Chiptune Against Anxiety – A word with Mark Sparling

If you aren’t really into chiptune and/or video game music, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard Mark Sparling’s music. If you are, there’s a good chance you really should. In addition to playing in the video game music cover band New Game Plus, he has spent almost nine months posting one track of FamiTracker made chiptune music to SoundCloud – every single day. Since this is interesting, to say the least, and Mark’s music also happens to be pretty damn great, we decided to send him the ole’ fanzine style interview e-mail. This is the result. Enjoy!

Hi, Mark. What have you been up to today?
Hey! Well, I wrote a song in FamiTracker this morning and then I’ve just been working on music and sound effects for a game.

You’re a pretty active person, so lets go through a few of the things you’re up to. First of all, you play in a band that plays video game music covers. How active is this project? Will you one day tour the world?
Right now our piano player is living in Hong Kong for an extended period of time and our drummer is busy with school, so we haven’t had too much time to get together and make stuff. I have a couple of strange, and hopefully interesting, ideas that I’m planning to try out on our Youtube channel. Touring is not really a priority for us at the moment, but if the opportunity came up, we would definitely jump on it. Right now we’re just trying to create (hopefully) interesting and engaging content on Youtube.

You also do music for actual use in computer/video games. Tell us about that.
I started doing game music about 3 years ago. I’ve met a bunch of really interesting people and worked on a couple of cool projects. It’s been challenging to create music that matches a specific mood or feel, but it’s really rewarding when you figure it out. At the moment, I’m doing all of the music and sound effects for an upcoming indie game. I’m really new to sound effects and sound design, so that’s been a really big challenge, but I hope to keep doing more games in the future.

What else are you up to, apart from the obvious, which we will get to shortly?
Not much honestly. Music keeps me pretty busy. I teach some guitar lessons. I’ve been playing through Bloodborne.

The most idiosyncratic, and awesome, thing you do, which prompted this interview, is posting one FamiTracker chiptune on Soundcloud – every day. You’ve been doing this for well over six months now, or is it longer?. I’m not going to go for the obvious question, but I am going to ask you to explain what FamiTracker is to the newbies out there. What can you do with it, how difficult is it to use?
FamiTracker is a program that does a pretty good job at emulating the sound of a Nintendo Entertainment System. You can even export a certain filetype that will play on a NES or on NES emulators. In terms of usability, if you’re used to a normal DAW (like FL Studio or Logic) it takes some getting used to. Basically you input notes into different rows and columns, and then when you play the song, the program scrolls down the column and plays the notes as they come up. Hopefully that makes sense. It’s really hard for me to explain. It makes a lot more sense if you see it.

Now I’m going for the obvious question: why on earth are you doing this?
I used to have a lot of anxiety when I was composing music. Someone recommended this book to me called “Free Play” and it suggested that when a person is performing at their best, they are completely in the moment with little to no judgement of their output. This really spoke to me, so I tried to implement it into my composing process. When I would start to compose something, I would try to remove all judgement from my mind until the composition started to take some shape, and then I would slowly bring judgement back in and tweak it to my liking.

Around the same time, I met this one developer who was really into creating quick daily content, so every day he would create a quick little pixel art sketch in about an hour. I had been wanting to learn FamiTracker for a little while, but I never really found the time to sit down with it. So I decided that I would try to create one song every day in FamiTracker. It was also a great opportunity to practice creating things without judging them. I started in May of last year and I haven’t stopped yet.

Despite your insane update tempo, it’s really high quality stuff you put out there. How long have you been working with video game music?
Thanks! I’ve been doing video game music for about 3 years. I’ve been working in FamiTracker for just under a year now.

Are you at all into the chiptune “scene”, as it exists on Bandcamp and other such places? I think you’re very overdue for at least a decent digital release with a simultaneous – if I get to choose – cassette tape (or, grumble, CD) version.
I listen to This Week in Chiptune on occasion. I’m familiar with some of the more well known artists: Disasterpeace, Chipzel, Danimal Cannon, Trey Frey, but I’ve been meaning to check out some more stuff.

I’ll definitely do a formal release at some point, but I want to take some time and go back to some of the better daily songs and lengthen them. There’s also a lot of stuff in them that could work a lot better, so I want to address that too.

What are your long term plans, or at least ambitions/dreams, for FamiTracker Daily and life in general?
I’ll keep doing the FamiTracker dailies as long as I can. I just want to keep making music and collaborating with cool people.

I imagine I hear influences from Castlevania, and of course from the chiptune holy grails Mega Man I/II, in your many of your tracks. Which 8- or possibly 16-bit video game tunes do you feel are the greatest ever?

That’s a tough question. It’s hard to pick only a few. Some of my favourite 8-bit soundtracks are: Super Mario 1-3, Zelda 1 and 2, Megaman 1-6, Castlevania 1-3, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon, Ducktales, Battletoads. Silver Surfer has some amazing music. I’m probably missing a lot.

I’m not as familiar with 16 bit soundtracks, but I love A Link to the Past and Super Mario World.

Any tips for all the kids out there who want to start posting one FamiTracker song on Soundcloud every day? Or, perhaps, do music for computer and video games?
I’d say if you’re planning on doing dailies and you’re unfamiliar with FamiTracker, try to go in with low expectations. It takes some getting used to, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. It also really helps to study music that you really like and try to figure out how it works.

The final word is yours. Make sure to take as much space as you like, filling us in on whatever we forgot to ask.
I’ve already said a lot, so I think that’s it! Thanks so much for doing this!

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