Film | Wide Angle

‘Beep’ tracks down 8-bit maestros

by Giovanni Fazio

Here’s one for the gamers: “Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound” interviews more than 80 composers, sound designers and voice actors in a comprehensive look at its topic. Starting with mechanical pinball bells, “Beep” moves through the bleepy 8-bit sounds of 1980s arcade games to the present, where an entire otaku subculture is dedicated to the live performance of game music.

Although retro ’80s game music is now an aesthetic — see the “chiptune” genre — the film points out its more prosaic beginnings. It was usually made as an afterthought on whatever memory remained of the game creation process — 40 kilobytes in the case of “Space Invaders”— and it had to be simple and piercing enough to stand out amid the cacophony of an arcade.

From those meager beginnings, the industry is now marked by innovation, with composers “scoring to possibility,” making music that adapts to gameplay, or sound design so advanced it can break down the sound of a dribbled basketball into six separate components.

To its credit, “Beep” tracks down loads of Japanese sound designers from Sega, Taito, and Nintendo, but they don’t seem to get as much screen time as their U.S. counterparts. This is remedied, however, by the bonus content: “Beep: Big in Japan,” a 25-minute long doc that focuses on the likes of Hisayoshi Ogura of the Taito “house band” Zuntata, and Yoko Shimomura, who scored “Street Fighter.” There’s also a bonus tribute to the late Ryu Uemoto, the composer on Elf’s cult eroge (pornographic game) “Yu-No.”

“Beep” is now available on Vimeo at vimeo.com/ondemand/beep.