DDRKirby(ISQ) – The Ecstasy of Life [Interview]

Long time chiptune artist, DDRKirby(ISQ) gives us his first full album: The Ecstasy of Life. This massive 21-track album is packed with delightful chiptune dance hits and lush, introspective  and features remixes by Flexstyle, WillRock, johnfn, dekune, and EL.

DDRKirby(ISQ) is known mostly for his One Hour Compo contributions, but for the first time has created a full album. The Ecstasy of Life features a myriad of styles and sounds. The hard-hitting and exciting dance tunes are loaded with rocking percussion, energizing chiptune leads, and pumping basslines. On the other hand, the slower tunes feature warm and spacey pads, beautiful and organic melodies, and tender harmonies.

I was able to interview DDRKirby(ISQ) about himself and the album.

JR: Where do you get your name from and what is the (ISQ) component of it?

DDRKirby(ISQ): Ah yes, this ever-present question.  My online alias is pretty straightforward actually — as I was growing up I was a huge Kirby fan after being exposed to Kirby’s Dream Land 2 and Kirby’s Adventure, and I was also getting into Dance Dance Revolution at the time, so I put the two together and had “DDRKirby” as a name for quite some time.  Later on I realized that I probably needed something else to ensure that my handle was unique, so I added on “ISQ”.  Technically, it stands for “Io Squad”, a silly old crossover fanfic universe that I used to daydream about, but really it’s just a random added tag for uniqueness, which is why it’s in parentheses.  It’s a bit silly and if I could go back I’d definitely try to go and think up a better alias for myself (it’s hard!), but for now I’m just DDRKirby(ISQ).

JR: How would you define your “9-bit” sound?

D: “9-bit” is a term that I believe was first popularized by halc, referring to chiptunes that utilize modern, non-chiptune elements instead of strictly adhering to the limits of video game sound chips, but within 9-bit there’s still quite a bit of diversity.  My own flavor of 9-bit tends to incorporate modern drum sounds along with a lot of echo and reverb effects to form a much more lush soundscape than you would find in traditional chiptune music.  At the same time, a lot of my instruments and sound effects are rooted in simple waveforms like pulse waves and triangle waves, so the chiptune flavor still carries through.

JR: For someone who does not know, what does your usual compositional output?

D: My mixing skills were forged in the fires of One Hour Compo, a weekly timed competition where mixers are given one hour (!) to create a song matching an assigned theme.  Over the 5 years that I spent actively participating in OHC, I got more and more practiced at putting together tracks very quickly, to the point where I was creating full (3-6 minute) tracks every week, in just an hour!  Until recently I would release these OHC entries as part of my “Monthlies” collection on Bandcamp, so I was churning out an album with 4-5 full songs every month!
Since the beginning of 2015 I decided to focus my production efforts a little more on polished tracks (rather than whatever I could get down in an hour), so I’ve stopped releasing the “Monthlies” albums and instead try to use One Hour Compo time for whatever musical projects I happened to be working on (such as my The Ecstasy of Life album).

JR: What has the process for putting together your first original album been like and how was handling such a huge number of tracks?

D: Although this may disappoint some people, The Ecstasy of Life is actually more of a hodgepodge of my different works than a coherent experience.  *nervous laugh*  The earliest finished track, Ignition, was actually written *five years ago* — it was originally an attempt at creating a menu theme for a game I was working on at the time, but ended up being too energetic and with the wrong feel, so I just saved it, knowing that I’d probably release it on my first “real” album.  Of course, I didn’t know that I’d go on to release a multitude of game OSTs (mostly for my own games) as well as a ton of free “Monthlies” releases (mostly One Hour Compo entries) before finally getting to my first original artist album! =P

Although it may seem like it has a lot of tracks (indeed, it just *barely* fits on a single CD), The Ecstasy of Life actually contains less songs than some of my other albums, such as the the All in a Day’s Work series (24 tracks each).  The tracks were pulled from a variety of different places…in addition to Ignition, I’ve also included some songs that were originally written in an hour each for OHC, Midnight Marauder, which I made for 9-bit Nightmare, and Let’s Have an Adventure, which I wrote as a sort of musical “Hello!” to Aivi & Surasshu.  It’s sort of all over the place. 

JR: There seems to be a noticeable dichotomy between the tracks on this album between high-energy dance tracks and slower, more intimate and emotional tracks. Would you like to comment on your experience composing the two different types?

D: That’s an interesting question; one that I’ve never thought about myself, actually.  To be honest, I think I take about the same compositional approach towards either (though tracks with faster tempos tend to require more work, since more complexity is generally happening within any given time interval).  When it comes to music, I’ve found that I definitely tend to work best when I’m not really thinking about it too much — following my instinct and intuition, so to speak.  I often like to think of it as me helping the song naturally write itself, and that’s true for both the more dancey tracks as well as the contemplative ones.

JR: What are your influences as far as melody, harmony, and form in your work?

D: In terms of process, my workflow tends to be as straightforward and quick as possible, both because I’m used to time pressure from One Hour Compo and because of the aforementioned feeling about having the song “flow naturally” — I’m always afraid that if I stop writing a song midway, or if I take too long worrying about small details, that the natural creative flow of the song will sort of peter out and it won’t really go anywhere (I have my fair share of failed WIPs that never made it for that exact reason), so I really prefer to finish the full draft of a song in one sitting if possible, usually taking 3-4 hours.

In terms of melody and arrangement techniques, it’s hard to pinpoint too many specific influences, but the NES Mega Man OSTs were a big part of my childhood growing up, so I’m sure I’ve taken cues from those, including my use of vibrato and echo effects on most of my leads.  There are also some structures I’ve taken from trance music and EDM in general, some random techniques I picked up along the way from various artists such as flashygoodness and A-zu-ra.  One of my more significant influences is the chiphouse style of shemusic (Lain Trzaska), which was a direct influence for Infinity (and to a lesser extent, Convergence).

JR: How did the remixes by other artists come to be on the album?

D: This is my first time requisitioning remixes by guest artists, so I really didn’t know what to expect, but I reached out to some friends and artists whom I knew — mostly from the larger VGM/VGM remix community as well as the One Hour Compo scene — and was pretty excited when they said that they were on board.  There were some other artists who unfortunately couldn’t find enough time in their schedules for remixes, but I had also reached out via social media channels to any other producers who might be interested and was able to fill in the slots that way.

In the end I’m super happy with how the remixes turned out and I think everyone did an awesome job.  It was a real treat hearing all of the different riffs and interpretations of the themes that I had composed!

JR: What is the reasoning behind naming the album The Ecstasy of Life and what do you think is the ecstasy of your own life?

The title track of the album, The Ecstasy of Life, was one of my first OHC entries that I thought was really good, and also happened around the time when I started getting used to the idea of really being “in the zone” when producing music.  Although my style has evolved a bit since then, I still think the song (and the name) is representative of that flow state that I get in when I’m working on a good song, where I just lay down the notes as they come to me, without stopping to think.

Outside of music, too, I think I really thrive on that feeling of flow and being in the zone, and you can see that in the video games that you usually find me playing: games with a steep difficulty curve that demand quick thinking and challenge you at every moment (Tetris: The Grand Master series, IWBTG-style games, etc.).  Some of the games that I’ve programmed, too, tend to emphasize this as well: see Melody Muncher and Ripple Runner. [/end self-plug]  As it turns out, a lot of people (myself included) find electronic music great for achieving that “in the zone” feeling.  I think it would be super cool if other people used my music for that purpose, too. =)

Without a doubt, this is now one of my favorite albums and something truly spectacular.

You can buy The Ecstasy of Life on Bandcamp for a $2 Digital download, or $5 Physical CD.  Visit DDRKirby(ISQ)’s website for more music, games, and other things. Also check out the featured remixers on the album: FlexstyleWillRockjohnfndekune, and EL.

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