Sounds deliberately like video game music.
Italian composer Marcello Giombini (1928-2003) may be best known for his film work, scoring giallo and such spaghetti westerns as the 1969 Lee Van Cleef thriller Sabata. But in the early ‘80s, he turned his focus to electronic music. Composing on the Apple II and then the Commodore 64, he became a pioneer in the emerging genre. In 1982, he made the Moroder-esque album Computer Disco, whose early synth-pop instrumentals are worth tracking down on YouTube. Mondo Groove has reissued Giombini’s 1983 follow up, released under the name K. Bytes. Inspired by video game music, I Adore Commodore—Computer Music Flash is not as successful as his initial foray into electronic sounds. Unless you don’t mind listening to a half hour of what sounds deliberately like video game music, you may just want to move on to a different album.
While the tracks on Computer Disco were simply titled “Disco 1” through “Disco 8,” his Commodore video game album at least differentiates its tracks with more imagination. But the primitive beats of his disco were far more rewarding as music than the sonic intergalactic battles of these game-like sounds. Opener “Le Mans” mimics the revving of a race car motor before it introduces a simple melody and cascading ripples that signal the start of a race, the descending figure clearly indicating that your turn is over. The circular melody recalls a merry-go-round, an old-fashioned resonance that undercuts what was in 1983 a decidedly modern timbre, but Giombini’s use of electronics in film soundtracks was more inventive; for the 1980 film The Beast in Space, he created an electronic bed of crickets under a plaintive figure that suggested a spaghetti western in orbit.
K. Bytes’ Commodore 64 themes are playful, but the timbres can be grating; “Blue Print” has a bouncing drive but its heavy beats and 8-bit chirps sometimes unpleasantly pierce the ears. And even within the short span of tracks that barely exceed three minutes, these pieces can get noodly. The rapid-fire arpeggios of “Sea Wolf” perhaps evoke some kind of naval battle, but the monotonous figures are banal and repetitive—this is no minimalist drone but rather uninventive wandering.
The limitations of the Commodore 64 are not inherently at odds with charming music. German group Welle:Erdball made better use of the C64 aesthetic, perhaps accenting its alien whirrs and upping tempos for a Teutonic dance music that naturally conjures memories of Sprockets. In his video-game inspired music, Giombini seemed to resist the computer’s charms and work against them, and the pieces on I Adore Commodore often seem like conventional figures translated through new technology.
Blame it on the thudding drum beat. “Space Invaders” has a somewhat more promising approach: synthesized fanfares evoking the onset of creeping visitors from another planet, but the leaden rhythms make the inevitable cascading figures that much more grating. And then the higher-pitched laser sounds come in. It’s enough to drive humans and dogs to madness. Students of early computer music may be drawn to I Adore Commodore, but those looking for unheralded synth-pop should look elsewhere.