Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue was a landmark achievement in the history of recorded sound. It not only pioneered modern Jazz as we know it, but also refined the art of recording and completely changed the way musicians produced albums. Since its release in the summer of 1959, Kind of Blue has been consistently regarded as one of the most influential recordings of all time. In honor of the record’s 50th Anniversary, Andy Baio of Waxy.org assembled an all-star team of chiptune musicians to create Kind of Bloop, a complete re-imagining of the seminal Jazz classic, created using obsolete videogame hardware.
Go ahead and shout ‘blasphemy’ now, if you like. But take a moment to consider the amazing nature of this project and the manner in which it came about; a method which very well may be just as revolutionary as the artistry it pays tribute to.
I had the pleasure of chatting with both project organizer Andy Baio and chip musician Rich Vreeland about the ambitious plan to create the ultimate chiptune jazz tribute album. Hit the jump to discover the story behind Kind of Bloop and a new breed of fan-funded projects that are changing the way people make independent games and music forever.
The setting of the story is Kickstarter, a collaborative fundraising website brainstormed by internet entrepreneur Perry Chen. The site launched earlier this year, featuring a smattering of start-up projects. Just 4 short months later, it now hosts hundreds of prospective projects, allowing users to get funding in order to create albums, games, books, magazines, iPhone applications and pretty much any other form of media you can think of. When Andy Baio was paired up with Chen through a mutual acquaintance, he began to realize Kickstarter as the perfect platform to launch a project of his own. Shortly after, Andy was made CTO of the site.
TVGB: First off, where did the idea for Kind of Bloop come from initially, and what made you decide to raise money for it on Kickstarter?
Andy Baio: It started a couple years ago, a silly idea wondering what jazz standards would sound like in a chiptune style. I went searching for more information online, but amazingly, couldn’t find anything. After Kickstarter launched, I wanted to come up with a project to try it out and the idea came back to me. So I went digging deep, looking for chiptune jazz, and found a total of three covers. So I tracked down two of the musicians that did those covers, ast0r and sergeeo, and asked if they’d be interested in covering Kind of Blue. They both agreed immediately.
TVGB: What was the criteria for the artists who contributed?
Andy: I was looking for musicians that were both capable videogame musicians and jazz lovers, which was surprisingly hard. I approached Virt, whose music I’d admired for years. He came on board, and introduced me to Disasterpeace and Shnabubula, both extremely talented chiptune artists and Miles Davis fans. Once the lineup was rounded out, I started the project on Kickstarter.
TVGB: How did the fundraising go once everything was in place?
Andy: I was hoping to raise $2,000 in three months, to pay the artists and legally license the songs from the original publisher. I hit that goal in four hours.
With $2,000 raised in a mere fraction of a day, the artists involved were rightly enthusiastic about the project. One of the artists, Rich Vreeland, known also by his creative handle, Disasterpeace is a Staten Island-born musician who composes 8-bit style music for videogames and films. Rich joined us to discuss his experiences tackling the monumental task of making a Miles Davis tribute using only electronic instruments.
TVGB: Kind of Blue is considered a Jazz bible of sorts, and proponents of Jazz will usually contend that music like that can’t be replicated by machines. Do you feel that the albums music does justice to the source material? Or were you going for a looser interpretation where the new instrumentation doesn’t try to be something it isn’t?
Andy Baio: Many jazz purists will hate the album, arguing that it’s too rigid and mechanical. But that’s what drew me to the project in the first place: making art within constraints is a good thing, and what’s more constrained than making music for a 25-year-old videogame console?
Rich Vreeland: I think all five of us approached the source material in different ways, which will hopefully at the very least provide something for everyone. Kind of Blue is such a human piece of work that it’d be silly to try and transcribe the whole thing and think that it would work, so many of us decided to play to what makes Jazz so successful and incorporate original solos and reharmonizations. In trying to incorporate some of who we are into the pieces I think we also took some liberty with the form at times, and the style, but in the end I think those were necessary to keep things fresh.
Andy: If the guys had made faithful note-for-note translations of the original album, it would’ve been deadly boring and borderline offensive. But they’ve made music that is true to the fundamental tenets of jazz: highly improvisational, interpretive, emotional, and personal.
TVGB: What are your thoughts regarding the funding efforts on Kickstarter and how did that affect the finished product? Did you expect to get so much support?
Andy: I was stunned by the response and happy that I could pay the artists. Getting funded that quickly meant the artists had much more time to work on their projects, which was a very good thing. The additional time really shows on the album.
Rich: I think we were all surprised at how much support we’ve gotten and obviously, we’re very grateful. Knowing that so many people were looking forward to what we were doing was definitely some additional encouragement to make this project as good as it could be.
TVGB: What about the future? Do you think we’ll be seeing more chipmusic projects like this on the site?
Andy: I’d love to see more genre experimentation in the chiptune scene in general, whether on Kickstarter or not. Currently, Kickstarter is invite-only for new projects, but we’re opening to the public very soon.
Rich: I imagine that there will be more projects down the line similar to this, both in terms of concept and as far as using sites like Kickstarter which seems to have been a success. At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be a part of another Kickstarter project for an indie game that has just ended and we were able to reach our funding goal, so I can’t say enough good things about the site and its service.
Kind of Bloop is available for download now on the project’s official website. Backers of the project received an advance copy of the album earlier this week, among other goodies depending on how much they contributed. Thanks again to Rich and Andy for answering all our questions! For more fan-funded goodness, check out Steve Jenkins’ 12-bit adventure game, High Strangeness.