Product: The Boy With The Digital Heart
Publisher: Pixelh8
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #69

Every few years a real 'curiosity' item makes its way to EUG HQ - and it's safe to say Pixelh8's The Boy With The Digital Heart CD is definitely this year's curiosity item. Released in 2007, it is a music CD of 'chip tune music'. Its inlay boasts that "every note, every beat and every sound was written from scratch", with every composition recorded directly from the original machines. In addition, the inlay also states "no cross-platform composition; if it couldn't be done on the original machines, it wasn't done".

We first came across the CD in an eBay auction run by Pixelh8, and it was flagged in our searches for the Acorn Electron because its description stated that some of the music included was recorded from the Acorn Electron. Sadly (for us), the inlay does not reveal which machine each original composition was programmed upon. Having listened to the album a few times, we're not convinced anything on there sounds like the Elk at all because there are no one-channel, one-note-after-another dirges on there. However, with all the sounds on the CD mastered into digital stereo, and with several machines all playing at the same time, it does become difficult to compare the CD with the average few bleeps the average game blips through the Elk's internal speaker.

It has always been somewhat surprising that computer games do not gain the timeless recognition that a good book, film or piece of music does. For some unknown reason, all the intrinsic elements that make up a fantastic computer game do not seem to turn it into a piece of artwork, and do not make it revered. I recall the Spectrum version of The Untouchables included the most boppy little version of the Chatanooga Choochoo - and I would be very happy to have this on my iPod, but it just doesn't seem to work like this. Computer-created music seems to be regarded as somewhat sad. So Pixelh8 almost seems to have an uphill struggle from the beginning marketing his wares.

The album includes eleven tunes ranging from just 16 seconds in length to almost five minutes. As mentioned earlier, no indication is given as to what machine(s) each was written on, which to our minds is a major omission. The situation is slightly different if you care to do some youtube-related research on Pixelh8, as you can see several videos of him making everything from a Major Morgan to a Nintendo Gameboy burst into song. Undoubtedly he is an electrical and coding genius!

And yet I found it decidely difficult to get excited about The Boy With The Digital Heart. All the tunes have their own distinct style, with the pulsing beat of drum and pan pipe sounding "A Party Without You" conjuring up images of rolling skies and a relaxing game of Puzzle Slide. "Chocolate Milk", a bouncy little number almost clones the Vengaboys - but the various competing melodies distract from pure enjoyment. Then you have random collections of notes like "Segue 18" which sounds like you hit the jackpot on a one-armed bandit and "I Can't Run To You Fast Enough" which begins with an elongated beep for thirty seconds, which gave me the mother of all headaches.

I don't mind admitting however that I may be missing the point. It is probably the case that all of these cacophanies of sound are minor miracles of sweat and labour, with Pixelh8 pumping old technologies to produce compositions of awesome endeavour. This is precisely why I find the lack of information on how each was created so infuriating. If, for example, I was aware that "The Master" was actually created from three VIC-20s perfectly timed on different octaves, I might enjoy it more, not least because I am familiar with the limitations of the technology and could at least appreciate the amount of work involved in producing it.

Without the information however, what one is left with is a selection of tunes that sound, by and large, just like the backdrops to the arcade Pixel 8 Back Cover Art games of old, but without any nostalgia attached to them. They aren't written with distinct verses and chorus, hence there's no hook on them that commits them to memory.

Not that I would advise not supporting Pixelh8 in his efforts. I do find the whole CD fascinating and, with the entire album lasting just shy of thirty minutes, there's a fair amount of strange reverbs, effects and use of silence to make you marvel at his creative streak. The whole CD costs just £4.95 and, by all means, I think everyone who likes the 8-bit machines will find it a worthwhile, if somewhat bizarre, addition to their music collection.