Friday, April 16, 2010

My 8-bit Hypothesis

 By Annie Wright

Remember Dr. Octoroc's 8-bit Dr. Horrible from last week, and how I was all "I hope he makes Act II soon"? Well, perhaps the good doctor has heard my wistful murmurs, because today has yielded not one, but TWO horrible new 8-bit treasures.

I have this hypothesis, which will perhaps one day be a theory, after it has been independently verified by other teams of scientists, in proper accordance with the scientific method. It is a fairly simple idea: People born somewhere between 1975 and 1990 actually register a positive emotional response when listening to familiar or beloved music that is rendered in 8-bit sound. Perhaps this sounds idiotic, but consider your initial response when listening to this, particularly if you are a fan of the original:

By all accounts, I should hate this. Slayer is my favorite band OF ALL TIME, and "Angel of Death" is at least in my top 5 Slayer songs. Of course I listen to other music, but if asked my favorite, "Slayer" is my response 100% of the time. And like any Slayer fan, I do not give a shit what anyone thinks of this. However, when people cover, mar, mangle, or otherwise emulate Slayer, Slayer fans generally develop rage aneurysms in their brains. Messing with any track of "Reign In Blood" is particularly sacrilegious.

However, I direct your attention here to the comments section of this video. Hardly any of them are negative at all, and those that do seem a bit hateful or trollish are immediately counter-trolled by other users. When the hell does that happen on youtube? Not only are the comments lacking in rabid rejections, but there are a few that actually compare Slayer to Pokemon: "Your KERRY KING has evolved into a JEFF HANNEMAN!" (although some might argue that should be the other way around) and a scenario in which King uses a "Satanic Destruction Guitar Riff" when a wild James Hetfield appears. These comments, in addition to being fucking hilarious, indicate a fondness for both Pokemon and Slayer, thus supporting my hypothesis, as a significant amount of youtube users fall within the aforementioned age range (disclaimer: I do not have actual data on ages of youtubers, but I am confident that my statement is accurate).

Once I noticed this receptivity to 8-bit, specifically in instances where any other type of emulation would be shunned almost entirely, things started popping up in abundance. A friend of mine directed by attention to this 8-bit Weezer Tribute. Then I went looking. Several hours later, I surfaced with a few Michael Jackson tunes, A-Ha's "Take On Me", G'n'R's "Sweet Child O Mine"(fair warning: the intro is great, but the song itself is a bit painful at times), and more recent entries, like this already internet-famous Daft Punk ditty. And of course, the aforementioned "8-bit Dark Side of the Moon".

So why do we like these so much? Is it the nostalgia factor again? Is it a simple appreciation for the intricacy involved, knowing how much time we ourselves spent tweaking our arrangements in Mario Paint? Of course I cannot speak for everyone, but I am fairly certain that I've lost at least one collective month of my life to Mario Paint, fine-tuning, playing back, chewing one piece of Fruit Stripe gum after another (a.k.a. "Chasing the Zebra").

My hypothesis is still not mathematically sound. I still cannot unify gravity, nor the paradox of why 8-bit Slayer sounds good, but 8-bit Guns'N'Roses kind of doesn't. Which of course, is completely subjective anyway. Yet my observation remains: People within a certain age range that would ordinarily cut the belly of any transgressors against such sacred music seem to absolutely LOVE 8-bit noises.

So unless you actually ARE Kerry King, put away that guitar and hook up that MIDI device before someone kicks your teeth in.


The Distant One said...

I think it's because there's such a limited range of sounds you can make with 8-bit music, that you're forced to focus on melody and rhythm in a way that more advanced technologies don't allow. That's why music from 8-bit games tends to be awesome, and translate well to other forms, where-as more modern forms do not.

Annie Wright said...

I think you are on to something there, because I have noticed that I will often enjoy something rendered in 8-bit, even if I do not like the original. It sometimes makes me appreciate the original in ways that I wouldn't have prior, for whatever reason. Like Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi".

Kirk Hamilton said...

I agree - 8-bit removes the gloss from a studio recording and strips the tune down to its barest melodic and rhythmic elements. Modern technologies certainly don't prohibit us from focusing on those essentials, it's just that the necessary sonic minimalism of 8-bit brings them into sharper relief.

There's kitsch value too - I really like all the goofy and brilliant ways that these guys take old videogame sound effects (explosions, plane engines, cha-chings) and use them to approximate elements of the recording they're recreating.

But I, too, am interested in how 8-bit is (apparently) far enough removed from the original that die-hard fans don't get murderous about the redone versions.

I think it's kind of like a musical uncanny valley - if you're playing real instruments, you probably sound enough like the original that we will recoil in horror. But if you go all the way back to NES Audio, you're stylized enough that enjoyment of your version and enjoyment of the original are no longer mutually exclusive.

Annie Wright said...

And I think it also has specifically to do with our associations. If it sounds like an NES, that is a good memory. However, I call your attention to THIS, which I tend not to view as favorably, even though it also meets similar criteria of being a somewhat iconic song, popularized in a particular way, and covered in an entirely different way. But for me, the association with a cappella is very different than 8-bit. I mean, I was a big nerd, but even I was not nerdy enough for choir class. If anyone needs me, I'll be hiding behind my marimba.