Having already made his name releasing full blown albums on reworked NES cartridges, as well as working previously with world renowned label 8bitpeoples and performing live at the Blip Festival in New York late last year, it was about time for Alex Mauer to release his first major, largely anticipated compact disc album, which sadly doesn’t require blowing to play properly.
The chip music scene is really seeing an extraordinary growth right now, with many artists finding listeners through social networking sites like MySpace. Alex Mauer is seen as one of the more innovative artists from a niche genre at bursting point. Although it is nigh on impossible to give a definitive list of chip tune artists worthy of the most praise, Mauer’s latest album certainly does help to define the many different inspirations for artists quite commonly labelled together out of convenience.
With his work, I get the sense that Mauer is more interested in breaking apart the technologies of old and using them for exploration, bringing back a warm fussy feeling of nostalgia. Many popular chip artists purely seek to create a certain sound from these old machines combining them with newer production methods without attaching the significance of their original intention – video games. Mauer’s ’9999′ works much like a video game soundtrack, produced with many different consoles, each song is very short in it’s execution and would seem at home looped in one of your favourite video games. Right down to the exaggerated track names, it wouldn’t be wrong to close your eyes and imagine a controller lodged between your palms as you listen.
The album is made up of 42 different tracks, created using the powers of reversed engineered games consoles including the NES, Commodore 64, Gameboy, Atari XL computer, MSX computer, IBM PC/DOS, Commodore Amiga, Game Gear, and Sega Genesis. Each song is usually around the one minute mark, which works quite well as a homage to older video game soundtracks where the songs would usually loop hundreds of times before you moved onto the next level, and the next song. It is however, very difficult to appreciate each song under its own merit. Older video game soundtracks worked by looping the same small sample hundreds of times until you finished the level and moved on. It is overwhelming to listen to the album as a whole without pausing or repeating certain tracks that deserve more attention than they are given. Placing his music into a different context, in this example, MySpace, changes everything. The songs become separated and singular and so you are able to appreciate each song for its own merit. I find myself actually looping a lot of the tracks myself out of sheer enjoyment, wishing they were longer. Tracks like ‘OJ Finds the Real Killers’, ‘Red Leg, Blue Leg’ and ‘Bowman’s Tower’ could really stand up as full length songs by themselves, it’s just a shame we are limited to the one minute mark.
I get the overwhelming feeling that ‘9999’ was more of an experiment to Mauer than anything, a chance to push the boundaries of his ability with the technology and expectations of his audience by producing a full length CD that many fans of the genre would never have experience before. It’s a huge achievement to see that Mauer has created so many different styles of music and created what feels like such a homage to the video game soundtracks of old.
Alex Mauer’s album 9999 is available now to order on CD for $15 from record label II (Pause) located here. (http://www.iimusic.net/catalog/2008/06/9999)