Queries: 2xAA (Episode 2)

Recently (but not too recently, because I was stupid and got late on this post), I was able to correspond the programmer, chiptuner, Englishman, and internet cool guy, Sam Wray, or as the internet likely knows him, 2xAA. Now, before you ask, yes, we are going to move out of the territory of Chiptune and video music, but I just happen to think Sam is both a great musician, and a great guy, as well as someone who interests me personally. I do have other guests in mind, who lie outside the realm of chiptune, so fear not. But for now, let’s get down to business.

Daniel Lamplugh: Today I have UK based programmer, chiptune musician, and founder of µCollective, Sam Wray aka 2xAA.

Sam Wray: Hi Daniel! Great to be here on my couch.

DL: You are a pretty well known figure in the chip scene. How did you get involved in chiptune? Was it from playing lots of video games, or did you stumble upon it on the net, or what?

SW: Haha, well I didn’t even get a games console until I was 12 (it was a Game Boy Advance) and I still don’t game much today. When I started Secondary School (UK school system) I didn’t have fast internet at home and didn’t know anybody, so I sat in the IT rooms at lunchtimes just browsing and browsing, I’m pretty sure I came across it one of those lunchtimes.

DL: A lot of people know you from being a name on 8bc back in the day. How did you get involved in 8bc in an administrative capacity?

SW: I emailed Jose Torres, one of the founders of 8bc, to ask for a staff role and a few months later I had a reply and I was accepted as a moderator. I was alongside the great ‘*E’ and ‘XyNo’ at the time. I quickly became a site administrator and tried to keep things running as Jose just sorta disappeared, nobody knew were he was (many suspected Nasa, or in a house by a swamp).

DL: You yourself have had mixed feelings about your musical output as of late. Is it that you just don’t have time, or do you find yourself somewhat drifting away from chiptune to pursue other things?

SW: It’s mainly time I think, lack of inspiration too. I’ve not really been pursuing other things, I got a job recently so maybe that’s it?

DL: Among the places you have played live, what is your favorite place to play?

Sam YRS Festival of Code

Sam playing at the YRS Festival of Code

SW: My favourite place so far has to have been the Custard Factory in Birmingham. I played with ‘Theremin Hero’ and ‘PixelH8’ for Young Rewired State 2013 – it was such a large stage and there were so many people too!

DL: After 8bc kind of fell apart, you decided you weren’t gonna let the dream die. You started µCollective in 2011, if my memory serves me right. What was that like? Was there any initial resistance to the idea? People who thought you were ripping off 8bc?

SW: So yeah, I actually started developing µCollective under the joke name ‘BRKbc’, short for ‘Break bit Collective’, at the same time as 8bc was dying (after I’d given up with the donation drive) to try and prove myself to Jose that if he would allow me to take a look and edit the backend of the site I may have been able to fix the myriad of bugs that somehow had sprung up. Looking back I probably couldn’t have considering how much I’ve learnt through building µCollective

It was quite an exciting time, but looking back maybe a little stressful – I was studying for some pretty major exams in school and failed them because I spent too much time developing µC, but whatever :P

The majority of people seemed to like that I was building a new site in legacy of 8bc and supported me, but since the launch I’ve had a few people (namely freque from NoiseChannel) who have told me I’ve just stolen the idea from Jose. I cleared it with Jose in the early days before continuing any major development on µCollective as I didn’t want there to be any bad air.

DL: How has µCollective progressed since you first started it, after the redesign and everything (besides being a lot less orange now)?

SW: µCollective has grown immensely! We’ve now hit over 1400 users and it’s still climbing. In the past two years we’ve been a partner of SuperByte Festival and have, with generous help from the community, designed merchandise to sell and try to keep the site up and running through merch sales. We’ve also got an API now (the first one in the chip tune scene I believe), so if people want to interact with the data to create something cool then it’s much easier than scraping data as a few other projects I’ve seen the chip community have done before.

DL: What direction do you want to take the site in, now that it has its legs? You’ve already released a CD under it, and gone to events to promote it, but where from here?

SW: We’re seriously considering a redesign and a new format for µCollective. So far we’ve pushed off and we’ve got the site sailing, but it is becoming ever larger, so we need to expand. There is a new, more app like interface in the works at the moment but it’s a long way off being completed. We’re also currently looking for a top-notch web designer to work with us to improve the user interface and potentially rebrand slightly.

DL: How did µCollective get involved with SuperByte?

SW: In the beginning, SuperByte came to us asking if we’d like to partner with them – immediately I responded with a big ‘YES’ and that was that. Last year we ran competitions to win tickets to the festival and also some merch from them too. The competitions were all content creation based and the community voted on the best submissions. This year we didn’t run any competitions because I was busy with life things unfortunately.

DL: What do you think about the chip scene? I have been in a lot of internet communities, but it seems like Chip has been kind of safe from a lot of the serious internal conflicts that other scenes have (besides arguing over which chip site is the best). But being that you are deeper into it than I, what’s your view of the chip scene as a whole?

SW: I think the chip scene is a great place to be. I have in the past 12 months seen a few things within the scene I’d much rather not have, but on the whole it’s very friendly and quite easy to get into now – my favourite online and in-person communities for sure.

DL: How did you get into programming? Was it something you got through via chiptune, or was it an independent string of events?

SW: I was into Chiptune before I was into programming, so I guess Chiptune sparked the fire to my interest in programming. My first website (brkbrkbrk.com) was about my music and when I really honed my skills was when BRKbc/µCollective was being created – I’ve been programming and creative websites ever since.

DL: If I recall, you were a bit of an early adopter for Raspberry Pi. What excites you specifically about the prospect of a credit card size computer when we have so many portable devices already?

SW: I think the ability to just log into a little box and have a tiny self contained development environment is fantastic. I know there are things like Vagrant which can be great for a Desktop/Laptop environment but my computer is generally so cluttered I really don’t like working on it. Also, it excites me that you can run a Raspberry Pi almost forever on a battery and Solar Power – tiny wireless boxes everywhere, like on the inside of lamposts with a solar cell on top or sat on your windowsill. Makes me feel like a hacker hahaha.

DL: You helped organize an event, the YRS Festival of Code. How did you get involved in it? How early along in the inception of it were you brought in?

SW: This year, I was asked early in the year to organise a Chiptune gig for Young Rewired State’s Festival of Code, which was held in my hometown Plymouth. I was contacted the year previously to co-organise their first Chiptune gig with world renowned chiptune musician PixelH8 too, but this year he couldn’t help me organise so I did it myself, but went very well indeed. I booked Mizkai, J3wel, a local experimental electronic musician Mike Blow, myself and The Virus Empire! I also debuted my crowd controlled visuals written in JavaScript, Canvas and Tornado (a websocket server for Python) which went down very well. The visuals were written specifically for the YRS festival during the week. I thought that as the target demographic were young programmers between 8 and 18 they may not want to dance too much to really loud bleeps and bloops, so I gave them control of the visuals on stage which were reacting to the music being played, allowing another interaction with the music and performance instead of just dance – that seemed to work very well and have adapted the technology so at other gigs I have put on since I can walk around the area controlling the visuals from my phone/tablet.

Sam Face Goof

This just happens to be my favorite picture of Sam’s face

DL: How did you feel when Stephen Fry tweeted about it?

SW: I was really excited! It’s the most YRS Festival of Code has been promoted ever I think, and especially as he mentioned Chiptune too! It’s always nice to have the backing of somebody with as much reputation as Stephen Fry has.

DL: How is Plymouth fairing nowadays?

SW: It’s okay thanks, but I’m actually living in London until May now which I’m enjoying immensely – been getting into the London chipscene head first and putting on gigs every month!

DL: Well Sam, it was great to have you here today. Not really here, but over the internet.

SW: It was great to be here! Thanks very much Daniel :)