Illustrated Tapes 144: The Dapper 8 Bit Machine

Curated by Scott Balmer

Scott is an illustator based in Scotland, UK.

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Hi Scott. Can you tell us a little bit about your tape and your song selections?

This was an interesting project to work on as I kind of ventured into uncharted territory with my mixtape, the initial idea was to go with some unusual choices since my artwork can go down in the more psychedelic-surreal path and I wanted to capture that within the music.

And with that in mind I went in blind and had a rummage through to see what Spotify could offer.

At first I thought about synth music but wanted some interesting ones and maybe base it on a theme of futurist robots which led me down a path of turning over stones that some people might not venture down. I found some interesting recordings of machinery and other beeps, boops and clanging noises that machines can make. Which got me thinking about basing it on a funky computer and so I started looking at things like chiptune and stuff from the demo scene.

Initially I wanted to add computer noises to the playlist to give an idea of stuff loading and machine-like sounds but moved away from this since it would work best if I could mix it into the music. I ventured through looking at music made by dusty old computers which took me down the path of chip tune and demo scene type of music. I was looking for tunes that fit the artwork in that they have to be uplifting and something that could come from an old computer like a ZX Spectrum or an Amiga.

While it was fun to make this paylist up it was possibly one of the hardest things I have done by selecting the music based on the artwork but it was an interesting experience to see what I could find.

What direction did you take with your cover art, and what was your process?

At first when I was thinking about making a futuristic synth mixtape my initial idea was to make a futuristic space cowboy with multiple things, doodads and objects going into infinity influenced by soundwaves and the odd movie soundtrack.

But that all changed when I started looking into old retro computer sounds and noises that changed the focus to making some sort of weird, funky sound machine, designing it around the idea that it’s some kind of music creation device kind of on par with an old Casio keyboard.

This lead me to computer sounds with the ‘klunk-klick’ of disk drives to the demented screeching of a printer but what wasn’t there was the sound that comes from loading code off a tape. For those who haven’t experienced it, it's an audio/visual sensation of beeps and flashing colours which I thought could be a nice opener to the song selection but I ditched this idea when it would be better to mix this sort of thing into the music.

I kind of did this backwards as I had made the artwork first and then moulded the mixtape around the artwork which made things far harder than it should have been but was a fun bit of discovery to see if I could find music to fit the artwork and give it’s own story as this retro looking, 8-bit sounding, music making machine.

What are your fave album covers, records with a great music and artwork combo, or musical projects with a visual component?

This is always difficult since there are some fantastic designs out there but one artist which stands out for me is Roger Dean, he has made some of the most surreal and wonderful imagery for the likes of Yes and other bands like Asia.

If I had to select one, it would be a tossup between Asia’s Alpha cover and Yes’ Union since both show his wonderful use of colour and are imaginative worlds.

Alpha – Asia
1983, Geffen Records
Artwork: Roger Dean

Union – Yes
1991, Arista
Artwork: Roger Dean

What did you listen to growing up?

It was mostly all pop stuff when I was young, usually from whatever my brother was listening to. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started to open up more to music from the rise of Britpop with the likes of the Stone Roses or Oasis to venturing back through older music of the 60s and 70s to find where things started from.

And what’s on heavy rotation for you at the moment?

I don’t listen to a lot of music at the moment to be honest, usually when I work it is in complete silence, sometimes I might put a few YouTube videos on as background noise but it depends on what task I am doing at the time.

What’s happening in your creative world at the moment?

I’ve got a few illustrations to make for a large company which has finally started due to being shelved for a bit. I don’t know if I could say much about it though it’s kind of a dream job as the company deals with making things on the fringes of technology which is pretty interesting in its own right, plus there is also my regular editorial work to do too.

Where can we find you?

I have two websites where you can see my work, one which has my rough textured style and the other that has my vector style and for Twitter & Instagram its @scott_balmer

Cheers Scott 👋🏽