The subject for Day 22 of my 30-day Song Challenge is probably the most challenging of them all – “A song from an obscure music genre“. My pick is a composition titled “Necrofantasia” by TheTrustedComputer.
In doing an online search for music genres I was not familiar with, I came across one that looked kind of interesting: Black MIDI (not to be confused with the English rock band of the same name, whose music has no relation to the genre). Black MIDI is a sort of sub genre of electronic music. Since I knew nothing about it, nor any of the music from that genre, I’m going to be doing a lot of paraphrasing and quoting in this post.
In a nutshell, Black MIDI music essentially consists of compositions that use MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files to create a song or a remix containing a large number of notes, typically in the thousands, millions, billions, or even trillions. The term “Black MIDI” comes from the fact that these huge numbers of notes are layered in such close proximity to one another in a composition that the music score would appear almost entirely black on traditional sheet music. People who create Black MIDI pieces are known as blackers.
Though Black MIDI’s exact origins are unclear, artists and musicians such as Canadian virtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin, whose player piano composition “Circus Galop” features a complex arrangement with up to 21 notes played simultaneously, and Frank Zappa, who wrote a dense and extremely difficult composition called “The Black Page”, have long experimented with computers and music software to push boundaries of traditional methods and practices for creating music.
According to an article by Sam Reising for webzine New Music Box, Black MIDI was first employed in Japan in 2009 when the first blacker, Shirasagi Yukki at Kuro Yuki Gohan, created a piece based on “U.N. Owen Was Her?”, an extra boss theme from the Touhou Project shooter video game The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which he uploaded to the Japanese video site Nico Nico Douga. Public awareness and popularity of Black MIDI started to spread from Japan to China and Korea over the next two years, then eventually migrated to Europe and the United States by early 2012.
Black MIDIs were created with MIDI sequencers such as Music Studio Producer, and Singer Song Writer, and played through MIDI players such as MAMPlayer and Timidity++. Many are based on the music from video games and cartoons, thanks to a healthy crossover in interest between blackers, anime heads and gamers, the majority of whom were males in their teens or even pre-teens. These blackers were often fiercely competitive, battling one another to see how many notes they could cram into a single composition. Soon, blackers from around the world began pushing limits of the style by making compositions with notes increasing into the millions, often using an enormous number of colors and patterns in their videos to match the complexity of the notes.
The first of these tracks to reach the million-note mark was “Necrofantasia”, from Touhou Project video game Perfect Cherry Blossom. The piece was arranged by California-based blacker TheTrustedComputer, aka TTC, when he only 15. At the time, he was one of Black MIDI’s reigning kings and the moderator of The Impossible Music wiki. He’s recorded numerous remixes, and this one contains three million notes! The composition, which sounds like a classical piece on steroids, is both strangely beautiful and macabre. You can hear the distortion in several places where the notes are crammed together so tightly that they just become tortured noise.
The number of notes and file sizes that could be played back have grown with the rising amount of processing and 64-bit programs that computers are able to handle, and while Black MIDIs of Japanese video game music and anime are still common, the genre also spilled over to compositions based on modern-day pop songs, such as “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. (Reising, New Music Box)
Despite this increased computer storage capacity, there are still Black MIDI files so large they can cause an operating system to slow down or crash. The three largest Black MIDIs are “Armageddon v3”, “TheTrueEnd”, and “Ashes”, all of which contain the maximum number of notes allowed in the MIDI standard (approximately 93 trillion). Due to the nature of their creation and their sheer size, they are unable to be played back and recorded. (Wikipedia)
Here’s an interesting video from 2014 of YouTuber Sam Sutherland explaining Black MIDI: