Tues Dec 30

Ground Kontrol

It's not a festival of minimal techno, exactly. MicroPALOOZA, a daylong 8-bit party at Ground Kontrol Retrocade, celebrates micromusic, or "chip": music created using similar instruments as the soundtracks in early video games. It's micro in sound--pixilated compositions using a single pool of tones--but macro in size, coming from big, clunky, unwieldy machines like Game Boys, Commodore 64s, Ataris, synths as big as a house. Micro may consist of funky, teeny analog dancefloor rhythms, yet it takes on the glowing keen of old video game soundtracks. In this music, the blurpy sonic ghosts of Dig Dug, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders lurk behind every melody.

Los Angelean Seth Sternberger is known as Nastyboy on micromusic.net, the internet community that acts as a hub for micro composers worldwide. He's been making micro for about four years under the moniker 8-Bit Weapon, and his current rig includes two Commodore computers--a 64 and a 128--and a cartridge of sounds, controlled by an old Pong paddle. Though some micro enthusiasts are too young to even remember Nintendo, much less Pong, Sternberger says, "One thing that draws people to micromusic is the nostalgia of the video games--taking these nostalgic sounds and making new music, with modern beats. The overall vibe is fun, so it's a really good community. You gotta have that fun, open, kid attitude."

On micromusic.net, you can listen to microradio, choosing from categories like "fucky, funky, sporty, worky, spooky, relaxy, lovely"--which either sound like the Gus Van Sant remake of the Spice Girls, or varying levels of Donkey Kong. According to Lodus (nee Adam Chronister), "I think what's really appealing about micromusic is that it's not super-inaccessable; you don't have to buy a thousand-dollar synth to be a part of it. You can get Nanoloop and buy a Gameboy for five, ten bucks."

Lodus recently released We are the Toybreakers (miniature records), a microalbum created with self-made instruments and bent circuits. "I grew up picking apart the toaster and trying to figure out how it works," he observes, "but I never applied it until I picked up THUMB zine #10. They had an interview with Octant and Solenoid and Amps for Christ; it really drew me back towards messing around with electronics. At the time I was working at a thrift store, so finding keyboards was no problem."

Micro's popularity has been on the upswing since the invention of SIDplay, a program that emulates the SID chip--the chip responsible for all those video game scores. In 2002, under the moniker Brotha P Touch, SF musician Lesser released C64 Massive SIDplay (Tigerbeat6), a SID music flagship release. Still, despite some coverage in Urb and The Wire, in America, the micromovement remains largely underground and internet-based. As Lodus describes it, "I guess you could say it's just a gigantic network of home musicians. A lot of the micro events and festivals are very small." As such, microPALOOZA is the first expansive microevent in the Northwest. At 1 pm, the Commodore enthusiasts will convene, a legion of 64s in tow; the music begins at 6 pm, and will include 8-bit Weapon, Lodus, MOS-8, gotoXY, and Waxin' Wary. If you bootleg it, use a DAT machine; anything newer could sully the vibe.