Sergio Elisondo talks pushing boundaries of retro video game technology with music

Sergio and the Holograms performed on stage at Game On Expo in downtown Phoenix.

Sergio Elisondo is an accomplished musician, composer, and performer. His band, Sergio and the Holograms, consists of him playing alongside digital projections of himself. The performance is unique, as Sergio plays a variety of instruments covering a wide swath of video game music including tunes from Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario Bros., Mega Man, and many more. He performed on stage at the Game On Expo 2023 event in downtown Phoenix this past weekend.

When not performing, he is working on pushing the boundaries of retro gaming technology. Sergio successfully funded a Kickstarter project to create an album, You Are Error, with several music videos on a Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge. He also composed music for 8-bit NES games Ninja I & II and other retro game projects.

Sergio sat down with Nerdvana to talk about the limitations of classic gaming systems, advances in technology, and his hopes for future projects.

(The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Nerdvana: Talking about your Kickstarter, why did you want to push a type of format like an NES cartridge of all things?

Sergio: It was niche, definitely niche, but it was something that I found myself being passionate about where I wanted to go further and try something different. Something new to the community that people can be both amazed by, but have fun with.

I had the absolute fortune and pleasure to work with the great mind, Shiru [a veteran NES programmer], and then working with Brian from retroUSB, another amazing mind for the hardware. So once it [the album] came together, then we’re like “Okay, that worked out really well. What could we do next?” Video? Real, full motion video and audio from the NES? Slow motion? Pause, play, like add all these crazy features!

Ultimately I feel passionate about this particular hardware, this console, this way of coding games that I wanted to be a part of and bring some positive change. So that’s just what it was. It was just out of passion and curiosity.

Nerdvana: Is that what drove you to work on your other project Ninja I & II?

Sergio: Same thing! At that point in time I wanted to get into composing more for games. The individual who was putting the game together at the time was like “Hey, why don’t you write music for this game?” So we did that project and it went well. So then I asked “Can I work with you again, but this time I’ll pay you and we will make a part two of this [Ninja] but I will level design more of this and still composing?” So we did just that!

This year I’m doing the composition for the next retroUSB Christmas [NES] cart. I also did music for Block’Em Sock’Em for John “The Immortal” Hancock. I did it for Sega Genesis and recently we just did the Super Nintendo version.

Nerdvana: With the breadth of tools that you work with and the limitations that come with every console or format, does it help your creativity or inspire you more?

Sergio: It actually sparks my creativity even more because now I have to become more creative to get the sound that I want. So then I figure out new ways of achieving a specific sound, a specific chirp, a bleepyness, or something.

hUGETracker [Game Boy music software] surprisingly, some notes have good decay on it, so that’s something I didn’t have to worry about. Versus something like FamiTracker [NES/Famicom music software] I do a volume decrease to emulate decay. I have to make it up. So those kinds of limitations changes the way I write a little bit.

Nerdvana: Let’s talk a little bit about your performance and how you set the projections up. It’s not uncommon to see YouTubers mashup themselves playing different instruments, but it is uncommon to see someone replicate it on stage. What drove you to do that as opposed to say, a traditional band?

Sergio: I played with a lot of bands before, a lot of punk bands, worked with different artists. So I’ve been around that environment in that regard. But at some point, I think around 2014, 2015, I preferred to do what I do for my Youtube stuff just by myself, because I don’t have to coordinate. That was the plus was I didn’t have to coordinate with other musicians. The negative to it though was I lose that camaraderie of like, you’re in it together.

The hologram kind of stemmed from that idea. Ultimately I felt like, how can I take this entertainment that I’ve created on Youtube to people? I had to do a lot of research and development. Took me about a year. Massive process! I had to get a special polymer, a special film from Korea that was going to help capture the images, specific levels of lumens on the projectors so they can be seen. There was so many steps along the way to make it happen.

Sergio and the Holograms use footage of Elisondo playing multiple instruments.
Sergio and the Holograms use footage of Elisondo playing multiple instruments.

Nerdvana: Have you made improvements to do more or just make it easier to deal with?

Sergio: Technically, I could do a lot with it. I have these wild ideas, I just need to find the time, right? The revamp of the design of the hologram has allowed me to just now wrap it up, ship it, and then I fly to the location.

Early on it was a Jeep with a massive U-Haul behind it, like a trailer hitch attached, and these massive, heavy acrylic screens laid down in the back. I had my amps, all kinds of stuff, it was wild! (laughs)

Nerdvana: You’re doing composing, performing, writing, and development. Where do you want your direction to be going in these next few years?

Sergio: I definitely want to grow the publishing, the release of games. Still be a part of other people’s projects, helping them achieve their dreams. As far as performance goes, I still see myself you know, going out performing. I still see myself doing all that I’m doing. I don’t feel burned out yet. I’ve got a lot in me still, I’ve got a lot to burn. (laughs)

Sergio Elisondo’s work can be found on the Sergio and the Holograms Youtube channel. His game collaboration Ninja I & II is available on NES or digital ROM, and slated for release on the Nintendo Swtich later this year.

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About the author

Christen Bejar

Christen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.