Let Retronauts Fill Your Ears With the Futuristic Sound of FM Synthesis

Let Retronauts Fill Your Ears With the Futuristic Sound of FM Synthesis

Jeremy explores one of classic gaming's most popular and iconic audio formats (as seen on TV, via SEGA Genesis!).

As promised (or threatened?), today brings the first of two consecutive episodes of Retronauts Micro hosted by yours truly. For those who are just tuning in, "Retronauts Micro" is the "sleepy-voiced NPR monologue" edition of the show rather than the standard group roundtable.

Fortunately, you'll find my somnolent voice livened up considerably this time by the inclusion of a huge variety of excellent video game tunes. For this particular episode, I decided to discuss the wonders of FM synthesis audio: A decidedly ’80s sound technology most commonly seen (or rather, heard) by Americans in arcade games from the late ’80s and the SEGA Genesis console. If you've ever wondered, "What's up with the way some games of the 16-bit era sounded like a robot orchestra jamming in outer space?", well, the answer is: FM synthesis.

Naturally, this means I've spliced in a whole lot of relevant audio. This episodes topic was prompted in the first place by Ship to Shore's recent release of Konami's Lagrange Point soundtrack on vinyl. Having contributed liner notes to that project, I can't really review it here, but I will say that it's a phenomenal game score that, I think you'll agree once you listen to this episode, doesn't sound like it should have been possible on the NES. And, technically, it wasn't. This episode gets into the logistics of bringing such rich audio to an 8-bit console and then springboards into a look at the larger concept of FM audio — in brief, its history, its workings, and its most popular implementations. That's a lot of ground to cover in a 15-minute episode, but hopefully you'll find it informative (if a bit of a layperson's explanation).

Download Links

Libsyn (16:09, 11.4 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud

Episode Description

Let's get technical! With this, the first of a series of Micro episodes focused on specific technologies and how they shape the games we love. We begin here with a podcast-appropriate aural treat: The iconic sound of FM synthesis.

My hope is to make this the first in a semi-regular series of Retronauts Micro episodes focusing on the particulars of classic game technology. Again, in layperson's terms. Whaddya think this is, Digital Foundry? Anyway, unless I hear that everyone totally hates this episode, expect more, similar looks into the nuts and bolts of retrogames in the future.

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