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Defend Your Kickstarter: An Album Made With a Gameboy

Scott Lucas | January 15, 2014 | Story Music

Defend your kickstarter is our look at the wild, wacky, and just plain wonderful world of Kickstarter projects.

Today's Kickstarter project: Destroy all Presets, a music album made almost entirely with a hacked Game Boy Advance by Doctor Popular.

San Francisco: What makes you stand out from all the other zine publishing, yo-yo'ing nerdcore video game designer and musicians out there in town? Seems like that job description is a dime a dozen these days. What makes you so popular, doctor?

Doctor Popular: Those other polymaths are quacks, I’ve got a PhD in Popularity!

Your new project is a chiptune album, the bulk of which was made on a Game Boy Advance. Break that down for us a little? Just what is chiptune, anyway?
Chip music is created on gaming systems. The old grey GameBoy is by far the most popular chip music tool, but there’s a lot of great tools and music out there for old Commodore 64s, NESs, and even the Sega Genesis. My favorite tool is the GameBoy Advance, the popular follow up to the original GameBoy.

What kind of technical limitations do you have working on the GBA?
The GBA (and GB) only have four tracks of audio: 2 square waves, 1 sine wave, and one noise channel. There’s no sampling with a GBA, you actually create all the sounds from scratch using FM Synthesis. So to create a drumbeat I’d use the noise channel for the snares and the hats, but I’d use one of the square channels to create my kick drum sound. Since there are only 4 tracks available you start getting really good at using them as efficiently as possible. i.e. using one square wave channel to create both a kick drum sound and a baseline at the same time. You can create any type of music in a chip tune style, but what really makes it unique is how you use those limitations to your advantage.

But it's not like Nintendo made an audio mixing cartridge. You have to use something called Nanoloop. What is that?
Nanoloop is a cartridge that you can stick into your GameBoy Advance. It’s like Pokemeon but with sounds and none of the Pokemon parts. Actually it’s not like Pokemon at all. Oliver has been releasing several great versions of Nanoloop throughout the years. For anyone getting started, I recommend checking out the Nanoloop apps for iOS or Android. It’ll get you used to using FM synthesis and uses a very similar grid-based interface. That’s how I got started.

How can you improve on the music from the Game Boy. Tetris, Legend of Zelda. Heck, I can still hum the tune from the Home Alone cartridge I played when I was six. Do you feel like you're trying to gild the lily here?
I can’t touch that shit. Tetris and Mario themes are brilliant! I like to think the composers were really driven by the limitations of the systems to create really simple catchy melodies. You can tell they were still pushing the limits too. They only had four tracks, right? But they were doing music and sound effects… so if you listen real closely you’ll notice that parts of the music drop out when Mario jumps or grabs a coin. I bet they got a real thrill out of figuring out how to get push that envelope. For me, it’s not about trying to create video game music… sure the sounds are unique, but I really like pushing the limits myself while using a simple tool that I can carry around with me. “Big sounds from small devices” as my friend Bit Shifter would say.

We love your music video off of the album. Fill us in a little on that?
“Lava” is the first song to get released off of Destroy All Presets. It’s a catchy little song about the fun shit we did as kids. I had finished recording it when I got an email from some friends about a new app they had made for making your own music videos on your iPhone. I downloaded the beta version and whipped that video together while walking through SF with my friends. During the last hook, you can see my friend Dean who had just finished an amazing Kickstarter photo project of his own.

What else are you doing lately?
The album comes out on Feb 2nd, with a big release party at the DNA Lounge on 2/20, featuring a bunch of great chip tune artists. I’ll also be doing a series of Nanoloop workshops throughout the city in the next few weeks. All that info will be on the KS page or on

Check out Doctor Popular's Destroy All Presets on Kickstarter

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