Untitled (Live): Bit Shifter (2009)
I’ve always felt that creativity thrives on limitations. It forces the mind to do the real work. Give an artist an infinite amount of resources, and what you’ve just done is created a terrifying, labyrinth, a winding path with infinite forks. Only the strongest of artists will not be left paralyzed with possibility, or worse, unreachable to his or her audience, lost in a quest for self-knowledge. The less an artist has, the greater challenge there is to do what seems impossible.
Bit Shifter is one of the many artists working within the 8-bit music scene. 8-bit artists limit themselves to instruments with 8-bit central processing units, usually “primitive” or outdated computers. Bit Shifter hacks old Nintendo Gameboys to make his music. The result is intriguing to me because one is always reminded that 8-bit was once futuristic, cutting edge technology. And now, it is perceived as endearing, innocuous, cute, embraced for the nostalgia it induces. And the music of 8-bit artists always seem to acknowledge this dichotomy. It plays with our sense of time. It is music of the future from the past.
“Untitled (Live)” comes from the free online EP Live at the Blip Festival 2009. I’ve seen Bit Shifter perform before and I’ll be honest here, I have no idea what he is doing to do the Gameboy to make this music happen. My instincts tell me that the music is composed in advance, and yet there he is onstage, frantically pushing buttons and thrashing around. I shrug and add it to the mysteriousness of what he does. Because, c’mon, listen to this song; there is no way that it could have ever been composed for a video game. It’s so sad sounding, and yet, owing to it’s 8-bit limitations, not capable of sounding maudlin or overly sentimental. It is science. It is reason. It is logic. And it is dreaming. Oh, the pathos! Bit Shifter’s bending notes have finally given us the sound of a computer weeping.
Finally, we are accustomed to hearing 8-bit music and associating it with some faceless corporation, background music anonymously created for a silly, recreational amusement. But here, we know that the music has not been commissioned. It is a personal expression, and it refuses to be background music, and it refuses to be associated with a game. It revolts against the very tools of its creation. And if that isn’t art, then what is?
Download the free EP here.