Paza: Janin Teno Data Risotto, Ninjanidiskus 2005

1. Winning and losing has always been a big topic in pop music. However the meaning changed over the decades.

2. Home computer music is a very old movement that only recently stepped out of a scene of nerdy youngsters who liked to spend their time playing video games and writing programs on Atari, Sinclair or Commodore computers. The home computing culture is quite different from nowadays typical computer usage, and knowledge about this is required to fully appreciate Paza’s album “Janin Tendo Data Risotto”.

3. At the same time, home computer music has already developed far enough to be compared with “normal” pop music. This means for the area of critiques and reviews that pop music lovers must acquaint new knowledge about musicians and means of production they missed out on since more than 20 years. In parallel home computer musicians have to face new forms of analysis and criticism as their style rises to further refinement an interacts with pop music more deeply.

4. This leads to the following conclusions:

In the 1970s winning and losing in pop music was about finding happiness in love. An arbitrary example might be “Lonesome Loser” from 1979 by The Little River Band, which still gets a lot of airplay. Let’s look at an excerpt from the song’s lyrics:

Sit down, take a look at yourself
Don’t you want to be somebody
Someday somebody’s gonna see inside
You have to face up, you can’t run and hide
(complete lyrics)

So plainly speaking, when somebody — actually the Queen Of Hearts — sees the true soul of the Lonesome Loser he will become a winner in love, face the responsibility and for the rest of time everything will be great. It is something destiny has prepared, with the promise that there is enough love for everyone.

In the 1980s the context of the word “winning” in pop songs started to change from being lucky in love to being successful in business, beating the competition and cashing in. While at first this was only presented by bands acting on the front line of trends, like The Petshop Boys and Spliff, it finally became a commonplace in the 1990s. It is easy to follow this development with the band Modern Talking. In 1985 they released the song “You Can Win If You Want”:

You don’t fit in a smalltown world
But I feel you’re the girl for me

Rings on your fingers, paint on your toes

You’re leaving town where nobody knows

Steady job and a nice young man
your parents had your future planned
Rings on your fingers, paint on your toes
That’s the way your story goes
(complete lyrics)

This song is in a transition phase from winning at love to winning in business, so it has a bit of both: A cosmopolitic lover takes the girl from a steady, modest world to the big city which offers high risks and high rewards. Fashion accessoires are already in place.

After the 1990s the transition is finally completed. The same band Modern Talking releases “You Can Win The Race” in 2001:

We have a dream, we don’t give up
We can win, we can win right from the start
The price is high, time is on your side
Take the chance, take the chance, you’ll win tonight
(complete lyrics)

This song was written to be played during Formula 1 races on TV, but the subtext is about overtaking other people in life. The passive approach to stay strong in bad times as it can still be found in 1980s songs like “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow or “Resistire” by Duo Dinamico is over. In their place came aggressive statements that you can get what you want if you are tuff enough.

After the turn of the century, selling your grandmother continues being a field of growing lyrical importance in the pop music charts which are currently dominated by R&B and Hip Hop. Especially female singers seem to be obsessed with winning against men in making more money and against other women in becoming more beautiful. Men tell stories that already sound quite usual — about shooting each other and having more cheddar and bitches than the competitors.

Musicians who seek to distance themselves from this mainstream of Social Darwinism typically deliver critical lyrics about complex topics or about true emotions. There is still another way though and finally we switch to October 2005 and Paza’s “Janin Tendo Data Risotto”.

It is a really hot CD with Paza’s production sounding a bit like the late An Cool of the Swedish demo crew The Care Bears. Smashy percussion and bare unmodulated square wave bass lines from the legendary YM2149 soundchip are combined with noises from modified electronic toys and robot voices. Plus to all this, the main track “Hopefoolia” features lyrics about winning:

Fighting the evil
powers. I must
get into the hi-score.
Winning is a must!

This is not an excerpt but the complete words of the song. Some readers with interests in poetry might even take offense in the fact that “must” rhymes on “must” here. So what can this possibly be about, computer idiots being obsessed with shooting UFOs to gain points because this is the only thing they can win at? Aren’t the media full of stories about desocialized teenagers shooting each other in the virtual realities of networked first person shooters like Counterstrike or gaining power over others in “massive multiplayer online role playing games”?

Paza describes something completely different. The classic video or home computer action games he is referring to are not “multiplayer”. There is only one player in action, and the games themselves could be called “simple” in comparison with today’s electronic entertainment titles. Usually the plots in the classic games are very boiled down, like “good spaceship has to shoot bad spaceships”, “pizza-shaped being needs to eat all pills and escape the ghosts” or “weird-shaped blocks put in one line make the line disappear”.

Already in the 1980s these simple scenarios had to face lot of cultural criticism. They were for example thought to playfully replicate the east-west military conflict and to play down the act of killing. Only rarely understood was the fact that the “story” or “plot” of a game is not important. Important is only if the game plays well, if it can create the effect that the player get completely immersed.

A well made classic video game at first glance puts the player up against the machine. The machine confronts the player with situations that need to be solved inside the rules of the game. The only reward is that the score rises. In times before the internet, such a score only existed for the player. Nobody would know you were able to “beat the game” and received 10.000 points. Many times, the score was not even saved, so next time the computer was turned on, all achievements were gone. What kind of victory is that? That question becomes more strange considering there are many abstract games that do not have a plot at all and are able to self-generate an infinite number of situations, so they never actually end. Different from contemporary electronic entertainment titles that try to deliver the feeling of satisfaction and security, you could never win there, only the score would rise.

This means that Paza is only metaphorically “fighting the evil powers”. They are just a thin frame inside which games usually work. The drive to “get in the hi-score” doesn’t arise from the desire to be the best or to beat anybody. Because in a classic action video game you only play against yourself. Through repetitive play you will learn the situations of the game and sharpen your mind to react correctly. This form of playing is in fact very meditative and purifying. Many people who took single-player gaming seriously have seen the light of something I call “game trance”. Fast visual stimulus with extreme primary colors, sounds that are like a saw to the cranium and total concentration together can create this experience. The feeling of being one with the universe works because it is the universe of the game. The brain is totally occupied with quick reactions to insanely attacking UFOs that there seems to be no other world apart from this. So no wonder why many video gamers have at least a half-ironic relation to Kung Fu fighters and Ninjas (look at the title of Paza’s label!), who usually clean their mind half of the film before they finally kick someone.

Paza’s tunes are also very much like the structure of games. There are more links to the structure of games than to the actual sound effects or in-game music. In “Janin Teno Data Risotto” you have to concentrate to find your way through the often displaced rhythms and brutal sounds, all founded in the technical restrictions of home computers he uses to make this music. The scenario is simple, the execution complex. Through repetition you will find the right way to hear it. The downloadable video might be enlightening for you as well, dear music lover. You can see how Paza throws away all the CA$H to get into the hi-score. This is a very noble gesture.

If your mind was shaped by video gaming, this CD will grant you unrestricted access and rinse your head. If not it might evoke the wish in you to play some rounds of Musha Aleste or Tetris to educate yourself, then come back and try again:

My love has got no money He’s got his strong beliefs
My love has got no power He’s got his strong beliefs
My love has got no fame He’s got his strong beliefs
My love has got no money He’s got his strong beliefs
Want more and more
People just want more and more
Freedom and love
What he’s looking for
Want more and more
People just want more and more
Freedom and love
What he’s looking for
Freed from desire
Mind and senses purified
(“Freed From Desire”, Gala, 1997)

In the end, Paza brings us peace like Death Metal. An ideal person might say: “I am not afraid anymore, I went through the complete Thunderforce III and listened to Paza. I found the holistic way to computers.”, 2005-10-22

R-Type space ship skeleton images by Irem Corp. and ripped by Goemar and Reaper.

This review was published first on the site of the label.