Back in June or thereabouts I learned about a project to re-create Nine Inch Nails' first album "Pretty Hate Machine" as a chiptune cover/tribute project. This project is called Pretty Eight Machine. The artist InversePhase was kind enough to send me a copy of the CD as a random prize draw, so I thought I would write a few words about it.
I don't know a great deal about the world of chiptunes, besides having heard a variety of "chiptune" covers of various well-known songs, some good, some bad. the backing track to this video, a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World", is, in my opinion, good.
The front cover for P8M lovingly reflects the recent reworking of the classic PHM cover by Rob Sheridan, for the source album's recent deluxe reissue. There's a great in-depth interview with Rob about the process of reviving that cover at sleevage. That little homage is a good indication of the amount of effort and attention to detail that has gone into this project.
One interesting thing about this project is that each track has been composed for a particular vintage chipset, such as the Commodore 64 in the case of the opening track "Head like I/O". InversePhase is very faithful to the original chips here, not just using their tones as part of a modern composition but constraining himself with the actual chipset limitations: for example, the number of voices that can be playing at once. (By contrast, that Tears for Fears chiptune above is the non-authentic type of chiptune).
InversePhase tracks Trent's vocal lines as an instrument, so all of the notes that are heard in the original are present on this remake. It would be interesting to hear an "instrumental" mix of these tracks, and perhaps mix isolated vocal tracks from the originals on top…
My favourite track is probably "Kinda I Want To". I actually really like the original track, in particular the extended breakdown, where a synth noise gradually breaks down and disintegrates bar after bar. It suffered terribly from dated lyrics compared to other PHM tracks, but InversePhase's cover is saved that embarrassment. This particular track (apparently) makes use of a VCR6, a Konami chipset apparently used to supplement the hardware in the Famicom/NES. Yes, back then games came on cartidges that could supply bits of their own hardware if required. Those were the days! And yes InversePhase, you've successfully made the NES sound "dirty": and the synth breakdown sounds great.
Any fan of the original album or anyone with an interest in what kind of noises vintage sound synthesis chipsets could produce are thoroughly recommended to give this album a try. You can preview all of the tracks and read per-track information on the bandcamp page.