[Andy Baio, CTO and actual user of Kickstarter, a funding platform for artists, game developers and more, talks to Gamasutra -- which has previously interviewed Kickstarter's Perry Chen -- about the service and the retro game-styled chiptune album Baio commissioned through it.
is an independent journalist and programmer who launched the popular Yahoo!-acquired online events calendar Upcoming.org
in 2003. Currently working as the CTO of Kickstarter
, a funding platform for artists, designers and musicians, his most recent project is an 8-bit jazz album set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue."
"Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis
" is an exercise in imagination, asking what the pioneers of jazz music might have sounded like if their medium of choice had been 8-bit game consoles. The concept struck a chord when it was casually announced on twitter, and backers who wanted a copy covered the music album's projected costs via Kickstarter
within four hours.
The participating artists are chipmusic heavyweights Ast0r
(Chris J. Hampton), Disasterpeace
(Rich Vreeland), Sergeeo
(Sergio de Prado), Shnabubula
(Samuel Ascher-Weiss) and Virt
In this interview on the subject of the album, the project organizer described the strengths of the Kickstarter funding method -- which allows game developers and others to set up a donation-based project funding goal for indie game projects -- and the challenges of the bleep-styled album's core concept.
Was the idea for "Kind of Bloop" inspired by the 50th anniversary of the album?
On Kickstarter you can do projects up to three months, and it ended up just kind of being serendipity, lining up the release date with the 50th anniversary.
I’d had the idea years ago of covering the standards of bebop or cool jazz, doing “Take Five” as a chiptune, and periodically I would look to see if anybody had done chiptune jazz. Every time I would go look I would find nothing. I couldn’t believe it.
Then on one of these rounds of searching, I actually found a track. It was part of a Japanese chiptune competition called “Famicompo
.” It was John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps
” by this guy Sergio de Prado in Spain. I listened to it, and I thought, this shows a lot of potential. This is very cool.
Would you say that a personal appreciation for jazz music was an important factor in your deciding to organize this album project?
My relationship with jazz is very similar to my relationship with chiptunes. I'm an admirer and I love both genres, but I'm not an obsessive hardcore fan. That means my knowledge is limited to the popular works of both. Kind of Blue is known for being the jazz album that even those who aren’t into jazz like. It’s a perfect album.
What was the next step in progressing forward with this idea?
I started looking more and actually found two more examples. One was by Chris Hampton, who goes by ast0r online. He had done a bouncy tune in the rhythm of the intro to “Giant Steps
.” It was a totally different approach, and it was cool to find that one too.
I started digging through every Famicompo entry to see if anyone else had done it, and I found one more example. It was a version of John Coltrane’s cover of “My Favorite Things
.” There were these three, and as far as I know those were the only three jazz covers rooted in the 8-bit era to exist up until this point.
In working with Kickstarter, what factors helped make it possible for the idea of "Kind of Bloop" to become a reality?
So, I’d had this idea since awhile back, and I had found these three. I had been advising at Kickstarter and thinking, what project could I do? I’m a programmer and a journalist. I thought that I could do a journalism project, but I did not really have a lot of time. I thought that instead of raising money for something that I'm doing myself, maybe it could be used for commissioning a project.
Of the three jazz chiptunes in existence, I managed to find Chris Hampton and Sergio de Prado. After that I wanted to include my favorite chiptune artist Jake Kaufman. I'd listened to all of his compositions for at least five years, since around the time he came out with the Michael Jackson cover
. He was a friend of a friend, and I decided to ask him pretty much out of the blue if he would join the project. It turns out he is a jazz fan. He then suggested Disasterpeace would be a great fit.
How did you find Shnabubula?
Virt recommended him to me to fill the fifth slot, so I got in touch with him. Shnabubula is an extremely talented musician. He posts these videos
that are alternate reality versions of classic videogames. He will play something like the Mario water theme, only it’s not the Mario water theme. It’s reminiscent of it, but it’s different.
What process did you go through to decide upon the compensation for the participating artists?
I had set a $2000 goal and wanted to do it legitimately, which meant paying out royalties to the Miles Davis estate. I added it all up, figured out how much it would all cost, and said I could guarantee to pay them a certain amount if the project was successful. They all agreed and everyone came on board. We hit the $2000 goal within four hours, and now it’s up 330 backers and $6500. It’s extremely exciting.
Are all the compositions sticking close to the source material?
I gave them free creative rein. What it's looking like so far is that two of them are going to be faithful and three will be more interpretive riffs on the originals. What I did not want was for it o feel like “Here’s a MIDI version of Freddy Freeloader.” I wanted it to feel part of the medium.
Do you feel that the CD will not be ready in time for the August release date?
The mp3s are definitely going to come out that day. I'm going to do my best to try and get it in the mail by that date. If it’s not out by the 17th, it will be close.
In terms of the cover art, how did you find someone to lend a visual complement to the musical concept of "Kind of Bloop?"
I had tried to rework the cover myself in Photoshop, but pixel art is such a specific look. It’s not a Photoshop filter. You have to use a limited palette, with concern for every single pixel to make it look right. The constraints are tight and you have to have experience to make it look right.
I was on a private discussion forum with creative people and a bunch of them took a pass at it. It just did not look right. Then SnackAdmiral
, who had some experience with pixel art, just absolutely nailed it.
Do you foresee this pressed release being a collector's item?
I'm not sure if it was made clear, but because it is all cover songs and I'm trying to keep this legal, this is the only time that it is going to be on sale. As far as licensing goes, every digital download costs as much as sending out a CD, so I'm making a set number of CDs and a set number of digital downloads. Once the project has been completed, it is not going to be on sale ever again.
Improvisation is an important component of jazz, and one that is not strongly associated with early videogame music. Was this contrast something that you had discussed in approaching the project?
We talked about that quite a bit during development. We have an irc chatroom where occasionally we will pop in and talk about the project. They are planning on doing some solos on each other’s tracks. While that is not improvisation, it is the collaborative aspect. For improvisation, I believe Samuel is playing free on his keyboard and then using the sample set to massage the results and make them chiptunes.
My feeling is that people who are obsessive about jazz but don’t like chiptunes are not going to love the album. They may look at it as a bastardization. To me, I still feel it’s a very worthwhile exercise. I'm fascinated with working within difficult constraints, so I was not sure if it could even be done. These guys, if anyone can do it, it’s them.
[Images courtesy of Kickstarter. This article is available in Italian on Gamesource.it.]