Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Piano Cover: Insomnia

So I'm back at school now, which means the instances I'll actually have time to update this blog will be far and few between. However, due to popular demand (kinda), I've decided to put up another piano cover before I descend into the dark abyss. Well, I dunno...maybe I'll have some more in the future, or at least make slightly better recordings of my older work, but for now...

My relationship with the source material of this cover, Insomnia, has been an interesting one. I first encountered the Korean version of this piece at another Lunar New Year performance, when it was included in the repertoire of the amazing dance group Defining Movement. Although I didn't think much of it at first, one of my friends soon showed me the song again, and this time it stuck (partly because she took care to remind me at regular intervals). After listening to it on repeat for the better part of a week, it was clear that I'd been addicted.

Although I'm certainly no expert on the history of this piece, here's a bit about what I know. The single Insomnia was released in the UK by artist Craig David, where it was met with a fair amount of success in Europe. Later that year, Craig David contacted Korean artist Wheesung to record a Korean version of the song, which was released in 2009. The music for both versions is fundamentally the same, with mostly differences in the vocal part (although I haven't personally checked to see how well the Korean and English lyrics match). The English and Korean versions of the song, respectively, can be found here and here.

Unlike many pop songs I enjoy, which appeal to me either because of an interesting harmonic structure or some sort of emotional connection to the piece, Insomnia caught my attention simply because it was so damn catchy. The harmonic structure consists of roughly ONE chord progression and a bridge, and I never really learned the meaning of the Korean lyrics, but the ostinato and "FEELS LIKE INSOMNIAAAAA" portions of the song still find themselves stuck in my head regularly. Of course, what better way to get it un-stuck (or, perhaps, even more stuck) than by figuring it out on piano?

Insomnia: Piano Cover

Artist: Craig David/Wheesung
Date Completed: 2010-08-31
Number of Takes: 7
Software: Audacity
Instrumentation: Piano

Unlike my past two covers, this one is actually in its original key of F-sharp major (or maybe B lydian, one of those)! I know, aren't you proud of me? Because Insomnia is an extremely repetitive piece save for the lyrics, I struggled to find some way to differentiate the verses from one another. Hopefully I succeeded to some degree. xD My apologies for the nearly unbearable background noise in the recording (the noise filters would have distorted the recording to an unacceptable level), but at least I'm using an in-tune piano this time! :) Oh, and for those of you who for whatever reason would like a copy of the mp3, it can be found here.

That's all I've got for now. Until next time!

Happy start of school,


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Piano Cover: Coral Sea

I first encountered the piece "Coral Sea" in 2008 during a Lunar New Year performance by the a cappella group Temptasians. I proceeded to forget about the song until two years later, when I sought out the original piece out of curiosity and immediately fell in love. For most of spring 2010, the Jay Chou piece was constantly emanating from my iPod as part of a small collection of C-Pop and K-Pop pieces I'd become enamored with. Over the summer, I decided to explore Jay Chou's music in more depth, picking up a few of his albums, including Coral Sea's debut album November's Chopin. Although I enjoyed the music a great deal and developed some new favorites (I discovered I'm more partial to his slow works than the upbeat ones), none of them could quite compare to Coral Sea's unique place in my heart. [/melodramatic]

One of the funnier stories relating me and Coral Sea involves the lyrics. Due to my innate tendency to overlook lyrics in favor of the music, coupled with my not-amazing-literacy in Mandarin and the song's fairly complicated lyrics, I neglected to learn the lyrics for the first few months of listening to the piece. The file in my iPod did provide lyrics, but they were in Traditional, which I couldn't really read. Thus, I just went about listening to the song, assuming it was one of the typical sugary-sweet C-pop love songs. When I finally looked up the lyrics in Simplified (and eventually English for confirmation), I was actually quite taken aback my the despondency and bitterness of the words. lol, that'll teach me to assume things about music. xD

So, long story short, I decided to figure out Coral Sea on piano, as likely evident from the title. I've been playing around with it for a few months now (a random 3-month-ish period with no access to a piano notwithstanding), but I finally decided to put together a low-quality recording of it. Anyway, I'll skip right to the media. For those of you unfamiliar with the piece, here's the source material for reference.

珊瑚海 (Coral Sea): Piano Cover

Artist: Jay Chou
Date Completed: 2010-08-17
Number of Takes: 8-ish
Software: Audacity, Sound Recorder
Instrumentation: Piano

Again, I was rather loath to perform the piece in its normal key of A-flat, so I decided to take it down a half-step. Sorry again to the perfect-pitch kiddies out there. You'll also probably notice that this recording is certainly not error-free; turns out I get twitchy when the mic comes on and make dumb mistakes easily. >_< Regardless, I hope it gives at least a passable impression. (I also discovered, literally now, that I can record directly from Audacity...maybe that'll help with some of the quality issues?) Anyway, once I get back to school in a week or so I'll hopefully find the time to put up higher-quality recordings, perhaps even a video or two. :P [UPDATE 09/01/10: I've updated the recording from my last post to a higher-quality, straight-from-audio version. Hopefully that will make this cover suck a little less. xD]

I've got a few layering experiments planned for the near future, so stay tuned!

Until we meet again,


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gen Con 2010

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I recently attended Gen Con, a huge annual four-day gaming convention in Indianapolis. I thought I'd share a little rundown of the events I attended there, for those who are curious. I'll just jump right into it without too much introduction:

Day 1

Thursday, 12:00: RPG1016482 Iron Team Challenge: Shipwrecked

My first scheduled event of the convention was a Pathfinder event, essentially equivalent to Dungeons & Dragons. I was somewhat hesitant to join this event, since it specified that players should have some experience with Pathfinder, of which I had none. The first hour or so of the event was excruciating, since I had no clue how to make a character; I ended up scraping by with a half-completed ninja monk character. Fortunately, my character sheet really didn't matter much, since Keith, the GM, was aware that our group had some n00bs and focused much more on the role-playing elements than the combats. Major props to the GM for this one.

Thursday, 19:00: ENT1017082 Hamlet vs. MacBeth: the Shakespearean SmackDown!

While two of my friends decided to continue on with Pathfinder for the rest of the day, I opted to check out something new. That something turned out to be a skit put on by a group the Damsels of Dorkington, "Hamlet vs. Macbeth" (Shakespeare in the loosest sense). Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the show was hampered by the tall guy sitting in front of me, which obstructed most of my view of the stage, as well as my unfamiliarity with the Macbeth source material. Still, the Damsels put on an exciting show; their excitement was infectious, and their frequent on-the-spot interactions with the boisterous audience really made it something unique. Check out the Damsels here.

Day 2

Friday, 10:00: SEM1017813 Video Game Music Composing and Video Games Live! with Tommy Tallarico

My friends and I barely made it in time for this 10 AM event, but of all Gen Con events, I'm happiest that I attended this one. The event was essentially a presentation by esteemed composer Tommy Tallarico about the world of video game audio, but for some reason this event was left out of the Gen Con catalog. Consequently, I was one of about four attendees, which actually made it better, I think. Tommy was gracious enough to answer all of our questions, and after the event, I managed to ask him a few questions on my own. Upon learning I was a music student, Tommy referred me to a variety of resources on the video game audio world. If you're interested in learning about some of those resources, let me know. xD

Friday, 16:30: FLM1013517 The Dead Matter

Of the films in the Gen Con catalog, The Dead Matter both looked interesting and didn't conflict with any other planned events, so we decided to check it out. The movie (a fairly nondescript film about a necklace with necromantic powers) wasn't anything mind-blowing, in my opinion, but it was impressive enough for its low budget, and once I realized the movie didn't take itself very seriously, I began to appreciate the humor.

Friday, 19:00: TCG1010427 Two Headed Giant Limited - M11

For my sole Magic event of the convention, I teamed up with one of my friends for a Two-Headed Giant draft. I'd never done a 2HG draft before, and the format was definitely interesting, but I think my teammate and I put together some admirable decks. Our first victory was an unlikely turnaround that left our opponents stunned, dealing something on the order of 30 damage in one turn. We weren't able to complete our second game, due to our opponents having to leave, but nonetheless it was a fun little distraction.

Saturday, 01:00: ZED1010350 Are You a Werewolf?

There's actually no difference between Werewolf and the more well-known game Mafia apart from different naming conventions, so I was able to jump in without much of a problem. In Game 1, the entire group was fooled by a 10ish-year-old girl who successfully convinced her father that she wasn't the werewolf, and rode that trust card to victory. In Game 2, I happened to be a werewolf, and both of my fellows were killed off early in the game. I managed to stick around for a little while longer, but unfortunately couldn't pull off the victory. I hate being mafia. I mean, werewolf.

Day 3

Saturday, 14:00: RPG1017757 Tokyo Masks

Tokyo Masks was quite the unique tabletop RPG. Essentially, each player took control of a fairly stereotypical superhero; I, for instance, had the super-powerful but not-so-bright Brodin, the "Norse God of Surfing." The first half was fairly typical role-playing; took down some evil supervillains, etc., but for the second half the GMs decided to conduct a cross-over with a closely-related universe, featuring a school of mutant elementary-school children. With something like 10 players in the room and two different rulesets, things got a little hectic, but at the end of the day it was still immensely entertaining (and unique).

Saturday, 19:30: ENT1016339 Video Games Live!

I mentioned Video Games Live in great detail in my last post, so I won't go into detail again here. The best part of the event was getting to meet Tommy Tallarico, Emmanuel Frattiani, and Laura "Flute Link" at the meet 'n greet following the show. Mr. Frattiani, upon hearing I was a music student at Duke, gave me a reference to one of his colleagues, a graduate of Duke's Ph.D. music program; I thought that was really cool. Of course, getting to talk to Tommy again was awesome, too, especially since he still remembered me from the seminar that morning.

Sunday, 01:00: ENT1014142 Pajama Jammy Jam (a.k.a the Dance)

Having been at the back of the line for the VG Live meet 'n greet, we made it in time for the last two or three songs of the dance. I wasn't expecting much from a dance where the ratio of men to women was probably something like 10:1, but it was actually pretty fun. And no, there really weren't that many people in pajamas.

Day 4

There weren't any scheduled plans for Sunday, so my friends and I just wandered the main exhibition hall, where essentially every company present has a booth set up with cool stuff. I'll just attach some pictures here to show a little of the happenings of the ex-hall.

Yep, that's pretty much all I've got. 'Til next time!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Concert Review: Video Games Live Indy 2010

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of making it up to Indianapolis for Gen Con Indy, one of the largest annual gaming conventions in the world. Although the entire convention was an absolute blast (look for a post in the near future with details), the pinnacle of the convention was almost certainly Video Games Live. Video Games Live, founded by composers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, is (to quote the website) "a concert event put on by the video game industry to help encourage and support the culture and art that video games have become." In essence, it's a group of touring video game musicians who work with local professional orchestras to put on a massive multimedia-filled performance of video game music.

Video Games Live at Gen Con was hosted at the Conseco Fieldhouse, a large arena typically reserved for sporting events. My friends and I were able to get "cheap seat" tickets for $15 a pop, which was amazing considering where our seats turned out to be -- we were literally right in front of the stage (albeit a bit far) with a perfect view of the orchestra. Epic success.

After a costume contest, Video Games Live kicked into gear with the "Classic Arcade Medley," a collection of tunes from popular arcade games of yore, including such hits as Pong, Space Invaders, Outrun, and Tetris. Tommy took the stage and introduced the next selection, from an obscure Japanese game called Afrika that probably 1% of the audience had ever heard of. I'm happy that Afrika was included in the program; the music was the perfect sort of majestic, and I'm always a fan of less popular video games getting some recognition. My one complaint about the Afrika performance was actually the choice of video; the music was much too grand for some of the boring menu-navigating scenes that somehow made their way into the montage.

The next three selections were Shadow of the Colossus, Assassin's Creed, and God of War, all solid arrangements that I enjoyed despite my lack of familiarity with the material. The next event was one pretty unique to Video Games Live; two contestants came on stage to play Frogger while the orchestra played along in real-time. The audience support for the players was phenomenal, with countless cheers echoing across the stadium as the contestants steered their frogs to the other side of the level.

Act I ended with a beautiful selection from Final Fantasy VIII as well as three Blizzard tunes, two from World of Warcraft and one from Starcraft. The first Warcraft piece was a particularly haunting vocal tune called "Lament of the Highborn," performed by vocalist Laura Intravia (more on her later). The two following pieces were good, but neither struck me as much as did "Lament of the Highborn." In all honesty, I wouldn't have minded so much had some of the Blizzard tracks been replaced with tunes from other games; three Blizzard pieces seemed overkill to me when there are so many other great video game pieces out there to be enjoyed.

The second half of the show opened up with two Koji Kondo medleys, Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. While I thought the Zelda arrangement was phenomenal, I do wish the Super Mario Brothers arrangement had been a bit more imaginative. It's a great (and classic...it's been circulating around the Web for a while) arrangement, but especially for a track that's been as done to death as the classic Mario theme, I wish they'd been able to explore the themes a bit more and/or work in the wealth of other Mario music out there.

The next performance was centered around Laura Intravia, this time arriving on stage with a flute and dressed as her alter ego "Flute Link." Her performance was of one of her own arrangements, a Legend of Zelda flute duet set above some techno-y background music. The performance was as interesting to watch as to listen to, with Laura acting increasingly irritated with Navi (the second flute part) floating over her shoulder and culminating in poor Navi being thrown across the stage. I managed to snap a photo with the talented Laura after the show (she's the one on the left, of course).

After Laura's performance, one of the more unique aspects of Video Games Live took the stage. A gentleman who'd won the earlier Guitar Hero competition was invited on the stage, and Tommy went to fetch his electric guitar. The contest winner was presented with another challenge: earn 250,000 points on the Guitar Hero: Van Halen song "Jump" on Hard while Tommy and the orchestra played along in real time. Of course, the contestant and audience demanded Expert instead. Again, the audience support during the performance was amazing, with a veritable explosion of cheers as the contestant finally broke 250,000 in the last few seconds in the song. Definitely one of the most entertaining acts.

Tommy and guitar remained on stage for the next few acts, which included medleys of Mega Man and Halo as well as the renowned Final Fantasy VII piece "One Winged Angel" (which the audience predicted even before Tommy announced the title). All were very well-arranged, although I do think Tommy's heavy electric guitar sound distracted from the music a bit, particularly for the Halo medley. After a false "show end" and a bizarre interlude of a Mass Effect "Vigil" recording, Tommy and Emmanuel returned to the stage to put on a rockin' Castlevania arrangement. Another false ending and singing "Happy Birthday" to Laura later (yep, it was her birthday xD), Tommy announced the real finale: Chrono Trigger.

The Chrono Trigger finale was definitely my favorite selection of the evening. Although I wasn't familiar with the original source material, the brilliant acoustic arrangement was gorgeous (especially considering its 16-bit origins), and the orchestra played with great passion. My lackluster recording below captures only a fraction of its beauty, but it is nonetheless a great fraction.

Overall, the show was wonderful, and it was great to be able to meet the composers/conductors/musicians after the show, as well. Most of my issues stem from my own unfamiliarity with the source material as well as the fact that I'd seen Video Games Live once before and was familiar with many of the selections. I do wish they'd chosen to showcase more obscure-game music like Afrika's, but I also understand the need to play pieces like Halo and "One Winged Angel" for the numerous fans of those popular games. All things considered, I still had a blast, and I'm sure those in the audience more familiar with the source material would have enjoyed it even more. Whether or not you've already seen it before, Video Games Live comes highly recommended. :)



Sunday, August 1, 2010

Survey: VGTropes!

Those of you who know me probably know that I've always been fascinated with music in video games. The idea of video game music, and how it reinforces, adds to, or transcends the actual level elements intrigues me in a way that pop music and movie music simply can't hold a candle to. One element of video game music that has always been of particular interest to me is the idea of musical "mottos," or the possible existence of certain musical elements that predispose themselves toward a certain type of level, such as a "fire" level or an "ice" level. I feel that such knowledge might be an asset to me as an aspiring composer, but more than anything I'm really just curious.

Something (musically) in common here? :P

Essentially, the goal of this survey is to see whether people identify with any musical elements that might lend themselves to a specific type of level. As such, I've collected a wide variety of tracks from a specific video game universe, each of which fits neatly within one of five different level clichés (at least within platformers). The survey requires you to submit your best guess at which type of level the music is taken from, along with a reason for the choice. The choices include "Tropical," "Fire," "Water," "Ice/Snow," and "Space/Tech."

A couple points of order before I link to the survey:

1. This is designed to hopefully be pretty fun. For those of you who like online quizzes and/or sites like Sporcle, this should be right up your alley.

2. A few tracks in there are intentionally misleading, and those are the ones I expect people to miss most. For example, one "ice" level might in fact be an "ice factory" level, but nonetheless I think enough "ice" characteristics are present to include under that cliché.

3. I've taken these tracks from a variety of games, from old 8-bit handhelds to current-gen systems. What I'm trying to say is, try not to let JUST the synth sounds determine your answer.

4. The reason why you identified a specific level cliché is just as important as the answer; please try to be as detailed as possible with your response, no matter if it's something general (e.g. "a majestic feel") or something very specific (e.g. "tinkly synths at the beginning"). The more detailed your answer is, the better I'll be able to identify the trends. Also, though you needn't listen to each piece in its entirety, some of the characteristic qualities may not reveal themselves until a little into the track.


6. If enough people are interested, I'll report the results in a future blog post. If you're really dying to know the answer, comment here or something and I'll send you a private message with the answers. XD

With no further ado, here are the survey links. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to integrate all the media into the survey, so you'll have to toggle between the survey window and this blog post to complete it. It might be a wee bit time-intensive, but if I might beg your patience, I think this could be really interesting. :)

Survey Links/Tracks:
Don't forget there are two parts to the survey! (I've heard the second half is more interesting.)

Questions Part 1 (Tracks 1-10)
Questions Part 2 (Tracks 11-20)

Mystery Track #1:

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Mystery Track #19:

Mystery Track #20:

Thanks, folks! Hope you enjoyed the survey, if you took it. :)

Anu orta veniya,