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Anamanaguchi- Giving Nintendo Its Soul

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“It’s dead, man,” Luke Silas says with a laugh. “It’s [redacted] dead.”

That’s how the drummer of Anamanaguchi describes the scene affiliated with his band’s music. Once made up of what you might call computer nerds and gamers, 8-bit music has recently been making its rounds throughout the United States – and the world – taking the electronic music scene by storm. If you haven’t heard of 8-bit music, that’s okay. It doesn’t get much airtime on WMMR.

So what is it? Put briefly, songs in the key of a 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System.

Made up of guitarist/programmer Peter Berkman, guitarist/programmer Ary Warnaar (whose given middle name actually involves numbers), drummer Luke Silas, and bassist James Devito, Anamanaguchi play what their website calls, “loud, fast music with a hacked NES from 1985.”

Since their 2004 inception, they’ve been involved in several 8-bit music festivals, such as the 58,000-in attendance Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, and New York’s Blip Festival.

Currently on a summer tour that’ll bring them through both coasts and the mid west, the young New Yorkers (three of which are majoring in music or music technology at New York University) caught up with me after their show at Kung Fu Necktie. After pestering them to explain to me (on a purely elemental level) how their music is actually constructed, guitarist Ary Warnaar laughingly explains: “For people who don’t actually do it, compose the music, the process is almost unrecognizable. It’s all really tough. You’re basically writing music in a different language.”

In the late 90s, two acts – Bit Shifter and Nullsleep – began producing and performing what they called 8-bit music, made and synthesized through basic MS Dos programs and Atari/NES/Game Boy chips. These acts played lone shows to small audiences. Nullsleep, aka Jeremiah Johnson, then founded www.8bitpeoples.com in 1999 while a student at Columbia University. He called 8bitpeoples a “low-bit art collective” (but it now doubles as a record label.)

Along the way, Nullsleep toyed with several renditions of what would become the modern 8-bit sound. While hosting 8bitpeoples.com from his dorm room, the young gamer released loosely-constructed songs, experimenting with low-fi samples, raw waveforms, and field recordings from around New York City, still trying to find his stride.

But since 2005, he’s been touring around the globe to fanatical fans, playing the sort of stuff you used to hear while playing Legend Of Zelda, except with a funkier, pogo-friendly beat.

Watching him onstage is an experience to say the least, as the 29-year-old holds his computer keyboard as a guitar, spidering his fingers over the keys. He’s been called by at least one YouTube user (user name: ginmei) the “8-BIT HENDRIX!”

A student of the Nullsleep school of A-B-Left-Right synth pop, Peter Berkman explains that his music is composed using both a Nintendo microchip and an MS Dos program, aptly-named Nerd Tracker. He writes onto a Nintendo chip using a computer, then plugs that chip back into his Nintendo for live shows. The full band plays live music over the pre-designed track.

“It’s really funny,” explains Peter. “You can show this to an active musician and try to explain it to them, and they’d have no idea how to do it. They’d have no idea what’s going on.”

Among 8-bit bands, there’ve been a number of genres, including dance, funk, hip hop and what I’ll call indie rock, which basically is what Anamanaguchi is doing.

The guys explain to me that 8-bit music basically has its own sense of pride amongst fellow musicians, mostly because what they’re doing can’t be easily taught, and that it distinguishes them from some musicians who just sweat over a laptop on stage. “Anyone can perform with a laptop,” says Peter, “but what we bring to the table is a totally different sound that is unique to [a Nintendo]. We could program the music into a laptop, but I would feel uncomfortable doing it, even though we’re more susceptible to having something go wrong with an old NES.”

“Lots of [redacted] musicians can play music with a laptop,” says Luke.

“There are no training wheels,” says Ary. “People can [redacted] this kind of music with a laptop. I mean I could sample Sean Paul with a laptop if I wanted. On the Nintendo or Game Boy, there are only a certain amount of sounds you can make, and that’s what makes this kind of music unique. It forces you to focus on just this music.”

“When you open up a program like Rock Band [available on most Apple computers], the first thing you see is a certain number of pre-sets like ‘space sound’ or, like, ‘funky,’” says Peter. “Then you can say, ‘Okay, I want to use the ‘funky’ setting and make funky music.’ Whereas using Nerd Tracker, you look at it and say, ‘There’s no funky setting here.’ It took me five hours with the program just to learn how to make any noise whatsoever. If you asked ten different 8-bit artists how they make their sounds, they’d give you ten different answers. But what we all do is, we take these machines that are old, and we make them new. We’re basically giving these machines souls.”

To check out Anamanaguchi's music, visit their website at: www.anamanaguchi.com

MySpace: www.MySpace.com/Anamanaguchi