Canadian artist Patsy Gallant (born 1948), who achieved worldwide commercial success as a disco queen, released Take Another Look in 1984. The album tells the story of the “High Tech Girl,” a female cyborg character that serves as a metaphor for Patsy herself to address the imminent end of her marriage to musician Dwayne Ford through the album. For the first time in the singer’s discography, synthesizers and MIDI sequencers took a predominant role. Those new digital technologies inspired the construction of a futuristic piece where distinct elements such as the sleeve photos, the lyrics, the musical arrangements, and the final sound interacted with each other according to an unevenly organized concept. Sound effects and repeating short musical loops were created with the synthesizers to represent narrative elements through the tracks. This article combines interpretative studies, musical analysis, semiotics, and studies related to Patsy Gallant’s biography (as well as her accounts of the making of the album during interviews and conversations with the author) to investigate the intersections between Take Another Look and the background music presented in early home console games, as well as the overall influences of early video game music on the album. It takes into consideration some concepts featured in video game design and game audio literature, notably studies of game narrative, the function of audio elements on gameplay, and game semiotics. In the article, Take Another Look is highlighted as an innovative album where video games are important narrative and sonic references. The language of video games impacts the artistic concept of the record and the metaphors related to both the construction of Patsy Gallant’s musical persona and the music for the project.

Canadian singer Patsy Gallant (born 1948) released her twelfth solo album, Take Another Look, through Montreal-based Vamp Records in 1984. Looking to adjust to new trends in pop music after several years performing mainly disco music and a short interlude recording AOR/west-coast music for the Japanese market, she turned to rock and technopop. At the time, her marriage to Dwayne Ford—who was originally her band’s keyboard player and whom she had been dating since 1977—was crumbling, and she explored this moment of her life to write those songs. The inevitable divorce was delayed when Patsy found herself pregnant and had her son Jason in June 1985, but two years later the couple went their separate ways for good.

In 2020, Patsy would describe that moment with the following words: “In the end, that marriage was a mistake. It answered solely to my romantic desire. But deep inside, Dwayne did not truly want it.”1 For his part, Dwayne Ford writes in his 2011 memoir book Rock This Kitchen that he was not taking married life seriously; he wanted essentially the party lifestyle, to the point that his strongest memory from his wedding celebration was of sniffing cocaine inside a washroom. Most of the time, he was an absent husband. Another crucial aspect highlighted by Patsy is that Ford could not cope with the fact that the two worked in the same industry and she was much more popular and brought home much more money than he did. In her memoir, she recalls that “all those years when we were together, Dwayne was an artist hanging on my shoulders. It takes a very strong and confident man to follow a woman like me in everyday life.”2 Discussing those specific songs with me, Patsy would add: “I knew Dwayne was going to leave me, so I wrote those songs about that!”3 All the songs on Take Another Look expose a lonely woman fighting for her love and trying to win her man back (“Hit the Streets Tonight.” “Don’t Stop Loving Me,” “Take Another Look”), telling her man that she is unhappy (“Crazy/Crazy”), confronting her estranged lover as they realize their relationship is over (“Pain in My Heart,” “Heartbreaker”), and finally dealing with feelings of grief and loss (“Better Face It Girl” and “All the People in My Life”). However, Dwayne Ford was still collaborating with his wife for this project. He cowrote most of the songs, in addition to writing the arrangements, singing duets with Patsy on two tracks (“Pain in My Heart” and “Heartbreaker”), singing background vocals, playing the keyboards, and working as assistant producer. For Take Another Look, Ford resorted to synthesizers, audio effects, and computers to sculpt a new sound for Patsy.

The Acadian singer had created multiple music personas for herself over the years and, for Take Another Look, introduced a new one. While this new persona can be seen as a development of Patsy’s previous personas (most notably the disco queen of 1975–79), the singer plunged into a digital world with synthesized hits and bleeps and used digital audio processing for her voice in passages of the album. Taken as a whole, the album contains a universe of symbols created with synthesizers and sequencers, where some sounds have a clear meaning and interact with the lyrics to tell the stories. Particularly all through side one, the sonic signifiers lay a temporal foundation for the action, determining aspects like tempo and affect, and communicate nonverbal attributes and actions of the main character (who is introduced on the first track). Particularly in that opening moment, Take Another Look takes a step further and moves toward different worlds, particularly cinema and video games.

From what I could understand after discussing the topic with Patsy Gallant, Take Another Look’s closeness to game music was not intentional. Her reactions to my questions on this topic suggested that this specific connection had never deliberately crossed her thoughts. In her mind, she was making a record with new elements and sounds, and consequently she seemed sincerely surprised to hear my thoughts regarding a connection with video games. On top of that, Patsy calls the early eighties “a hazy period in my spirit.”4 It was a time when she had a brief involvement with cocaine “to never lose Dwayne and stay at the same wavelength”5—Ford had addiction issues to cocaine and alcohol for many years—and Patsy had also suffered a spontaneous miscarriage while six weeks pregnant.6 Apparently, the miscarriage happened while Patsy was recording Take Another Look.7 Regardless of details, those years are still a painful memory for her.

Many years after Take Another Look, Dwayne Ford became a composer of “epic” (as he calls it) library music for media. On his website, he explains how he expresses ideas, thoughts and images through his music regardless of how and where it will be used. When discussing the piece “Army of Angels”, he states:

I wanted this song to sound like something you might “feel” if you were to see an actual army of angels coming to rescue you (or some other hero) from the forces of darkness […] I was attempting to give the impression this was not an easy fight – it never is in an epic battle between good and evil. I used a fairly repetitive chord progression at the end, which has overlaid with relatively simple melodies. Angels are not complex, intricate entities. They represent all things good. So I kept it simple.8

In the same post, Ford shows some knowledge of semiotics and explains how a very popular symbol has been used for another piece (“Ashes to Ashes”), even though the study of sign processes is clearly a secondary aspect (and a consequence) of his creative process:

The topic of death (or passage to the great beyond) is never a joyous thing, unless you are talking about someone you didn’t care for and were happy they kicked the bucket. So this song is decidedly a minor chord based song. Minor chords are the very definition of sadness. Try it. Play a minor triad on your piano and notice how it makes you feel. Then play a major triad and notice the difference in your emotional state.9

With all those aspects and circumstances in mind, I will analyze some elements of Take Another Look—using sample tracks for studying each one—to highlight their connections with video games and particularly with game music, and explain why they make a crucial (and very innovative for 1984) outcome of the album.

Even if Gallant reports that the album was not consciously inspired by video games and game music, this is a fruitful and useful case study because it illustrates more generally the intersection between game music and a) musical-technological innovations of the 1980s and, in particular, b) sonic notions of “the future” in popular musical imaginations/culture. We do not need the linkages to be direct for the sonic connections to show how game music is meaningfully part of the musical popular culture more generally at this time.

It is important to understand that the album can be considered a “concept album” where the tracks are arranged in an emotionally significant sequence or explicitly narrate a single story in a unified form.10 Some may question this because side two, with its “game over” atmosphere and with the absence of game-inspired sounds and bleeps, breaks the concept. However, Take Another Look was built around a single narrative where games are an evident metaphorical element. The final part just happens to be very long, as if Patsy Gallant did not want to admit that her marriage was over—and, in fact, she was not ready to do it, at the time. Just like most of what Patsy does, the album contains a myriad of elements and references. Some of them are brought consciously, while others merely come from the back of her mind. Immersed in her music-making process, which has always been very intuitive, the singer does not spend a lot of time reflecting on where those ideas come from. Nevertheless, inside her discography, Take Another Look is probably the album where a single storyline feels most evident. From the beginning of side one to the end of side two, the storyline is the same: Patsy’s marital issues and her fight to save her marriage. There is a sequence of narrative facts that never gets broken. Other elements, such as the cover photos and the graphic design, point to the same concept revealed by the music. The singer appears as a digital world heroine about to go on an adventure.

According to Patsy Gallant, Take Another Look was conceived with the Japanese market in mind. After being dropped from Attic Records’ roster in 1979, she started focusing more on Japan. In 1980, she represented Canada at the 9th Tokyo Music Festival with “It’s Got to Be You” (a song that was originally featured in the soundtrack for Italian movie Il Rollerboy, also 1980) and recorded an AOR/west-coast album named Stranger in the Mirror (Reach for the Sky in Japan) in Tokyo with Japanese producers and musicians for a Japanese label named Discomate. The dissemination of her music in Japan encouraged Patsy to include more Japanese references, particularly anime and manga culture. Since the beginning of her solo recording career in the early seventies, particularly with the 1974 album Power, a “heroine” metaphor has been a recurring trope in Patsy’s music because of her superior vocal skills and her energetic stage antics. At the same time, Patsy always looked and sounded youthfully feminine—even now as a seventy-something on her 2022 album To Exist and Be Heard, where she fools many new listeners who believe she is much younger because of her voice. When she started to focus on the Japanese market more seriously in the late seventies, her image was adapted. Her 1978 Canadian album Patsy! has been re-released in Japan under a different title (Beginnings), and with a different cover where the sensuous look that the singer described many years later as “Lady Gaga-esque” was replaced by a different look where sensuality was not as prominent. For Take Another Look, the sensuous heroine from the seventies was back, but the package was different. This time it was inspired by the digital world and the darkness of a computer screen. The action still takes place in an urban environment that could well have been located in a Japanese city. Yet strangely, the album was never released outside Canada.

The arrangements on Take Another Look reveal some occasional similarities with chiptune music. In spite of the use of expensive state-of-the-art digital machinery instead of cheaper circuits, some aspects of the arrangements reveal the influence. Scholarly studies of the influence of game music on rock, pop, and dance music are more commonly found in the literature about chiptune music, a type of music described by Anne Beetem Acker as music made by “soundchips in 1980s and early 1990s gaming systems and microcomputers, as well as music composed using modified (‘modded’) gaming systems or environments designed to emulate the capabilities of early soundchips.”11 According to the same author, the distinctive sound of music from systems like the NEC PC-8801, Commodore 64, Nintendo Entertainment System, Amiga, and others

arises from their use of only a few simple waveforms, white noise, and beeps, as well as unreliable pitches and limited polyphony. Despite these restrictions, inventive chiptune composers in the 1980s emulated many styles of music using flutelike melodies, buzzing square-wave bass lines, rapid arpeggios, and noisy primitive percussion. Game music is designed to loop indefinitely and then quickly switch depending upon the characters or scenes of the game, requiring the music to be simple yet evocative.12

Authors like Kevin Driscoll and Joshua Diaz and Kenneth McAlpine have researched chiptune music and interactivity in music and sound extensively.13 Their focus is mainly on video games, sound art installations, and experimental environments where there is interactivity. McAlpine takes a step further, offering a chapter about musicians who have been creating video game–inspired music but do not necessarily create game music.14 The author provides a comprehensive introduction, but there is little deeper investigation of individual artists and works beyond this introduction. McAlpine is primarily focused on avant-garde music (but includes the crossover works of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Yellow Magic Orchestra, and Mr. Bungle).

One track that could be compared to some aspects of Take Another Look is Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia’s “Pac-Man Fever” (1982), where “samples from the Namco game are deployed only as nonmusical dressing for a conventional guitar-based rock that portrays gaming as an addictive novelty” in a “disdainful treatment of gaming as a ridiculous fad.”15 Buckner and Garcia’s track makes direct mention of games, while the references are implicit on Take Another Look. In that way, Patsy Gallant’s album comes closer to another important pop track, Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Computer Games” (1977)—described by Kenneth McAlpine as a musique concrète-influenced textural weave with arcade game sounds shaping, in a similar way to Kraftwerk, a metaphorical world where man and machine work as one.16 Performing instrumental music, the Japanese group expresses ideas and references in a similar way to Dwayne Ford’s production on Take Another Look. Patsy Gallant never sings about being on a game-like adventure, but the cascades of sounds around her voice let listeners imagine that she is.

Considering all those elements, I will work with conventional text and music analysis to establish and delimit a correlation between the music of Take Another Look and early video game sounds and narrative aspects. I will address semiotic and record production aspects, particularly exploring the narrative aspects of the album. For that, I will use one of the songs on the album (“Hit the Streets Tonight”) for the analysis, as well as parts of the first track, “High Tech Girl.” The reason for the choice of those specific tracks is the fact that they aggregate all the pertinent elements in a condensed way, and “Hit the Streets Tonight” was the most commercially successful single from the album. “High Tech Girl,” meanwhile, is useful because it introduces the character and the story.

It is important to make it clear that this correlation results from interpreting a record, and that includes listening and transcribing the music as well as studying lyrics and interviewing Patsy Gallant. Known as a highly intuitive creative artist (particularly concerning melodies and arrangements) and with no formal music training, the singer is often unable to explain why and how she did things. Very often, she will just start singing musical fragments and putting pieces together. Patsy, in our interview, admits that the interpreter’s work is essential for understanding her music to the fullest, given her intuitive processes. The parallel between Take Another Look and video games comes from my interpretation, rather than being grounded in Gallant’s conscious intentionality. Patsy’s biographical elements from the period are equally crucial for that: she very often sings about her life, creating resonances between the album narrative and her life. As a result, game references on Take Another Look readily provide the impression or idea that Patsy lives inside a video game for that story (of which more below).

For transcribing music and working with musical aspects, I used some software-based tools. In addition to the digital music workstation Ableton Live, where I could easily splice pieces of music, I worked with a few very modern artificial intelligence tools that allow the isolation or the removal of vocals and instrumental parts (notably the free website vocalremover.org, which separates the vocals from the instrumental parts and allows the user to download both audio files). I also used a VST plug-in named iZotope RX8, which also contains vocal and instrumental isolation tools, for the same task. I could then listen to single isolated parts of the arrangement and transcribe them, using a music notation software whenever needed, as well as observing tone colors.

The work of Karen Collins provides some valuable support for contextualizing the album in a specific period in video game history as well as exploring language and narrative aspects;17 meanwhile, the study of signs in Take Another Look will also consider studies of game semiotics and game music semiotics, particularly the works of Arthur Asa Berger. In his 1982 article “Pac-Man: Auto Erotic Plaything,” Berger provides a semiotic discussion on one of the most popular video game titles ever: Namco’s Pac-Man, which is compared to the lives of ordinary people through sign interpretation.18 I find Berger’s perspective very suitable for approaching Take Another Look because of the coincidence of signs and metaphors contained in Patsy Gallant’s main character—the High Tech Girl—and the narrative elements of her story throughout Take Another Look, which I will introduce in the following section.

Take Another Look’s nine tracks explore the adventures of the main character—who, following the song title, I will call “High Tech Girl,” as she does not have another name—in a metaphorical digital, urban environment. Side one, where the concept is more evident, is made of five tracks: “High Tech Girl,” “Hit the Streets Tonight,” “Don’t Stop Loving Me,” “Take Another Look,” and “Crazy/Crazy.” Side two reveals a long coda to the story, with slower ballads and Dwayne Ford singing two duets with his wife. It is made up of four tracks: “Pain in My Heart,” “Heartbreaker,” “Better Face it Girl,” and “All the People in My Life.”

In the cover photographs (Figure 1), thirty-five-year-old Patsy Gallant appears dressed in black, as a femme fatale from the computer age. Her makeup is heavy, and her short, lacquered hairstyle gives her a then trendy Princess Diana look. Her facial expression and body language suggest some of the High Tech Girl’s main attributes: femininity, resolution, strength, and hypersexuality. The heroic aspect, which has been explored in her discography since the album Power (1974), mostly as a reference to Patsy’s superior vocal skills and ability to sing in two languages perfectly, is there. But this time, some of the singer’s personality attributes, such as her ability to love someone deeply, her loyalty, and her strength to fight for what she wants, are more evidenced in the music.

Figure 1.

The (a) front cover and (b) back cover images for Take Another Look, providing a visual introduction to the High Tech Girl character developed by Patsy Gallant for the album.

Figure 1.

The (a) front cover and (b) back cover images for Take Another Look, providing a visual introduction to the High Tech Girl character developed by Patsy Gallant for the album.

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Take Another Look is the first Patsy Gallant album where the music tells the story of a specific character from beginning to end. On her previous albums, the characters were there, but the concepts and the music were not based on a continuous story where that character takes the lead. Sometimes, Patsy would even mix characters and play with stereotypical ideas. This perspective of exploring her artistic identity can be seen on Patsy’s 2022 album To Exist and Be Heart, where she intended to explore all the multiple musical nuances of her life through a different perspective when she essentially looks back and, as a seventy-three-year-old woman, finally feels comfortable and confident to say “this is me!” Hence, any possibility of finding a single narrative in those examples is left behind. Take Another Look is a different case where Patsy explored a single character and a single storyline.

Although the common sound elements connecting tracks and creating a game-like action (the synthesizer loops) are gone on side two, Patsy keeps singing about her broken heart in a very long “game over” moment. The absence of synthesizer loops may be viewed as if they were a metaphor for Dwayne Ford (who was a synthesizer player) or as Ford’s sound signatures. While Dwayne is still Patsy Gallant’s husband in the storyline, although always on the run and chased by his wife, the loops are there. When it gets clear that the relationship is beyond repair, Ford becomes a voice and sings his goodbyes. All the lyrics for the remaining songs feature a recurring topic: Patsy and Dwayne’s love story is over, and she is hurting. The temporal proportion given to the “game over,” then, is not of a typical video game, but of Patsy’s life entirely.

Turning attention to side one, where the connection with video game music is most evident, the first track introduces the High Tech Girl as a cyborg female character that has been created at a laboratory or factory, which is confirmed by Dwayne Ford speaking at the beginning of the track. Portraying a scientist or a laboratory worker, he confirms that the cyborg woman has been tested and that the final product looks good. When Patsy Gallant starts performing a combination of speaking and singing a few seconds later, she essentially describes the High Tech Girl. The character has “a surgical smile” and “a point of view.” And while she’s “a highly trained intelligence” who can read people, she is also “highly trained in innocence” and needs her man. In the final part of the song, Ford returns, stating that the creation of the High Tech Girl (which renders robotics obsolete) had been successful. She has been approved by quality control. At this moment, her cyborg nature is disclosed. After the High Tech Girl is introduced, the actual adventure begins. The track list in the album follows an organized sequence (Table 1).

Table 1.

Track listing and narrative of Take Another Look.

Side 1 – Track 1: “High Tech Girl” Introduction of the High Tech Girl. She has just been deployed. Fast-paced technopop song. 
Side 1 – Track 2: “Hit the Streets Tonight” The High Tech Girl is alone, and her adventure has just started. She states that she is ready for the fight and going to “hit the streets tonight, downtown by the neon lights” and is waiting for her man. She is determined. Fast-paced technopop song. 
Side 1 – Track 3: “Don’t Stop Loving Me” The High Tech Girl sends a message to her man: “it has been too long since I had the chance of loving you. But I am still in love with you, so here I am begging for your love.” She is desperate. A very strong chorus sends a clear message to the man/Dwayne Ford: “Don’t stop loving me, baby, don’t stop sending your love.” Fast-paced rock and roll. 
Side 1 – Track 4: “Take Another Look” The High Tech Girl talks about a rival woman who is tempting the man she loves. A villain who “lives in the edge of the night” as well, and warns the man: “take another look, because she’s got the power to make you believe in her, she’s got the power to make you believe in her love.” Because “she can break your heart and laugh while you die.” Fast-paced tempo. 
Side 1 – Track 5: “Crazy/Crazy” Once again, the High Tech Girl speaks directly to her man. She gives him a clear ultimatum and warns him: “I am crazy in love with you, but take care: I am not a fool.” She is determined but not very hopeful about winning back her man this time. For the first time, she admits to herself that her initial goal may not be accomplished and she may end up alone. Fast-paced rock and roll. 
Side 2 – Track 1: “Pain in My Heart” The High Tech Girl has finally caught her man, and the time to tell how she feels to his face has arrived. The ultimatum from “Crazy/Crazy” did not work out. She confronts the man: “why did you run away, why did you tear my heart apart?” He (Dwayne Ford) has an opportunity to explain himself in a call-and-response game: “I buried your heart deep in the night, I was eager to run from the fight, there was just too much pain if I stayed, I was just too unwilling to try. It’s not easy to stand on your own, but you.” Noticing that her man will not come back and finding herself all alone, the High Tech Girl is hurting, but so is the man. Mid-tempo ballad. 
Side 2 – Track 2: “Heartbreaker” The High Tech Girl keeps hurting and the couple keeps on purging their relationship. She speaks her heart and tells the man: “you’re just a heartbreaker breaking my heart in two, but I’m still on fire for you. You’re never there, but when you are, you leave a scar on my spirit.” The man (Ford) replies: “I guess I’m wasting my time, now our love’s on the line.” Gallant opens her heart completely and tells the Ford character: “So you think I don’t feel, you think I don’t see, I’m an open book, just look and see. The pain in my eyes, don’t you know it’s real?” Mid-tempo ballad. 
Side 2 – Track 3: “Better Face It Girl” The game is over and it is time to realize it. The High Tech Girl realizes that her man is not coming back and that relationship was not meant to be. Time for grieving. She admits that her efforts to fight for him were in vain and it was too late. It was time to deal with her grief: “And now there’s only one way home from this paradise, and it’s cold as ice.” This track apparently makes a reference to “Stranger in Paradise,” co-written by Patsy Gallant and Dwayne Ford and released on his 1982 album Needless Freaking. That song tells the story of a woman who was “a long way from home, it’s a long way to run… A stranger in paradise (she’s just like a fool in love).” Mid-tempo ballad. Ford is still there, but only sings background vocals. 
Side 2 – Track 4: “All the People in My Life” A song that would be suitable for the final credits of a cinema story. Patsy Gallant is singing to herself. All alone, the High Tech Girl searches the lost and found of her heart and remembers that she has many people in her life and a lot to live and do. Time to find ways to move on and see what the future holds. Maybe the reassurance that she would be back to the game soon? Slow ballad. 
Side 1 – Track 1: “High Tech Girl” Introduction of the High Tech Girl. She has just been deployed. Fast-paced technopop song. 
Side 1 – Track 2: “Hit the Streets Tonight” The High Tech Girl is alone, and her adventure has just started. She states that she is ready for the fight and going to “hit the streets tonight, downtown by the neon lights” and is waiting for her man. She is determined. Fast-paced technopop song. 
Side 1 – Track 3: “Don’t Stop Loving Me” The High Tech Girl sends a message to her man: “it has been too long since I had the chance of loving you. But I am still in love with you, so here I am begging for your love.” She is desperate. A very strong chorus sends a clear message to the man/Dwayne Ford: “Don’t stop loving me, baby, don’t stop sending your love.” Fast-paced rock and roll. 
Side 1 – Track 4: “Take Another Look” The High Tech Girl talks about a rival woman who is tempting the man she loves. A villain who “lives in the edge of the night” as well, and warns the man: “take another look, because she’s got the power to make you believe in her, she’s got the power to make you believe in her love.” Because “she can break your heart and laugh while you die.” Fast-paced tempo. 
Side 1 – Track 5: “Crazy/Crazy” Once again, the High Tech Girl speaks directly to her man. She gives him a clear ultimatum and warns him: “I am crazy in love with you, but take care: I am not a fool.” She is determined but not very hopeful about winning back her man this time. For the first time, she admits to herself that her initial goal may not be accomplished and she may end up alone. Fast-paced rock and roll. 
Side 2 – Track 1: “Pain in My Heart” The High Tech Girl has finally caught her man, and the time to tell how she feels to his face has arrived. The ultimatum from “Crazy/Crazy” did not work out. She confronts the man: “why did you run away, why did you tear my heart apart?” He (Dwayne Ford) has an opportunity to explain himself in a call-and-response game: “I buried your heart deep in the night, I was eager to run from the fight, there was just too much pain if I stayed, I was just too unwilling to try. It’s not easy to stand on your own, but you.” Noticing that her man will not come back and finding herself all alone, the High Tech Girl is hurting, but so is the man. Mid-tempo ballad. 
Side 2 – Track 2: “Heartbreaker” The High Tech Girl keeps hurting and the couple keeps on purging their relationship. She speaks her heart and tells the man: “you’re just a heartbreaker breaking my heart in two, but I’m still on fire for you. You’re never there, but when you are, you leave a scar on my spirit.” The man (Ford) replies: “I guess I’m wasting my time, now our love’s on the line.” Gallant opens her heart completely and tells the Ford character: “So you think I don’t feel, you think I don’t see, I’m an open book, just look and see. The pain in my eyes, don’t you know it’s real?” Mid-tempo ballad. 
Side 2 – Track 3: “Better Face It Girl” The game is over and it is time to realize it. The High Tech Girl realizes that her man is not coming back and that relationship was not meant to be. Time for grieving. She admits that her efforts to fight for him were in vain and it was too late. It was time to deal with her grief: “And now there’s only one way home from this paradise, and it’s cold as ice.” This track apparently makes a reference to “Stranger in Paradise,” co-written by Patsy Gallant and Dwayne Ford and released on his 1982 album Needless Freaking. That song tells the story of a woman who was “a long way from home, it’s a long way to run… A stranger in paradise (she’s just like a fool in love).” Mid-tempo ballad. Ford is still there, but only sings background vocals. 
Side 2 – Track 4: “All the People in My Life” A song that would be suitable for the final credits of a cinema story. Patsy Gallant is singing to herself. All alone, the High Tech Girl searches the lost and found of her heart and remembers that she has many people in her life and a lot to live and do. Time to find ways to move on and see what the future holds. Maybe the reassurance that she would be back to the game soon? Slow ballad. 

Take Another Look was recorded at Quebec Sound Studios in Montreal and featured, in addition to Dwayne Ford’s keyboard instruments, a New England Digital Synclavier digital audio workstation (programmed by George Klaus and Michel L’esperance). Since the recording sessions took place between 1983 and 1984, the Synclavier model on the album is likely the Synclavier II. In addition to a complex sound synthesis (which featured frequency modulation and partial-based digital synthesis), the workstation included a floppy disk drive, music score writing and printing capabilities, and a sixteen-track digital MIDI sequencer with a maximum capacity of 10,000 events. The Synclavier could be the brain of a computer-based music studio; for Take Another Look, its synthesis engine and the digital sequencer were fundamental tools to create the fast-paced music loops described by Patsy herself as “the rotor.”19 Those loops are probably the closest reference to the world of video games in the album. In early video games, they usually connote speed, racing, pursuit, and high energy. They can be first perceived at the beginning of “High Tech Girl,” but it is also possible to find similar loops on “Hit the Streets Tonight” (track 2) and “Take Another Look” (track 4).

Some may question why Dwayne Ford used the Synclavier, a very expensive state-of-the-art digital machine, to create sounds that were similar to home gaming consoles with their much cheaper sound circuits. However, those sounds were part of the metaphorical world where the High Tech Girl lives. Despite the equipment used to record the album (which belonged to the recording studio and appears not to have been used to its fullest), the High Tech Girl is not distanced from affordable consumer technology. Just like all other Patsy Gallant music personas (including the disco queen from the late seventies), this one retains a bit of the singer’s French Canadian, working-class background in Atlantic Canada. Even when she was one of the highest-paid entertainers in Canada, she has always been an artist from the people, who could be seen walking the streets or taking a subway in Montreal, and took less glamorous roles like recording jingles or performing someone else’s songs on a Quebec television show. The references to lower-cost, mass-market technologies resonate with this attitude.

For this study, I will focus on the track “High Tech Girl”: it offers a good perspective on the use of loops and bleeps, which is echoed elsewhere on the album without substantial differences (with the exception of time signature changes on “Take Another Look”). According to calculations made with the help of Ableton Live’s Warp function, the track has a constant beat (132.20 BPM), suggesting that all elements were recording with a click track or even with some synchronization method between the sequencer and the tape recorder. Consequently, I believe that the loops function like a “propeller” for all the other music materials and set the general pace for the song. The constant use of sixteenth notes for building the loops makes the general action very fast.

There is a total of four synthesizer loops in “High Tech Girl.” Three of them are one measure long, while the remaining one (which appears only once for a “turnaround” moment) is three measures long (or four, if the silence all over the fourth bar is considered as well) (Examples 14).

Example 1.

Loop 1, starts at the introduction (0:00). Louder volume, synthesizer patch has a longer decay.

Example 1.

Loop 1, starts at the introduction (0:00). Louder volume, synthesizer patch has a longer decay.

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Example 2.

Loop 2, starts at the introduction (0:00). Softer volume, synthesizer patch has a very fast attack and decay.

Example 2.

Loop 2, starts at the introduction (0:00). Softer volume, synthesizer patch has a very fast attack and decay.

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Example 3.

Loop 3, played only once, at 1:12. Turnaround moment (Patsy Gallant sings: “She’s highly trained in innocence, she needs you”). Same synthesizer patch as Loop 2.

Example 3.

Loop 3, played only once, at 1:12. Turnaround moment (Patsy Gallant sings: “She’s highly trained in innocence, she needs you”). Same synthesizer patch as Loop 2.

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Example 4.

Loop 4, first played at chorus, appears at 1:20. Same synthesizer patch as Loop 2.

Example 4.

Loop 4, first played at chorus, appears at 1:20. Same synthesizer patch as Loop 2.

Close modal

The following graphic shows that, in some parts of the recording (notably the introduction), it is possible to hear Loop 1 and Loop 2 playing in superimposition (Example 5).

Example 5.

The superimposition of Loop 1 and Loop 2.

Example 5.

The superimposition of Loop 1 and Loop 2.

Close modal

The final loop sequence in “High Tech Girl” can be represented with the help of the following timetable, where it is possible to see how the patterns were arranged in the MIDI sequencer (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

The sequence of synthesizer loops of “High Tech Girl.”

Figure 2.

The sequence of synthesizer loops of “High Tech Girl.”

Close modal

According to Karen Collins, the use of loop-based music on video games started with the advent of updated audio circuit named “programmable sound generators” (PSGs) around 1980.20 Some early examples include Namco’s Rally-X (1980) and Gremlin’s Carnival (1980). While other titles such as Atari’s Asteroids (1979) and Taito’s Space Invaders (1978) featured dynamic music, in these games, music and sound effects shared the same set of chips. Consequently, the music could be interrupted by sound effects, and everything was conceived as part of a single block. By 1982, PSGs made it increasingly common for coin-operated arcade games and even home consoles and home computers to keep on playing loops while sound effects were being simultaneously triggered.21

All three songs on the album that feature loops are played through synthesizer patches that, while not reproducing 8-bit chiptune sounds from the late seventies and early eighties, share a group of common programming principles: fast attack and decay, and simple sawtooth, pulse, and square waveforms. Even if the Synclavier was much more sophisticated than a console audio circuit, they were still beeps and bleeps. Considering that the album was recorded in 1984 with a $100K state-of-the-art 16-bit sound synthesis machine, calling this effort a prediction of the future of chiptune music according to Dwayne Ford may be a reasonable way to understand it. After all, Take Another Look is a futuristic record, and the High Tech Girl did not necessarily live inside a 1984 8-bit chip. She lived in the most advanced circuits that the human imagination could conceive at the time.

“Hit the Streets Tonight” (side one, track 2 on the vinyl version; track 2 on the CD and streaming platform version for Take Another Look) was written by Patsy Gallant and Dwayne Ford. It was the most commercially successful track from Take Another Look. It was originally released as a single in Canada by Vamp Records in 1983; three years later, Dutch labels Durelco and High Fashion Music and German label TELDEC released it in Europe in two versions, including an extended dance remix. A fast-paced technopop song, it shows a determined High Tech Girl singing for her man and telling him that she is ready to fight for him and would hit the streets that night to wait for him.

Just like the song that precedes it on the album (“High Tech Girl”), “Hit the Streets Tonight” features propulsive synthesizer loops. On top of that, the track includes another element that has something in common with the world of video games: starting at 1:50, Patsy Gallant sings a few rhythmic nonverbal guttural vocal sounds—which can be described as a “percussive scat,” sounding “ah! ah! ah! ah!”—in the chorus. Those sounds appear in between verses, and she does not sing them the very first time she sings the chorus. Attentive listeners will notice that they are contained in a different track in the mix, which suggests that either Patsy recorded them separately, or they were sampled and subsequently processed and sent to the recording tape by a synthesist. Those sounds do not necessarily correspond to musical notes; consequently, I will use a percussion score to notate those vocal effects (Example 6). The focal sounds in the track, with their heavily processed qualities and unnatural, exact repetition, evoke the vocal exclaimations of video game characters who have limited selection of voice sounds and are often heard in quick succession. Together with the lyrics referring to a “survivor,” a “fight,” and repetedly emphasising “hit” in “hit the streets tonight,” the sonic link to the grunts of characters in fighting games is close, especially when taken with the looping muscial material and chiptune-influenced timbres.

Example 6.

The author’s transcription of parts of the chorus of “Hit the Streets Tonight,” including Patsy Gallant’s lead vocals and her “high energy” vocal percussion sounds.

Example 6.

The author’s transcription of parts of the chorus of “Hit the Streets Tonight,” including Patsy Gallant’s lead vocals and her “high energy” vocal percussion sounds.

Close modal

“Hit the Streets Tonight,” an upbeat track with a strong texture, is a serious contender for the most heroic track on Take Another Look. Patsy Gallant sings it with passion and confidence, and the lyrics are empowering. They describe a mission to be accomplished: hitting the streets to find the main character’s man. This man, as the subsequent tracks indicate, has a tendency to go astray—very much like Dwayne Ford, who, according to Patsy Gallant, often “disappeared to Toronto to write music and work,” leaving his wife alone in Montreal while he looked for opportunities to indulge himself with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.22 Consequently, the High Tech Girl is clearly on a metaphoric pursuit race. The synthesizer loops set the pace: the action is fast-paced. A hot pursuit is taking place. The lyrics reveal that the action takes place in a confined set of streets downtown in the city; the High Tech Girl is running and needs as much energy as possible. However, a combination of elements can suggest the idea that the High Tech Girl was trapped in a maze, running in circles: the action and the pace driven by those synthesizer loops, the nonverbal vocal sounds symbolizing strength and energy, the song lyrics, and Patsy Gallant’s comments on that specific period in her life and the effects of her relationship with Dwayne Ford in Take Another Look. As Patsy states in her biography:

I was completely head over heels for Dwayne. I worshipped the earth that he walked on…He went to Toronto to make his albums and left me alone all the time. Evidently, when he was away, he was not married anymore in his mind…But I endured it. I subjected to that. I closed my eyes. I loved him.23

Arthur Asa Berger, in “Pac-Man: Auto Erotic Plaything,” writes, in a passage that resonates with Gallant’s comments:

Let me explain what troubles me about Pac-Man by contrasting it with earlier video games. Many of them involved space exploration in which rocket ships raced through outer space fighting alien invaders and blasting them with ray guns and other weapons…There were two important aspects of these games: 1. They were highly phallic and an expansive, optimistic orientation. One coursed through outer space, one had powerful weapons, one fought heroic battles. And then Pac-Man entered the scene.

What is Pac-Man about? What does it signify?

Pac-Man takes place in a labyrinth, first of all. What it tells us, indirectly, is that we are trapped, that we do not have many possibilities, that our options are limited or bounded. The space frontier is over; we’re no longer free but, instead, are prisoners of a closed system in which there are but two options. Eat or be eaten…

Pac-Man suggests that we don’t want freedom and that we don’t feel we can be free.24

The analogy makes sense when we consider that Patsy Gallant was indeed trapped in a failing marriage. Desperately attempting to stay married and keep Dwayne Ford by her side, she used cocaine for approximately two years despite admittedly hating the drug and having carefully dodged any involvement with illegal substances even during her “disco queen” days. Patsy seemed to be lost and ready to literally sacrifice herself (in vain) for Dwayne Ford’s love. Apparently, she used Take Another Look to purge her demons: when the album arrived at the record stores, the couple was on the verge of divorce, and Patsy was already on her way to quit cocaine for good after starting to attend the Erhardt Seminars in Montreal.25 The arrival of their son Jason in 1985 merely delayed the inevitable for two more years, when Patsy decided to buy a country house in Hudson (QC). However, “Dwayne was there, but he was not really there. He was still taking drugs, he slept on a separate bedroom, he was often away.”26

The singer, who became one of Canada’s biggest pop stars between 1975 and 1979, had been able to metaphorically reach for the outer space. Particularly after becoming the highest-paid personality on Canadian television for hosting the weekly Patsy Gallant Show on CTV, she was seen as an example of an independent woman with complete control over her life and career. However, she was craving for love and attention from a man who was not willing to reciprocate her feelings. The couple went their separate ways for good in 1987, and Take Another Look remains as one of the most vivid memoirs of their story together.

Putting Arthur Asa Berger’s semiotic analysis of early video games in perspective, Patsy Gallant could be considered a member of the exclusive “Space Invaders Players Club” in the late seventies. She had the kind of expansive freedom found in the game in her hands during her disco music days with international stardom, gold discs, fame, money, and her own Canada-wide television show. Always glowing with confidence and strength, and often being seen executing very lively dance routines (invariably on stiletto heels) during her live performances, her public image constantly symbolized a superhero (an analogy that had been extensively explored in her 1974 English language album Power) or a Canadian Charlie’s Angel of disco music. But Dwayne Ford trapped her inside a maze for approximately ten years. Ford, the cocaine addict husband who was rarely around, can be represented by the fast-paced, never-ending synthesizer loops that dominate the mix. And Patsy, the High Tech Girl, chose to be the prisoner of a closed system where everything she aimed for was to finally catch Dwayne Ford and live their fairy tale together. Yet Ford was always on the run, leaving Patsy with two options: run as fast as she could to catch him, or stay trapped forever inside the labyrinth that she created for the couple. The same maze from which Ford was hesitantly trying to escape, without much success. In the end, we cannot consider the High Tech Girl, or Patsy Gallant, as a perfect game hero and Dwayne Ford as the antagonistic character who can kill her. In the end, the High Tech Girl ends up metaphorically killing herself, leading to a “game over” situation.

Almost forty years after its release, Take Another Look remains a very obscure pop music album that started a recording hiatus for Patsy Gallant, one of Canada’s biggest stars of the seventies. It would take thirty-eight years until Patsy released her next album with original songs: To Exist and Be Heard. As a seventy-three-year-old, she then shocked her fans by showing that her vocal proficiency has not been affected by aging. For this mature, easy-going version of Patsy Gallant, Dwayne Ford is just a fading bitter memory of a long-gone past. She had spent approximately eleven years in Paris as a musical theatre actress before returning to the stages and recording studios of Canada around 2004.

Except for the French language version of “Crazy/Crazy,” which has been released as a single in Quebec in 1985 and was a minor hit in the province, Patsy has not performed any of the songs in Take Another Look for many years. For a while, the memories of Dwayne Ford were too strong and she simply could not do it.27 But as the years went by, the singer realized that those were very good songs and that she could feel proud of them. Whenever I played her songs like “Hit the Streets Tonight” or “Don’t Stop Loving Me,” her reactions were always positive, and she invariably started singing along to the records. Yet Patsy, who always wrote her songs and made her records in a very intuitive way, apparently has not yet realized the wealth of narrative elements and signs in that specific album. Take Another Look is first and foremost a pop music album. The connection with video games is incidental, but it is evident. It is a product of a moment when video games were growing in popularity and starting to influence several aspects of pop culture. While Patsy Gallant and Dwayne Ford were sailing turbulent seas in their failing marriage, they created a somehow odd concept album focused on Patsy as a new stage persona—the High Tech Girl, a cyborg female hero that has been created by scientists in a laboratory but turns out being very human in the end—as she plays the game of life and love, attempting to save her relationship and finally live the fairy tale she had so ardently desired with her man. Her adventure is single and continuous and takes place in a metaphorical digital world shaped by Ford with his synthesizers (notably the mighty Synclavier). Throughout her adventure, she is forced to deal with feelings ranging from hope to grief. In the end, it is clear that the High Tech Girl’s adventure ends in a game over situation and she needs to start another adventure somewhere else. She does not win, and neither does Dwayne Ford. The ending of their story in the album is long and painful. Just like their divorce in the real life.

I analyzed the album’s first song where the character is introduced and starts her saga with maximum power. I explored the use of fast-paced synthesizer loops as a direct reference to early chiptune music, even if none of the music on the album has been produced with a game console audio circuit. In the High Tech Girl’s state-of-the-art world, the sounds are produced with the help of the most sophisticated music machine of the period: the Synclavier II, with its powerful sound synthesis, audio sampling, and music sequencing capabilities. And I discussed the influence of video game semiotics on the track “Hit the Streets Tonight,” where, in addition to the use of synthesizer loops indicating a fast-paced race, nonverbal vocal exclamations evoke the sounds of video game characters, reinforced by the song lyrics. Finally, taking Arthur Asa Berger’s semiotic analysis of Namco’s Pac-Man as a reference, I once again approached the narrative and contextual aspects of the album, comparing Patsy Gallant and Dwayne Ford’s marriage to a maze where they are both trapped, running in a world that is completely devoid of freedom when Patsy Gallant had, for a while, the opportunity of living and playing in a “Space Invaders” environment where she could reach the outer space. Instead, she chooses to pursue Dwayne Ford, a man whose fate is to hang on his wife’s shoulders, and, to get the love she so ardently needs, chooses to sacrifice herself and join Dwayne Ford’s cocaine-indulged everlasting party in order to stay together.

Take Another Look is a fascinating case of record where it is possible to detect possible intersections with the world of games not only in the sound but also in the narrative. Of course, a record will always lack the interactivity of a video game, and listeners will not be able to truly interfere with the narrative, but it still can invite listeners to close their eyes and picture themselves inside a game. Gallant and Ford managed to create a virtual universe infused with, if not directly inspired by, sonic and narrative resonances with video games. They filled it with sonic signifiers that speak at once to games and musical-technical futurisms (in the process, illustrating the cultural intersection of these themes). The album is also a fascinating chronicle of its time, when digital technologies and computers started to impact the lives of people very deeply.

It is important to remark that Take Another Look talks essentially about an imperfect love story. It conjures an adventure in a highly technological environment where laboratories can generate cyborg creatures with the ability to love intensely and deal with very human emotions such as grief and delusion. Further research will help bring to life other important aspects of that exceptional album and contribute to its recognition as a Canadian pop music masterwork that will always be worthy of “another look.”

1.

Patsy Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor (Montreal: Editions La Semaine, 2020) Kindle version, location 1263.

2.

Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1384.

3.

Patsy Gallant, communication with author, 2021.

4.

“Cette periode est vague dans mon esprit” (author’s translation), Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1304.

5.

“Je consommais seulement pour ne pas perdre Dwayne; c’était la seule manière d’être sur la même longueur d’onde” (author’s translation) Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1273.

6.

Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1304.

7.

In one of my phone conversations with Patsy about Take Another Look in 2021, she told me that she was pregnant during the cover photo sessions for the album and had a miscarriage shortly after. Then in February 2022 we talked again, and she told that she was pregnant with her son Jason in the photos. Considering that Jason Remington Ford was born in June 1985 and that Patsy was promoting the songs of Take Another Look on Quebec television shows in the first semester of 1984, I tend to believe that she was not pregnant with Jason on those photos.

8.

Dwayne Ford, “Some Thoughts on the Composition and Production of Beautiful Battle,” last modified July 31, 2017, https://www.dwaynefordmusic.com/single-post/2017/07/30/some-thoughts-on-the-composition-and-production-of-e2-80-9cbeautiful-battle-e2-80-9d, accessed March 14, 2022.

9.

Ford, “Composition and Production of Beautiful Battle.”

10.

See Todd Decker, “Fancy Meeting You Here: Pioneers of the Concept Album,” Daedalus 142, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 98–108, and David Luhrssen and Michael Larson, Encyclopaedia of Classic Rock (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2017), 74–75.

11.

Anne Beetem Acker, “Chiptunes,” in New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Oxford Music Online, 2016.

12.

Beetem Acker, “Chiptunes.”

13.

Kevin Driscoll and Joshua Diaz, “Endless Loop: A Brief History of Chiptunes,” Transformative Works and Cultures 2 (2009); Kenneth B. McAlpine, Bits and Pieces: A History of Chiptunes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

14.

McAlpine, Bits and Pieces, 224–76.

15.

Driscoll and Diaz, “Endless Loop.”

16.

McAlpine, Bites and Pieces, 226.

17.

Karen Collins, “In The Loop: Creativity and Constraint in 8-bit Video Game Audio.” Twentieth-Century Music 4, no. 2 (2008): 209–27.

18.

Arthur Asa Berger, “Pac-Man, Auto-Erotic Plaything,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1982.

19.

In February 2020, I visited Patsy in Montreal and we talked about some of Take Another Look’s tracks. When she listened to “Hit the Streets Tonight,” she called my attention to the synthesizer loops and, with a child-like enthusiasm, said: “Look, it’s the Rotor!”

20.

Collins, “In The Loop.”

21.

Collins, “In The Loop.”

22.

Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1303.

23.

“Côté coeur, j’étais complètement folle de Dwayne” (author’s translation), Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1243; “Il allait à Toronto faire ses albums, me laissait seule constamment. Évidemment, quand il était à l’extérieur, puisque, dans sa tête, il n’était pas marié…J’endurais. Je subissais. Je fermais les yeux. Je l’aimais” (Author’s translation) Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1273.

24.

Berger, “Pac-Man: Auto-Erotic Plaything.”

25.

Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor (2020), location 1282.

26.

“Dwayne était là, mais en réalité il ne l’était pas vraiment. In and out. Il continuait de consommer, on faisait chambre à part, il decouchait souvent” (author’s translation). Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1373.

27.

Gallant, Ma vie en Technicolor, location 1414.

Beetem Acker
,
Anne
. “Chiptunes.” In
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
.
Oxford Music Online
,
2016
.
Berger
,
Arthur Asa
. “
Pac-Man: Auto-Erotic Plaything
.”
Los Angeles Times
,
May
2
,
1982
.
Collins
,
Karen
. “
In the Loop: Creativity and Constraint in 8-bit Video Game Audio
.”
Twentieth-Century Music
4
, no.
2
(
2008
):
209
27
.
Decker
,
Todd
. “
Fancy Meeting You Here: Pioneers of the Concept Album
.”
Daedalus
142
, no.
4
(
Fall 2013
):
98
108
.
Driscoll
,
Kevin
, and
Joshua
Diaz
. “
Endless Loop: A Brief History of Chiptunes
.”
Transformative Works and Cultures
2
(
2009
).
Ford
,
Dwayne
.
Rock This Kitchen: An Anecdoctal Guide for the Single Man’s Quest for Comfort Food
.
Los Angeles
:
Dwayne Ford
,
2011
.
Ford
,
Dwayne
. “
Some Thoughts on the Composition and Production of Beautiful Battle
.”
Last modified July 31, 2017
. https://www.dwaynefordmusic.com/single-post/2017/07/30/some-thoughts-on-the-composition-and-production-of-e2-80-9cbeautiful-battle-e2-80-9d.
Accessed March 14, 2022
.
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Patsy
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Patsy!
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1978
,
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.
Gallant
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,
1984
,
long play
.
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,
Patsy
.
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.
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,
none
,
2022
,
CD
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Gallant
,
Patsy
.
Will You Give Me Your Love
.
Attic Records, LAT 1037
,
long play
.
Gallant
,
Patsy
.
Ma vie en Technicolor
.
Montreal
:
Editions La Semaine
,
2020
. [
Kindle
]
Luhrssen
,
David
, and
Michael
Larson
.
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.
Santa Barbara
:
Greenwood
,
2017
.
McAlpine
,
Kenneth
.
Bits and Pieces: A History of Chiptunes
.
New York
:
Oxford University Press
,
2018
.