Archive for the ‘Music Appreciation’ Category

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Extra Credits Talks Memorability and Game Music

November 17, 2010

Extra Credits, a show on Escapist Magazine, posted back in September a video about game music and how it’s changed so much. This fits amazingly well with the theme of this week, but I will be covering memorability in a little more detail. However, Extra Credits has a point that memorability is not the only thing game music should be doing – atmospheric music is also important even if it isn’t fun to listen to outside the game. Trading Silent Hill for Castlevania would simply change the mood of the game completely – in a bad way. Still, while it’s easy to say, “This song should have a strong, memorable melody,” that doesn’t really tell you much about  about what makes it memorable… Well ok, except for chords (which I’ll try to look in more detail on in the next Daily).

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Xenosaga – “Last Battle” (Yasunori Mitsuda)

November 13, 2010

Xenosaga is one of Yasunori Mitsuda’s best works. Mr. Mitsuda is known for his high quality of composition and memorable melodies as well as a mix of Eastern and Western music. One of the most interesting pieces from the Xenosaga soundtrack is “Last Battle”, which is an excellent example of minimalism.

Minimalism is characterized by severe limitations in the number of instruments, silence, concept music, continuities, and phase shifting, the last of which “Last Battle” is characterized by. Phase shifting is taking two identical sound samples and playing them back at slightly different speeds to create a gradual shift in the music. Steven Reich was one of the first composers to use the form. Above is Piano Phase, played by James Wiman and Brandon Kelly.

Xenosaga – “Last Battle” (Yasunori Mitsuda)

“Last Battle” begins with a kind of phase shifting, beginning with two short complementary melodies, one on piano, the other on violin, which has a little tail emulating a fade-shift that is played out further at 0:22. Of course, this phase shifting is not extended throughout the piece, as it is difficult to maintain interest in a largely conceptual work. Also uncharacteristic of pure minimalism, “Last Battle” gradually layers new instruments throughout the first movement such as organ, bells, choir, and drums. As such, Mr. Mitsuda takes elements of the form that are interesting and applies his own style.  Read the rest of this entry ?

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Suikoden II – “Fugue ‘Praise to My Master’ (North Window Castle BGM)” (Miki Higashino)

November 10, 2010

Following up on “Toccatta and Fugue in D minor”, this next song covers what the second half of Bach’s piece is – the fugue. Fugues are another musical form that came into its own in the Baroque period, this one characterized by two melodies playing in counterpoint – or contrapuntal (again, easily observable in the bar visualization). Essentially, this means that there are two or more melodies playing simultaneously, and both usually respond to (or play off of) the other.

“Fugue ‘Praise to My Master’ (North Window Castle BGM)” from Suikoden II (1998) is a fine example of a fugue in organ. Here, the two melodies are very clear, with each playing in call and response before crossing over to play simultaneously – so this is an example of a permutation fugue. Again, the piece appears in a large castle (this time that of the Neclord, a vampire). There is certainly an amount of praise going on here (particularly the triumphant rising section at 1:40). Unlike most vgm, this piece also has a conclusion. Further, it turns out the Neclord is actually playing this theme on the organ and the piece stops the moment you enter the room (actually, that website is pretty cool…). Kind of ironic too that the song is called “Praise to My Master” We can thank Miki Higashino (Suikoden series, Contra III: The Alien Wars) for this amazing composition. It’s too bad the game is impossible to find for less than $100 – Konami really needs to re-release it on PSN.

I would like to say there are more fugues in game music, but they tend to be quite rare in earlier compositions (mainly because there were so few instruments possible, but also because fugues are not easy to compose). One piece that is actually named a fugue doesn’t appear to be one – “Funky’s Fugue” from Donkey Kong Country. While it’s a wonderfully hip surfing dude theme befitting of the Main Monkey (and some awesome “HI-YA!” sfx), I’m not seeing much in the way of multiple melodies here – it is more a layering of multiple instruments. There is a little bit of countermelody at the 30 second segment, but I don’t think it’s enough to warrant the title, particularly as it is not sustained throughout. It’s not that Robin Beanland can’t write fugues, or that it is impossible to write one using the instruments chosen, it’s just that the track appears to be only in name for the benefit of alliteration.

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Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – “The Final Toccata” (Michiru Yamane)

November 9, 2010

Often when you look at a Castlevania soundtrack (or even the title), you will think, “What does this musical name mean? I mean, I’ve heard it but…” Of course, to say that a track such as “Sarabande of Healing” and say, “Well, this must be a sarabande!” would be right on the money, but it wouldn’t tell you much about what makes a sarabande a sarabande. That’s one of the ideas here – to identify what a toccata is using an example of a toccata from a game as well as a classic toccata.

We’ll begin with the classic: Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” played here, which is one of the most famous organ pieces out there and one of the best examples of the form. The video was produced using the Music Animation Machine and so this uses (rather high-quality) MIDI. If this bar graph visualization looks like something off the Atari, this works quite well: “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” has been used in numerous game music soundtracks, primarily early ones, but also newer ones such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and as lately as Deathsmiles (2008).

“Toccata and Fugue in D minor” is a combination of toccata and fugue – a common occurrence in toccata actually. The first three minutes compose the toccata, which may be defined as a virtuostic piece usually played on a keyboard instrument or a plucked instrument. Basically, it is a piece that taxes the skills of the musician as well as demonstrates that skill – that virtuosity. Thus, a toccata is characterized by the rapid playing of notes, often multiple hands on the same instrument if it is a keyboard, as well as jumps between notes. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Castlevania III – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

November 8, 2010

This week I’m going to look at music appreciation through vgm. Essentially, this is to help increase familiarity with different musical styles through videogames.

First up is the Baroque period of music (1600-1760). While the layman often classifies anything that is played on the music station as “Classical”, these are actually broken up into individual styles based on particular musical periods. Works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel characterize this style. Baroque style is a dead giveaway through the use of a limited number and variety of instruments, primarily violin, harpsichord, and organ. Handel is noted for using brass, but most composers of the time did not; same goes for percussion, which is nearly absent, though the harpsichord was more often used to mark meter than it was for melody. The period serves as the foundation of modern music through the development of the suite and the refinement of musical instruments. The most famous work from this period was Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which demonstrated musical composition in each key (major and minor), demonstrating the flexibility of the keyboard.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, Yoshinori Sasaki, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto)

This brings us to today’s Daily, “Clockwork” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). “Clockwork” is one of the most easily-identifiable pieces from the Baroque style from a videogame.  Though on the Famicom’s 2A03 sound chip (using a VRC6 expansion programmed by Hidenori Maezawa), we can still plainly tell that the instruments used are harpsichord due to the high-pitched plinking. The harpsichord is essentially a primitive piano played with a keyboard where strings are plucked rather than struck (hence the higher pitch). Harpsichord has rarely been used outside the Baroque period. The harpsichord here lends itself well to the mechanical gears of the clocktower, keeping time as well as remaining intricate like the spokes on a gear and the multitude of gears in the giant clock tower the level is played in (clocktowers have since become a staple for the series, requiring complex jumping maneuvers). Couple this with the low bass (could be used to represent a cello, harpsichord, or even an organ) and the track has a distinct feel of danger. In fact, the track also lends itself well to the organ, as demonstrated in the Castlevania Concert (sample in the trailer).

Of course, just because the piece was originally composed as a Baroque work does not mean that is how it has to be arranged. Dwelling of Duels demonstrated this with their special competition in 2004, which resulted in such compositions as the Latin “La Hora es Tarde” by Housethegrate. “Clockwork” has made appearances in Circle of the Moon‘s clockwork stage as well as in Castlevania Judgment, both of which are excellent arranges.

Castlevania III was composed by Yoshinori Sasaki (Illusion of Gaia, Ys VI), Jun Funahashi (Lethal Enforcers, Lost in Blue, Ys VI), and Yukie Morimoto (Gradius II and III, Ganbare Goemon series). Though no specific composer is listed in the soundtrack, Mr. Funahashi is credited with Special Thanks in the PC rerelease, which could place him as a consultant.

“Woodcarving Partita” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another fine example of Baroque. An accomplished pianist, composer Michiru Yamane has played this piece live at two separate concerts. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge for the Game Boy has another excellent selection of Baroque works, including Bach’s own “Chromatic Fantasy”. Clearly, the Castlevania series owes a lot of debt and inspiration to the composers of this period.

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