Posts Tagged ‘Chris Huelsbeck’

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Super Turrican II – “Farewell” (arr. Chris Huelsbeck)

November 7, 2010

When it goes to ending tracks that give a sense of finality and desolation, “Farewell” from Super Turrican II (1994), arranged on Chris Huelsbeck’s Sound Factory: Digital Audio Collection I (1995) has got to be one of the most complete, and it’s a much stronger rendition than the original SNES version. There’s a perfect combination of deep drum beats accented by a synth string orchestra and rock guitar. The main melody, played on a synth line, has long notes that tug at the sadness in the heart, waving goodbye to a constant companion before dissolving into the dark. Particular car was taken with the piano. The Sound Factory arrangement leaves a much stronger impression, with a mournful wail from synth line, a sad-sweet fluttering from the melancholic piano, and sinking guitar. There is an amazing piano solo in the middle of the track supported by emotional rises from the strings. The drumbeat is more strongly defined with a soothing rhythm that inspires a hollowness in the soul that is filled with the melody that strains for a joyful resolution but simply cannot reach far enough. The album is available off Amazon and iTunes.

“Farewell” was the ending from the final game in the Turrican series. The Turrican soldier stands outside the scarred starship that took him through the black hole to fight the the army of the Machine and thinks back to all the battles he fought and realizes that there are no more after this. It seems almost as if Mr. Huelsbeck had a premonition that we would not see any more Turrican games… (or for the 14+ years since the last installment, it might as well be ‘farewell’, but I sure hope we see him again!). Read the rest of this entry ?

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Turrican 3 – “Main Title” (Chris Huelsbeck)

November 6, 2010

The Turrican 3 (1993) “Main Title” is one of my favorite Huelsbeck compositions. The track featured prominently on the Turrican Original Video Game Soundtrack (1993) as well as in Mega Turrican on the Genesis. The story of Turrican 3‘s development is rather complex. Development actually began on the Amiga version first, but was shelved due to the decline of the Amiga. Development of the Sega Genesis port, Mega Turrican, then went underway and was completed in 1993 – but due to publishing issues, was not released until 1994! At the same time, Chris Huelsbeck had been working on an arrange album of theTurrican series that was released in June 1993. Meanwhile, Kaiko and Rainbow Arts cooperated to finish Turrican 3 for the Amiga, this time porting it from the Genesis version and releasing it in the Autumn of 1993 (confusing, huh?). So let’s examine these in order of composition:

Mega Turrican – “Main Title” (Chris Huelsbeck)

First up is Mega Turrican. Mr. Huelsbeck’s first (of only two) compositions on the Genesis, we can tell straight away that he has done some unique things with the FM sound chip. Mr. Huelsbeck’s familiarity with computer hardware and programming from his days on the Commodore 64 and Amiga made it very easy for him to create a high-quality soundtrack that goes beyond the fare of most titles of the time (matched only by Castlevania Bloodlines, as far as I am concerned). Pay special attention to the guitar, synth, and drums (particularly at 0:38), which produce a beat that sounds almost mechanical. The piece contains original notes that would find their way to the Turrican 3 “Main Title” on the Amiga, but the majority of the piece is actually more an arrange of the Turrican 2 intro, perhaps suggesting a short development time. Two great sequences are in the beginning at 0:16 where Mr. Huelsbeck smashes down on the bass for disaster following the short, peaceful interlude, and again the guitar at 1:14 where Bren McGuire dashes off to battle. This piece actually draws more from the SFX than the actual music, and the piece really does go better with the video, which is awesome-cheesy, full of nice anime-style artwork, melodrama, and Turrican-smashing-mutants action.

At the same time he was working on Turrican 3, Mr. Huelsbeck was arranging music from the entire series in the Turrican Soundtrack. One of the best albums of game music on the market, the Turrican Soundtrack featured mostly arranges from Turrican 3 – suggesting perhaps that the composition of the game on the Amiga was partially informed by the mixing process. In any event, the version of the “Main Title” found here is more polished and fully-realized with a cinematic narrative approach, making it an audio story moreso than in the original that I think ultimately makes it a better composition. The guitar here is also more strongly pronounced, and the drumbeat more fully realized with the synthesizer. Unfortunately, the “Main Title” from the album ends up lacking the nice call-and-response from the piano and strings in the original (see below).

Turrican 3 – “Main Title” (Chris Huelsbeck)

If Mega Turrican was Chris Huelsbeck’s first composition for the Genesis, Turrican 3 was one his final scores for the Amiga (his final compositions were for Caribbean Disasterand Hatrick), and this shows through the skillful composition and sound quality, which is in many ways the culmination of his work on the platform. The soundtrack is actually a more fully-realized version of the original theme. The Turrican 3 “Title Theme” is dominated by a bright, free piano juxtaposed with dramatic, fleeting flourishes from the strings – a juxtaposition of the darkness of space with twinkling stars and heroes in cyber-armor. That dialogue between piano and strings is at the core of the song, and is spread about several times in the piece. There’s also nice use from the guitar which serves as the ticking clock (time is running out!) but also – if we compare it to the Turrican 1 theme – can serve as the rapid fire of laser bullets. The piano takes particular center stage at the half-way mark, where its hip jazz mixes with dancing strings and the bassy twang of the guitar. There’s even a nice shout-out to the Turrican II title (and these references Chris Huelsbeck is known for). It’s Mr. Huelsbeck’s style at the fullest, with elements of dance and sci-fi films. Sadly, the piece is far longer than the title video, which you would have to watch several times to witness in its entirety.

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Apidya (Chris Huelsbeck)

November 5, 2010

Apidya is quite an oddball shmup with design inspired by R-Type and art inspired by Parodius. Instead of fighting with spaceships, the player fights with a lazer-shooting bee against other insects (there aren’t too many other games like this, such as Kolibri for the 32X). The story is, a jealous and evil wizard sent poisonous bees after your wife and now you have to transform into a bee (!) to avenge her death (the game’s title refers to apidae, the scientific name for the bee genus). The game uses a Japanese animation style for the cutscenes, which was due to art director Frank Matzke’s Japanophilia (of course, it also jived well with Chris Huelsbeck’s mix of Japanese and European composition). It even featured the title in katakana. At the same time, the soundtrack sounds as if it could easily fit into a space battle. Finally, it is notable that the studio was originally called AUDIOS for Art Under Design, Imaginations of Sound, which fits perfectly with the philosophy of mixing Huelsbeck’s musical style with the art and design.

In 1992, Chris Huelsbeck released an arrange album of Apidya, the first of his many complete game soundtrack arranges – and again, while the first half is amazing, the second half of arranges is mostly not so good. My favorite piece is “Game Over” with a touching flute that transitions into a march with striking snares, and brass that moves quickly to a grand section of strings and xylophone. At every beat, it seems a memorial for the fallen soldiers (it is from the High Scores table rather than a game over screen), with touching taken for each grand, sweeping note (I once showed this to a friend who, upon hearing the title, responded, “Oh, how sad!”). Halfway through, there is a dramatic break with swooping strings and a bold statements from the trumpet before sinking to tense drums and discord – a flashback of horror, death, and despair. This dark shadow makes the third movement of “Game Over” all the more powerful, with bright flutes resurrected from the abyss and the sweetly triumphant strings and trumpets that march in honor-guard procession to the cemetery with a sense of finality, of entombment in memorial, through the quick ending.

“Game Over” was originally called “Heroes Save the Planet“, the high score screen, and seems more triumphant in its approach. Opening with a trumpet solo, then integrating strings, the piece is more honoring and reflective of the scores – say, “Look what I accomplished!” – rather than on perhaps what those scores stand for. “Heroes Save the Planet” also integrates bongoes (and it sounds similar to those from Turrican II). A rather short piece in comparison to the other tracks, and honestly not as good as many of the other tracks (“End Credits” is amazing), it really achieves full realization through the album. More of the Amiga soundtrack is available from the Apidya fanpage, though you’ll likely have problems getting the original TFMX files (a codec created by Mr. Huelsbeck) to run.

Apidya also saw an arrange of the “Apidya Suite” in Symphonic Shades. It is an absolutely wonderful, dramatic arrangement by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Virtua Fighter 2, Bayonetta). The piece is incredibly dramatic, but you have to wonder if this isn’t simply being facetious once you finally realize that what is going on here is not an alien invasion but an army of bees attacking a hut in the woods (and the game’s title screen stating Apidya II seems to indicate this humor). In fact, the entire game has a sense of humor through the ridiculousness of the situation, which makes Mr. Huelsbeck’s soundtrack all the more brilliant – there is nothing serious about blasting away at a mole miniboss peeking out of a hill, fighting a giant fish instead of a giant battleship, or a mutant doll in the sewers.

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Jim Power in Mutant Planet – “Title Theme” (Chris Huelsbeck)

November 4, 2010

Jim Power was one of those series that made you scratch your head (read more about it on HG101 along with an interview with the composer!). Starring a Buck Rogers-esque throwaway action hero, the series featured repellent art design with 12 layers of migraine-inducing parallax scrolling, clunky controls, and an insane difficulty, there wasn’t a whole lot of redeeming qualities to the title. So what’s this game got going for it? Chris Huelsbeck, that’s what! Jim Power in Mutant Planet features some of Mr. Huelsbeck’s best work. Originally composed for the Amiga, the game was later released for the PCE CD and arranged again for the SNES. Mr. Huelsbeck notes influences of Japanese game music in his work (Jim Power has some similarities with Ys), resulting in a unique blend of East and West that only a few composers such as Yasunori Mitsuda are able to achieve. The game’s publisher Loricel also asked Mr. Huelsbeck to compose a score in the same style as Turrican II, so comparisons also abound. The “Title Theme” is one of the most memorable pieces from the series and the character’s trademark and is another exception that proves the rule that you can have an awful game that’s memorable due to an amazing soundtrack.

Jim Power in Mutant Planet – “Title Theme” (Chris Huelsbeck)

Mutant Planet‘s “Title Theme” uses the same compositional pattern as Mr. Huelsbeck’s other Amiga titles: it is built in pieces that are then arranged and variated across the song, with a healthy dosage of original material. The track opens with a trademark drumset while melody is played on guitar as well as a funky swashing synth combo at 2:20 that sounds like it’s taken straight out of the Apidya arrange soundtrack. Mr. Huelsbeck also gets a lot of mileage out of the guitar, putting soul into the riffs for sliding notes that begin to almost sound like a theremin. Couple this with a memorable melody that uses punctuated notes over a steady beat, and you’ve got yourself a classic!

Later, Mutant Planet was ported to the PCE CD, and served as Mr. Huelsbeck’s first foray into the use of redbook audio for a game soundtrack. The soundtrack was produced in his recording studio using the exact same synths that would be found in the early 90s, up until Sound Factory (1995, which contains two Jim Power remixes) and had already been used in his first three albums (most notably Apidya). As a result, Mutant Planet for the PCE CD is in many ways an actualization of the audio quality Mr. Huelsbeck had been applying to his previous works. This version also demonstrates his trademark combination of bongoes and drums (1:20). The ending too feels a little like Terminator.

The SNES version (Jim Power the Lost Dimension in 3D – which really did use stereoscopic glasses!) is more along the lines of Mr. Huelsbeck’s Amiga days, due in large part to the similarities of the SPC7000. The drumkit has a lot of depth while the meaty guitar riffs sound almost straight out of Turrican. Actually, there isn’t a whole lot on the SNES that sounds like this, testament to Mr. Huelsbeck’s programming skills to go with composition. Honestly, while the PCE and Amiga versions are good, I think the SNES soundtrack is better due to its weight and new material, making it my pick of the best in-game rendition of this song.

The best arrange was Yuzo Koshiro’s (ActRaiser) version found on Symphonic Shades performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra of Cologne. Koshiro’s arrange is one of the best from the concert and features the bold strides on strings and brass that we’d expect to find from Buck Rogers.

So far there is no Jim Power album from Mr. Huelsbeck’s studio, but word has it that he is working on one… (then again, I’ve been waiting for it since he first mentioned the project about ten years ago!).

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Tunnel B1 – “Intro” (Chris Huelsbeck)

November 3, 2010

Chris Huelsbeck is known for a bit more than just Turrican, though arguably, many of his games are fairly obscure. Take Tunnel B1 (1997), for example. A combat flight game reminiscent of Descent, the game sends you deep into an underground base to destroy a superweapon before it blows up the earth.

The album is characterized by the plucking of strings coupled with martial drums that send you through the caves at high speed. Brass is used for emphasis but also melody, as in the “Intro” theme. This establishes the main theme for the game, long, rumbling brass notes evoking vast underground chambers and enormous tunnels that disappear into the gloom.  There is both fortitude and an overwhelming sense of looming disaster – you’ve got to get this job done, or nobody else will! The fate of the world is in your hands, so pilot that ship and save it!

Tunnel B1 saw an amazing orchestral arrangement in Symphonic Shades (Mr. Huelsbeck’s best album?). The piece actually opened with a solo by bongo master Tony Barak that transitions smoothly into the track’s opening. The bongo prelude actually reminds me of the spartan, focused action of those early Amiga games and I feel this captures the spirit of the times. A medley of several pieces, the Tunnel B1 arrange hinges primarily around the “Intro” (main theme) and “Oceanos“, the second main level theme. This demonstrates some of the diversity of themes – though usually attaining a martial quality throughout. Due to its quick pace and loyalty to the source material (as well as bongoes!), the Tunnel B1 medley easily ends up as one of the favorites from Symphonic Shades.

Tunnel B1, as with most of Mr. Huelsbeck’s other soundtracks, is available through iTunes. The album contains several arrangements by the European demo scene, and as with most of these remix tracks, the majority are downright disappointing (despite having listened to the album dozens of times, I don’t think I listened to some of these even once in their entirety). The exception is Chip Holland’s arrange of the “Intro”, which takes the voice narration from the prologue cutscene and mixes it in with intense drums and brass – reminds me of Blade Runner actually. Of course, another option is if you have a copy of the game sitting around on your dusty shelf, Tunnel B1 actually used Redbook audio, so you can just pop it into your CD player.

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Turrican – “Title Theme” (arr Charles-Henri Avelange)

November 2, 2010

Turrican is somewhat unique for me in I didn’t play the game until long after listening to the soundtrack. When I first heard the music in 1999, it was difficult to get a copy of the games – it was much easier to get the soundtrack! In fact, I didn’t get a chance to play the game until I found the (rather mediocre) Genesis port. So when I first heard Chris Huelsbeck’s music, I thought “Wow, this is really cool! I wonder what’s happening…” Due to the long, variated nature of the music, as well as images I had found, it was easy to use my imagination to conjure images of space marines and alien battles. One of my favorite pieces from the series is the Turrican “Title Theme” is a heavy metal mix arranged by Charles-Henri Avelange (formerly of KMA Production), a French film and TV composer living in Seattle.

Turrican – “Turrican Intro Heavy Metal Remix” (Charles-Henri Avelange)

“Turrican Intro Heavy Metal Remix” is absolutely breathtaking, a real tribute to the soul of the original. It opens with a thunderstorm and the disturbing, grating voice that welcomes us to the hell that isTurrican (“Another day, another try, but just remember: shoot or die!”). Guitar riffs rise from the storm, a low rumble across the battlefield that occasionally break out in roars and squeals. Ever-present is the piano, desperately ticking away, letting us know to hurry, that time is of the essence. The guitars here also seem to be made of light, piercing the dark storm like laser blasts and electric sparks (I can only imagine how this would look when performed on stage with a light show). Avelange gives his own touch to the instruments, putting soul into each note, such as the riffs at 2:38 and the standout guitars for the final ascent of the nightmare tower at 3:36. I can’t help but feel this is how the piece would sound if it had been composed using a heavy-duty. Right now, this is the absolute best Turrican title arrange I have heard.

Turrican – “Turrican 3D Theme” (Baran Yasar)

Another of my favorite renditions is the “Turrican 3D Theme” by Baran Yasar (Fearlord) of the Turkish rock band RevelatioN. It is a straight-up metal mix, missing the piano that dominated the original (and Avelange’s piece). Yasar opens the theme with an explosion of guitar, those key opening notes a perfect harmony. Next, drums are added (the drumkit leaves a little to be desired) with the guitar left as a background chugging growl that will reside through the rest of the piece and rise above for the main melody. The melody is added 30 seconds in, a heroic leap out of the smoke and flames. This is the first main segment of the melody (A), which appears again at 1:07, 3:00, and 3:56 and is the most memorable section of the melody, based on a core of three notes. Next, we are introduced to the second section (B), which rolls along with little range save a rising leap at the end. It stands in contrast to A, providing a ground level to drop back into. Next we have a return to A (1:07) with a new downward-running section at 1:18. This is followed by more new material at 1:29, where the piece gains synth-string highlights, a dynamic that takes us through some of the platforming Turrican contains. The guitar then rises in intensity (1:55), driving its way upward and forward to a string solo at 2:17. At 2:38, the guitar and drums pick up intensity, shredding back down to the main melody (AB). In the final segment, piano is added for a mysterious step-like rise – probably referring to the giant tower in the distance, at the top of which the source of all nightmares resides… The main melody reprises at the end for a heroic ending. This is overall a very dramatic, action-packed piece, and it’s great to hear it fully realized with guitars.

All these mixes and more can be found on Turrican SETA’s soundbase (they’ve also got Turrican Evolution, a collection of the original Amiga music). Turrican SETA is the leading fansite for information on the series. You can also check out a synth mix as part of a HUGE medley done by Mr. Huelsbeck himself on the Turrican Original Soundtrack, which is available from iTunes. Turrican forever!

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MusyX GBA Demo Song 1 (Chris Huelsbeck)

October 27, 2010

This piece is technically not vgm; rather, it is a song created to demonstrate the power of the MusyX system for the Gameboy Advance. Chris Huelsbeck created this demo and the MusyX system for Factor 5 in 1999, and it stands as one of the best examples of the capabilities of the GBA system (the song is still available on Factor 5’s website). I’ve remembered the song since its debut when hopes were high for Nintendo’s new system, the Gamecube, as well as the possibilities for the Gameboy Advance. And honestly, it sounds much better than a lot of GBA music produced. It also fits nicely into this Halloween time of year. As the demo sounds oddly similar to Castlevania, I have to wonder if Mr. Huelsbeck would ever produce a soundtrack for a vampire-slaying game! So what are you waiting for? Grab your whip, wooden stakes, holy water, and crucifix and turn up the speakers: it’s time to fight the undead!

MusyX GBA “Demo Song 1” (Chris Huelsbeck)

The demo opens with a ticking clock and atmospheric explosions of thunderclaps. One of the central instruments, the hair-raising strings, demonstrates the tool’s capacity for stereo fades and – coupled with the thunder – is sure to bring a smile to Castlevania fans in particular. A staple of cheesy horror, these grim strings are used throughout the song. Likewise, when the heroic trumpets are introduced 25 seconds into the piece, they are also used in heroic bursts at key points for excellent timing. The majority of the song is made up of an action beat, and it is here that the piece diverges from traditional Castlevania to Huelsbeck’s unique style. There’s a nice break halfway through to add the xylophone, demonstrating again the tool’s capacity to include a wide range of high-quality instruments and dynamic layering.