Game Music Saturdays: ProtoDome – BLUESCREEN

Yes, that title’s supposed to be in all caps. Who knows why!

ProtoDome’s music uses “chiptune” as more a complement than a focal point of the music. Is it jazz? Hard to say what kind. There’s elements of lounge music, as well as some elevator muzak…but in a good way! It’s mostly relaxing chill-out music, some of it attaining the heights of rhythmic complexity while others taking it slow. If there’s one word that could characterize the majority of songs here, it’s “funky” in a James Brown sort of way. Except there’s lots of jarring electronic elements and shaky bass lines. So that’s not like James Brown at all, is it? There’s a constant balance in this CD between the natural and artificial, if not in every song than from the overall track list.

“BSOD’d” gives you a taste of things to come with a very exciting jazz-fusion mixture. Throw in some breathy vocals, handclaps, get a little chiptune progression and plug a baseline in there and you’ve got yourself a catchy two and a half minute number. The Yoshi sound effects don’t hurt, either. “BLUENOISE!” takes things in a more synthesized direction, using some layering techniques to create a sound that reminds me of the more recent Sonic Adventure town themes turned into electronica dance beats. Being compared to SEGA’s catchy music themes is a high honor, believe me. It’s both fun and chill at the same time.

“There’s Always Next Week” takes us back to a more natural sound. This would sound at home on any jazz lounge setlist, even with the synthesized piano/soundchip and live-recorded jazz vying for first position. This doesn’t fit in the realm of cool jazz like Miles Davis, nor is it quite fusion like Chick Corea. I’d call it a modern hybrid of both with a little swing to boot. “Nostalgia Breaks Hearts…” returns to an entirely video game music style. If I’m not mistaken, this definitely employs the Gameboy soundchip; heck, this wouldn’t sound out of place in a Pokemon remix album. Pokemon themes always have this air of adventure and ebullient excitement; this track doesn’t break my heart, that’s for certain.

The intermission (?) track “Over-Priced Ice Cream”, confuses me a bit. I’m not sure why we need an intermission for a twenty-four minute album (that’s including extras and remixes), but it’s a nice little sound inserted within the mix. “Analogue Dream Girl” gives the listener that jazz fusion sound once again, although this one definitely employs more real instruments than any of the previous. The piano, especially, captures that distinctive mix of electronic and acoustic elements well. It’s even got those solos, which is pretty remarkable for a three minute track to make them both interesting and neccessary.

Unlike most jazz, though, ProtoDome’s music isn’t based on improvisation and spotaneity; he always has a distinct goal with each song. There’s a benefit to this in that the listener is directed torwards a particular feeling and tone. It enhances the overall effect of the album. Maybe this just doesn’t come through in the recording, but that’s what I hear. “JPEG_Jive”, for example, provides a pretty straightforward electronic beat beset by a jazzy piano and a really driving musical course. It’s unbelievably catchy, and definitely tries to emulate funky  jazz within a bevy of electronic instrumentation. “Grayscale” rounds out the eight track album with a surprisingly low-key ending (not counting the two remixes that come along with it – I’m only covering the tracks in themselves because the remix will be self-explanatory once you hear the original sound).

It’s short, but sweet. So why, exactly, am I covering this album? Well, sometimes you just need some fun music without any real pretensions. ProtoDome provides that; there’s nothing “artsy” about this kind of music, but then again, that’s not the intent. It’s meant to be entertaining, catchy, and danceable music. Some music just celebrates life in general, and doesn’t have to have particular philosophical import. I think that pretension has its place, but you can’t inundate yourself with “meaningful” music all the time. I suppose that’s why find the “indie” music scene represented by Pitchfork Media so bizarre. Their self-important tone and rating system (which, to my mind, makes absolutely no sense without a relevant criteria behind it) always turns me off because it doesn’t recognize the multiple uses of music.

The Bible shows plenty of uses for music, including celebration and levity. Hosea 2 uses it as a metaphor for the restoration of Israel:

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. 15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

Even in Jeremiah 30, you see that celebratory music has its place:

18 “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwelling places; and the city will be rebuilt on its ruin, and the palace will stand on its rightful place. 19 ‘From them will proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who celebrate; and I will multiply them and they will not be diminished; I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant.

It’s also frequently used in the negative sense, as in “God will stop your celebrations because you don’t follow his commands”. Which, by its presence, implies that joyous music is essential to human experience, hopefully directed towards God. That’s what I like in ProtoDome: it’s celebratory music that is just joyous by itself without any weird accouterments. So listen to this and enjoy – it’s quite cheap at 1 pound (English currency for the win!).

Visit ProtoDome’s website here and his Bandcamp here.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.