Mirby: What started your interest in video game music?
djpretzel: Well, I was already interested in both video games AND music, so it wasnâ€™t an epiphany or revelation, just a natural extension of combining two different loves into a single interest. I remember playing â€œSmurfsâ€ on Colecovision or â€œSpy Hunterâ€ on C64 and getting those themes stuck in my head, humming them for the rest of the day. Part of it may simply have been how BAD I was at certain games, and how many times I thus had to hear the same music over and over. When I got a Sega Master System, that was the first game console that was MINE instead of the familyâ€™s (I have two older sisters), and that was really the system where themes like OutRun and Space Harrier and Shinobi got me hooked on VGM.
M: Classic tunes.
djp: Absolutely – they were all actually arcade themes, just conversions, except for Alex Kidd and Phantasy Star.
M: What started your interest in remixing?
djp: Now, as a far as remixing/arranging goes, I come from a musical family. Interestingly enough, neither of my parents are particularly musical or play instruments, but my sisters and I were all in high school band, marching band, etc., and we listened to a lot of different music on family trips.
M: I know another David like thatâ€¦
djp: My sister Emily got a Yamaha PSR home keyboard – I forget the model, but it was actually really cool because it was one of the few that actually let you program your own sounds in a limited version of FM synthesis. She never used that feature, but later on I got into it. She wrote some original stuff, mostly cheesy synth pop since that was all the rage at the time, and I tried to as well. I got more and more into synthesis and electronic music because of this FM programming feature on this PSR – I was fascinated, crappy as it was, that I could actually design my own sounds. Back then eBay didnâ€™t even exist, I think, but I started looking in the classifieds for people selling used music gear, synths in particular. I bought a Casio CZ-101 from some dude in Maryland – my parents had to drive me to pick it up – and that made sound design a lot more fun since there were more options.
djp: It didnâ€™t have a sequencer, and I didnâ€™t have a computer, so I needed a way to actually record compositions as MIDI (all my original stuff at this point in time). So I checked the classifieds again and found someone selling an Alesis MMT-8. This is a hardware sequencer – a type of device that doesnâ€™t even really exist anymore, completely replaced by computers or onboard sequencers. It does nothing other than record MIDI, and play it back.
M: I figured as much.
djp: As I later learned, it also had the bad habit of erasing ALL of its storage if the power spiked.
M: Thatâ€™s not goodâ€¦ heheâ€¦
djp: Anyways, I mention this because the dude I bought the MMT-8 from, we sat down and talked a bit, and he mentioned he was moving and thatâ€™s why he was selling it. Then he asked me if Iâ€™d be interested in taking his collection of Keyboard magazine off his hands – for free.
M: I smell something a little shady about thisâ€¦
djp: I played it off casually and said sure, why not, but I was actually really psyched, and for the next couple years I read through all those issues – he had stuff from 1986 through 1993, including old interviews w/ Jan Hammer and Keith Emerson and all sorts of gear reviews. Nah it was completely legit, the guy changed my life by giving me those old magazines, because it got me addicted to synths and music technology in general.
M: Well, I suppose it might be thanks to him we have OCR now, right? Or at least a little bitâ€¦
djp: I read those things front to cover, which really gave me an appreciation of where music tech started, and how far it had come. Of course, itâ€™s come twice as far in the time since then, but having that history & appreciation means you donâ€™t take things for granted.
M: Of course not.
djp: Software like Kontakt 4 or Cubase 5 would have been $4000 easily, if you could even come close to matching those features, way back then.
M: Which is a whole lot more these daysâ€¦
djp: So yeah, I think this guy who gave me hundreds of issues of Keyboard magazine for free, he played some role in the eventual creation of OCR.
M: Somewhere in your subconscious he lurkedâ€¦
djp: Anyhow, eventually I got a Roland U20, which let me do compositions that started sounding more like actual music, and also an Alesis Datadisk – this device, also now obsolete, was designed specifically to recording incoming MIDI to floppy disks, and then also playing it back. This is all before I had done a single game remix, but I was certainly playing games at the timeâ€¦ this was still the 16-bit era, so I would have been playing Revenge of Shinobi and Phantasy II & III, most likely.
M: Good era.
djp: Anyhow, when each of my sisters turned 16, they got cars. Not superfly fancy cars, but a set of wheels nonetheless, which to a teenager is supposedly the ultimate freedom. Iâ€™m not knocking cars by a longshot, but when my turn came around, I decided to delay getting a car so I could get a sampler/workstation instead. Thatâ€™s when I got my Ensoniq ASR-10.
M: Sounds fancy.
djp: Thing had programmable effects, loaded the OS off floppy, and an LED readout that looked like a Speak & Spell, but man did I love it. And it was really a pretty decent bit of kit – Iâ€™d done my research well. I upgraded it to a *whopping* 16MB of memory and attached a 2X SCSI CD-ROM drive and I was on my way!
M: If you donâ€™t mind me asking, did you do early remixes on that thing?
djp: Around the same time I was also getting really involved in the emulation scene – retrogames.com, mame.net, that whole community was a lot more cohesive back then. Nowadays thereâ€™s not as much of a scene, since the nostalgia factor has sorta given way to outright piracy masquerading as homebrew, and other issues. Iâ€™m getting there.
M: My bad.
djp: Anyways I was a news poster at retrogames.com and was doing my own little emulation-themed comic strip called â€œOverClockedâ€, which poked fun at the emulation scene. Believe it or not, there was a lot to poke fun at, although it was also just an excuse for me to get better at Photoshop and 3D Studio MAX (I canâ€™t draw – comic strip was all 3D).
M: Donâ€™t feel bad; I canâ€™t really draw either.
djp: Around that time retrogames.com was covering news about the occassional Commodore 64 remix, and indeed there was at that time something of a scene for those doing primarily electronica arrangements of C64 music. I loved that idea, but I wanted it to be all games, from all systems, in all styles of music.
M: A noble plan.
djp: So I sat down and started doing VGM arrangements on my ASR-10, in my parents basement. I did Phantasy Star III and Shinobi, in two different styles, and decided to start a side project to my comic strip, and call it â€œOverClocked ReMixâ€ where I would post my own game mixes as well as othersâ€™.
M: Including aÂ really strange Bubble Bobble one.
M: And from there, the site grew and expanded into what we know today, right?
djp: Thatâ€™s the long version of that story, but essentially a series of events combined to get me interested in electronic music and emulation/retrogaming, and those two interests coalesced when I started this side project. Which, yeah, eventually grew much bigger and became my primary focus.
M: And itâ€™s a great community, if I do say so myself.
M: Hey, itâ€™s the truth. After all, OCR gave birth toÂ VGMix, and from there,Â Dwelling of Duelsâ€¦ Or something like that, right?
djp: Hmm, I have no idea how DoD came to be, but OCR certainly predates both of them.
M: Well I figured since DoD is hosted on VGMixâ€¦ And I thought I read that VGMix was born out of some discontent members from OCRâ€¦
djp: It wasnâ€™t always hosted there, AFAIK, but like I said, OCR was certainly first.
M: I know this. 2000, and itâ€™s been a great 10 years sinceâ€¦
djp: There are a couple versions of that story, but thatâ€™s certainly one way to put it. Itâ€™s been a busy 10 years, thatâ€™s for sure, and weâ€™ve been online & growing for all ten of them.
M: 2000+ remixes, 17 albums, hundreds of membersâ€¦ And an inspiration to many, myself included.
djp: Glad to hear it.
M: Are there any tracks youâ€™ve done that youâ€™re more proud of or like more than the others?
djp: Sure, I think Sonic â€˜Love Hurtsâ€™ is a mix thatâ€™s stood the test of time, and Zelda 64 â€˜Pachelbelâ€™s Ganonâ€™ as wellâ€¦ those were both made on my Yamaha Motif, which is what I replaced the ASR-10 with.
M: Are there any remixers that youâ€™d like to collaborate with in the future?
djp: I definitely wanna do something w/ Sixto, and Iâ€™ve already got an arrangement in mind that would be perfect for katethegreat19 to sing on.
M: Well Iâ€™ll let him know, since Iâ€™m his unofficial secretary nowâ€¦
djp: Heh, he already knows – shooting for a style similar to 80s rock bandÂ The Cars.
M: Sadly enough, I know who they are, and I canâ€™t wait.
djp: Hey, great band. Actually Trent Reznor mentioned in a Keyboard interview a long time ago that they were an influence for him, the way they blended synths & guitars.
M: Hey, those free magazines just came in handy!
M: Anywhoâ€¦. Any tracks youâ€™d like to remix in the future?
djp: Yeah, Iâ€™ve got several WIPs at various stages.
M: I assume you have a backlog of other tracks too?
djp: First out of the gate is probably gonna be a ReMix from the PSP game Crush. Really awesome puzzler.
djp: Besides the stuff I already have WIPs for, I also have some project obligations forÂ Dragon Warrior,Â Mega Man X, andÂ FF9, so Iâ€™m keeping busy.
M: Youâ€™re always busy.
djp: Very true.
M: Do you have a favorite track from a game?
djp: Not reallyâ€¦ I mean, I get asked that a lot, and music is really apples and oranges, I find it hard to rank overall soundtracks, much less individual songs.
M: In that case, are there any particular tracks that stand out in your mind moreso than others?
djp: â€œSmall Two of Piecesâ€ from Xenogears is what I sometimes say, just so Iâ€™m not copping out.
M: I donâ€™t qualify that as copping out; I qualify that as not having a favorite because you may or may not like it all equally, or are smart enought to not play favorites. Do you have a favorite video-game composer?
djp: I donâ€™t think in terms of games as much as I do individual songsâ€¦ if trying to come up with my favorite game composer, Iâ€™d go by the number of songs I absolutely love and that I think work perfectly in the context as well. At the moment, using those criteria, Iâ€™d probably say Koji Kondo, but it could be [Nobuo] Uematsu, [Yasunori] Mitsuda, or [Yuzo] Koshiro depending on the mood Iâ€™m in.
M: That actually describes how I feel at times regarding thisâ€¦ Final question. What do you enjoy most about remixing?
djp: Iâ€™m very melody-centric, so I choose my source material and my overall approach with a focus on that. I think the best part of ReMixing is finding that one note, or passage, when if you change an interval or add a counter-harmony or modify the rhythm, it just makes sense and feels natural. Sometimes, when arranging music, you can end up fighting against a source or struggling with it to take it where you go, which is not the worst thing in the world, but itâ€™s much more enjoyable when things click and fall into place and you can get the ideas in your head turned into music that mirrors them.
M: I have the ideas; I just can never transfer them properlyâ€¦
djp: Yeah I think that happens to even the best arrangers/composersâ€¦ Until we get neural brain hookups that can seamlessly translate thought into sound, weâ€™re stuck with making music the hard way. But the hard way is often pretty fun, as it turns out.
M: I know; Iâ€™ve made one track myself. It sucks, but the fact I actually went through and made itâ€¦ That is enough to keep me satisfied
djp: Groovy. Got what you needed? I gotta run.
M: Yeah. Thanks for your time!
djp: No problem.