We are honored and completely thrilled to bring you some beautiful new music from New-York-based artist Samuel Ascher-Weiss, better known as Shnabubula (pictured above with a melodica, in majestically playful fashion.) With an extensive catalog of dynamic jazz music, ranging from improvisational piano to progressive synthesizer-based works, Sam is a recognized artist among the chipmusic and retro video game music community. His skills and musicality go far beyond the typical bleeps and bloops you might associate with retro video game soundtracks. With a blend of playfulness and astounding musical talent, Sam’s work is often dense and complex, yet it has that organic approachability that keeps us listening, over and over. On top of his impressive catalog of original compositions, Sam also uses his piano to breathe new improvisational life into video game music covers with his VGMCAST series, currently in its 6th volume.
We have the privilege of presenting to you Sam’s latest work, Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection, an EP filled with enough twists and turns to keep you hooked for a whole 26 minutes. It is a concept album of sorts, a followup to Sam’s 2012 release Cybersoccer 2099, with a multi-layered sci-fi narrative behind it. The idea behind it is a fictional game, with a rich history all its own; released in a time where humans populate the entire galaxy and the uniting factor for all humanity is a future version of football called Cybersoccer. Just think of Asimov’s Foundation series, but instead of psychohistorians we’re dealing with cyberfutbolistas.
Don’t worry, there’s no research required to enjoy the EP, it stands alone in its effectiveness and ability to grip the imagination. With each listen, we at Perelandra have found new depth and new levels of nuance rising up to meet us. The EP is a captivating and exhilarating ride, and we hope that you listeners can sense the level of skill and heart present in every note.
Follow our conversation below to learn more about Sam, his latest work, and his plans for future Shnabubula music!
Our Interview with Sam
We have been longtime admirers of your music, Sam, but we’d love to hear your story. What are your musical origins, and how did you end up melding chipmusic with your characteristic jazz expression?
I actually started music by playing a video game called Miracle Piano Teaching SystemThe Miracle Piano Teaching System is a MIDI keyboard/teaching tool created in 1990 by The Software Toolworks for the NES and SNES… Wikipedia, at age seven. Music became everything to me very quickly, in a way it was already pretty central in terms of constantly listening to music, but now I had a way to create it. Discovering chipmusic really expanded my mind and helped me find new ways to see the ‘game’ in music, the fun and joy of creativity, working with different sound pallets and tool-sets. Making music became like trying a new build in a favorite action game, only this time, with each new playthrough, you’ve got a whole album to show for it!
Wildcard question: If a nuclear apocalypse came upon us suddenly and you had to choose between a dachshund or a poodle, as your loyal companion in the post nuclear wasteland, which would you go with and why?
I plead the fifth! I have a 15 year old black Labrador whom I absolutely adore and I cannot in good faith declare a preference for any other dog breed, even when just compared against each other.
From what we understand, Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection is a small part of a much larger story arc that you plan on developing. This EP is just a precursor to a much larger release you are titling Cosmic Diaspora. Can you tell us more about the narrative behind these musical works, and how Cybersoccer plays a role in the story?
Yes, it is quite an extensive universe, only some of which is even written at this point, let alone released. Cosmic Diaspora isn’t even the end of the road, though I will say it is probably the most intense music I’ve ever written. I’m certainly excited to get to share that with people. I think Perfect Best Selection will be really fun when paired with it, kind of like an appetizer to the entree that will be Cosmic Diaspora.
Those familiar with your music will recognize the motifs present in Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection as from your 2012 release Cybersoccer 2099. Can you identify the callbacks to the previous album for us?
Perfect Best Selection actually contains references to all but one of the nine original 2099 songs. The only track not referenced is “Name Entry” since I have some special plans for that song way into the future. The callbacks shouldn’t be that difficult to spot. I’ll give one bit of assistance: all the references take place in tracks one through three, tracks four and five have no links to 2099, they are entirely taken from themes original to 4141.
In the same vein, do you think this EP is more effective than its predecessor, or does it owe its technical success entirely to Cybersoccer 2099?
I would not compare them on equal footing, as sonically they are quite different. Though of course, as with most artists, I am usually most excited about my most recent work. I think I’d need the perspective of a few years before I could do a fair assessment and compare merits of the two albums. I think they definitely compliment each-other nicely. They are only a couple of minutes apart in length, yet one has nearly twice as many songs. The first album has all loop-based songs with fade-out endings, while this EP has songs with beginning, middle, and end. So yeah, I think they are different enough that it doesn’t require a direct comparison, in fact, I encourage people to try enjoying them together, back to back. I’ve actually been told that’s a lot of fun to do!
We are spellbound at the level of complexity and layering of instruments in the EP. Can you walk us through the technical elements of your selection of textures and instruments, and how each are working to create the enthusiastic ride?
So one of the first ideas I had for Perfect Best Selection, was combining different mashups of brass and guitar. The pairings include: tenor with distorted, alto with clean electric, trumpet with distorted and even analog synth brass with clavinet (which, while not technically a guitar, does share some commonality in architecture) for the most out-there pairing. So starting with that as the fundamental sonic template, and then building textures around those pairings, was the original focus. The final track “pentaly” (this is the intentional spelling) shootout, is the only track on the EP to feature no use of any sample based instruments, as almost a throwback to my album StarboundStarbound; released May 29, 2012. “All 42 minutes are part of a singular journey, but I divided it into five tracks so that you’re not forced to take the whole thing all at once…” Listen on Bandcamp, just many layers of different type of oscillator based synthesis.
We’ll relish this EP as we look forward to your future releases. Still, we do have a particular fondness for your more improvisational jazz leaning releases. Can we look forward to anything like that in the near future?
I’m always doing my improvisational covers of requests on solo piano for my VGMCAST series. I’ll be doing another set of those in the next month. Also, I’m very excited to start working on a follow up to my 2012 album Free PlayFree Play; released January 1, 2012. “All of the piano playing was entirely improvised without any forethought, just pure expression, and then layers of accompaniment were added…” Listen on Bandcamp, specifically for release on Perelandra records, likely in the later half of 2017.
Final question – a hypothetical: If you could have booked a live orchestra to be featured for the orchestral sections of Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection, which orchestra would you have chosen?
Without a doubt I’d pick the New York Philharmonic! I’ve gotta be loyal to my hometown!
What about you? What do you think of Cybersoccer 4141 Perfect Best Selection? Do you have any questions for Sam? Let us know in the comments section below.