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Interview | Magnus Pålsson on music

In the key of V…

Interview: Magnus Pålsson on music


Not that he doesn’t deserve their attention, for his craft as a chiptune artist is almost unmatched. Retro as it may be, his work pulses with an intangible, urgent energy and comes smothered in atmosphere, fitting the Capcom bill but tearing it up and mailing it to the nearest warp-drive almost simultaneously. How does one even go about making such textured, multifaceted and complex music? To be honest, Pålsson’s creative process sounds as accidental and instinctive as his VVVVVV work on the whole. “I start with a feeling,” he says, “doing a few notes if my muse is there. You never really know if you’ve got ‘the flow’ until you start trying to make something.”

It sounds vague when the aural density of his work is taken into account, but he can’t conceal the assurance behind those words. This is a man who is in control at all times, even if all he’s in control of is that very quality itself. The remainder of the process is a neat one, with Pålsson usually following his initial messing and fiddling with melody and bass, placeholder beat, supporting sounds and melodies, fill out beats, then attention to detail.

“I try to make songs I’d like to listen to myself,” he muses, “songs that are missing in the world.”

Back in time

His ability to feel out melodies goes back a long way. “My parents had a piano in the house,” he tells me. “I would sit and play or mess around with simple tunes. I took about seven or eight lessons, but I wasn’t very hooked on music.” Traditional instruments weren’t enough for Magnus to find his calling: “That would come with computers,” he says – after all, he’s old-school, but not that old-school. “My first encounter with electronic music creation was with one of the first laptops, an Epson HX-20. It could generate one beep at a time at a specific pitch and length.”

But as is true of all of his endeavours, simple things can give rise to others far more complicated. “That was the beginning,” he says, “but my music making didn’t take off until I got ProTracker for the Amiga via CU Amiga magazine.” He points me towards the downloads section of souleye.se, where his old tunes are collected for our consumption. Needless to say, they’re rather splendid, moving from chirpy chip-pop to darker, more bass-heavy territory with childish abandon.

I ask Pålsson about his favourite games, hoping as much for some interesting stories or soundbites as I am to uncover some influences on his style by proxy. Sure enough, I get all three, conveniently listed by platform as well. C64? “Wizball. Such a fun, hard two-player game. Required me to find a good cat to play with. Galway’s title music is a masterpiece.” On the Nintendo side, Zelda II, Punchout and the SNES version of Street Fighter II prove valuable additions to his catalogue of inspirations. Turrican II is another favourite – Pålsson speaks rather fondly of Chris Huelsbeck’s Amiga material in general: “His work from this era will never leave my mind until I die,” he says. Something I didn’t expect was his assertion that “the best game in the world ever made, in all categories, is StarCraft.” Really? The typical 8-bit musician is far more likely to cite a Mega Man or Super Mario Bros., surely? “Hands down,” he confirms.

Pålsson is a supremely talented individual with such a handle on his chosen area that he appears to be unaware of his own brilliance. Not that thought doesn’t go into his music, but he just does, and that’s arguably what’s most interesting about him. It’s also evident in his tunes. They may be packed with detail, but the raw feeling is there, and that’s what rubs off on the player when playing VVVVVV especially – we can only hope that he continues to do what he does best.

I omitted one quote two paragraphs ago, but of this most archaic of videogames his long description kind of speaks for itself. “River Raid on the Atari 2600. I got so good at this that I could play for hours and hours and my life counter would just go up every ten thousand points… I got into the zone and never died, I killed myself to pause so I could eat and sleep, that’s about it. The fact that it never ended fascinated me.”

Quite appropriate for a man whose music is infinitely listenable. The ’80s, then? “Maybe obsession isn’t that bad a word after all.”

Visit souleye.se to hear Pålsson’s back-catalogue and purchase PPPPPP.

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1 Comment

    I remember that CU Amiga disk, it had a pink label and yellow writing and got me into the demoscene. Good times. Nice article!

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