After a prolific career as one of Nintendo’s chief sound designers, chiptune pioneer Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka – under the name Chip Tanaka – has released his first studio album, Django.
Tanaka is responsible for some of the gaming world’s most memorable music. Simply looking at his resume is guaranteed to get any number of classic songs stuck in your head. His arrangement of classic Russian folk-music – Korobeiniki, or “Type A” from 1989’s Tetris – is so catchy, it has contributed to scientifically measurable effects on human cognition. When his work isn’t helping thicken the cerebral cortex, it’s surging listener’s brains with the kind of dopamine-rush only nostalgia can spark.
Tanaka’s influence on early video game music is unquestionable, with his legacy extending its presence onto nearly every Nintendo console. Name a property, and Tanaka’s likely worked on it’s sound design to some capacity. Donkey Kong, Mario, Fire Emblem, Metroid, Pokemon, and Earthbound are only a few of the series he’s helped elevate with his musical talents. These early-era titles are responsible for the entire ‘chiptune’ subgenre of electronic music, where programmable sound generators emulate the effects of traditional instruments. A recent resurgence of 8-bit era aesthetics in both indie and triple-A titles has brought renewed relevance to chiptune, and with Tanaka’s first studio album, the genre’s audience has expanded beyond their television speakers.
Beyond his musical career, Tanaka is the chief executive of Creatures, Inc., a major producer of Pokemon trading cards and toys. As a live performer, he has appeared under aliases including Otona Buranko, Acerola Beach, and his latest moniker, Chip Tanaka. In his work with Nintendo, his music consolidates the many components that make up a video game, cohering visual and storytelling experiences with his own musical abilities. This experience in the gaming world is undoubtedly reflected in his new personal project. Django is unapologetic chiptune through and through. While it might not be for everyone, it’s definitely aimed to please gamers, whether they know his name or simply remember his work.
“If my music can be divided into ʻfor adultsʼ and ʻfor kids,ʼ then this is the culmination of my harder side, the kind of game music you hear in EarthBoundʼs battle tracks.”
Physical copies of Django can be ordered through Tanaka’s Bandcamp page, and include a thank-you letter from the artist himself, along with a secret download code for an exclusive track. The album is also available for digital download in MP3 and FLAC formats. Considering the popularity (and low-availability) of past works, fans might want to jump on this opportunity quickly; the Mother 2 soundtrack, on which Tanaka is a main composer, is revered enough for vinyl copies to run upwards of $100 on resale markets.
Whether you’re a chiptune fan, a game historian, or just looking for something a little off the beaten path musically, Tanaka’s new album is a treat. If anything, perhaps listening to Django will finally unstick Tetris Type-A from listeners heads.