I have a confession to make: as someone that collects synthwave related physical media, there are times when I purchase said media without actually listening to the music in question first, and this was one such case. I should note that I do eventually listen to the music but, as I said before, I often buy first and listen later due to the limited edition nature of most synthwave related physical media; I get while the getting is still in supply.
As a fan of all synthwave music, from the lighter chillwave fare to the more intense darkwave, there has not really been a standout instance yet in my mind of regretting a purchase in such a carefree way. In fact, with “Digital Dark Age,” it ended up being one of the most surprising and would end up touching me on more levels than I ever expected from a random purchase.
I say this because, underneath its surface, there are three layers to this album which speak to me on a personal level that I would like to peel away one-by-one:
1. The Music.
One would assume, as I did, by ignoring the old adage of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” that “Digital Dark Age” is a pure work of dark synth. While there are dark synth like elements, particularly in the first song of the same as the album, it slowly evolves into more lighter fare as each track plays. In fact, at times, it almost sounds very chiptunes in design not unlike that of a video game. Which, as it turns out, is not far from the truth and just one more reason why I absolutely love this release: it’s actually the soundtrack to a video game made by the same person that made the music.
2. The Game.
On the Bandcamp page for the album, under the music itself, are a few paragraphs explaining the game in question and even has a link to download and play! Created as a school project, the game is not an overly involved one as there are no enemies to fight, obstacles to overcome, or puzzles to figure out; it’s what would probably fit best into the “walking simulator” genre.
You walk from computer to computer, each in their own section separated by lighted walkways, where pressing on the keyboards of the aforementioned computers results in hearing a narration accompanied by text on a screen. What are these narrations and text all about, you might ask? Something that is actually near and dear to my heart, with a message that I know all too well, and the reason why this all hit me so very hard.
3. The Message.
The point of the game is to explain the importance of digital archiving and how, without the proper tools and considerations, said information is doomed to become obsolete. As I keep stressing, this is very relevant to me and, if you’ll allow me to pull back the curtain a little bit on my personal life, I will explain: my day job is that of a digital archivist.
I scan materials for digitization and deal with issues pertaining to their preservation on a daily basis. In fact, just the other day, I came across a floppy disk in my travels and was faced with an interesting dilemma: I had no way of finding out what was on it because none of the computers in my office even have floppy disk drives anymore.
Luckily we were able to find one in storage, but it was a hassle to setup, and in the end was just a perfect example as to how technology can often make such great leaps forward to the expense of previous formats. Concerns like that is why I’m so thankful that vinyl and cassettes have had such a resurgence, allowing older formats to remain relevant, even if they often seem like they’re just for retro-inspired aesthetic reasons.
Anyway, if you want to learn more about all this and Martyn Stonehouse, you can check out his website. I should also note that, as of this post, there are only about a half dozen cassette tapes left so get in on that now!