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Today we had a chance to chat with the amply skilled video game composer, chipmusic and electronic artist known as 4mat (AKA Matthew Simmonds) who has been creating his own inimitable songs since the demoscene back in the 1980’s, and hasn’t taken much of a break from composing since.
With a discography brimming with equal parts effervescent nostalgia and experimental forward momentum on his bandcamp page, and a mind-bogglingly extensive video game soundtrack resume dating back to the early 90’s, 4mat has seen and taken an active part in the evolution of the chipmusic genre as it has developed and morphed over decades, to the point now where the genre is finding itself to be part of a larger cultural limelight than it perhaps once was in previous decades.
With new fans being turned on to the once underground-dwelling genre all the time, we wanted to get 4mat’s take on things, from his creative process, to his influences, history, inspiration, and more…
Here now is our interview with 4mat, and we hope you like it!
Q: Do you consider yourself a chiptune artist, or is that too restrictive a term?
A: I’d say chipmusic artist, though honestly I just put electronic artist on things now. I like the vagueness of electronic artist.
Q: You’ve been making music for a while now. When did you actually start composing?
A: Late ’80s using the Amiga, doing music in the demoscene.
(speaking of Amiga…)
Q: How do you go about writing a song? Do you have a particular process you go by or is it always different?
A: 4mat music is always different. Can be a melody, a sample, anything. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes things can hang around for years.
Q: Does your recording studio have any windows or do you prefer windowless environments?
A: For the 4mat stuff it’s all written in trackers, so I can write it anywhere. (this new album – check teaser here– was written in 4 different places I think). When I’m focused on something I don’t really need a particular environment to get on with it either way.
Q: What generally motivates you to write music either in the past or now? For example, do you wait for inspiration to come out of the blue (emo style), do you just treat it like it’s a job (duty calls style), or wait patiently for the cold hard cash to land in your waiting palm before you touch an instrument (heartless capitalist style)?
A: 4mat tracks are all inspiration led, when I have time and motivation and both of those things line up which isn’t often these days.
Q: How much thought do you usually give to album sequencing?
A: A lot, I think it’s one of the most important parts of the process. I’ll have a playlist running very early into a new album and that will fluctuate until the release date usually. I like to have a list of, I dunno, ‘touchstones’ of artists/albums and theme of where I want this one to be going, and it’ll not necessarily be style choices but something from each of those will end up an influence.
Q: Any particular musicians who have influenced your style early on and lately?
A: Early on would be Talking Heads, YMO, hiphop like BDP or Public Enemy, Konami’s music team working on the MSX carts and various C64 musicians. Lately Joni Mitchell, Serge Gainsbourg, J Dilla, Scott Walker, Bowie, Talk Talk, it always fluctuates though I listen to a lot of music.
Q: What kind of games did you play growing up, and on what system? (I was always a C64 kid myself)
A: I was C64 as well, it’s funny the sid chip gave us a hands-on class in audio theory, having that little modular synth in there you could program. I went back to investigate the c64 rather than the Amiga when I came back on the scene because of that chip, new things are still being discovered on it.
Q: What would you say has changed about chiptunes in the past 10 years?
A: Well the resurgence of it in general as a thing I really had no idea about, until Nullsleep got in contact with me in the mid-2000s. For me, at least before then, chipmusic was always a demoscene thing: no live gigs, no albums (beyond musicdisks released in the demoscene), media on the hardware and that was it. So that’s certainly different. In the last 10 years I think it’s stopped being a novelty which is good, it’s not really a gimmick to be doing this stuff now.
Q: Any contemporaries that you like to listen to who are active today?
Q: Anyone (musically) that you can think of that disappeared off the face of the earth that you wish had stuck around, or maybe someone who was dope who just took an extended break who you think should come back?
A: Cats. They were great, very different.
Q: Broad question – do you hear any difference between US and UK-based chiptune artists?
A: From my generation yes, can’t really comment on newer artists. The older artists were much more influenced by home computers than consoles, and the style of game music evolving in Europe at the time had a different feel to elsewhere. It’s particularly the instrumentation, the music drivers are more geared towards that arp-driven/frame-based instrument table sort of sound.
Q: Best show you’ve ever played?
A: I’ve played so few as a chip artist I can’t really comment, but I’ll say Blip 2011.
<and so ends our convo with 4mat…stay tuned for more, as always>