The Emulation Theory : A Chiptune Adventure – Programmed by Sickman VC

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Here it is, a new EP, compliments of yours truly.  This is quite a departure from my normal hip hop stylings but listeners will definitely hear the hip hop influence, even in this chip tune experiment. Family duties and just being a responsible adult take away from my indulgence, but video games have been, since I was young, and still remain a regular part of my life.  That said, my childhood began with Atari and Arcades but really peaked as a kid from the Nintendo 8 bit era all the way thru the 16 bit Sega Genesis days.  Haven taken long lapses, but ultimately coming back to gaming, I have kept my eyes on nearly every iterations of gaming, all the way up to the current generation.  Finding myself playing a lot of retro games as well as modern games created in the retro format, and being a lifetime as a musician, I found myself obsessed with some of the retro gaming music.  Notably, Yuzo Koshiro as well as the classic gaming tunes of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, and Super Mario.  This obsession even led to following and listening to chip tune music, i.e. Anamanaguchi, as well as the soundtracks to modern games.

So for this experimental project, I took my current gear and setup (for those who have kept up with my journey, will recall that I finally got my setup down so I can focus on creating new music instead of experimenting with different gear and tweaking the setup) and I wanted to take a break from hip hop, just to see what I could do.  Of all the experiments I considered, video game music felt the most organic and comfortable genre.  I could easily recall the sounds and the style of my favorite video game tunes over the years and having recently gotten comfortable with the command of the music tools at my disposal, this was a quick, fun, and light project for me.  I used much of the knowledge I’ve acquired over years of hip hop production, composition, and song writing and was able to apply it to making these relatively simple chip tune instrumental tracks.

Since this was a fun, side project for me, I didn’t spend much time, tweaking each instrument and sound and adding effects and doing intricate, methodical mixing like I would for my hip hop records.  After all, retro video game music was very limited as far as audio tools at the composers disposal so I did not want to depart from that simplistic sensibility, even if in my case, it was not a limitation that forced the decision to go basic.

As far as the instruments and sounds go, I tried to use sounds, especially at the top end, having an 8 bit retro feel, with bright synths, and bleeps and bips for bass, and low bit rate strings and pianos.  I even filtered the final two track stereo mixes of each song with the infamous 12 bit SP1200 drum machine sound to give it a more vintage feel and pay homage to my bread and butter, hip hop.  Speaking of, with a lot of the drums and percussion,the hip hop producer in me used more hi fi sounds and drum kits, but I think this worked out. I wanted to encapsulate both the 8 bit and 16 bit eras since they were both the impressionable gaming eras of my childhood.  The 16 bit era marked better sound chips in gaming consoles and gave a more hi fi sound experience to video games as well as the birth of CD Rom gaming introduced live recorded CD audio tracks with no instrument and sound limitations, per say.  Since the highs and mids on most of this EPS songs were inspired by 8 bit gaming, the more hi fi drum sounds paid homage to the 16 bit era.  This better low end also made for a more palatable and versatile  listening experience, especially in the modern landscape of music, rather than being relegated and limited to a novel, but throw away retro gaming music experiment.

When making this music, I tried to imagine an entire video game from beginning to end.  This way, the listener has a theme and title screen song at the beginning, and then the listener can follow the gaming protagonist as they journey through various game levels, until finally, the journey comes to a close and the final ending song takes place. Each stage of the game had a fully imagined environment, mood, and atmosphere which inspired the sounds and music notes.

As for the name of this EP, it was a fun play on the popular, ultra modern, “simulation theory”, but since it was a tribute to retro gaming, I called it Emulation which represents emulations of retro games. Lastly, the pixel art is compliments of my designer extraordinaire, wife, and is meant to look like an 8 bit video game title screen, with the only thing missing, the “press start” and ” options”!

This one was short and sweet, and a blast, no pun intended, to make, so I hope all my listeners, even my hardcore hip hop heads, enjoy!

The Emulation Theory: A Chiptune Adventure- Programmed by Sickman VC (tracklist)

01_The Heroes Journey (75 bpm)

 

02_First Encounter (120 bpm)

 

03_Digging Deep (75 bpm)

 

04_The Overworld (55 bpm)

 

05_Platformance (57 bpm)

 

06_Adversity (110 bpm)

 

07_The Road to Victory (90 bpm)

 

 

Goodbye My Friend…

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It’s with a very heavy heart that I share the news that a best friend, family member, and bringer of joy in my life has passed. My beloved English Bulldog, Boodha has left this world at twelve and a half years of age.

I don’t know where to begin as far as describing his role in my life and the lives of my family. In his twelve plus years of existence, not a day passed in which I didn’t pour love, affection, and attention into him and he always reciprocated it in spades by bringing joy, humor, and drama in my life.

He fit every stereotype of his bulldog breed; tough, stubborn, powerful, and dignified. Tough, all the way up to his  last dying moments when his heart appeared to be quitting on him but he kept snapping back into consciousness and fighting the surrender until it was no more.  Stubborn, when he would fight tooth in nail, in defiance to go on long daily walks only to eventually enjoy them, once I could get him started. Powerful, like when he was playing tug a war with two fully grown pitbulls at the dog park and pulling both of them, mouth bloody, and refusing to let go, until I intervened.  And lastly, dignified as he stood proudly at my wedding looking on this momentous occasion with a regal tuxedo tie on, and chin up in the air, as if he knew his rightful place in this moment.

He also fit the alpha, K-9, archetype written about in the pages of books and projected on the silver screen. He was fiercely loyal, protective, and tender and gentle with our family, aka his pack. So loyal, always by my side, when in the midst of large crowds at the many events and festivals we frequented with him, or at the beach, or at dog parks, never straying too far, with a watchful eye. Never did I have to worry about him escaping his leash and fleeing like some sort of fugitive of justice. The rare times he wasn’t with me, he showed his loyalty when our time apart ended in a sort of rejoiced, reunion, that he would show in his own unique and subtle style, but not in the “jump up on you and lick your face” variety.  Protective, when he would bark at the sights and sounds of a tv screen, at percieved threats such as dogs, bears, etc., especially in the prescence of my wife. With Boodhas powerful prescence I always had the feeling of safety and  security and the understanding that he would do whatever it takes to protect me and the family from any physical threats. Was he a guard dog? Far from it, but aside from the toungue and cheek, “beware of dog” sign we posted, if you were a stranger and you entered the house, one look at him at the top of the stairs and believe you me, you might want to go the other way.  Like the time he got loose outside and lunged at a cable installer working on our neighbors house, or the time he lunged at my friends face, when they decided to get down on his level while playing fetch with him.  Finally, Boodha was always tender and gentle to his pack aka our family. Whether with our often annoying cat who liked to pick on him, or with my pregnent wife, or with our two daughters, he always showed a soft and gentle side to them, never doing more than sniffing them, and never displaying jealous, excitable  or hostile behavior towards them. We won’t count the time he nipped my daughters hand during a 4th of July celebration , since it was a clear attempt to protect the pack by extinguishing the fireworks. Never once do I recall having to worry or correct him for inflicting harm on the physically  vunerable members of the family. As a matter of fact, I had to correct the family members instead of him because I had the sense that he would never harm them even if he was at the receiving end of their provocation.

My beloved Boodha also defied plenty of conventions. Despite his breed and the shorter life span and known health issues, he lived five years beyond the average age of his contemporaries and never had the myriad of health issues so synonymous with these dogs. As a matter of fact, despite the powerful build, he would always surprise me with his speed, agility, and stamina, whether that was the long hikes we would take with him, playing with other dogs, or playing tug a war with his favorite rubber  rings, or fetch with his favorite green ball. Even when he was old and half blind he approached fetch with the same intensity as in his youth and even partaked in this favorite game of his, with me, on his very last day alive.  As for his health, besides chronic skin issues from time to time, frequent and potent flatulence, and a few, close overheating scares, he was a model of health and vitality that defied the odds. He always kept a healthy appetite and was mobile all the way up to the night  of his passing.  Despite his “meat head”, lumbering, appearance, he was no dimwit either. His ability to follow commands and know what you were asking of him were second to none. Whether that was training him to go up and down stairs in a specific manner and position or training him to sit on command before receiving a treat, his ability to pick it up quickly was uncanny. Now once he learned something, whether he chose to listen or comply was a whole another story!

Lastly, even though he wasn’t a human companion, he defied my expectations of what a true bond and friendship could be. He was unconditional about everything he did for me and his only concern seemed to be showing his love and bringing joy in my life. Sure, he made me mad sometimes, and he made me cry like right now, and he also made me laugh all the time, but most importantly, my quality of life was better with him.

So in his passing I have to go back to his last moments on this earth because it epitomizes how his life and our relationship was:

After a routine day with Boodha that culminated in his favorite game of fetch with his cherished green ball, with me in our man cave, while watching sports, he uncharacteristically clamored to go outside and proceeded to behave very strangely. At that point, I had the suspicious feeling it might be time. So late at night, as he lied on the ground with me and my wife, and I watched him close his eyes for the last time and drift away forever, I thought to myself how I would so dearly miss my friend. However, I also rejoiced and sought solace that he lived a fulfilling life and gave me a fulfilling life in return. He got to leave this world in my arms, a way so  fitting for him, with so much grace, dignity, and beauty, without pain and suffering.

And so I say, “Boodha, I will forever remember you, and you will be missed my best friend and family member. I am eternally grateful for the gift of joy that you brought me and my family and the lessons of unconditional love that you taught me.”

 

The 2018 Sasquatch Sketch Collection

This was the entire collection of sasquatch sketches I did last year, over the course of 2018. Most of these were very rough sketches and very gesture driven just to experiment with different poses, creature anatomy, and habitat, and establish some basic light and shadow. I am considering taking my favorite ones or favorite aspects from this collection and doing refined versions of them.

 

“Ashitaka vs The Boar Demon”- Day Three from 3-15-19

This is day 3’s progress on “Ashitaka vs The Boar Demon” from my fantasy art, Studio Ghibli inspired drawing series.  This might be my final touches but i focused on making the darks heavier and subtracted subtle lighting with an eraser. I added fidelity primarily to the boar including his mame. I also defined its tentacles and main body shape.  I still wanted this one to have a rougher sketchier  feel as compared to the previous cleaner more fine detail focused drawings from this same series.

 

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New Tracks and the Inspiration and Techniques Behind Creating Them.

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I wanted to start something new.  I wanted to post some new tracks I have been working on for my new solo album and also working on for a long time collaborator and friend’s new album (both coming soon) and talk about the ideas, inspiration, and production techniques behind making them.

Drnem79 – 79 BPMs.  This track was inspired by one of my all time favorite music producers of all time and his many classic collaborations with one of my all time favorite musicians of all time.  This is the legendary Dr. Dre and his work with the shady one, Eminem.  “What’s the Difference” from Dr. Dre’s second solo album Dr. Dre 2001, first came to mind when composing this particular track, based on it’s epic, large scale, orchestrated sound and how complimentary it was for Eminem’s crazy delivery and lyrics. If I recall, Dre actually recruited a small symphony to play on the track.  For this one, I started with a simple string section and built from there. Obviously I don’t have the means to introduce an actual symphony on my track, but  I wanted this song to have the same feel of a symphony playing.  The best way to try to achieve this on a small scale, was to include many of the components or instruments you would expect to hear with a symphony and using the reverb and effect techniques to create a large open feel or create a good amount of head space in the recording with EQing and mixing techniques.

After the strings, I wanted to add a lead instrument during the middle of the verse sections so I decided to add brass as well as a piano lead.  One thing I noticed with Dr Dre’s hip hop production specifically and generally, high level music production is that the song builds layers of instruments as you go along, almost like a crescendo effect to build a climax within the song.  This is a departure from most hip hop production which is a lot of times, just simple samples or drum and bass loops played repetitiously and they then rely on the vocalist and or simple instrument or sample drop outs to create the variety and climactic action.

The introduction of the lead brass and piano were placed midway through each of the 3, 16 bar verse sections, in order to build a climax within the lyricist’s verses.  Taking it further, I also used instrument drop outs and other mixing techniques to further build on the climactic effect and add to the variety with each verse section.  One thing I always found appealing with better composed songs of any music genre, for example, “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, is that you have things to look forward to as far as musical changes and climaxes within the same song and you are not just subjected to a secondary instrument backing that relies solely on the vocalist to create these dynamics.  When both the music composition and the vocalist can contribute to this dynamic and do it synergistically, you have a stronger song as a whole.  Achieving this musical philosophy is a bit different and somewhat challenging in terms of my individual recording process and the typical electronic/hip hop work flow.  This is because my own recording process consists of creating and producing the instrumental track nearly 100 percent before the vocals are created and recorded. Aside from this being my own approach it is also very common both in today’s electronic based music production and hip hop as a genre since the actual tracks are mostly composed entirely electronically and in a lot of cases the producer is the composer. Also it is common that the tracks are given to and often remotely, to the artist to record vocals over as opposed to the producer and composer actually working in the studio, hand and hand, with the vocalists before and during the vocal recording process. That said, for this track I had ideas of how the verse and knew where and when I wanted the verses delivered and composed the music around these ideas.

After deciding on all the instruments for the verse sections, for the chorus sections,  I introduced a sustained electronic piano note and 16th note hihats, along with different effects and EQing on the other instruments in order to differentiate this chorus section from the verse sections and allow for the verses to reach a crescendo up to and into the chorus sections.  This technique is used by Dr Dre constantly and in the track “The Difference” that inspired this one, the chorus section introduced a rather infectious, whining lead synthesizer in this same way.

Lastly, I imported this track into Pro Tools to put the final touches and mixing on it, before it becomes a finished track, and ready for the vocals to be laid. Although most of my levels, panning, and general EQing are mostly decided by the time it leaves my Akai MPC system, the Pro Tools phase is for further EQ tweaking, panning, and level setting and additional effects.  Also during this Pro Tools stage of my recording process, I have some outboard effects I can and often introduce which further enhance the track.  From here, there will be more overall levels and efffects added after vocals are recorded but for the most part this is all decided after this phase of the recording process.

Aside from the technical aspects of this track, artistically, I wanted this track to be near the beginning of an album and be an epic, anthem track that announces the artists return to the game.  I left the overalls structure as a 3, 16 bar verses, with pronounced chorus sections which will make this an attention grabber on an album.   The sparse instrumentation and mixing with a lot of head space and clean EQing, are made for consise and articulate lyrics, with simple intelligible deliveries, and meant to play loud and often.  The highs are mixed very clean and the lows do not drown out the other instruments.  The drums are crisp and stand out in the mix which will compliment clear, simple delivered vocals all done at a good, head nodding tempo.

 

“Ashitaka vs the Boar Demon” – Day two from 3-6-19

More from my third Studio Ghibli inspired drawing, “Ashitaka vs the Boar Demon”. This drawing series is me taking scenes from the legendary animated movies and adding a dark, fantasy art twist to them. This movie “Princess Monanoke”, the first Ghibli movie I saw and my favorite is dark enough to stand on its own in a  fantasy art sense, so I wanted to do a more rough, gesture, and sketch feel. If I don’t put this away and move on, I will add some fidelity to the demon but will primarily focus on the light and dark transitions via subtractive erasing and hard sketched lines.

 

 

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“The Sweatshop” Podcast – Episode #4 From 2-28-19

It’s been a minute but I’m back with a brand new episode of “The Sweatshop” Podcast.  On this episode I talk about Studio Ghibli and its inspiration for my newest drawing series, as well as I talk about Ice Cube’s new album “Everythang’s Corupt”, and finally I talk about turning 42.

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