Uses This

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Image by Nick Lerman.

Paul Weinstein

Chiptune artist

Posted in musician

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Paul Weinstein, a.k.a. Chipocrite. I'm a chiptune artist who makes music with Nintendo Game Boys, often accompanied by other instruments including guitars, drums, bass, and other synths. I've composed for video game soundtracks, commercials, weird online videos, and other things in that vein, in addition to releasing my own albums and performing and speaking at various venues, conventions, festivals and such. My main project right now is "EarthNight," a hand-painted platformer/runner about the dragon apocalypse, coming soon to PS4, PC, Mac and other consoles. I also play bass for another chiptune-related band called Cheap Dinosaurs.

What hardware do you use?

My main instrument is the original Nintendo Game Boy, model DMG-01. That's the big, black-and-white, first-generation model from 1989. I generally write, record and perform using Game Boys that have been modified with "Pro Sound" and backlight mods, which are hacks that basically just make them easier to hear and see. I primarily use "BleepBloop" flash cartridges and cart flashers (which don't appear to be available anymore) to run the software I work with (see below) and backup my songs.

Occasionally, I play around with a few other hardware synths, all made by Korg, including a microKORG, monotribe, vOLCA fm and volca sample. I'm not really sure how it worked out like that — it wasn't a conscious decision to use only Korg synths, but they make fantastic, powerful and affordable products that work really well together, so I suppose it makes sense. I do also have a kinda cheap but decent digital piano made by Williams that I play to try and become a better keyboardist.

I use a Native Instruments KOMPLETE AUDIO 6 interface for recording audio and processing a little MIDI. I do almost all of my non-Game Boy production using that interface hooked up to a late-2013 Macbook Pro. I also sometimes use a Korg nanoKONTROL Studio when I work with this hardware.

My guitar of choice for the past few years has been a Fender Telecaster Thinline ‘72 reissue. I never thought I'd gravitate toward a Telecaster, but this particular model is so weird and versatile that I've completely fallen in love with it. It has that Tele look and feel, so it's a rock guitar at heart, but it's semi-hollow, so it has an airy, fuller, sometimes "jazzy" sound, and it has humbucking pickups, which you rarely see in any Fender guitars. So it's like five guitars in one, which I think is just super useful. I run the guitar into my Komplete Audio 6, which goes into my laptop, and use software (see the next question) to process the signal with some effects and amp simulation. When I perform live, I control those effects using a programmed Behringer FCB1010 MIDI foot controller and a Novation Launch Control.

Speaking of live performance, I use a Mackie 802-VLZ3 mixer onstage and generally run two Game Boys into their own stereo channels, along with the processed guitar (via the audio-out from the KOMPLETE AUDIO 6) into its own stereo channel. I don't typically have the Game Boys synched up or playing at the same time; I just like to have two on hand so I can cue up the next song and make smooth transitions, etc. On a few REALLY rare occasions, I've used a third Game Boy as a kind of a tempo sync connected to some of my Korg synths via controlled voltage; this is a really fun setup that I should probably use more often! A little more frequently, I've also been known to use a Numark Orbit wireless DJ controller to trigger melodic samples from my laptop, which is a fun way to improvise and encourage audience participation.

In Cheap Dinosaurs, my primary instrument is a Fender American Deluxe Jazz bass, though I sometimes play a Rickenbacker 4003 as well. I used to have a pretty elaborate effects chain but I've stripped it down pretty much to just one MXR Bass Octave pedal. I'm generally happy to borrow an amp from someone else or use the venue's backline rig, but I have an Ampeg SVT-3PRO head and SVT-410HLF cab I use if necessary. I also play guitar on a few Cheap Dinos songs, in which case I'll run my Thinline Tele straight through a Fender Deluxe 90 amp with a modified reverb unit that makes it sound extra spacy.

And what software?

For Game Boy stuff, I use a piece of software called Little Sound DJ, a.k.a. "LSDJ." It runs right on the Game Boy itself and gives you pretty much complete control over the console's sound chip and its capabilities. I often tell people that it's my favorite music production software — for what it does, it's absolutely perfect, incredibly well designed and very reliable. It's also pretty cheap to get started with, so I recommend anyone interested in this stuff give it a try!

For recording, MIDI and other production things, I use Pro Tools. I recently upgraded to the 2018 version or whatever you call it. It gets the job done, and I've gotten pretty accustomed to it and feel like I learn new stuff all the time. Nothing particularly fancy to say about my setup or plugins or anything, but then again, my sessions aren't generally very complicated.

I process my Chipocrite guitar signal using Guitar Rig 5 by Native Instruments, which I love. I used to absolutely hate digital effects and amp modeling, but things have come a long way since those cheapo "multi-effects" units I despised 20 years ago. The simulated effects I use in my Chipocrite setup include Guitar Rig's versions of a Tube Screamer, Big Muff and MXR Phaser, along with a few more generic effects such as a compressor, octave, wah, chorus with stereo spread, tremolo, spring reverb, delay, and volume pedal for "expression." Occasionally I use the software's built-in Looper to layer some guitar patterns, and in super rare cases I'll use some even weirder sounds that are basically just slightly modified versions of patches the program comes with. I run it all through Guitar Rig's simulated version of an Orange brand amp and speaker, which I think gives it a nice, raw, realistic rock sound, even though it's basically just a guitar plugged into my computer going through my mixer and coming out of the house PA.

I use Ableton Live a teeny tiny little bit, currently just to trigger some samples controlled by the Numark Orbit. I've been telling myself for years I should sharpen my Ableton skills for more diverse production, but it just hasn't really happened yet… Maybe someday.

What would be your dream setup?

Well, part of the reason I enjoy my current setup is that at smaller venues, I feel like it's better to run the chiptune audio through the same mixer and speakers as the live instrumentation. I've seen Game Boy artists with live instruments play through amps that are physically far away from the house PA, and the mix ends up sounding disconnected. So running everything through the same speakers is important to me. But if we're really talking complete dream setup, where none of that would matter, I suppose I can imagine...

In terms of chiptune things, there aren't really any particular Game Boy models or anything that are any "better" than what I already have, but I'd love to mix in some other consoles with even more unique sound chips. It'd be great to do some Commodore 64 stuff, maybe some Sega Genesis stuff, and maybe even some regular old NES stuff. I'm just not as well versed in arranging for those systems yet, so I haven't gotten there, but maybe someday!

I've been practicing piano a lot lately, and even though I'm no keyboard expert, I'd love to own some even more wacky synths. Maybe a real Fender Rhodes electric piano. I'd also love to fill out my Korg Volca family, sync them all up and make lots of cool sounds.

Most of my dream setup would probably be centered around guitars, amps and effects. I'd love to have a nice, compact pedalboard featuring the real versions of all the modeled effect pedals in my Guitar Rig simulated setup, along with a nice real Orange amp and cab, or maybe a Fender Twin Reverb amp. As for guitars, the nicest I've ever played is a Paul Languedoc hollow body (most notably played by my hero, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio), and it would be amazing to somehow own one someday, though they are incredibly expensive — we're talking like, 10 times more expensive than the most expensive guitar I already own, which I would consider pricey in its own right — and actually not even being made anymore. On a more realistic note, a friend of mine used to play a very lovely semi-hollow PRS, which I'd be happy to call my main guitar. If we REALLY want to go nuts, it would be awesome and kind of hilarious to someday own a Rickenbacker 4080 double-necked bass/guitar combo so I could easily switch between both in the same song. But between bending down to look at tiny Game Boy screens and strapping that heavy beast over my shoulder, there's no way a 4080 would be good for my back.