Archive for the ‘What Makes a Song Memorable?’ Category


What Makes it Memorable? – Mega Man 3 – “Title” (Yasuaki Fujita)

November 22, 2010

For the final entry into “What Makes a Song Memorable”, I’m going to take a look at one of the most beloved themes from one of the most popular game series: the “Title” theme from Mega Man 3. Composed by Yasuaki Fujita (aka Bun Bun), the Mega Man 3 soundtrack was one of the crowning scores of the series. Mr. Fujita later left to work at SNK on Pulstar, but has since returned to work on Mega Man 9 and 10.

Mega Man 3 – “Title” (Yasuaki Fujita)

Mr. Fujita pulled out all the stops with this piece. “Title” combines a memorable, jazzy intro with a high-energy main theme, smoothly mixing both the series’ jazz roots as well as modern pop music. It uses a simple melody, but one that has plenty of call and response – each bar expands on a theme presented in the previous one.

Also note the piece doesn’t just use a single chord, but varies the two square waves to play slightly different notes (see 0:12, for instance, as well as the nice jazzy line at 0:42). The layering here is excellent as well, particularly when accompanied by punctuation from the drums, with a pounding club beat. It’s right up there with the Mega Man 2 theme.

Out of all the arranges for the theme, my favorite is by Project X, Read the rest of this entry ?


What Makes it Memorable? – Chrono Trigger – “Corridors of Time” (Yasunori Mitsuda)

November 21, 2010

Chrono Trigger has one of the most memorable soundtracks in a game. Looking through all the arranges of Chrono Trigger music, it becomes clear that the most popular of these is “Corridors of Time” (also known as “Chrono Corridor”). With more dedicated mixes than any other on OCRemix (12 to “Schala’s Theme” which has 10) and a popular choice among doujin arrangers, “Corridors of Time” is a good fit for “most memorable piece from Chrono Trigger.” So how does Yasunori Mitsuda do it?

Chrono Trigger – “Corridors of Time” (Yasunori Mitsuda)

First, he establishes an underlying melody using the mystic, ethereal bells playing four notes in a series of four bars, each beginning with a slightly higher note than the next (it is interesting to note that “Schala’s Theme” uses a similar set of notes – 8, to be exact – in a different melodic structure, so the two have a similar level of memorability). This pattern is repeated throughout the entire piece, and the tones selected are pleasing to the ears. There is also a nice echo to the bells, which becomes clearer in the DS version (above). The constant repetition creates a meditative feel (though I suppose alternatively it could make you go mad if repeated long enough!). Thankfully, more variation is added 10 seconds in with some groovy-cool bongoes and almost-liquid drums. Atop this is layered the main melody, beginning at 0:18, with a fine exotic transition. I’m not sure what instruments are used here, but this outlines another key factor to Mr. Mitsuda’s music (particularly this song) – exotic instruments that give the music a unique feel. Bells, bongoes, and hippy guitar – though perhaps it makes us want to ask whether the people of Zeal are meditating on the secrets of the universe or ‘meditating’ on hashish. At any rate, the unique sound of the instruments aids in memorization.

Next, the melodic structure. Here, the first half is comprised of easy notes that maintain a dominant key, returning often to the same two high and low notes with low range, creating two distinct bands of repeated notes that make the melody simple and easy to recognize – but also achieve a set tone that has a meditative quality. It is also important to note that the bottom note in the tonal key has longer notes that are repeated more often, creating emphasis. In the second half, the guitar is replaced with a female choral line. In juxtaposition with the first half, the choral line plays long, high notes, creating a nice contrast in both instrument, scale, and pacing. I also think these high female chorals are distinct and memorable.

Finally, “Chrono Corridor” establishes a tone and emotion that is also distinct and memorable. It is played in a minor chord that recalls something in the ancient past, an exotic location with warm skies where meditation is the primary pursuit. However, the people of Zeal have become so engrossed in their magic and studies up in their guru cloud they have forgotten the people on the snow-covered earth. So while the music seems to have its head in the clouds, there is a sadness here that is ignored – the loss of the earth, a loss of sense of reality.

There are a lot of mixes to “Chrono Corridor”, so it is very difficult to go through them all and find out what are worth the listen. One standout piece is “Corrupter of Time” by Jordin de Bruin and Tweak, a nice rock mix (it’s possible!) done in the style of Metallica. This is four minutes of rock-out with Schala and the Nu’s (I’m calling that their band).


What Makes it Memorable? – Street Fighter II – “Theme of Chun-Li” (Yoko Shimomura, eta al)

November 20, 2010

When I hear about catchy game music, one game that often pops up is Street Fighter II. This game has the advantage of being played by millions of people around the world and so the music is deeply familiar to many people, but at the same time, the music has its qualities that make it easily recognizable. Here, “Theme of Chun-Li” is a good example to use.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – “China (Chun-Li)” (Yoko Shimomura, et al)

All the themes of Street Fighter are designed to illustrate the personality, national identity, and fighting style of the character. Chun-Li, of course, is headstrong confident, and kicks like a deadly dancer, so that and her Chinese background are illustrated in the song. Her theme is recognizable from the four-second opening, with 14 notes played on what seems to be a dulcimer, which plays as the background melody for the first half of the song as something the melody can fall back on. The sequence is also punctuated by jangling bells from percussion (perhaps a street reference?). The combination of easily-recognizable theme using repetition and call-and-response even in this short, four-bar sequence, the unique instrument, and the Chinese pentatonic scale immediately make the tune recognizable while the fast pace aids in its catchiness because there almost isn’t enough time to register the melody.

Next, we have the main portion of the theme, which has long, high, bold notes played on a synth flute, with quick bursts of shorter notes. Yet there is a dominant note that is sustained and repeated throughout this segment, playing for over half its 20 seconds or so. This repetition, as well as the high tone, is key to making this piece memorable – the brain can’t help but encode its pattern. After this is another 20 second sequence where the dulcimer takes over the melody, and here the repetition of a single note is replaced by the repetition of short mountains of the scale, rapidly peaking, then dropping – adding variety to the melody. Overall, the layering and variation of melody, repetition of single notes and short sequences of notes, makes the track especially memorable.

That being said, not all themes of Chun-Li are created equal. Read the rest of this entry ?


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

November 19, 2010

A few months back, I had lamented about how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow had a high-quality soundtrack, but one with hardly any memorable melodies. In fact, most of the music seems to maintain a tonic note that, in conjunction with the track’s rhythm, produces a dominant atmosphere for the area in which it is played (slow and reflective for “Waterfalls of Agharta” or intense for “The Warg”). This observation still stands, but the more I have played the game, the more songs become immediately familiar. This highlights another aspect of what makes a song memorable: repeated listening and melodic texture. Here I would like to illustrate what has become for me the most memorable song in the game, “The Warg”.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

“The Warg” is a battle theme that occurs first in a boss fight in the village in the game’s opening with a giant wolf (wargs have been in Castlevania before, and serve as mounts for orcs, lycenthropes, and other monsters; the name is derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). Anyway, the song also plays in other major confrontations, particularly towards the end with rushes of vampires. Dominated by brass, strings, and choir, along with a pounding drum, the track is perfect for building energy required for tough battles.

Earlier, I mentioned how music gains its memorability due to its connection with memories. While I think this is true of “The Warg” (recalling fragments of battles and the exhilaration of combat), there is also the fact that the song was repeated enough times to both a) coincide with moments that became memorable and b) find its way into the subconscious.

Of course, there are other elements here too than just the repetition. Read the rest of this entry ?


What Makes it Memorable? – Halo 2 – “In Amber Clad” (Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori)

November 18, 2010

So far, we have identified several elements that aid with making a song memorable: use of chords to emphasize notes in a melody, homophony to create a hummable melody, and repetition of segments. One more thing I want to look at with repetition is the difference between too much and too little. For this, I want to look at “In Amber Clad” from Halo 2.

“In Amber Clad” is one of the only tracks from Halo that immediately springs to mind aside from the main theme when I think of the game. The song plays within a canyon full of snipers and has a pacing that matches the methodical work of taking them out. The song itself is pretty simple, which makes it easier to analyze what is going on. There are only two main parts to the melody, the first pattern (A) only eleven notes long, the second (B) just six. The A pattern is repeated throughout the first portion of the song, with a short break at 1:04 for the B pattern before returning to an updated version of A (A’). Yet for each time this segment is repeated, the melody gains greater emphasis, first played softly on one guitar (0:14), then louder and more full (0:36). Further, the melody is not alone, but emphasized with background harmony, with first strings, then choral. This gives layers of depth to the song that would otherwise be lost if just a single guitar was used. Further, the underlying harmony keeps the melody fresh as there is always something to listen to other than just the guitar (Why do you think most Christmas music is so annoying? It’s often monophonic and lacks depth and variation and is repeated endlessly – looking at you, Rudolph!).

Another interesting thing about this piece is the melody itself. While adding variation keeps the melody from becoming monotonous and boring, it doesn’t tell us what makes that A section so memorable. Ultimately, there is no way of saying ‘this is how you do it’, but there are some things we can learn from this. One is the rhythm of the notes. Those first quarter notes go quickly, with a short pause before playing three more quick notes, followed by another pause, one punctuated note, another quarter note and a long note. This makes the melody punctuated, which is another element that aids making a piece memorable by creating a specific pattern that is easy to remember. A similar technique is used in the B section, which instead of lots of short notes, plays long ones interspersed with short segments. It has a specific rhythm to it, and it is one that might lend itself well to lyrics – and thus humming.

“In Amber Clad” was only released in HALO 2 Original Soundtrack and New Music Vol. 1 One thing that was interesting about this volume was it used original music by artists like Incubus that was inspired by the series.


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

November 17, 2010

Extra Credits raised a good point when he mentioned how the music of games on old systems was more memorable: composers were given fewer instruments to work with (two square wave channels, a triangle wave, and a noise channel on the NES for percussion) and as such they had to deal primarily with melody and make that the most important part of the song. Further, they would often use chords – series of notes played in tune with each other. Plus, chords are easier to sing as it consists of a single melody that is easy to hum. Incidentally, three instruments and percussion was also the structure of a four-piece band, meaning the NES sound chip was designed with this type of music in mind. Chords are more recognizable in a melody because they have greater impact. However, the use of strong melodies has taken a step back in recent years due to the large palette of instruments and options available to composers.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

Michiru Yamane’s “Clock Tower” from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (here arranged by Jorge Fuentes) provides an exception to this trend, featuring a strong melody common to the Castlevania series and its 8-bit roots that demonstrates this point about chords. Here, the melody is especially punctuated by the use of chords that gain further emphasis in that the last note in a bar is the chord, punctuating the end of the pattern and the beginning of the next. This is very important for the song as it syncs with the setting of the clock tower that keeps time to a steady rhythm. Additionally, the song has not one strong melody, but three layered together – one played on the piano, another on the guitar, and a third on the strings. If you note, there is also a smooth transition, first at 0:36 from piano to guitar with piano fading slowly to the background, then again at 0:45 when strings take over, but the piano can still be heard clearly, albeit in the background. At the 1:10 mark, chords are plainly audible in the strings, and those long notes further punctuate the melody, breaking it into short stops that create a clearly identifiable pattern.

Note one of the other key elements of a memorable tune: repetition. Here, I am not talking about the repetition of an entire melody through loops (particularly as applies to shorter, sub-30-second songs of the early days of videogames), but the repetition of smaller segments. We see this repetition used throughout the entire piece, from the very opening with the mournful piano ticking away time to the guitar’s intricate upward sweeps of eight notes. All of this is easier to see in the XG-MIDI visualization – the virtuosity required of the notes. Pay particular attention to the rising blue notes of the guitar that hit one note below the strings at 1:09.


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).


What Makes it Memorable? – Final Fantasy VII – “Aerith’s Theme” (Nobuo Uematsu)

November 16, 2010

One of the questions I’ve been asking over the past year is “what makes a song memorable?” I’ve tried to address this in several places, but not yet in-depth, which is what I would like to do for the next week. In a sense, it requires this because there are many components that make up a memorable song even though there is no formula for creating one.

The first element I choose is emotional attachment. Before moving forward, I go back to the very first song I posted, the Super Mario Bros. theme. With regards to this song, Koji Kondo said that he did not feel the music would have been memorable if the game weren’t any good. On the one hand, the song’s memorability stems from its simple repetition: kids played this game for hours and hours and they had no choice but to memorize the music. However, I also feel there is a stronger tie here, that of emotional attachment, the recollection of fond memories people had from their play experience and those connections with their childhood. This is one of the ways that a song can be memorable – it can recall a point or period of your life or an event associated with that scene (like the music that was playing when you had your first date or got married). Essentially, music and memory become tied into one.

One of the strongest emotional moments from games was the death of Aerith (Aeris is her translated name) in Final Fantasy VII. Though characters had been killed off in Final Fantasy games before (I’m looking at you, Galuf!), the player had never developed a very strong attachment to those characters. With Aeris, players formed an emotional attachment with her early on through the love triangle of Aeris-Cloud-Tifa. Aeris also became an important member of the team who healed the party, providing a sense of compassion the other characters lacked. The fact that the player was in a sense led to fall in love with Aeris through his empathy and identification with Cloud made her death all the more powerful. As a result, it is this memory of Aeris, of all the emotions leading up to the moment of her death, that make it resonate with the heartstrings of fans. I have heard reports of players who have even broken into tears when listening to this song, and perhaps you are one of those listeners who feel sadness upon hearing it. Incidentally, it is for this reason that I enjoy the Distant Worlds presentation of “Aerith’s Theme” – they showed one of Cloud’s happier moments with Aeris in the playground, eliminating the text boxes and letting the listener’s imagination fill in the blanks of their conversation).

In fact, every element of “Aerith’s Theme” is used to support this emotion. Read the rest of this entry ?