British chip musician Matthew Applegate, otherwise known as Pixelh8, has been one of my favorite artists since 2009, when I first listened to his commendably original release "The Boy with the Digital Heart". Holding a special place in my heart, Matthew's sophomore album was programmed completely from scratch and in code on the original machines. That references his unique philosophy of the genre: take it where no one else will, stay faithful to the original ideas and programming, and just have fun being yourself with the music. There is truly no one else in the community quite like him.
Mr. Applegate graciously participated in a brief, six-question interview with me today, through which he manifests his continually evolving style and outlook on the remarkable world of 8-bit music.
1. Though you got started with chip music pretty modestly with a bottle of milk spilled into an old Nintendo, you’re now an internationally-recognized chip musician with three full studio albums and a fourth in the works. What has been the driving force behind your constantly evolving style, which is usually quite structured but also very unique?
"I have always simply wanted to do interesting things, I learned early on I didn't want to be a famous musician on a major label, I wanted to have freedom above everything else. Freedom to sometimes to not make music and teach, to do workshops to study, get back to music when I was ready, not when a company wanted a new product. All of my heroes have evolved over their careers Aphex twin, Schoenberg, John Cage I think you have to eventually or you run the risk of boring yourself and the listeners if you don't. I love chip tune music, I want it to stay and that is why I am prepared to evolve it, instead of serving up another album that sounds a lot like my old one."
2. Your 2007 release “The Boy with the Digital Heart” is a personal favorite of mine. Besides being written entirely in code, the music itself is also particularly recognizable with its varying emotions and quirky beats. Can you tell us a little about how the sad-themed track “A Party without You” came about?
"The whole album is based around the relationship of me and my girlfriend when we were teenagers, they are all stories from when I was around 16 years old and people do feel the emotion in them even though they are very electronic, probably because they were real stories. I used a Commodore 64 for the main melody I think it was a sine-wave variation it gives it that sweet sad feel to it. With 'The Boy with the Digital Heart' I consciously wanted to show various emotions and genres in chip tune as I thought chip tune at the time was sounding a bit samey, I did want just dance related pop-ish music[;] I wanted a story."
3. Your numerous workshops and lectures have kept you quite busy over the years. What gives you the greatest pleasure while teaching a room full of kids about computers and video games?
"That they go away and make and break stuff and they tweet me with how they are progressing, I love to hear that they have taken something small that I have taught them and put it with their other knowledge and have used it to progress what they want. It is just another way of ensuing that chip tune isn't just a passing fad. I am quite happy to talk about chip tune music in person and I think a lot of people are shocked when they do find out I'll teach them, via email is another matter[;] though I get maybe just under a hundred emails a day about 'how do you do this' in chip tune music and I just can't answer them all."
4. What do you think of the chip music community as a whole right now?
"I think I am generally concerned that a lot of them aren't getting involved in computer programming, that is fine, you don't have to be a programmer to be a chip tuner but it helps. It really helps to design individual sounds, learning about the quirks and limitation of different machines often help me write the music. If not [you're] gonna use the same sounds as everyone else and the same presets and then things might run into trouble. The greatest game composers people like Rob Hubbard were also amazing coders[;] I say it's a 50/50 music/coding thing for me. Make and break is what I always say."
5. “The Schematic”, your new double-album, is set for release later this year. How are you continuing to evolve your compositional style with this record, and what is your number-one goal with it?
"Instead of having one large album with a schizophrenic happy/sad feel I am splitting them up. 'Software' is happy pop chip tune, 'Hardware' is avant garde noise chip tune, both I feel or at least hope will progress the genre albeit in very different directions. I am using a special recording technique on 'Hardware' which is both expensive and time consuming but hopefully it will make people think, 'wow I didn't know you could do that with those machines' and maybe even freak people out a little."
6. Lastly, what does the future hold for Pixelh8?
"Well I have just finished my Masters Degree and [I am] planning out my PhD, when that gets the green light I will have a few months to finish all the demos for the album and hopefully finish 'Obverse' (non-chiptune) which is an album about drumming, and two game soundtracks are already in production (chip tune / electronica), so yeah as always busy."
[Pixelh8's work can be viewed at his official website: http://pixelh8.co.uk/]