WMD: Chiptune commander

by Keenan Ketzner

It would be an understatement to say that the digital era has had a significant effect on the development of modern music. Artists of relatively few generations back being infected by video games at an early age, with the sounds of such being harnessed by the DIY public to both tap into and expand upon these artifacts of nostalgia.

“I’m a huge fan of Tomohito Nishiura’s work that he did for Dark Cloud. Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka’s work on EarthBound is also really inspiring,” said musician Michael Erickson, also known under the aliases WMD and Pet Cemetery.

Washingtonian through and through, Michael had grown up learning how to play guitar and melodies on piano, but when he heard Fatboy Slim in the 7th grade and watched the documentary “Reformat the Planet,” he became devoted to chiptune (a genre of music honoring the sounds of retro video games).

“[I would] rig up my 2007 laptop to accept midi from my old Portasound keyboard, then run it into Reason. I was also really into Casiotone for the Painfully Alone at the time, so I also had the audio output from that running into a Walkman. This was all done with a Realistic microphone mixer I got from a yard sale.  It was super clunky and mostly held together with duct tape. I loved every second of it.”

Soon afterward Michael began to use trackers (music transcription programs made to replicate the sound capabilities of specific game consoles). In particular he used LSDJ, a popular tracker which replicated the Nintendo Game Boy soundcard. There he started sharing his music on the now defunct website 8bitcolletive.

“[It was a] community of chiptune artists where anyone could get good constructive criticism on their tracks. I think I had upwards of 20 songs on there before the website died. When that happened, I started to experiment with Ableton and adding more acoustic/electronic stuff to my songs.”

Michael created the alias WMD for all his chiptune related music, even though in his more recent releases he has started incorporating elements of chillwave (a hazy, 80s-stained subgenre of electronic dance music) and ambient music. There’s also an oft updated side project of his titled Pet Cemetery, which ranges from electronic ambient to shoegaze.

“I came up with WMD pretty much because I thought having an abbreviation as a name was sweet. I never really meant it to stand for ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ I like to keep the meaning ambiguous though. I feel like it’s the same way with my music, it can mean different things to different people, and that’s what’s so neat about it.”

It’s consistent and eager musicians like Michael that push genres to their limit, and thus he has transitioned from the realm of home producing to the live one, and thus bringing in more guitar and vocals to keep the show fresh.

He noted, “Most of the songs I play live are also Live edits of the originals, which hopefully keeps the audience from getting more bored. I also play around with live effects and manipulations to my music to give my hands something to do.”

In reference to his inspirations, Michael said Baths, Washed Out, Brothertiger, and LCD Soundsystem are some of his favorite groups, and that environment has been a big source of inspiration for him as well. A lot of it comes from living around the Pacific Northwest, and taking trips to places like Ocean Shores and northern California. It’s obvious to see why Michael’s music taps into that foggy coastal feeling so easily.

MORE DETAILS: Check out his tunes at wmdchiptune.bandcamp.com, including the recent set of songs on Limerence. See his live set Sept. 15 at the High Dive in Seattle.