Chip Music, Reviews

Ode To A Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet DVD (Review)

December 27, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Ode To A Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet DVD (Review)on Twitter

It was an especially cold December in New York City this year. And it had nothing to do with the massive blizzard that was whipping 18 inches of snow around at speeds up to 35 mph. It had to do with the fact that, for the first time in a long while, the five boroughs (and indeed the world) was bereft of the joyous celebration known as The Blip Festival, the largest chip music festival that our tiny blue planet has to offer — 3 days of performances from musicians and artists from around the world, celebrating the musical and visual limitations of obsolete game consoles and other antiquated computer tech.

But fear not — Blip Fest isn’t gone for good. Not even close. Rather, it’s being rescheduled to take place later next year, in the brighter and cheerier month of May. Still, there’s a certain nostalgia associated with Blip’s wintery whimsy, frightful weather and the G train notwithstanding. And it’s fair to assume that thousands of chip music fans have been a bit down in dumps in light of the Festival’s absence from their 2010 calendar.

Luckily, there was a small bit of mercy left in Blip’s stead, and it came in the form of Blip Festival: Reformat The Planet, the comprehensive documentary on chip music and the Blip Festival, crafted lovingly over the course of 3 years by NYC filmmaking troupe 2 Player Productions. And lucky still, what they’ve captured on this DVD amounts to the closest possible simulation of the inspired artistry and impassioned mayhem that surrounds the half-decade strong Blip Festival.

Hit the jump to see how a skeleton crew of documentarians went about capturing the world’s largest and most exciting chip music event, and the indelible impact it had in the spreading of an exciting new form of electronic music to all corners of the globe.

It’s not too surprising that New York City, the cultural epicenter of many a music movement past, is the primary setting of Reformat‘s exploration of chip music culture. Rather than focusing on the origins of the iconic videogame hardware and its original composers, director Paul Owens instead traces back to the beginnings of the contemporary chip movement: a paltry handful of artists gathered in a tiny Manhattan art space called The Tank. It’s here that artists Nullsleep, Glomag, Bit Shifter and minusbaby founded 8bitpeoples, New York’s premiere chip music net label.

New York’s early chip movement was more than merely an emulation of the European demoscene that inspired it. For the first time, chip music was being posited as an outlet for live performance, and with the help of Tank founder Mike Rosenthal, New York’s chiptune scene began to set the foundations of a model that would soon be emulated by cities around the world. To show this phenomenon in action, the brunt of the doc focuses on the event that brought New York chip into the spotlight: the 2007 Blip Festival.

It’s here that Owens, along with additional camera ops Paul Levering and Asif Siddiky, truly show their uncanny ability to bring the chip movement to life. Dizzying cuts and energetic camerawork capture the euphoric bedlam as international artists like Japan’s Hally and Sweden’s Random join the original New York crew and newcomers like NYC chip rockers Anamanaguchi for two days of high-energy performances. In showcasing the enormous variety of artists behind the festival, another thing also becomes clear: Chip music is not a genre, but a medium — a method of communicating musical ideas that fits snugly within the framework of nearly any established musical genre, from electro-pop to rock to bluegrass, reggae and ska.

“The scene is so loosely defined that there’s room for a lot of people to do what they want to do,” remarks NYC chiptune curator Peter Swimm, who also runs the chip music news blog True Chip Till Death. “There’s no “guidebook” of what they’re suppose to do. So every person’s music is not what chiptune music is suppose to be to someone else.” Meanwhile, backstage, artists Mark Denardo and Bud Melvin discuss writing some new material inspired by a folk album that Mark discovered while digging in his vinyl collection. To them, the unique sound of the chip instruments has augmented their music-making process, providing a new tool to expand, not limit, their creative endeavors.

It’s not just musicians having all of the fun, however. Owens and co. also give us a look into the world of chiptune visualists like Jeff Donaldson (aka NoteNdo) whose work provides a nearly inseparable visual complement to live chip music performances. Using a circuitbent NES console, Donaldson creates mesmerizing abstract patterns by controlling the flow of electricity with all manner of plugs, knobs and switches. Another visual artist, Don Miller (aka NO CARRIER) takes the opposite route, using hand-coded software to corrupt and control the graphical data stored inside NES game cartridges. In a consumer culture saturated with HD graphics, Donaldson, Miller and others are returning to the grime and grit of early computer aesthetics to explore what is possible. “It’s not about re-appropriating art,” Swimm says, “it’s about celebrating the things about it that work.”

The DVD set’s second disc expounds further on chip culture’s expanding reach with 2 Player’s supplementary mini-film, Reformat The Planet 1.5. In it, we see the formation of monthly chiptune showcases in Philadelphia and other U.S. cities, as well as the emergence of the next wave of chip musicians and visualists. The disc also includes beginners’ tutorial videos on two of chip music’s most popular Game Boy software programs, LSDJ and Nanoloop, delivered by 8bitpeoples founding members Josh Davis (Bit Shifter) and Chris Burke (Glomag). Add in some bonus extended interviews with important figures like LSDJ creator Johan Kotlinski and a gorgeous 16 page art book filled with photos by New York “chiptographer” Marjorie Becker and essays by musician-journalsts Anders “Goto80” Carlsson and Nathaniel Adams and you’ve got one hefty package.

Whether you’re a Blip veteran or chip music neophyte looking to see what all of the fuss is about, Reformat The Planet is simply the most encapsulating video feature on chiptune culture available. For those who have already witnessed Blip Fest’s tantalizing pageantry, it’s a smartly-woven affirmation of everything you’ve come to love about chip music. And for those who have yet to experience it firsthand, it’s an inspiring and captivating introduction to an exciting world of possibilities that lies hidden within the machines we once called our toys.

Buy: FangamerAmazonBarnes & Noble

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