How to Make Music with a Game Boy and Get Big in Japan

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Way back in April 1989, when Madonna topped the charts with Like a Prayer, video game fans were going crazy for Nintendo’s latest release – a pocket-sized device you could play anywhere.

Over 25 years later and the Game Boy remains one of the most iconic handheld consoles ever, selling nearly 120 million units worldwide.

While you might struggle to see anyone playing their Game Boy on the bus or tram these days, it’s enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in certain circles…

 

Josh’s musical Game Boy

“I compose music primarily on an original Nintendo Game Boy,” says Josh Le Good, a Motion Designer at Jumbla and the brains behind Calavera, a personal side-project that creates ‘chiptune’ music.  

Chiptune is a genre of music made with, or emulating the sounds of, old video game machines.

“It’s a worldwide scene of people that love to be challenged and stretch the limitations of objects that were never intended to be hacked and turned into instruments,” reveals Josh, who started this musical quest as a child with an Amiga 500 home computer.

“I loved the sounds that came out of it, and would sometimes sit, not playing the games on it, but listening to the music.”

 

The story of Calavera

“I heard about the genre online and saw that there was a workshop happening at ACMI where they’d teach you how to make music on a Game Boy,” says Josh.

“So I nervously turned up, sat down, and began to listen to some people up the front who changed my life (and would later go on to become my good friends).”

Calavera was born soon afterwards and Josh now boasts an impressive set-up, which includes a Game Boy with better bass output and a coloured backlit screen.

“My Game Boy runs some home-brew music creation software called ‘LSDJ’. I also have a Kaoss Pad Quad for live audio effects and an OP-1 synthesizer for adding some extra flair.”

 

Calavera’s international success

Since starting Calavera in 2012, Josh has enjoyed international success, especially in Japan.

As he explains: “Calavera’s best show was a couple of years ago in Japan. A small side show of a larger event, but a room absolutely packed to the rafters with energetic, passionate people chanting “CALAVERA, CALAVERA!”

“This year I’m going back there to the same event, but this time I’m playing the main stage. It’s huge, has humongous speakers, and a crowd ready to party the second the show starts.”

And Calavera’s worst show?

“It was a child-friendly ‘family fun day’ out in the middle of nowhere, on a windy outdoor miniature railway park,” recalls Josh.

“The children were scared, the parents were mortified, and after a couple of tracks, I got asked by the coordinator if I had anything that sounded ‘a little more like… The Wiggles?’ I packed up and left…”

 

Mixing music with motion graphics

Are there any similarities between music and motion graphics? Absolutely.

“They both take huge amounts of creative energy, require years of practice and demand your patience,” Josh says. “You can tell stories with both mediums. You can make people feel things; give them hope, or courage.

“I love doing both. Animation is a great profession and music is a fantastic hobby. I’d never switch them.”

Does that mean a Jumbla-animated Calavera music video will be released in the near future?

“Well Jumbla does do a couple of charity jobs each year. Maybe the next one can be for a starving chiptune musician.”

Calavera plays the Square Sounds Festival in Tokyo on Saturday 16th September. To hear Josh’s Game Boy-powered creations and to see him live in action, visit Calavera’s website.

Image © Christopher John Frape

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