Listen to the Sounds of Game Boys
By Rachel Metz
02:00 AM Nov. 01, 2004 PT
If the noises emitting from your speakers sound like burps, farts and blips with electronic overtones, don't be alarmed -- your stereo probably doesn't have indigestion.
More likely, you're listening to the video-game-enhanced tunes of the Gameboyzz Orchestra Project, a Polish sextet that plays original music created almost entirely on eight Nintendo Game Boy consoles.
Started by freelance media producer Pawel Janicki and media artist Jarek Kujda in 2001, the Gameboyzz Orchestra plays live music that can be simultaneously euphonious, grating and reminiscent of a Legend of Zelda implosion. The curious can grab a quick listen to tracks available for download on their website.
The music is about nostalgia for the group sponsored by Nintendo's Polish distributor, Lukas Toys. Playing the Game Boys is like channeling childhood, Janicki said.
Kujda agreed. "It sounds like old-school games with 8-bit computer consoles," he said.
The idea for the group came about after Janicki and some others bought Game Boys to use in a music project, he said.
"We searched for a drum machine for a different project, but we discovered the beautiful sounds of the console and we created a special project with Game Boy sounds and technology," Janicki said.
To make music, the Game Boys are plugged into a mixer connected to speakers. Six Game Boys are linked together to work like groove boxes, Janicki said, while the other two act as drum machines. To create and manipulate sounds, members use a sound-editor called Nanoloop and push buttons on the consoles. Sometimes they manipulate sounds from games like Tetris and Super Mario Bros.; they also use delay and reverb effects to modify the noises. They even try to crash their own software, thereby creating new sounds, Janicki said.
Before concerts, the group meets and decides what direction the music should take, Janicki said. Sometimes, they'll simply improvise, mixing and working patterns in front of an audience, Kujda said.
The group also illustrates its music during shows by connecting its Game Boys to a PC running a real-time multimedia visualization program called EyesWeb. The results are black-and-white images projected on a screen, corresponding with the Orchestra's aural creations.
The Orchestra's music-making methods might sound high-tech, but the instruments are not all state of the art. The Gameboyzz Orchestra uses a mix of old-fashioned and newer Game Boys, ranging from early editions to Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.
Their musical influences include club music, electronica legend Kraftwerk and punk rock, Janicki said.
So far, the group has played at home in Poland as well as in France, Germany and Russia. They are looking into bringing their music stateside, and have put out one limited-release album, lajv ad hom.
What do audiences think of the Gameboyzz Orchestra's mix of music and video games?
According to Janicki, it varies by location. The Japanese love their music, he said, because it's reminiscent of childhood. They have a following in Poland, but are considered an underground band there, he said.
That may be true, but according to Kujda, their reason for playing the music is pretty mainstream.
"This is fun," he said.