If you were to enter Kristin Miltner’s home, here’s what you might see: Recording equipment, much of it using software she’s developed herself. Some Brian Eno albums, post-Another Green World. And for sure, a pile of old Genesis or NES consoles, with a vast library of games.
Miltner’s contribution to the Asthmatic Kitty Library Catalog Music Series — a collection for use as background in TV, film, art, or anything else you might wish to use it for — includes both lovely, soothing ambient tracks as well as frantic cascades of 8-bit noise. As a whole album, it’s rather jarring and doesn’t cohere very cleanly. But she performs both styles well, producing a record with plenty for electronica fans to enjoy.
The first half of the album includes several tracks-worth of floating synths and tinkling effects, with a standout being “Dreaming and Longing.” On that, angelic vocals sweep over the music in waves. It’s easy enough to listen to this track on its own — it need not be background to anything.
By the fifth track, however, the record takes a sharp turn. Miltner has some fairly self-explanatory track titles for her retro-style gaming music, including “Inchworm in Bitcrunch Garden,” “Adventure Platformer,” and “Space Shooter: Boy Avatar” and “Girl Avatar.” Predictably, anyone who whiled away a summer blowing into cartridges will understand her affection for old-school beats and blurps. Though they have limited shelf-life — some of these tracks may make you want to power up your old Master System more than finish the record — there’s some great stuff, here, too.
“Adventure Platformer” is a propulsive, space-age theme with lovely glockenspiel, something that feels suited to some forgotten game’s “Laboratory” stage. “Space Shooter: Girl Avatar,” is unbearably cute, including mewing cat noises that will probably make you giggle the first time (and skip the track every time after that).
More than anything, Miltner makes music that’s pretty, and occasionally precious. But it’s imbued with emotion, too. If videogames can be pop art, then some of the first art many of us experienced was in videogame music, no matter how crude. Miltner takes individual pieces of beautiful ambient and tessellates it with blocks of sharp-edged 8-bit detritus, arranging a Tetris-inspired mosaic that fuses the best of both worlds.
(Asthmatic Kitty Records, PO Box 1282, Lander, WY 82520)