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2012/03/20 / monteurhulot

NOTE // On 8-Bit, Impressionism, and Loveless

The mass of 8-bit music forms, to coin an awkwardly paradoxical phrase, a novelty genre which thrives on familiarity, making it conducive to the occasional bout of viral distribution. When such an outbreak occurs, it can be diverting to spend a few moments losing oneself in the ocean of 8-bit pop music transformations to be found on your YouTubes and Soundclouds. Much of the appeal of these cover versions surely lies in nostalgia for a certain era of video gaming (or a nostalgia borrowed from an older generational segment who experienced those games first hand) and the associations with the direct, simple, adventure experiences those games provided and the childhood they are associated with, seen in hindsight as also simpler and more comfortable. Most of the these bechiptuned versions have, then, a short, shallow appeal, sounding like an amalgam of the worst instincts of Chillwave buried under two decades of discarded Ataris. However, there is at least one combination that brings out some of the most interesting elements of both the original material and 8-bit as a genre.

I speak of 8-bit covers of songs from My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

8-bit can also be seen as a distinctly impressionistic form of music, because, like the 19th century school of painting (especially Pointilism, which I’ll fold into Impressionism although it may enrage students of art history) it represents its subject, whether from scenes of life or the existing body of popular music, by breaking it down into simple bits of information, enough to communicate what is being represented, but in a low enough fidelity to allow the brain to fill in all the details of the original. Some neuroscientists would have us believe that this extra creative work given the brain of the viewer is the reason for the inveterate popularity of Impressionist painting, and it may be responsible for whatever appeal 8-bit covers have that is not attributable to 1980’s nostalgia. They give listeners the minimal amount of auditory information required to convey what the original material is, and then the brain can enjoy filling in all the textural richness remembered from the song being covered.

Converting a song from Loveless into 8 bits is a particular intriguing exercise. That album is rightly considered to have one of the richest and most exhaustively labored upon sonic palettes in modern guitar-based pop music. Yet the sound of the album is itself very impressionistic: much of the work done on Loveless serves to obscure the basic elements of the music under a thick swaddling of sound, so that the brain is again assigned the task of filling in the details of the ideal music we imagine lies at the center.

In 8 bits, this impressionism is replaced with its inverse. By bringing the constitutive parts of the songs to the fore, we are reminded (yet again) of how excellent the obscured melodies of Loveless truly are, but are also put in the intriguing position of being asked to do the opposite of what we do when we listen to My Bloody Valentine, thereby completing a curious loop: we imagine the remembered rich textural details which originally functioned precisely to make us imagine the very musical elements which are now being used in their most basic form in order to invoke the memory of their own concealment.

I don’t know how intentional this effect may be, but it’s a rare pleasure to stumble upon a series of novelty covers which introduce such conceptual complexity. It’s certainly enough to make me hope for the rest of the album to receive the same treatment, even if I don’t commit any more time slogging through pointless 8-bit versions of early Lady Gaga singles.

Coming soon: the finest in 8-bit Latvian skweee! FOR REALS.


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