ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: It’s game on for Brazilian 8-Bit head Artificial.
You probably remember the days when your parents desperately asked you to turn down the volume of the TV while you were playing Nintendo. Judging from the kind of sound Kassin extracts from a simple Game Boy with his Artificial project, you can only imagine his mother suffered a lot more than the rest.
The idea behind Artificial is simple: to make music using Game Boy’s blips and beeps. Doing it is a little more complicated. Instead of turntables and a laptop, Kassin’s live PA consists of two Game Boys, a MicroKorg keyboard, and two delay pedals, all plugged to a four-channel board. This lo-fi approach comes as quite a switch for Kassin, a well-known Brazilian producer who has worked with Tropicália’s Caetano Veloso, Bebel Gilberto, and even Japanese pop stars.
All of Kassin’s gigs as Artificial are improvised, mixing pre-recorded beats with live effects to create a rough-sounding collision of electro, Miami bass, and breakbeat. Relying on heavy electronic drum sounds, some songs gravitate loosely towards house, while others could be a bed for hip-hop lyrics or point to new possibilities for baile funk.
In order to access the videogame soundbank, Kassin utilizes two specially made cartridges, which transform the toy into a synthesizer and a sequencer of 8-bit beats and noise. “I read about this LSDJ program that allowed you to program a Game Boy and I bought it online,” says Kassin. “When I talked about it to my partner, Berna Ceppas, I found out that he had just bought a similar one called Nanoloop.”
The technical limitations of such rudimentary tools are not a problem; rather, they fit perfectly with the music’s aesthetic. “Every time I feel limited by the programs, I just use something else,” says Kassin. “When I’m missing some chords, I use the keyboard. It’s the drums and the bass I like the most. I also use a laptop with some beats programmed in it, just in case–basically because the Game Boy has let me down a couple of times.”
The laptop came in handy during 2005’s Sónar festival, when his Game Boy failed. “It was great nonetheless,” recalls Kassin. “I programmed the show on the plane on the way to Spain. I had a great time at these concerts. The reactions were funny, because people didn’t expect me to sing in falsetto, for instance. And a lot of people danced.”
Released through his own label, Ping Pong, Free U.S.A. captures some of this live action. An American citizen (his father is American), the idea for the record came during a trip to the United States. “I was on a US tour with my band, +2,” explains Kassin. “It was just before the war [in Iraq] had begun. In Minneapolis there were flags with “Free Iraq” written on them in front of every house. I thought this was such ignorance–comparable to the Nazis–that I recorded an album called Free U.S.A.”