When Niamh Houston was about four, she and her sister received Game Boy and a copy of Super Mario Land for Christmas. In addition to the game and the handheld, they also had a tiny speaker plugged into the Game Boy's headphone jack, which amplified the sound. For Houston, his first memories are not collecting coins in the game nor exploring the Kingdom of Fungi. "I remember most of the music," she says. "It was really raw and beautiful, and different from anything you hear."
This little speaker would have a big impact on her. Today, Houston is better known by its stage name Chipzel; She is one of the most iconic performers of the chiptune scene, where musicians create new songs with the help of old video game materials. Today, she travels the world to play with a pair of Game Boys on stage and is heavily involved in composing soundtracks for independent games. "I thought it was super cool and really punk, and really futuristic, weird and nerdy," she says about the discovery of the chiptune scene. "I liked everything about aesthetics."
The fact that Houston had a career in music was not a surprise. She grew up in a musical home in Ireland and taught the basics of piano and guitar. She also tried the violin, but abandoned it fairly quickly. ("The violin is a great instrument if you know how to use it," she says, "but if you learn that it's painful for you and for everyone around you.") C & # 39; was prohibitive.
Around the same time, she fell on the musician Sabrepulse while listening to Last.fm and then discovered the chiptune scene. It was the perfect storm, a way to embark on the creation of electronic music that seemed logical to him. "The Chiptunes were really accessible and I loved the sound," says Houston. "It was pretty easy to start at the time, and that meant I could compose complete songs myself, without having to think of joining a band."
As a teenager, Houston discovered the LSDJ software. basically to the sequencer that you could put on a cartridge to plug into an original Game Boy. She published songs and after a few years she found herself giving performances across Europe and the United States. In 2011, for example, she played at the Blip Festival in New York alongside Anamanaguchi. While she was still in college, Houston received a startling request: game designer Terry Cavanagh wanted to license one of his songs for his very hard browser game. hexagon. It has turned into a small success and has been extended to the mobile version Super Hexagon in 2012, Houston again provided the music. "Everything became a little crazy from there," she says of her career.
Since then, she has released a handful of solo albums and composed soundtracks for many other games. Current projects include the future thug Dicey Dungeons, a collaboration with Cavanagh and artist Marlowe Dobbe, as well as the arcade shooter Ultra Bugs from the Dutch studio Vlambeer. Houston says that while she enjoys both, creating chiptune songs and composing tapes for games is a very different experience.
"When you compose for yourself, it's as if you manifest everything that came out, and if it's an idea that I feel, I'm going to run with it and it will progress as it sees fit." she explains. "There are no restrictions or guidelines, but every time you compose for interactive media or a certain story, you have to try to become that story, to write for it. find, then try to create something unique from that. "
At the beginning of her career, Houston is exiled from her loyal Game Boy. She studied music production at school for two years, learning the essential components of music composition and sound design, while discovering new software tools. Previously, her only experience with electronic music was with Nintendo's handheld and she wanted to prove that she could also produce other types of sounds. "When I came back to reality," she said about her return to chiptunes, "I had everything I had learned from real music and how to structure, arrange and design the sounds in a more interesting way. "
Houston says his process and tools have not changed much since his debut, although he's been a chiptune veteran for a decade. She still uses the Game Boys classics and LSDJ software, although she admits to having "bought more Game Boys" over the years. What started as a spark of inspiration in childhood became a hobby before turning into a full-fledged career. Today, Houston is regularly asked to compose soundtracks for games, and she has had to learn to refuse projects so as not to be overwhelmed. But she is also looking to explore her only job in the near future.
"I have not written things for myself for a long time," she says, "and I want to go back to that."