Saturday, February 4, 2012

Composer Spotlight on DDRKirby(ISQ)

To call Timothy Wong aka DDRKirby(ISQ) a star in the compo community would be an understatement. His reputation for creating vast, dense musical tracks in 60 minutes precedes him. Fellow compo participants lament even being played after him in listening parties, as the euphoria of hearing his entry often extends past the end of his song and onto the next. It comes as no surprise that one of his tracks was played during a ThaSauce panel at MAGFest X, as any tune of his is a shining example of what could be accomplished during a One Hour Compo (OHC). His latest “Monthlies” compilation can be found at his Bandcamp page. I asked him a few questions regarding his musical output, his influences and what he has in store for the future.

Timothy spoke of his early exposure to music and how it impacted his current work. “As I was growing up I was being classically trained in piano, but most of the music I listened to was chiptunes from video games. From there I later branched out into Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) songs and OverClocked ReMix.” He noted that he considers the DDR games and OC ReMix to be within the realm of video game music, and that he began listening to trance and other “non VG stuff” afterward. Timothy explained how all of this influenced his output: “When I first started producing I actually wasn't doing chiptuney stuff at all... It was more ‘old school OCR’ techno-like, and I was trying my hand at making trance stuff as well. Somewhere along the line, chiptune sounds started creeping into my songs, and nowadays they're there full-force.”

One question that occasionally pops up during compo deals with Timothy’s unusual artist name. He explained the origin of DDRKirby(ISQ): “DDR and Kirby were two things I liked a lot at the time so they just came together. Later I decided it wasn't guaranteed to be unique so I added ISQ, which stands for Io Squad. It’s a crossover universe of sorts that my brother created and that only really exists between us. You can just think of it as an arbitrary clan tag or something. It's solely for uniqueness.” Sometimes he uploads a second entry for a compo round as “DDRKirby(ISO)”, which serves as a similar looking duplicate name.

He recalled when he first began participating in composition competitions: “I knew that compos existed but never got around to actually trying them until eventually I just decided it might be neat to try, and good practice. Since then, I've found that they're a blast, and have improved my production skills to an amazing degree. Somehow the one hour time limit of OHC is perfect, and manages to spur me on to create great things. I also like how it really streamlines your process and manages to really get you into the flow of things.” Beyond OHC, he has also joined remixing compos. “I participated in a few rounds of FLMC (Fruity Loops Music Competition), where you're only allowed to use the default samples and plugins that come bundled with FL Studio. I managed to win twice, with Mega Man 3 and Link to the Past remixes that really show you the power of 3xOsc, among other things.”

Listeners often marvel at the intricate nature of Timothy’s work, especially considering the limited timeframe imposed by compos like OHC. He elaborated that, “In terms of arrangement style, not instrumentation, I'd say that I tend to work a lot with layering. Perhaps due to FL Studio I tend to have a pattern and loop based workflow. So there's actually a lot of repetition in my arrangement; even in my melody lines, it'll usually be something like two measures of something, then the same two measures with some differences. I'm not one to focus on primary foreground melodic elements – rather, I consider textures, soundscapes, and complex layering to be more important to me. This also tends to help me do well in OHC because I get to reuse a lot of elements, whereas I know there are other people who spend a lot more time because they don't use as much repetition.”

Timothy went into further detail about his common workflow methods: “Starting a song off is always the hardest part, but once I have the beginnings of a neat song, things tend to flow really well. I hardly ever start by composing a chorus first; I always just go from beginning to end. I try to basically have more-or-less final arrangement and instrumentation before moving on to the next section. Really, most of my practice nowadays is in the OHC setting, so my workflow has become pretty heavily streamlined to that sort of style.” As far as his choice of weaponry, he stated that, “My most used instrument has got to be the 3xOsc, which I love to death.” He recommended the VST for its versatility in the manipulation of its oscillator shapes. “It can do everything, from massive supersaw basses, to sub-basses, and triangle whistle sounds.”

He mentioned his signature ‘KirbySquare’ made using 3xOsc, one that has inspired other entrants to emulate this sound during compos. Timothy described KirbySquare himself as “a square wave plus a triangle wave one octave lower, and was originally inspired by RocketSniper in FLMC.” His approach to chip sounds has changed as he progressed in music production. “Recently I've been using custom pulse and triangle waveforms ripped directly from Famitracker and LSDJ, which has been working super well. Before I had those waveforms, I used to use a combination of TS404 for great pulse leads, magical8bitplug for pulse pads, and tb_triforce for triangle wave stuff.” Aside from 8-bit, he incorporates elements from a wide variety of sources. “I have Alchemy’s Planet Earth sound bank that I use a lot for pads and soundscapes, and I also use Ugo’s Motion for evolving sounds. For drums I have this one MPC library that zircon recommended, but more often than that I'll just slice up drum loops, of which I have two different collections.” 

Timothy recently put up his body of work on Bandcamp, which was a lengthy process. He noted that he re-rendered a lot of his work in WAV format to meet the site’s upload requirements. “There were a bunch of issues with stuff that didn't render right or didn't render the same as the original track, so I had to fix all of that. And then some of the songs were just so old (back to the days of FL 3.56) that they basically didn't work now, so I just caved and generated the WAVs from the mp3s directly.” Due to Timothy’s large back catalog, the work was split into "Monthlies" album releases, each with its own cover art. “For a while I was just working on all of these 16x16 pixel art graphics to put for each month. I ended up having to make over 50 of them.” Aside from the monthlies, he intends to release a new original album on Bandcamp.

A DDRKirby(ISQ) track was played as part of a ThaSauce panel at MAGFest X. When he had heard about this, he said, “I thought that was just really cool and awesome. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I do admit I'm well-aware that I've developed quite the reputation amongst the OHC community, and really appreciate the fact that people recognize my music.” People have also shown interest in seeing Timothy possibly perform at Jamspace. He clarified that, “My music just isn't very performance based. Keep in mind that I just sequence everything by mouse, so the limit of my ‘live’ ability would pretty much be me hitting the play button for something I've already composed.” He joked that, “If you want me to go all the way out to MAGFest just to hit a play button, something tells me that's not very efficient!” Timothy however hastened to add: “I can play other stuff live, like piano, flute, and maybe I could mess around with my LoopMuse program, but that's not really anything like the chiptune music that you guys know me for, so that kind of defeats the purpose.”

Timothy has several plans for his work, and for branching out. “I feel like I'm still relatively unknown in the larger VGMesque community, but perhaps that might change in the foreseeable future.” Regarding upcoming releases, he revealed that, “I've got a handful of unfinished WIPs, including one that's being made using two instances of LSDJ. I'm also trying to make a compilation of music for social dancing, since I'm big on social dance.” He submitted a Touhou Project arrangement to ReMix: ThaSauce and OC ReMix, marking the first time he has submitted to OCR in seven years. Besides music, he has delved into game development, CG art, and "insane crazy Japanese Tetris" among other things. His various interests can be viewed via his “Site o’ Stuff” containing an impressively tall navigation bar. Perhaps fittingly, considering all the dance floors his songs could rock, glowsticking is one of his pastimes.

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