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Q&A: Freshman discusses using Minecraft sounds in music making process

Aleja Chambers

Kalamazoo freshman Aleja Champers’s favorite video game is Minecraft.

She said she started playing sometime in 2012 shortly after the game was released in 2011. 

This summer during the lockdown, the computer science major found she could combine her favorite video game with another one of her favorite pastimes -- music.

Using sheet music, her knowledge of computer software and a well-trained ear, she recreated her high school indoor percussion group's entire show using sounds from the game.

Central Michigan Life spoke with Chambers about her love of Minecraft and how she got started making music.

CM Life: How long have you been playing Minecraft?

Chambers: I’ve been in a Minecraft phase since fourth grade. I was 10, and I stumbled upon a random YouTube video. Then, all my friends started playing it. Eight years later and it just keeps getting better and better.

What drew you to Minecraft and music?

A lot of my friends played it. I liked how you can build stuff in Minecraft. It’s infinite creativity. I like sandbox games more than games with a storyline.

As for the music part, I played the synth in indoor percussion and marching band for two years. I have a mini controller I got over quarantine. I really like keyboard instruments, and music theory’s pretty neat. I kind of applied that a bit when I made the covers. 

What is you’re favorite thing about Minecraft? 

In middle school, I used to be really into the YouTuber side of Minecraft. 

Now, people just do really crazy things in Minecraft. Like, people are trying to recreate the entire planet in Minecraft. Every city. People do so much stuff with this game. I really like it.

How did you get started making music?

I started during quarantine because I found out about a free program called “Minecraft Note Block Studio”. And I’m like, "Hey, why not make a cover of songs I like?" Another thing I used is called “FamiTracker”, an 8-bit music program. I used those two programs and “Audacity” to create my indoor percussion show. 

Indoor percussion is like a marching band minus the color guard and horn line. The idea is you make a show or tell a story, maybe.

We were going to have a final performance, but we didn’t. Because of COVID-19 we didn’t get to, so I just made the whole thing in Minecraft Note Block Studio, in FamiTracker and Audacity. I recorded like a music video to go with them. It took two months on and off. I’m just really proud of it.

What’s your favorite music genre?

I like Math Rock and J-pop in the form of like Vocaloid, and that general music style.

Math rock is rock, but they really mess up the time signatures. I’ve had a friend tell me that math rock gives her anxiety because the beat is so erratic. Doing weird things with the time signature, like polyrhythms, I think is really cool. There is a method to the madness.

Who is your favorite musician?

His name is Kenshi Yonezu. He’s pretty popular in Japan. He started out making Vocaloid music, and he’d draw and edit his own music videos. Then, he released albums of him singing; he was like a one-man-band.

What is your process for making music?

My director gave me the sheet music, and I referenced that to put all the parts into Minecraft Note Block Studio and FamiTracker. I’m proud of the work I did on the music video.

If I don’t have the sheet music, I first find out what key it’s in. Then, I figure out if the song has lyrics, and I write down where the chords are with the words. My next step is putting every sound possible into Minecraft Note Block Studio. It’s pretty straight forward. I just listen to the song and figure out where to lay it out in Minecraft Note Block Studio. If I’m putting 8-bit into it as well, it’s usually just the melodic part that’s in FamiTracker. Finally, I put it in Audacity, do my mixing, export it and bam.

How do I describe how the music makes me feel? 

It’s very "Minecrafty." I used the most non-instrumental Minecraft sounds in it. At one point, I was using the Minecraft eating sound for a percussion part. I’m just happy with how all the parts, the Minecraft sounds, stacked on each other. There was a part that went from four-four to six-eight time, and that’s a part where I’m proud of the instrumentation. 

What’s your favorite cover that you’ve done?

My favorite cover is the third movement of my indoor percussion show last year. The original song is called “Terra Firma," but I changed the remix name to “Nether Firma." It’s the longest cover I’ve made. 

Have you written any original music?

I have written one stanza of a song, that I never ended up finishing. I’m afraid I’m going to accidentally steal someone’s song. 

I made it entirely in FamiTracker. It’s like 20 seconds. I think I know where I want to go with that piece. I’ll probably end up doing something with it, even if it’s just a 40-second song.

Where do you publish your music?

I have a SoundCloud. I actually covered my school's fight song fully in FamiTracker. That’s there.

On my YouTube, there are covers of the songs from my indoor percussion show. I put the first versions of some of those songs on my SoundCloud.