Game Genie Sokolov gives us much-needed melodic levity with her latest release Trans//Mission. Combining guitar, drum machines, vocals and chiptune elements, this album takes us directly into her synth-soaked virtual world. Favourite tracks of mine include the deliciously dark “Contact” and the peppy synthpop of “Crystal Highway.” What’s not to love from this release that brings all of our escapist, video game inspired dreams to life? We had a chance to chat with Game Genie Sokolov to learn more about the album, its chiptune influences and a pandemic LP release.
First, thank you for introducing me to Chiptune! I had no clue one could make music like this with game consoles. Could you explain what your relationship with the genre is and how you found Chiptune?
Chiptune is a musical genre that makes music out of video game hardware exclusively. I grew up as a gaymer, playing SEGA consoles mainly, and a lot of game music was part of the soundtrack of my youth. It isn’t an easy genre, technologically; you need to be familiar with programming tools and be ready to experiment in sound design with limited hardware.
The chiptune genre has existed since the beginning of home computers and consoles. Data storage was limited and music couldn’t be stored the way it is today. The music needed to be generated by the chipsets included inside such hardware, hence the name “chip-tunes”. It does NOT mean video game music, since game soundtracks haven’t been generated in this way for nearly a quarter of a century now. It means using limited chipsets to generate music. See it as a synthesizer thats fits into a microchip: you need a lot of tools to make it work, but with creativity and an open-mind, you can make it rock.
I’m not a chiptune artist since I uses guitar, drum machines, vocals, etc. I am an electronic music artist that uses chiptune components in her sound. I decided one day to try to make a track that would use the YAMAHA FM synths located inside a SEGA Genesis. I put it up online for fun on SoundCloud and reached out to the chiptune community to see what they thought of it from a technical standpoint. They liked it, and asked me to make some more. So I did a whole EP of it. This is how it started.
How long have you been working on this release?
I’m not sure. Between September 2018 to December 2020? On and off, of course. I can spend months without making music and sometimes I’m a on roll and crank out 4 tracks in less than a month (from composition, to sound design, to final mixing). The track “Ladyboy” was finished long before the release of the previous album actually. I already had three tracks fully completed and the album barely came out. ^^
When you’re putting together a track where do you begin? And how do you build up your sound?
It always starts with a melody. That’s the core of all my tracks: melodies. Then comes the sound design part: making the melody sound like I want it and keeping the mood I experienced while making it.The rest of the arrangement and sound design is there to make it organically complementary to the melodies.
My sound is fairly minimalistic. I only use monophonic synths, and at most 6 mono channels of it. It forces me to limit the effects, tricks, and focus on what matters: the music.
Looking over the titles on the album I get the sense that there are two storylines that run throughout, one that examines gender identity and the other that brings the listener into the heart of a gaming system. Is this the case? Could you tell us in your own words what the theme of the album is?
Ooo you are very close to the truth ^^ It’s funny because you are the third person that tells me that. Maybe there was something, but it certainly wasn’t conscious. The album is predominantly instrumental. I didn’t think of a storyline while making it. The song titles are pretty much decided on the spot once I finish mixing them and they don’t necessarily mean anything. Besides, the running order was decided only to simulate two sides of a vinyl record, with good balance of material and running time between the two of them, so I couldn’t make a story if I wanted to.
The song titles and the album title do tell something about how I felt while making them, especially the vocal ones. The timeline of the album reflects a specific time in my life where changes were happening, and it’s certainly possible that the titles and the lyrics speaks about it way more than I thought. I like your interpretation, to be honest 🙂
I don’t think anyone could have prepared you for releasing this album during a global pandemic. As a performer this must be a challenging reality. Could you tell us what the experience has been like for you and how you plan to move forward while in self-isolation?
I’m a shy person that pretends to be an extrovert to fit socially, with terrible results, to say the least. The only moment where I can express myself in a way that I think suits me the best is through music (melodies, sound design, mixing). Staying at home and being withdrawn socially was tough at the beginning but now it helped me tremendously I think, especially creatively.
The album release was cancelled in the real world, but still happened online. We are all in this together, we have to keep going and try to reach people differently. It went well, I’m planning on organizing more concerts soon 🙂 It feels great.
What can we expect from you next?
Hmm…I don’t know. More collabs, that’s for sure. More lyrics. And finishing the story that started with this album ( 😉 wink wink)