Much of South America seems to have the same infatuation with Nintendo that their North American counterparts have (In fact, the spread of Nintendo and video games in general through South America is something I would like to know more about. If anyone cares to enlighten me, well, my email is on the right.) This proliferation of video games has lead to several great bands rising from the continent. The Brazilian band 8 Bit Instrumental is the first of these bands that I had the pleasure of hearing, and I am glad to say that they have been creating some very diverse content over the last several years.
The vibrant live sounds of 8 Bit Instrumental first reached my ears with the debut of the groups fourth release, Beat the 8 Super Robots with 8 Bit Instrumental, a collection of songs from the illustrious Mega Man II released back in 2008. Within forty-five minutes they turned Mega Man into disco, funk, dance, and more. The live instruments and strong recordings made this album an instant favorite of mine. I credit this collection of arrangements, especially the closing track, Vacation in Miranda's Beach? (Ending Theme), with introducing me to both 8 Bit Instrumental, as well as the standard of VGM that is Mega Man II. That album got plenty of plays, but when their next release hit the internet at the tail end of '08, I was quickly smitten with the direction they took this time around.
The group went in a more stripped down, and serene style for much of their follow up album, The Number of the Bit. That brings us to this article's track, an acoustic, rhythmic rendition of Frog's theme from Chrono Trigger. I could imagine watching a band performing this arrangement while I bet on a race or chug beers (I mean sodas) at the Millenial Fair itself. That same upbeat style is felt on several more Chrono Trigger pieces, as well as in tributes to Zelda, Bomberman, and to greatest effect in several rearrangements of music from Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka's Super Metroid soundtrack. (As an aside, I believe very few renditions of music by Hip Tanaka are done justice. Just remember, I consider Metroid Metal to have set the gold standard. If only there were a world where Grant Henry created Mother Metal, just to hear him recreate more Hip Tanaka songs. Sigh...) Though this album carries a more cohesive sound, a variety of styles that 8 Bit Instrumental has control over is still on display. Several tracks travel a great musical distance, as genres blend into arrangements of Alex Kidd and a powerful rendition of the title theme to the aforementioned game Chrono Trigger.
Yasunori Mitsuda found himself in the hospital during his time composing for Chrono Trigger. After toiling away as a sound engineer and programmer, Square handed composing duties of a brand new series to Mitsuda. Like that, Yasunori was composing his first game alongside such names as Yuji Horii and Akira Toriyama of Dragon Quest fame. With artists as well known as these (at least in Japan), it could rattle the nerves of even a seasoned musician. Mitsuda poured himself into his work regardless, and proved to have a highly perfectionist nature as he worked intensely throughout the games creation. By the time Chrono Trigger neared the final leg of production, Mitsuda found himself diagnosed with stomach ulcers and confined to a hospital bed. This led to renowned Square composer Nobuo Uematsu stepping in to finish a remaining ten compositions to round out Chrono Trigger's epic soundtrack. A soundtrack that would end up spanning three discs in its initial CD release.
I don't expect every musician to put themselves in the hospital when they make a new album, but I would imagine it takes a similarly focused artist to ably rearrange the themes of the Super Nintendo classic Chrono Trigger. 8 Bit Instrumental is such a group of artists. A clear, thoughtful musicianship can be heard throughout this and their other albums. I'm also glad to say, that when I was researching The Number of the Bit, it would seem the album has gotten some cover art that may not have been there when the album was released. I mention this, because it is some nice album art that fits the music quite well I think.
Their longtime site seems to be down as of this writing, creating another broken link throughout the archives. Lucky for you, 8 Bit Instrumental have a new bandcamp page. You can plunder four of their full length albums for free there. Sadly, it seems like a few of the lesser known albums and EPs are not to be seen. The largest travesty of the groups site being down is the loss of a handful of straightforward rock renditions of classic Pokemon Red/Blue music for an upcoming (at the time) fan remake of the classic games. As an aside, 8 Bit Instrumental also has a side project known as Chiptots, a band surprisingly different from the one performing the vibrant sounds of Yasunori Mitsuda's classic debut, but I'll have to save their chiptune inspired sounds for a future article.
References. 1. Chris Kohler, Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life (Brady Games, 2004) p. 146-150 2. 8 Bit Instrumental artist page at VGMdb. vgmdb.net/artist/2689 Last accessed 7 October 2011. 3. 8 Bit Instrumental artist page at bandcamp. 8bitinstrumental.bandcamp.com Last accessed 7 October 2011.