Week 41: And this week we're brining you a track from Glowing Star Matthew Joseph Payne (please excuse the vile pun). Chiptune, piano and some banjo: we're going high class this week. Grab the track here!
WT: How did you first come into
contact with the chiptune scene?
Payne: In high school, I played way too
many instruments and gadgets in a band called Formerly Bridgeway. On one song -
a rap about Mega Man - I provided interludes between verses by playing synths
over parts of the music from Mega Man II for Game Boy, literally by playing the
game during the verses to cue up the music and SFX I needed. Someone saw me
doing this and told me "hey, there's this neat thing called LSDJ…".
This was around 2001, so pretty early on in the modern LSDJ era of the chiptune
scene. I ordered a cart, as you did in those days, and pumped out a few tunes,
including one that also involved a "Fishing for Phonics" toy that I performed
live at a music camp. I then summarily forgot about LSDJ for 10 years. At this
point I had no clue whatsoever that there was any kind of community or scene
surrounding this stuff.
When Lizzie Cuevas and I decided to start
"a band that has something to do with videogames", I dusted off my
LSDJ cart and re-taught myself how to program it. When that band became The
Glowing Stars, Lizzie met Morgan (of Crashfaster) and introduced us and that
was literally my first introduction to the "chiptune scene" proper,
in 2010 I think.
WT: What methods go into a
composition of yours?
MJP: My methods are extremely haphazard. Some work
starts out as pencil on paper, some from an idea improvised on an acoustic
instrument (banjo or piano, typically) and others from LSDJ noodlings, which
I'll sometimes keep on my "in progress" cart for years. Before any
piece hits any kind of public forum, it generally sees all three of those
WT: What influences, musically,
both from within and external to the chip scene, have been prevalent in your
MJP: I'm heavily influenced by performative, song
or composition based groups or artists. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Yes, Mr.
Bungle and the like are big time, long-term influences. I have a soft spot for
70's progressive rock in general. Within the scene I'm seriously inspired by
the likes of The J. Arthur Keenes Band, Fucking Werewolf Asso and my good
friends Awkward Terrible. More recently I've been a little too obsessed with
the debut albums by Seal of Quality and Crying. I wouldn't say that any of them
have necessarily inspired my writing, but I'm really moved by the way they use
chipmusic sounds in a greater context.
WT: How do your working
relationships with artists such as Slime Girls and Ap0c come about?
MJP: Being able to notate my music has opened a lot
I met Pedro (of Slime Girls) before the band
really got started, when he was asking me for advice on writing drum and noise
channel parts that coexist well, based on my work in TGS. I see him all the
time and we're huge fans of each other's music, so collaborations are natural.
I've hopped onstage to play trombone with them a few times, and I provided a
horn section for him at a GDC show on a night when I'd already hired a couple
sax players to do another gig in SF. We're working on a collaboration, but
progress is slow - probably a mixture of co-written songs and my horn
arrangements on their tunes.
When I got booked for 8static, ap0c literally
approached me out of the blue and offered to sit in with me. It was awesome!
He's such a pro, I literally emailed him a dropbox link to a bunch of bass and
bass trombone charts and we had about a half hour rehearsal before the show started;
that was it. Now he's doing some tracking for my next record, and I'm really
really excited to have him! He and I have a lot in common it turns out,
backgrounds in sound design and an interest in its theory and study - not to
mention a Western classical music background to boot. Most people hide behind
big instruments like the tuba, but he really exudes energy when he's playing,
which I just love!
WT: You play live often and in
many forms, could you walk us through some of these?
MJP: My first live forays as Matthew Joseph Payne
involved a variety of mixed ensembles including oboe, cello, doom guitar,
brass, percussionists and rock band elements. I finally settled on LSDJ and
banjo as my default core instrumentation, and from there I stack on musicians
as they are available or appropriate for certain gigs. I have a pair of sax
players that I call on often, I have string trio arrangements for many of my
songs, and I've been really lucky to nab a couple of fantastic clarinettists
who I've been working with a bunch. I keep a big score for every song and print
out slightly adjusted parts depending on who's playing a particular gig. I've
got a solid backing of people locally now, so I can pull off fun and reasonably
organized shows with a modicum of rehearsal time.
WT: Classical music seems to be
incredibly important to your chiptune output, how and in what ways has it been
an influence on your output?
MJP: My writing background is academic, albeit not
particularly traditional. Lately I've been enjoying a lot of opportunities to
cross my chipmusic writing over into the classical world - I've done a couple
commissions now for flutist Meerenai Shim and her group A/B Duo - flute and
percussion - which have been getting very positive responses. I'm working on a
piece for brass trio and LSDJ right now which I think is going to be a lot of
fun… mostly I'm trying not to think about the genre divides involved and just
write what seems right for the artist, whether it's me, or a commissioner, or a
friend's group. Allow the art speak first.
WT: You also do live visuals,
what are your influences there and how do you create them?
MJP: I'm coming straight out of the
"nocarrier tradition" if you will, physically modifying game console
hardware to generate glitches. I also use some of his software utilities for
the NES to create custom graphics for most of the groups I do viz for, which has
been a lot of fun. I've got a pretty consistent rig I use for shows backing up
musicians, with a circuit bent NES and Genesis 3, a wireless camera and a
feedback loop through a video mixer. I have some things I've built that give me
either manual or automatic control over the glitches, and I try to play them
like an instrument, and perform along with the band. Eliot Lash created this
thing called Triggerboy based on trash80's Arduinoboy code that I use to turn
my banana patch point glitches on and off in response to audio or LSDJ clock
signals. I basically owe everything else I'm doing to nocarrier, but my
artistic process and results are pretty different.
WT: What went into creating your
MJP: 1xLSDJ, banjo, and a few seconds of piano.
Somewhere in the piano track you can probably hear my wife washing dishes and
my toddler running around. The middle section that alternates between 5/4 and
6/4 feels was written first, then much of the rest resulted from my recent
experiments trying to start with simple figures (like the scalar pentatonic
figure played by the banjo in the intro) and develop from there.
WT: What have you got in store
for the future?
MJP: A lot! A/B
Duo will be releasing my 10 minute piece for them as part of an EP soon, The
International Low Brass Trio is set to debut my piece for them later this year,
I have an album in the works for next year, and I have projects involving Jay Tholen, Slime Girls,
Curious Quail, and a whole host of collaborators on the horizon. I'm also
working on a score for a PC game on Steam Greenlight called Point Perfect. I've
done some game design work before, but this is my first complete score and
design for a game and I'm really enjoying it! It's definitely something I'd
like to build on.