Goto80 on the hidden secrets of Files in Space
Over the past decade the performances of chip musician Goto80 (Anders Carlsson) have spanned such memorable highlights as appearing on children's television in Sweden while covered in salad to singing a deranged cowboy song on stage at Blip Festival Tokyo.
In this interview, the musician reveals the secrets hidden within his new album Files in Space, published through the label Data Airlines.
How did it come about that your new collection of music "Files in Space" was published on the Data Airlines label?
Goto80: Data Airlines is run by Dubmood, whom I’ve known for many years. He’s also from the demoscene, which is where I started to make music for mathematical animations back in the early 1990’s.
Was there a concept you had in mind for the album?
The concept was to make one A-side and one B-side like it’s designed for a cassette. So the A-side is more hi-fi and the B-side is more low-fi, a bit more strange and abstract.
There are two sides to Goto80 as well. There is the learned scholar and the anarchic troublemaker, both operating at once in your performances. How do you view these two sides of your personality?
I can appreciate the work of people who know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. But I’ve always kept my attitude of teenage rebelliousness as well. It’s like a dialectic, I guess. Because I’ve always sort of liked things that are well made and high quality, but I’ve always really, really loved things that are very, very bad as well. Maybe that fascination comes from my own obsession with quality.
It’s easy to see how certain works of art would be classified as well made and beautiful. What kind of “bad art” do you identify as fascinating?
“Bad” can be simple, like someone who is trying to play an instrument and doesn’t know how to do it. Or animals trying to play music. Non-normal, incompetent, or unfinished, unpolished. That kind of thing.
There’s also this trashy, cheap entertainment from the ‘80s, when people didn’t really know what they were doing in many ways. Or when someone is intentionally doing something crappier than they actually can. For instance, if you’re trying to make a face in ASCII art, unless you’re using special tricks, it will always look like ASCII art.
Generally, you viewed the A-side of Files in Space as more traditionally structured than people might be expecting from a new Goto80 album?
I’ve been making a lot of abstract music for the past couple of years, experimenting with improvisations and new ways of composing. But recently, I’ve been getting back to more pop, more dance kind of stuff, so I wanted to get both of those parts in there without it being too fragmented. This is the curse that always seems to follow me: that I cannot seem to focus on one thing.
In looking at the abstraction and glitchiness of the B-side of Files in Space, how do you introduce randomness into a song without it destroying the enjoyment of the composition?
Yeah, that’s the key question I guess. I’ve always been interested in the stakes—When things sound wrong, to not press undo. To just keep going and go for it.
And sometimes that comes close to the glitch genre. Not all mistakes count as "glitch," because it’s recognizable, it sounds a certain way. I think it’s the same for 8-bit music. Not all music made on a Nintendo is called “chip music,” because if you really push the hardware and make it sound amazing, then suddenly it sounds too "good" to be chip music.
You have in the song titles of your recent publications these corrupted text properties. It’s as if the words themselves are malfunctioning.
That, to me, I think fits pretty well with the glitch aesthetic. There’s a guy called “glitchr” who has been exploring this to the max and has made some really amazing stuff.
This started when I discovered a hacker who was experimenting with obfuscation through homoglyphs. For example, instead of writing an ‘A’, you use a Cyrillic letter that looks exactly like an ‘A’ but it’s actually not an ‘A’. That was the first step, converting all the text out of standard Latin letters. Then, I used Stallio’s glitch text generator to add all these noisy elements to the text. Some of the titles are giving problems in some operating systems and platforms, and can be quite hard to search for on e.g Google.
So while the rest of the world’s musicians are trying to optimize the availability of their songs on Google, you’re going in the other direction.
Yeah, that’s basically what I’m trying to do. It’s completely stupid, of course, but I guess somebody needs to do it.
In terms of the rebelliousness you were mentioning before?
I mean, today It feels like an extreme time: of visibility, accessibility, openness and all this kind of stuff. You just upload your stuff everywhere and spam people about it. There’s also so much information out there that we cannot deal with it as individuals.
So we need some kind of help from algorithms, or from experts, to find the stuff we’re looking for. And I think we need to reflect more about where this is heading. Both as consumers and producers we are very dependent on these new forms of power. And somehow, this release relates to that.
Have you heard the cassette that Data Airlines has made of Files in Space?
In fact, I haven’t received a cassette yet. If you buy the cassette you also get a thirteenth track, which just sounds like a beeping fax machine. That’s actually data. If you have a Commodore 64 with a cassette player, you can play this noise in there to get the music software that I used, along with one of the songs from the album.
Wow, that’s an elaborate way of hiding a music track.
Yeah, I’ve had so many weird discussions with people about hiding music, so I have some pretty mad ideas. I hope I can manage to realize them all. If you find the gif version of the cover of my album on my website—the cover art is made by iLKke, a pixel artist, designer and animator who lives in Australia—then there’s actually three songs inside the gif image.
Yeah. And those are files made on the Amiga. But you can play them in VLC or Winamp, stuff like that.
How do you extract that information from the gifs?
Some people have managed to figure it out, because it’s actually quite simple. You can just open the gif file in some kind of a zip program, and when you open it there you just get these three files.
To completely destroy the mystery, there’s a DOS command that I used to make these files together. It’s really not that complicated. Maybe it could be all around the world, just stuff hiding in gif images.
Having contributed to the demoscene in the past, do you find indie games to be appealing, especially considering it is a thriving culture now in Gothenburg?
Yeah, I do. Though most music software today is designed to make something that sounds like recorded music, I hope we’ll see more software in the future where you can actually make dynamic compositions that can change depending on what happens in a game around the music.
Are you performing chip music in Sweden, either the A-side or B-side style of compositions found on Files in Space?
I’ve been using the Amiga computer a lot lately for performances. It’s the computer that I started to make music on years ago. Now I‘ve come back to it and there is this new DJ software (PT1210) that allows you to actually perform the songs and sort of mess around with them a little bit.
In clubby settings, I’m still struggling a bit in finding a way to do it that I’m comfortable with. There’s always the balance of having fun yourself and having it be fun for the audience.
There’s a lot of playback stuff that I’ve been playing with, just because I don’t see the point in bringing all this gear and doing all these complicated operations if the audience cannot understand what I’m doing. I can do those things at home, record it, bring it, and then do other things on top of it.
Then I also use the Commodore 64. I have this strange music software where I can basically just make a song live, starting from scratch, in front of an audience. I’ve done that a couple of times and it’s quite powerful software for that. This is usually done for people sitting down, and more for arts contexts, basically. But I really like that.
Do you find it gratifying when you perform in a university setting to see retro computer consoles accepted as a legitimate instrument and not somehow denigrating to the austerity of that environment?
Yeah, in spite of all the shitty aspects of academia, there’s still so many interesting things going on there. I wrote an academic chapter on chip music seven years ago, and since then, I’ve been researching it a lot.
There’s always a kind of struggle between the living sub-culture and the not-so-living academic descriptions of it, and I was somehow trying to do both. It took me a while, I guess, to just accept the fact that they’re two different things. One thing cannot describe the other. It frustrated me a lot, but that’s the way it is.
You can’t expect to capture the diversity of the complex system of a sub-culture in words. In fact, it’s actually quite ridiculous. But that’s not the point. The point is to connect it with new things, produce new theories and understand things in different ways.
Files in Space is streaming in full on Data Airlines' Bandcamp page. You can help support the creation of feature interviews like this one by backing The Ongaku on Patreon.