the moment, I’m really into Hellbilly country (e.g. Hank III, Joe Buck Yourself) which is also a great source of inspiration to me, then Motörhead, singer/songwriter stuff and micromusic of course.
emiglio laser: Alternative music from Radiohead to Johnny Cash, electronic from The Residents to Eskmo, chiptune like Sputnik Booster, Meneo, Goto80 or Dropdabomb/Stu. But also classic music or anything else that sounds interesting.
The chiptune takes root in the demoscene and is increasingly present in the electro mainstream. How do you see the future of chiptune?
emiglio laser: We believe that “regular” chiptune music will stay a special interest thing. For most of the people the sound is too limited, and too scratchy in their ears. Though I’m quite surprised about the positive reaction especially from young people who actually don’t know Commodore 64 or Classic Gameboy.
Although, you can hear chiptunesk parts in mainstream productions, it is rather used as source of sound among others.
Can you describe how do you work? How do you create music?
emiglio laser: We now changed our equipment a bit. We usually start with some patterns on LSDJ, record it and arrange it in Cubase. Then we add the tracks from our MIDIbox SID and other synths. If the song is about a special topic then we look for speech samples in movies or on youtube. In fact I have gigabytes of movie samples. Whenever I watch a movie at home I note all scenes I could use for sampling.
What constraints you impose yourself when creating a track? (Hardware, technique, composition, style, …)
emiglio laser: Because we expanded our equipment recently, we haven’t defined the present constraints yet for new tunes. On the past releases it was drums and speech-samples on computer or MPC-1000, one Gameboy with LSDJ, and one MIDIbox SID with four SIDs. That’s the equipment we can carry, when traveling to a gig by train. I don’t like reverb and many other effects on chipmusic. The sound has to be clear and crunchy. And most important: actually 3 minutes are far enough for a track.
You use the direct outputs of your instruments, how do you work the other sounds?
What are the differences between playing a song for recording and playing it on live?
emiglio laser: Actually there’s no difference. We keep the live-situation in mind while composing a track.
In your live, do you practice VJing?
emiglio laser: Not by ourselves.
cube-c: Occasionally, we had the pleasure to have live visuals by c-men.
You play sound directly from machines that are also very popular retro-gamers. Are you also players? What games do you play?
emiglio laser: In the past, I was a gamer, and played any genre of games. Especially, I loved racing games. Now, I haven’t got much time, but I still own a 3DS and PS-Vita with some games. And I still play Impossible Mission on C64 from time to time and I have to walk through Secrets of the Monkey Islands every two or three years.
Have you assembled your MIDIbox SID? Do you build instuments? By circuit bending?
cube-c: Yes, we built our Midiboxes SID (V1 and V2) ourselves. We bought the hardware kits and had a happy time with soldering :). I have only a basic understanding of electronics (I can read schematics and I can name the parts :)) and therefore I felt really great after finishing my first working Midibox SID. Thorsten Klose did really a great job in designing this beast.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any experience in circuit bending. It would be great, but I think it would be too time consuming to get really into it.
Divert audio circuit, sounds, creating instruments. Does chiptune artists works like (or are) hackers?
cube-c: In my opinion definitely yes. Maybe some aspects not in a strict sense or definition given in the linked article, but for me personally, hacking is all about handling with technology in a creative manner and that is what chiptune artists do.
Apart from music, what are your hardware and software config?
emiglio laser: In my opinion, any cultural product should be accessible to all the people, because the roots of any creation lie in the society the author lives in. I don’t really believe in the concept of the “genius”. Nevertheless, an artist has to pay his bills and earn money for the next production. I got no solution for this problem, but I think it has to solved by the society and not by the individual consumer.
cube-c: Completely agree.
What is your most popular track? Whatever you like to play?
cube-c: Most popular? I don’t know, but I like to play “infected” at live shows.
emiglio laser: Some say the “information remix”
“Play the game” refers to The Prisoner, a cult serie with strong political message. Do you carry political message through your artistic process?
emiglio laser: Cool! I actually don’t expect people the recognize the movie samples. They have to make sense, regardless if you recognize them or not. Mainly the samples should support the intended atmosphere of the track and are often ironic. So there’s no precise political message in the tracks. I am on the left side of the political spectrum but also liberal. I don’t want to tell the people, what they have to do.
Can you translate words from early Unsynthetisch?
cube-c: “In my opinion, this is all really unsynthetic.”
What’s this James Earl Jones voice in “Come to nothing” @ 2:26?
emiglio laser: That’s a sample from the movie “Zardoz“.
The gun is good, penis is evil.
IT-Crowd it is definitely the best series of all time? What is your favorite scene?
cube-c: The “have you tried to turn it off and on again” scene in the beginning of the first episode/SE01 is epic. And so is Moss and the fire :)
cube-c: I was not aware of this song (your link). But you are right, it sounds quite the same. My intention in Robot World was to have a sound like in a factory with monotonous machine sound in the beginning.
Do you have experience in other musical style?
emiglio laser: Yes, I had to go through all the usual piano lessons as a child. Later I played in a experimental singer-/songwriter project.
cube-c: I used to play bass guitar in a punk band as a teenager and together with emiglio laser in a singer songwriter project.
Your last piece is atomic, released in 2011, do you plan other songs, another album soon?
emiglio laser: We’re writing new songs right now. But it’ll take some time. There’s no deadline yet, but we hope to release at least an EP this year.
Where French people can easily discover you in live ?
cube-c: Difficult at the moment :). Maybe there will be an opportunity to play in Paris again. We really enjoyed the show there last time.
Rock to the beat! 2013–01–13