Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Craig Makes A Recommendation Edition

This picture is incredible. You need to listen to Kind of Bloop.  I can’t assume that a gaming audience will listen to Miles Davis’s classic album Kind of Blue, but I can assume an Audiosurf-literate audience might enjoy this 8-bit tribute to said album.  So I’m foregoing the traditional round-up and instead offering this week as sort of an earnest plea.

Released during the 40th-anniversary year of the original, Kind of Bloop owes its existence to Andy Baio, who raised some money on Kickstarter to fund a chiptune tribute.  He enlisted five specialists in the “Make Songs that Sound like Videogames” genre.  All of the tracks can be found here for a mere $5 (he wanted it to be free, but had to make up the cost of the required per-download royalties).

I never thought I’d have a reason to recommend Miles Davis for Audiosurf.  However, these chiptune remixes made for good surfing, so I’m taking the opportunity to recommend Kind of Blue via the immensely enjoyable Kind of Bloop.


I once heard this track played on solo violin.  It was baller. Ast0r’s rendition of “So What” is probably, of all the tunes, the most faithful to its source material.  No upbeat remix sections.  Very little in the way of added ambience.  In fact, it’s the only track that matches the original’s placement of the soloists in your eardrums; if you’re wearing headphones, you should hear Miles straight ahead, Trane on the right, and Cannonball on the left.  Well, on this “So What” you’ll hear a computer chip attempt to emulate said jazz greats, but you get the point.  The traffic’s a little low due to the laid back, “cool” nature of the song, which means you should pay attention to the solos.  Listen to the digital tenor sax bends the top of each scale, just like Coltrane.  Relish in the electronic piano as it mimics Bill Evans.  Some of the tunnels during Trane’s solos are outstanding, and it was a joy to watch the green tunnels develop in their intensity as the Evans solo grew with each round of dreamy chords.  If you think you’ve heard this song somewhere before, maybe it was that time you watched Pleasantville.  Or when you somehow found yourself watching the second season of Dexter (not the kid with the laboratory).  Regardless, take this song wherever you can get it.  It’s that good.

Best song, both albums. Let me preface my discussion of “All Blues” by saying it may be my favorite song from Kind of Blue.  It just so happens it’s also my favorite from Kind of Bloop.  The odd thing is, my affection for Shnabubula’s remake comes not from what it has in common with the original, but what’s different.  From the beginning, there are extraneous sounds, aural garnishing.  They set the song firmly in the 8- and 16-bit world, rather than simply recreate a jazz record using a computer.  It preserves the 6/8 (or 6/4 depending on notation) meter of the original, but kicks up the tempo and ups the ante on all the accompaniment.  While solos play out, others are teased, whistled or whirred in a call-and-response fashion.  Halfway through, it sounds like we’re hunting Dr. Wily.  And yet, I’m still hearing the familiar solos and melodies of the original – just turned up to eleven.  You know how it’s popular to take an upbeat song and make a folky acoustic cover? Yeah…this is the exact opposite of that.  To find out what I mean, play this song.

According to one documentary, this song is named after some douche who tried to see shows for free. If “So What” is a shot-for-shot remake and “All Blues” a full-blown reimagining, Virt’s “Freddie Freeloader” falls somewhere in between (it’s like keeping a Shakespeare plot the same but setting it in a high school, or a high school, or a high school).  It opens with tight, sliding corners and vivid tunnels, beautifully matching the uptempo blues swing of the song’s head.  The traffic’s moderate in volume, but the high speed of the car makes for a close camera angle – always a challenge.  Wisely, Virt keeps the rolling piano work of Wynton Kelly mostly intact.  It’s the only track Kelly played on Kind of Blue.  Miles chose him because Kelly knew his way around a twelve-bar blues.  Virt also leaves Miles’ solo alone for the most part, another good decision.  Both stick in my mind’s ear after the song plays, so I’d definitely be upset if they weren’t maintained in the conversion to 8-bit.  The track opens up a bit for Miles, though, easing back into some sloping hills with a more relaxed tempo.  Halfway through the song, the intensity ratchets up as Virt truly begins remixing.  snippet of a Mario tune is heard.  We clutch and shift into double time.  At this point, I’m only vaguely aware of what’s being taken from the original but it’s enjoyable, impressive, and fun to surf.  Effortlessly, the shift is made back toward reality and the main theme takes us out.

Other selections
“Blues in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches” are both great tunes, but they are the ballads of the collection.  Not great for riding.  “Sketches” goes into some crazy remix overdrive I find myself going back and forth on. I won’t recommend riding it purely on some second-half antics.  Both should be listened to, however, especially if it’s going to make you fire up iTunes and grab the original Kind of Blue if you haven’t already.

Author’s Note
Each song was played on the Pro difficulty using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  Really, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go to the Kind of Bloop website and pick this up now.  If you’re already a Miles fan, you’re supporting a cool idea (don’t worry that Miles might have been upset by this – have you ever listened to Bitches Brew?  that shit is crazy).  If you’re on the fence but love videogame music, you’ll definitely hear shades of classic RPG scores in the livelier sections.  Five great tracks for five dollars?  I regularly spend more than that on lunch.