ON THE 1’s AND 2’s “I don’t know if there’s any precedent for it really,” says James Therrien about his Game Boy performance console. “It’s almost like conducting a small quartet.”
Br1ght Pr1mate aren't sure what you're going to think of them. (And you'll have your chance when they come to the Middle East this Saturday.) The twisted attributes in their electronic music — it's melodramatic, resplendent, shrill, quirky, warped, etc. — don't exactly make for your everyday sunshine synth-pop. Never mind those four-on-the-floor beats and the video projections — one listen to the chewy and ominous 8-bit sounds on their new Beam Me Up EP will convince you that there's something else entirely going on here.
Think of Br1ght Pr1mate as like Echo & the Bunnymen, except that instead of the extra bandmember's being a drum machine, it's a vintage hand-held Nintendo Game Boy console that's the genesis of their music. The machine does seem to have a personality of its own — albeit one programmed into a handmade Norwegian cartridge.
The guy who looks as if he were playing video games on stage, all decked out in clunky glasses and a bedhead so unruly it could only come from lack of sleep, is Br1ght Pr1mate's mad-scientist producer, Boston8Bit-collective member James Therrien. The Game Boy's architecture allows Therrien to program four channels of individually composed music (bass, drums, keyboards, etc.) that he is then able to modify on the fly in the live-performance setting.
"I don't know if there's any precedent for it really," he says, wide-eyed and fumbling with the console's buttons as he demonstrates his performance to me. "It's almost like conducting a small quartet."
As academic as that might sound (and he did study classical music), Therrien's own conversion to the Game Boy's sounds came out of pure visceral fun. "When the music hits the large PA and it kind of amps it up, it's like BZZT BZZT BZZT!!" he says, grinning.
Just a year ago, Therrien and Br1ght Pr1mate singer Lydia Marsala were still (incomprehensibly) in the now defunct blues/rock outfit Fugitive Kind. When they decided to quit the band thing and start working as a duo, they wanted to perform music that was not only full-sounding but also not so reliant on the pre-recorded tracks that turn a lot of techno performers into unwitting (though sometimes brilliant) karaoke artists. They also wanted to write songs that would nurture their respective musical personalities — his based in the avant-garde, hers rooted in pop. Over time, the need to recognize their differences became less important as their tastes started to converge.
"One day, James played something that he was working on," says Marsala. "He said, 'I'm not sure if you're going to like this,' but I ended up liking it immediately. The sounds were so friendly and positive. Also, because James had to create the sounds himself, it just sounded more like him." What Therrien played for her was some music that he had produced in the Chiptune idiom — a subgenre of techno that uses hacked old-school video-game consoles as its sole production platform.