Released: July 1, 2013
- Azure Memories & Kernel 2 Theme (PROLOGUE & MAIN TITLE)
- Dimitri Returns (INTERLUDE I)
- Marvinberry Tower (STAGE SELECT)
- Amber Electric Company (KID SPARKLL STAGE)
- Bishop Waterfront (KENTACLE STAGE)
- Captain Slude’s Tugboat (ADMIRAL RUBONOV STAGE)
- Civic Center Ice Arena (GERALD & GERARD STAGE)
- Back At The Coop (INTERLUDE II)
- Cumulonimbus Flats (GRIIIKO STAGE)
- Great Gourami Aquarium (GREAT GOURAMI STAGE)
- Moonmeat Alley (MOONIE MCJUNFRONT STAGE)
- GKami Ghosts (SHOP)
- Shartleston Waste Treatment Plant (THE JAR STAGE)
- Sleeptight Heights (MAYOR BOBASS STAGE)
- Terrible Turnpike (REGGIE STAGE)
- The Townsburgville City Times (ASHA TORSEY STAGE)
- Ray’s Fat Cat Saloon (BONUS STAGE)
- Feathered Melee (BOSS BATTLE)
- Kernel’s Jig (STAGE CLEAR)
- Kernel Succumbs (GAME OVER)
- Kernel’s Decision (CONTINUE)
- A Rooster Resolute (INTERLUDE III)
- D.L.P. Bank & Trust (DIMITRI STAGES)
- Mega-Lord Dimitri (FINAL BOSS BATTLE)
- Dimitri Defeated (FINALE)
- Kernel 2 Suite (STAFF ROLL)
- Better Left Unsaid [Kernel Mix] (BONUS TRACK)
All songs written, produced, engineered and mixed by OttO Vector [M. Glaser, A. Lemanek, R. Miller, W. Daviddi, D. Lee]. Published by WHERE DO THESE STAIRS GO (ASCAP).
8 Bit Power Hour – Podcast (2013-11-12)- this one gets a little weird.
Stories, Chickens, Images and MORE:
The 8-Bit Saga of Kernel 2: Dimitri’s Revenge (OST)
“Who the hell is Dimitri?? Where is Kernel 1?? What’s the deal with the Blue F!#?@! Chicken?!?” OttO Vector originally toyed with the notion of releasing an “8-bit remix album,” a collection that would include a handful of NES-inspired chiptune* versions of the band’s songs. “It’s in our DNA,” explained Ginseng. “[8-bit music] has been a part of my brain since I first laid hands on a game controller.” After a period of careful deliberation, Sonic and Ginseng arrived at the obvious conclusion: why not write an actual video game soundtrack? With the assistance of their parent company AudioQuirks, so began the search for video game properties befitting of OttO Vector’s musical touch.
“Chiptune is the rebirth of old hardware and lost memories that has the power to influence artists and societies in an ever-changing world of advanced technologies. It’s the simplest form of bleeps and pixels that drives pure nostalgia for Generation Y and brings new inspiration for the next.” – Yuuya Masada, Founder/Piko Piko Detroit and Owner/PPD Netlabel
Fruitless inquiries, unanswered phone calls and intense frustration eventually led the team to the most unlikely of places: their own doorstep. Upon that very step sat Kernel, a dear friend in the guise of a plastic rooster. The band’s mascot (and unofficial “sixth member”), the eponymous “Blue Chicken” had accompanied OttO Vector since before their inception. Inspired by the mysterious legend of an obscure Japanese video game, 1987’s unfinished Ondori Kernel, the rooster’s namesake was that of the game’s title character- a fact that was not lost on Ginseng. “We looked at Kernel, and the lighting bolt struck us square in the face. The original game was never released- presumed lost forever. The music- incomplete. Could we somehow acquire the rights to ‘finish’ the soundtrack?”
What became of the long-dormant, oft-forgotten Ondori Kernel property? Beneath Detroit’s frigid winter sky, a research team was assembled in March 2012. Scouring libraries, the Internet and other unspeakable sources, the team relentlessly searched for any information related to this seemingly phantom game. Dozens of e-mails, phone calls and interviews yielded no results…until one cloudless summer morning, just by chance, the phone rang. “My name is Makoto Yoshida, administrator of the Wakahisa estate. I want to tell you about my uncle Boku.”
One cannot mention Ondori Kernel without discussing the forlorn tale of its unsung creator, designer Bokuzen Wakahisa. Admittedly, next-to-nothing is known about the enigmatic artist’s beginnings. According to his nephew, Wakahisa spent his formative years in Matsushima, Miyagi, and possessed a “profound love of the sea.” Fresh from university in Kyoto, Wakahisa founded the humble three-man game development studio NoodleNekomaru! as a means of committing his unique vision to the blossoming home console industry. Bokuzen (known by his classmates as “BOKU”) endeavored to bestow his quirky flair upon the sprite-populated universe of aliens, plumbers and gun-toting robots…and he was to accomplish this through his master creation: an anthropomorphic blue rooster named “Kernel.”
Loosely set against the backdrop of 16th century Japan’s Sengoku period, Ondori Kernel portrayed a fantastic world inhabited entirely by anthropoid animals, sentient objects and unpredictably wild kami. The story: An evil daimyo seized control of the land, ruthlessly demanding tributes to further his wicked schemes. Aided by a pair of magical geta (footwear), the hero Kernel (an inexplicably blue rooster) battled to free the towns and villages from the tyranny of the daimyo and his henchman. The game reportedly implemented a time-travel twist as well, which cosmically transmogrified the past to a modern-day metropolis.
Development of Ondori Kernel commenced in the early summer of 1986, with Wakahisa both overseeing and impinging every aspect of production. Inspired by the legendary works of Carl Barks, the fiercely driven Wakahisa personally illustrated, rendered and programmed his cast of humanoid creations with painstaking dedication. All was not well within the studio walls, however. After months of round-the-clock hours, budgetary cuts, and intense creative clashes, the first days of autumn saw Wakahisa’s crew forsake the fledgling NoodleNekumaru!…abandoning Boku to complete his oeuvre alone.
Undaunted, the wearied Bokuzen Wakahisa frantically persevered to consummate his dream project. With rapidly dwindling finances, the near-penniless artist was forced to vacate his blighted studio in lieu of a less-than-modest flat in Kyoto’s eastern outskirts. Boku (who at this point suffered from acute exhaustion) completed the initial Ondori Kernel demo in early 1987, and feverishly arranged a series of sales pitches for Japan’s major consumer electronics powerhouses.
Wakahisa’s nephew, a then seventeen-year-old student, remembers his final encounter with the designer. “Uncle sent a telegram, asking me to visit immediately. I hadn’t seen him in years, so this request was in itself very strange.” Makoto Yoshida had only fleeting childhood memories of his uncle, but immediately recognized that this was decidedly not the man he remembered from bygone family gatherings. “Upon my arrival, I was shocked at the state of his health and home. Uncle Boku was disheveled. His home was strewn with piles of paper and television parts. His eyes…wild. Uncle was planning a journey, and asked me to care for his small cactus while he was away.”
It was during this encounter that Wakahisa shared his radical vision with young Yoshida. “Though his story was full of heartache, when he spoke of Ondori Kernel… Uncle Boku was as one walking though a dream. He was at once a child, a proud father, a man at peace. He showed me the Kernel materials, the demo, and a few incomplete music ideas. All of it- simply astounding! I knew this game would be a tremendous success.”
The meeting was short-lived, however. Save for a handful of notes and sketches, Bokuzen Wakahisa gathered everything related to the Ondori Kernel presentation, packed it in a tattered briefcase…and bid farewell. “He turned to me and shouted as he walked away. ‘Stay young!’ he said. That was the last time I saw my uncle.”
In fact, nobody has seen Bokuzen Wakahisa since that mild February afternoon. No proof exists of him presenting the Ondori Kernel demo. There is no evidence of expatriation, and no documentation of his death has been recorded. If not for his nephew’s memories, Boku’s life and legacy might be forever lost to the annals of time. For all intents and purposes, Bokuzen “Boku” Wakahisa simply vanished…and with him disappeared all traces of Ondori Kernel.
Some twenty-five years later, Makoto Yoshida remained steadfast in both protecting and celebrating his uncle’s legacy. Upon hearing of OttO Vector’s quest through an industry source, Yoshida hesitantly decided to contact the band. After all- very few people remembered Bokuzen Wakahisa…and fewer still had any knowledge of the doomed Ondori Kernel.
The initial conversation was politely cautious. Quite unsure of the band’s intentions, Yoshida requested a proof-of-concept composition. Per Sonic, “It was his way of auditioning us. Although Mr. Yoshida believed in our passion and seemed to dig [OttO Vector’s] albums, he was still unsure about consenting to the project.” Without delay, Sonic and Ginseng immediately got down to the business of writing. “Kernel Suite,” an arrangement comprised of their proposed themes and motifs, hit Makoto Yoshida’s inbox five whirlwind days later. The following week, Yoshida responded in a most unexpected fashion.
“Mr. Yoshida declined to give us Ondori Kernel, and we were simply heartbroken,” recalled Ginseng. “Imagine our absolute shock when he offered us Wakahisa-san’s ENTIRE universe- Kernel, his world, EVERYTHING!”
Why the sudden turn of events? Yoshida had only this to say: “The world needs Kernel, and Kernel needs the world. It’s time to free the Blue Rooster.”
With handshakes, signatures and a bottle of whiskey, the deal was struck. AudioQuirks and OttO Vector had acquired ownership of the Ondori Kernel property.
Production of Kernel 2 began in earnest on August 1st, 2012. Committed to honoring Bokuzen Wakahisa’s original vision, OttO Vector conceived the project as a canonical sequel to Ondori Kernel. The two-pronged, simultaneous attack consisted of both outlining a story and painting its audio landscape– in tandem. Per Ginseng, “A brief stage/level diagram was an absolute MUST. To effectively convey the ‘sound’ of a specific location, we had to understand a bit about the place. Everybody knows that a ‘dungeon’ sounds different than the clouds, underwater, a desert, etc.” Following the time-twist element that concluded Wakahisa’s masterpiece, the team decided to base Kernel 2 in the prototypical modern-day metropolis of Townsburgville City. Kernel’s mystical geta evolved as magical sneakers, the nameless daimyo as Dimitri L. Pubo, and the imposing legion of evil bosses multiplied tenfold. Kernel would once again be tasked with defending his city’s inhabitants from Dimitri’s wicked schemes.*
*Fun fact: Each of Dimitri’s minions were based on actual characters from OttO Vector’s varied (and random) encounters throughout the years.
With Kernel 2’s story outlined, Sonic and Ginseng proceeded to score the virtual world’s music. “The classic games’ music were essentially ‘pop’ songs, distilled down to 30-second, repeating loops. They were catchy! After playing these games for days, they got in your head- they stuck with you,” said Sonic. “We expanded the themes [from “Kernel Suite”] into full-fledged songs, and these became the background pieces for each ‘level’ of the game.”
Ginseng drew inspiration from his favorite classic 8-bit composers. “I’ve always been a tremendous fan of the incomparable Koji Kondo, Tateishi, Tonomura, Kukeiha Club, Hirokazu Tanaka and the great David Wise- they’re some of my earliest musical heroes. Though we didn’t want to specifically emulate any of these tremendous artists, their tunes were always in my head when we delved into Kernel’s world.”
Though the team briefly toyed with the notion of using vintage 1980s technology to create Kernel 2’s 8-bit soundtrack, Sonic and Ginseng quickly realized the limits of such an endeavor. Time restraints, budgetary requirements and simple pragmatism dictated their course of action: 80s sensibility…via modern technology. Ginseng: “The sheer mountain of notes in each composition is completely INSANE. The old-school composers worked with the only cumbersome tech available to them- and it was undoubtedly NOT an easy task. We didn’t set out to create a 100% ‘period reproduction.’ We’re not programmers- we’re songwriters and musicians. We made every effort to embody to the same 8-bit musical philosophies that guided the great composers of the 80s. Though we were cognizant of their approach, our goal was to stay true to the spirit and the feel of the music we remembered with such affection.”
By the first weekend of September, OttO Vector had completed nearly two-thirds of the soundtrack’s content. Though a series of previous commitments put the project on a temporary hiatus, work resumed again in late November. With a final coat of polish, finesse and audio tweaking, the music of Kernel 2: Dimitri’s Revenge was wrapped before champagne toasting the New Year.
The [BLEEP-BLEEP] Thickens!
With the album’s soundtrack complete, OttO Vector turned their attention to visualizing the world of Kernel 2. “Thanks to Mr. Yoshida, we had a pretty good idea of Kernel’s look,” mused Ginseng, “but wanted to actually see him and his cohorts.” To conceptually illustrate the denizens of Townsburgville City, Ginseng penned brief vignettes for each of Kernel 2’s major characters and locations. This “script” served as a guide for the artists tasked with visually transposing words to images.
Enlisting the talents of world-renowned Aerosol Tech Antonio “Shades” Agee, the team envisioned an album cover that embraced the misleading and “weird-as-f***” tradition of classic video game box art.
From an urban rooftop, the Detroit native explained, “Ginseng popped up at my crib and told me about this character. [Wakahisa] inspired me, he reminded me of myself- we both came from the bottom and worked our way up. When I saw [Wakahisa’s] Kernel sketch, I HAD to be involved- I really did. Kernel was fantastic! The idea of the Blue Chicken fighting, you know? I wanted to give him an aggressive ghetto pass! Kernel is important to the world, to Detroit- he’s universally positive. If anybody can represent the city- it’s him. If there was a giant Kernel balloon in the Thanksgiving Day parade? Oh my god- it would change our ideals! Why does the world need Kernel? We’re lost, dude- we need a hero. It’s Kernel, man!”
With Shades painting the cover, the team gave consideration to the album’s game manual-inspired booklet. Citing the “tremendous disconnect” in classic video games’ art direction, Ginseng insisted on a unique interior illustrator with distinctly different art sensibilities. “Some of the best video games had the most ridiculous box art, with characters that looked absolutely nothing like the sketches in the game manual…which in turn bore very little resemblance to the actual game sprites. We consciously wanted to repeat that aesthetic [for Kernel 2].”
Longtime OttO Vector collaborator Matthew Physico Robinson accepted this unique challenge with passionate aplomb.
“I’d been gaming with [OttO Vector] for a lot of years, and definitely shared their passion of old-school games and pixels. When I was approached about this ridiculous, insane undertaking, I was instantly driven to be part of such a tremendous opportunity! Plus my cat LOVED the concept- surprise! Wakahisa-san’s story moved me to tears, and I felt it was my duty to help give life to his magnificently weird creations. Who takes care of Kernel? That’s a damn good question…a question I was about to answer.”
…and thus Kernel and company became tangible. After a twenty-five year slumber, Wakahisa’s unconventional universe had awakened with kinetic ferocity.
To launch the niche soundtrack, OttO Vector partnered with Piko Piko Detroit– a community of “lovers of pixels and retro beep sounds.”
“A case like this is incredible,” explains Piko Piko Detroit founder Yuuya Masada. “…And I hope for other lost or forgotten arts to be rediscovered and loved again by passionate devotees. It’s an honor to be part of the story and to help unfold Mr. Wakahisa’s life and work.”
And that, as they say, was that. Kernel 2 could now be released into the wild…but would Wakahisa approve?
“We’ll never really know, of course,” considers Ginseng. “Boku’s influence guided our every decision [on Kernel 2]. We truly feel that we’ve respectfully honored his creations, and quite possibly, he’d get a kick out of the weirdness we’ve produced. Maybe he’s still out there, somewhere. I’d like to think that our version of [Wakahisa-san’s] world would bring a smile to his face, make him proud.”
…and what of an actual Kernel 2 video game? “I love this world. This world exists. It’s in our heads. The details are there- bouncing in my brain, scrawled in notebooks. Townsburgville City is real, and I can’t wait to visit. Unfortunately, game programming isn’t something we know- it’s well beyond our expertise.“ Ginseng remains optimistic, however. “Anything’s possible, and we’re the type of team that quite often creates our own possibilities. We’ll just have to wait and see- stay tuned!”
Indeed we will. Until then, as a wise and spirited man once said, “stay young.”
8 Bit Power Hour – Podcast (2013-11-12)- this one gets a little weird.
This digital-only album is available for purchase from your favorite digital audio retailer (iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, etc.). Stream OttO Vector at Pandora, Spotify, Last.fm, Reverb Nation, Rhapsody, iTunes Radio and more!