Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
The French synthwave producer known as FromNostalgia makes synthwave that's informed by his love of analog synths, his passion for video game music and the desire to explore new directions in his work. In an email, he told me how he first got passionate about music, why he loves video game music and how he creates new music.
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music generally?
From Nostalgia: I’ve always been interested in music, and played a few instruments, but nothing I shared online. It was mostly Eastern world music. It's far different from what I play today. I listen to a lot of kinds of music every day, and soundtracks / video game music (VGM) are a passion as well.
I thought that making music which I could share online, all by myself, was unreachable even in my dreams. I spoke with a friend about VGM, drank a strong beer later on, opened the DAW (LMMS) that I had on my PC (cool open source software) and tried to make a track. The first feedback that I got the next day was really important. My friend guessed what mood I wanted to set and what emotion I wanted to convey in the track, so I decided to continue and here we are.
KM: What were the ideas and elements that drew you to synthwave music?
FN: One of the first things that I learned about in electronic music was analog synthesizers: how they work, how waveforms sound and how to use filters. It was like understanding the DNA of the sound, so I started to make electronic music. My first EP had covers of Ecco: The Tides of Time. I started with the main theme of the game which is a track that I listened to for years. On the next track, I added drums. The next EP used synths again, so I tried to make my sound evolve.
I am a fan of John Carpenter, I watched Stranger Things and loved the soundtrack, played Hotline Miami and discovered El Huervo, Carpenter Brut, Magic Sword etc; I called my second EP Stranger Games and tried to make synthwave. When I joined the We Produce Music Discord with synthwave artists like Bytemapper and Turbo Vice, synthwave became my main style.
KM: In terms of video game music, what interests you about it?
FN: Like movie soundtracks, VGM's goals are to create feelings and emotions, to describe places or characters, and to keep you in the flow of a die and retry game. The composition is really important, and most of the time there are no lyrics. Looking to the stars outside is something most people will find very cool, but watching some pixels or bad 3D on a screen will not give you the same pleasure. With music, something magic happens!
Inside the Fairy Council from Rayman III or Spirit Of The Night from Secret of Mana are tracks that create a landscape around you if you close your eyes. These tracks followed you during your in game travels. Today, you just need a few notes to remember your adventures, and sometimes feel the emotions you had the first time that you listened to them.
KM: Where do you think video game music fits into the overall framework of contemporary music?
FN: Today most of us have played video games on PC, phones, or Switch. There is a generation of creators who have grown up with video game music. Some soundtracks are the reason to buy games today (Ori and The Blind Forest composed by Garett Coker or ABZU by Austin Wintory for example) and some composers have become famous like Nobuo Uematsu or more recently Lena Raine. I think that could lead to some big movie composers to do more work in the video game industry.
I personally think VGM has helped a lot of people to discover older and newer music styles. Pandora’s Tower was, like Disney’s Fantasia movie, a way to discover classical music, Hotline Miami was great for the synthwave scene, and PaRappa the Rapper was great for rap. The good news is that, today it is far easier to buy game music, you don’t need to import CD's anymore thanks to Bandcamp or Steam downloads. It now means that you don’t need to be a gamer or a geek to buy/listen VGM.
KM: Which musical artists and composers have inspired you?
FN: My first and most well-known inspiration is Jean Michel Jarre but there are also a lot of video game composers who inspired me. Yuzo Koshiro started to teach me about music when I played Streets of Rage as a kid. Danny Baranowsky, Disasterpeace, and Rob Hubbard are also very inspiring to me. Movie soundtracks have also left their mark on me, so I have to add John Carpenter / Trent Reznor to the list. One day, if I start to focus on orchestral music, I am sure I will be influenced by John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson Williams, Ramin Djawadi and Dario Marianelli.
KM: How do you go about creating new music?
FN: Most of the time, I start with an idea in mind, but I follow the music where it goes rather than trying to stick to one style. I like to try random things out and make them work.
Sometimes complex melodies need more than my brain can offer, so I progress by steps. I take the main chords, make the notes shorter, make it sound like an arpeggiator and then I play a melody with the top (sharp) note of the arp. I change some notes to make the chord progression more interesting. If I am not happy, I may try to play it at a different speed. On Wicked Monday for example, I found ideas while trying out one arpeggiator on another arpeggiator! It sounded interesting, so I corrected the parts where the randomness didn’t work and now it's in my toolbox!
KM: What are some of the projects that you’re working on lately?
FN: I finished my album Week 80, so now I'll focus on some singles. I did two synth tracks, I'm planning some synthwave video game covers and chiptunes, and then I will start to work on my next album. I am still thinking about it, but the main idea is to work with analog and modular synthesizers but in a classical music style. I don’t want to do loops with drums again, I want to tell a story. That mean less repetition, a more cinematic style, longer tracks and another kind of drums. Maybe it'll be a synth-phony? The album will require a lot of work and I will learn a lot on the road.
KM: What are your views on how the synthwave scene is doing these days?
FN: Some people who discovered synthwave with the Stranger Things TV show, or Hotline Miami are beginning to lose interest in this style, but at the same time, synthwave can be heard in big AAA movies today and is starting to be well known. With Marvel movies and TV shows, I think synthwave will grow very quickly and continue to evolve. Cinematic and video game influenced tracks will probably become more and more popular, but it's impossible to guess what new composers will decide to explore!
Another important thing is the community. Getting into synthwave for me was easy because there are a lot of kind people helping, sharing and giving advice. Also the #synthfam community on Twitter is awesome.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
FN: I listen to music that others make. One of my hobbies is to listen to a complete Soundcloud page and choose tracks to put on a community playlist. That way I can see how the artist evolved, listen to a lot of different tracks (sometimes really experimental ones) by them and help them to promote their music. I also try to use a lot of virtual instruments and sometimes my tracks get started that way. For example, Wicked Monday was, at the beginning, a test of the Temper distortion plugin!