Putting it all together – the glue
Here we are with discreetly sampled sounds, lead & backing vocals and production effects/engineering and now they all need to be combined into a Bitpop song. This is where modern music production tools come into play.
Up until recently, I was using Renoise (arguably the best tracker available – and mostly an extremely capable sampler with a tracker attached for data entry) to bring my instrument samples, phrase samples and vocals together into one piece. Apart from production effects as mentioned and they affect the whole sound channel, I would only modify individual samples/sounds as far at pitch and volume.
For example, with pitch modification, unless I wanted to sample an instrument at every pitch along the note scale I intend to use it at, the arpeggio effect is going to be time distorted since samples play faster or slower according to pitch. For really simple chord progressions that don’t change key or greatly vary, this isn’t much of an issue but for the more complex chords, I use Renoise’s in-built pitch modifier to recreate the arpeggio. It all depends on the use-case.
Let me be clear about this, I do not use any VST‘s that emulate the SID Chip. I only use samples from my own C64 music driver.
As great as Renoise is, I found that its capability to modify vocal samples to be somewhat limiting in terms of pitch shifting and time stretching. I’m also trying to keep up at releasing at least one song per week and Renoise’s workflow has been slowing me down.
After doing six Bitpop albums, I finally took the plunge of moving away from Renoise, going over to Tracktion Waveform 9. It too has an amazing built-in sampler and effects but one thing missing was the ability to create those typical C64 style arpeggios. Luckily, Renoise have made their sound engine available as a VST (Renoise Redux) and I use that for pitch modification/arpeggios. This is the only VST I now use and I still use it only to modify my sampled SID sounds.
Waveform 9 has incredible workflow and has all the other tools I need for music production
Essentially I think of Renoise and now Waveform+Redux as an assembler akin to compiling code but in this case, constructing sounds from C64 generated sampled sounds.
I’ve noticed when uploading my music to Bandcamp that in the (meta)tags section there’s an autocomplete or suggested tag labelled “8 bit core”. Perhaps this is actually an accurate description for my music. At its core, my bitpop is pure 8-bit. There are no real instruments, not strings, not basses and not drums – they’re all from an (emulated) SID Chip.
Though not entirely related though in a similar vein, I think of how the Vampire add-on for the Commodore Amiga has divided the retro community into almost equal parts. There are those that believe that it takes the extension of hardware too far, that it’s virtually as if you are using a different computer and not an Amiga. There are those that embrace the modification to hardware and cite that this has continued on for various platforms and part of the joy is seeing how they can distort the original platform and celebrate the flexibility in being able to do so.
Ultimately, I see this as a gateway for an audience that haven’t made it over to pure chiptune enlightenment. Just like how restaurants can create fusion culinary delights and like the origin of those cuisines before them have migrated and transformed across cultures so to can music. Blues as a musical genre existed before R&B, yes, we’ve been mixing styles since time and memorial – even earlier than that!
This is pop music gone off the tracks – this is chiptunes behaving badly – this is my brand of Bitpop. It’s not meant to be pure and I don’t pretend it to ever be anything other than what it is – hence partly why I’m writing this.