Insert Credit February 2023 Art Jam Artist Statement
This Genesis action game has a pretty amazing soundtrack! As the explosions surround your character, the music makes you want to either plug in some nice headphones and adjust that slider up to the top or possibly turn down the volume so you can barely hear the audio at all.
DJ Tent Mode’s Mega(drive) Mechanical new track drops now!
You can download an mp3 of “GEMS (Generic Electronic Machine Sounds)” here.
The Genesis is a Machine
Last month we discussed how the Genesis and FM synth in general have some mixed reviews due to perceptions in sound quality1. This has less to do with the capabilities of the sound chips themselves and have much more to do with the capabilities of people programming the FM patches and storage capacity of game carts of the time. That’s why last month I was using FM patches that are (allegedly) used by Yuzo Koshiro: I knew they would sound good even if they sounded more like they came from a PC-88 game than a Genesis game. (They probably did come from a PC-88 game that Koshiro wrote.)
The Genesis had a distinctive sound especially to American ears because of the GEMS software that was commonly used in the English-speaking world. You can learn more about the GEMS (Genesis Editor for Music and Sound Effects) here. It was a DOS program that was pretty constrained in how you could define the FM operators as opposed to the more flexible tools that were available to Japanese-speakers.
This month, I wanted to go the opposite direction of “sound quality”. I wanted to lean into the most default sounding FM patches I could, and make them loud. I only used default FM instruments that are provided in DefleMask. This is not an indictment of the default instruments included with DefleMask - there are many that sound very good! And then there are many that sound like they are “Generic Electronic Machine Sounds”. They are G.E.M.S.
Reminder that the Genesis supports Stereo Audio. I did not use it subtlely.
Writing Music for a Machine
- Go load up a bunch of default-ass instruments. (Or are they “default ass-instruments”? Determining this is an exercise that is left to the listener.)
- Make a “Whap!” snare hit on the down beats and put a base kick on the up beats.
- Compose a rhythmically boring but effective pluck bass on the quarter notes.
- Go to town with the slides on that lead guitar.
- Add in some funny synth-swells. (I noticed that the swells in general seem to be one of my personal musical styles, as I use them in several of my pieces.)
- Go back and fix the bass line so it’s not so damn boring. You can do this by nearly changing the octaves of some of the notes and doing literally nothing else.
- Break up the drums a bit more and give it just a bit of variation.
- It’s March 4th and the next art jam prompt is up. Ship it.
Repairing the Machine
- More variations in the bass line, especially rhythmically
- Fix the levels; adjusting the volume levels on the Genesis is surprisingly finicky because the scale is logarithmic, so even though we have a range from 00-7F, anything that’s less than say 65 is barely audible.
- Next time, go all in on the machine theme and have ChatGPT generate my informative and yet entertaining post.
1 Regarding frequency modulation audio timbre: