Insert Credit January 2023 Art Jam Artist Statement
Your party is half dead. Some of them are fully dead, but you did make it back to town. You walk into the darkened shop and it’s time to refill your Magic Points.
DJ Tent Mode’s Magical new track drops now!
You can download an mp3 of “Magic Points” here.
The Magic Prompt
You know that song “You Can Do Magic” by America? That mom-rock hit from the early 80s from the 70s band? The bell is the best part of that piece. I wanted to have have chimes as a primary or accented voice my new song.
Additionally, I wanted to play more with the Genesis package. In December I successfully “ported” a song that I had written a few years ago in PICO-8 to the Genesis in as a way to learn how to use the module without the added stress of having to be creative and write a new song. Here’s the PICO-8 original “Janet Mode” and here’s “Genesis Mode”. Curious to know what people think about that process too.
The Genesis is Magic
One thing all Insert Credit Forum Posters and old-game-enjoyers know is that music on the Genesis sounds “amazingly”. We agree on the adverb, we just don’t agree on the actual adjective and if it’s amazingly good or bad. I’m not going to waste more of our time here with that discussion. Let’s observe how it’s fundamentally different than the NES.
The Genesis has a Texas Instruments SN76489. The TI is the same chip that is used in the Master System and is basically a 4-channel square wave and noise generator. This was on the Genesis motherboard for backward-compatibility reasons (if you got that power base converter) and the chip can also be used in Genesis games. I suspect any song I wrote for NES that doesn’t have samples I could port to Master System without too much difficulty. This is context, and I didn’t use this chip in the piece.
The Genesis also has a Yamaha YM2612 6-channel Frequency Modulation synth sound chip. This is quite sophisticated. I won’t be getting into the details of FM sound synthesis1, but by combining some simple math, you can get a very diverse array of sounds out of it. You can also configure channel 6 to play samples at a reasonably high quality even by today’s standards. A production Genesis cart 30 years ago would be space limited but space isn’t a limitation I’m personally super concerned with in my compositions.
If I’m gonna use canned FM patches, I’m going to go to the source and get great ones. All the FM patches in Magic Points are (allegedly) from a set that Yuzo Koshiro (of all the best music on the Genesis and beyond) used or made or something like that based on his work with PC88 MUCOM. He is a fascinating human to follow on Twitter. He often still begins composition projects in MUCOM because that’s what he’s familiar with and he’s fast at it.
And consider listening to this tune with headphones to exaggerate the effect, because the Genesis supports Stereo Audio.
Composition is Magical
To start, I loaded up several instruments and wrote some piano chords and some chimes that fit in with the chords. Moving a few of the chords around a bit in time maee it more of a phrase rather than merely chords.
Drums were next and I wasted some time playing with samples. I didn’t use them. I settled on FM drums from the same Koshiro patch kit and I think they sound good. I intended to go toward a trap-beat featuring many syncopated snares and high-hats that anticipated to heavy down beat kicks. They turned out quite well. If I was to continue working on the piece, I’d add a few more fills and a drum solo. I like writing drum solos!
The melodoic voice is a harp and I do not play harp. I am a big fan of open fifths and major thirds though so I tweaked my way toward a melodic line and wrote an accompaniment for it.
As I was working through adding more to the harp parts, I noticed they sounded only OK. Turns out I am not Tchaikovsky. It took me several days to realize that because of the ergonomics of playing the harp, runs we hear generally go up in pitch because you pluck the strings with your fingers by pulling them toward you. They were much improved by rewriting several of the harp runs to be rising in pitch rather than descending.
As a way to make the harp phrasing less rigid, I added a very slight delay with the EDXX effect to one voice of the harp notes. Sometimes it’s the low voice and sometimes it’s the high voice, but it makes it sound much more organic. Generally the faster the runs and notes, the less of a delay, and when there are bigger spaces between the notes, I applied a much larger delay.
You may note I’ve got several FM instruments in my palette that I don’t end up using in the piece. They just didn’t fit in and I’ve got plenty of opportunity for big slap bass hits in the future.
Writing music is basically magic
That I wrote this song at all is pretty magical. I didn’t start working on it until late in the month and it came together reasonably well in a very hectic month for me. I’m still struggling with writing interesting hord progressions and tieing them back together, but I’m pretty happy with how this came out in short time on a new platform with new quirks.
Go make art for yourself and for each other.
1: Regarding frequency modulation audio synthesis: