Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most important albums in popular music. With over 45 million copies sold, an unbeatable record 741 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart and the standard by which audiophiles show off their sound systems, it is one of a rare group of albums that truly are required listening. So what happens when you take one of the most legendary recordings of all time and recreate it in the chiptunes style? Come inside and take a listen. You may just be surprised.
Now I am a huge chiptunes fan, but when it comes to these kinds of recordings, they really have to be done right to be listenable beyond mere curiosity. Not only does MOON8 sound good, it transcends sounding like music done for a video game. Sure, the tones are undeniably old-school NES, but nothing has been done to tweak the music to sound like it actually came from a game. This is a chiptunes recreation in its purest sense.
What I find truly stunning about MOON8 is just how much effort has gone into the recreation of nearly all of Pink Floyd’s instrumentation. This is obviously not something that was cranked out in a weekend to say “hey, look what I can do.” The music is a labor of love, for both the source material and style in which it has been recreated. I was skeptical before hearing them, and then completely blown away by, how well the explosion of clock chimes at the beginning of “Time” and the cash register opening of “Money ” were done. Both pieces precisely capture the spirit of the originals in the chiptune style.
Frankly, it’s pretty mind blowing how good the whole album sounds. The pulsing analog synths of “On the Run” sound frighteningly close to the original and the bleep-creations of Clare Torry’s vocalizations in “The Great Gig in the Sky” are spot on. It makes me wish LA’s Laserium hadn’t recently shut down (again) because replacing their regular DSOTM laser-show with this music for one night would be beyond cool to see.
Brad Smith is the man behind MOON8 and he was kind enough to answer 8 questions for The Feed about his chiptune recreation of this classic album.
The Feed: Why give The Dark Side of the Moon the chiptunes treatment?
Brad Smith: There are a couple of contributing reasons. I like to transcribe music, rewrite things for different instruments or ensembles. I also like the challenge of making something big fit into a small space. I am a chiptune enthusiast, and am interested in old game hardware in general. Finally, Dark Side of the Moon is an album that's been around me all my life, and it's one of few that I've sat around listening to with friends again and again.
The Feed: What kind of instrumentation did you use to create the sounds?
Brad Smith: I used an NES sound emulator called NSFplug to make the actual recording, but the music was sequenced with a program called Famitracker, which was designed specifically for making NES music. The NES gives you two channels of pulse waves, one channel of a triangle wave with no volume control, one channel of noise, and one channel that can play a sample. So, together there are about five individual instruments at my disposal.
I really only used the sample channel for the snare drum, and the cash register sound for “Money / Speak to Me.” The noise is mostly hi hats or cymbals. The triangle wave usually becomes the bass, but occasionally I gave it other duties.
The Feed: Did any of the Pink Floyd compositions present you with any problems in recreating them in an 8-bit style?
Brad Smith: Sometimes it is hard to represent the sound with just three tonal instruments to play with.
Things like the guitar solos were usually easy; all I really needed to keep was a bass line, and put the solo in one of the pulse channels, leaving me with an extra channel for an echo effect.
Other times, I really want to get a chord sound, but I don't have channels to spare, so I try to cram it into one channel with a really fast arpeggio, i.e. if I play all the notes in the chord really fast it's almost like you're hearing them together. This effect was more typical in home computer game music, like the Commodore 64, but the NES could do it too.
Still other times, the original album is just really dense with tones, like with the organ echoes in “Any Colour You Like.” In these cases I try to pick out the more salient sounds and just give an impression of the rest.
Actually, there's a weird moment in “Any Colour You Like,” after the opening passage on the organ, I was trying to represent the stereo hocket between the two guitars, and I had to do it with mono sound. What came of the attempt sounds very strange to me. It's a musical passage I would never ever have thought to write, but at the same time I really liked it.
The Feed: How long did it take you to put this together?
Brad Smith: It's hard to say, because I did this a little bit at a time over a long period. I'd estimate it took about at least 100 hours, maybe more. I started it in late 2006 when I discovered Famitracker, but after some initial work I left it on the shelf for a few years.
The Feed: Did you literally recreate each song on the album note-for-note for the full running time?
Brad Smith: More or less. I wanted to represent as much of the album as I could in this form. Overall the tempo is very close to the original, but not exact, but there aren't any measures of music added or taken away. For the most part I started by transcribing the bass, drums, vocals, and solos as accurately as I could, then I would take another pass through, trying to clean up aesthetically anything that might have been made rough by this transformation.
The Feed: If you had to compare MOON8 to the style of a classic video game’s music, which one comes the closest?
Brad Smith: Because it is so closely tangled with Pink Floyd's writing style, it is hard to say. The Moon stage from Ducktales comes to mind, because the melody in the opening passage is kind of sparse and expressive, a bit like a fragment of Gilmour solo. Or Hip Tanaka's Metroid title music has a slow tempo with a built up, a little like “The Great Gig in the Sky,” or “Us and Them.” There are a few games that I think have some characteristics in common, but I can't think of any that really fits too closely to MOON8.
The Feed: Based on the response you’ve gotten so far, have you considered doing another Floyd album?
Brad Smith: No, not really. I have several ongoing personal projects, some of them musical. I might consider doing another transcription like this in the future, but not right away. If I did another album, it would probably not be Pink Floyd. Offhand, I think (Steely Dan’s) Aja, or (Nine Inch Nails’) The Downward Spiral might do well with this kind of treatment, but don't expect me to do either of these any time soon. (ed. note: Great, now I REALLY want to hear The Downward Spiral done this way!)
The Feed: I understand you are a game industry professional. Can you share with us what you have worked on?
Brad Smith: Professionally I am a software engineer. Formerly I worked at Obsidian Entertainment, a role playing games developer in Orange County, California. I worked for a few years on an Aliens RPG which was unfortunately cancelled, but it was. After that I worked for a little while on a game called Alpha Protocol, which should be coming out in a month or two. I left Obsidian last year, and have since joined a company called Killspace Entertainment. Killspace is fairly new, and I can't say too much about what we're doing because it hasn't been made public yet, but if you're into games you'll probably hear about us soon enough.
The great part about MOON8 is you can download the entire thing for free from Brad’s website. So, my suggestion is take a listen to the original (and if you don’t have it go get one or borrow one from your dad) and then experience this incredible reinvention.
If you are into chiptunes or video game music, let’s stay in touch. You can follow my game music ramblings on Twitter.