Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011: Diamond Dust Act 2

It's the holiday season again! XD And what's a holiday season without some gifts? And despite my usual miserly self, I do have a gift for all of you loyal blog readers (hehe). My gift is one of music: music in the form of another video game cover, of course. :P

Sonic 3D Blast (for Saturn) is possibly my favorite video game soundtrack of all time. Great orchestration and catchy melodies aside, the soundtrack contains one of the most consistent structures I've seen in any video game work, which is really exciting for the logical, music-student side of me. I'd even considered writing an academic paper about this soundtrack; major props to composer Richard Jacques for such a brilliant piece of work. It was only a matter of time before I'd have to cover one of its pieces, and I decided on my personal favorite track from the game: the snowy Diamond Dust Act 2. (The original's much better...maybe I shouldn't have shown you :P)

This particular project has been a long, long time coming. I first put together the concept and sheet music over a year and a half ago, in summer 2010. I practiced the music on and off during the fall semester before things got busy with school; I'd hoped to finish this project last winter, but things fell through. I practiced some again during the spring, somewhat halfheartedly since it'd been my busiest semester so far. My sudden re-discovery of free time also coincided with my discovery of anime, so the next few piano projects leaned heavily in its favor. However, this project tiptoed to the forefront again, and I set a deadline for myself: Christmas. This time, I was definitely going to finish. And finish I did: here's the final result!

Diamond Dust Act 2: Piano (& Drums?) Cover

Composer: Richard Jacques
Date Completed: 2011-12-24
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: ~15
Instrumentation: Piano, Drums

This arrangement has definitely been my most ambitious project yet, both from a musical and logistical standpoint. I'd had a bit of practice with layering through my Mawaru Penguindrum project, but never before with so many different parts. It was definitely a challenge to have all of the parts line up adequately, and I'm still not sure I did a great job. The Vegas processing was somewhat challenging, too: I wonder if I didn't bite off a bit more than I could chew with the multiple-video layering and effects. Add a few random technology fails to all of that (yay 30-day trials) and it's a wonder I didn't break down and give up. But I'm glad I got through all of that; it's a really rewarding feeling to see a year and a half's worth of work finally come to fruition.

In any case, hope you enjoyed watching/listening to this project! Happy holidays to everyone, and here's to a great 2012!

P.S. I'm hoping to make this an annual thing, so, um...see you in a year? :D

Season's greetings,


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Piano Cover: On Your Mark (Gundam Unicorn)

Hope Thanksgiving weekend was great for everyone! My own Thanksgiving weekend was one filled with lots of shopping; I finally decided to try out that Black Friday thing again for the first time in many years, and consequently am the happy owner of a new PlayStation 3. Since then, it's like I've been rediscovering my gamer side hidden away for several months; SO MUCH GAMING. Enough gaming, in fact, that I nearly forgot to post an entry about my latest piano cover, the piece "On Your Mark" from Gundam Unicorn.

Here's an uncharacteristic confession: I don't actually know anything about the Gundam franchise, save for the ten minutes or so I've seen of the first OVA. I can't even pretend to know enough about it to write a paragraph's worth of blog post about Gundam Unicorn. Rather, I came across this masterpiece of a piano solo on a recommendation from a friend, and immediately fell in love with it.

To me, this piano solo is further proof that an arrangement need not be complicated or difficult to be beautiful. Not that I didn't struggle when attempting to transcribe or learn the piece, but the structure and texture are fairly simple, but not simplistic (yes, there is a difference!). In fact, I think the straightforward nature of this piece makes contributes to its beauty, really providing the listener with the time to absorb each beautiful chord. I can't actually find the piano arrangement anywhere else on the Internet, but here's the (even more beautiful, if possible) original orchestral version of "On Your Mark." And here's my piano cover:

On Your Mark (Gundam Unicorn): Piano Cover

Composer: Hiroyuki Sawano
Date Completed: 2011-11-24
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Number of Takes: ~15
Instrumentation: Piano

If you're interested, here's my arrangement of this piece (also featured on Josh's Anime Music website!). Since I've little else to say here, I'll keep this one short. Thanks for dropping by, and look for more (possibly video-game-related!) content coming soon! Happy December!



Thursday, November 24, 2011

Piano & Violin Cover: Gray Wednesday (Mawaru Penguindrum)

Something (slightly) different this way comes! For a while now, it's been a goal of mine to perform a collaborative YouTube piece with at least one other instrumentalist (solo piano can't do everything, sadly :P). Recently, with the help of my great friend and talented violinist lpnotes, this goal has finally come to light. Many, many thanks to miss lpnotes for her help in this endeavor. Please check out her YouTube channel; she's doing some awesome work!

And now back to the requisite "unnecessary motivation story." :P For my first full season as an anime fan, Summer 2011, I chose to follow Kamisama Dolls, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Usagi Drop. All three were excellent shows and strongly reinforced my decision to jump into anime, and although Kamisama Dolls and Usagi Drop have finished up, Mawaru Penguindrum is still going strong. And by "strong" I mean "bizarre" (in the best way possible).

Mawaru Penguindrum's strange plot makes a summary here a completely futile endeavor, so I'll just talk a little about the music instead. The music is great, of course (else I wouldn't be talking about it), but the most notable aspect of the soundtrack is the many references to existing pieces of music. As is often done, the show quotes a number of popular classical composers such as Strauss and Dvořák, but to a larger extent, Penguindrum quotes a number of songs by the Japanese rock band ARB. Indeed, one could say the ARB songs, masterfully reimagined by the show's musicians, forms the sonic backbone of the entire series, contributing everything from insert songs to (4!) ending themes to the (in?)famous transformation scene theme. Despite having never heard of ARB before watching this show, I really enjoyed the insight into the Japanese band, and I thought the recut versions were wonderfully arranged.

The Penguindrum theme that lpnotes and I decided to tackle was "Gray Wednesday" (灰色の水曜日), one such ARB cover that was first introduced as an insert song, but was quickly elevated to the status of one of the most common ending themes. Despite my limited understanding of the song's lyrics, it was nonetheless able to convey a great deal of emotion to me; the feelings just flow out through the harmony and melody. Below is our attempt at recreating this lovely piece; here's the original, and here's the real original (the ARB version).

Gray Wednesday (Mawaru Penguindrum): Piano & Violin Cover

Composer: Yukari Hashimoto/ARB
Date Completed: 2011-11-19
Software: Adobe Premiere, Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: .......
Instrumentation: Piano, violin

This is a strict transcription of the source material, so there's not much to say about the piece. It was fun to put together, despite the ridiculous number of takes before I was able to play my piano part without making too many mistakes. Also, I learned a new piece of software when editing this video! Yay for demo versions of Sony Vegas. :) Leave a comment if you'd like the sheet music; it's pretty minimal, but it should still get the job done.

Thanks again to lpnotes for her help in this collab, and hopefully there will be more collaborative pieces coming in the future. Happy Thanksgiving weekend!



Saturday, November 19, 2011

Piano Cover: Jade Empire Main Theme

Whoa, first non-anime-related post in months. O_o I tend to get a wee bit obsessive about new things I discover, and anime was certainly that way for me; I'd been especially thrilled at discovering a new source of such great music. Still, it's nice to revisit my other loves every once in a while, so here's a return to the world of video games.

A turning point in my video-gaming life must have been when I played my first BioWare game. I almost instantly fell in love with Knights of the Old Republic, and I've been an avid BioWare fan ever since. I'm still incredibly impressed with the consistently great quality of the games BioWare puts out, a sharp contrast to many other game-development teams who often grow complacent after a few successes. My second BioWare experience, Jade Empire, is one of my fondest gaming memories. Very few games have captivated me to the degree that Jade Empire has, and I can still vividly remember the countless hours spent totally absorbed in the game, and the unbearable waits between gaming sessions filled with endless speculation.

The music in Jade Empire is great. Major kudos to composer Jack Wall for being able to so masterfully combine Western RPG-style music with traditional Chinese elements. The blend of East and West in this soundtrack makes for quite a unique sound, and it's obvious that Mr. Wall did his homework -- the more traditional-sounding tracks are spot-on. I tackled the main theme in my arrangement; check out the (much more beautiful) original here. (Also, did I mention that I had a chance to meet Jack Wall? He's a great guy.)

Jade Empire Main Theme: Piano Cover

Composer: Jack Wall
Date Completed: 2011-11-19
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Number of Takes: ~8
Instrumentation: Piano

I tried to follow the basic structure of the original main theme in this arrangement, though the actual notes are a fairly liberal interpretation of the work. The Chinese drums and flute countermelodies hold a large presence in the original work, and I was unable to quite work them into my arrangement. Still, I think I was able to convey the original idea. Also, boo for arpeggios. >.<

More updates and cool projects (including one NON-PIANO COVER OMGWTF) coming at'cha soon! Stay tuned.

'Til next time,


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Piano Cover: Day and Night (Shiki)

Another month, another piano cover. I can hardly believe that it's already November, and in another few weeks' time we'll be bidding farewell to another year. Time really does fly.

The music this time is from an anime called Shiki, a 2010 horror/mystery piece centered around a village with a mysterious epidemic. I first watched Shiki this past summer, coming shortly off the tail of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. I wasn't completely sure how I felt about it at first; despite the fact that both anime series were horror, the cutesy, moe feel of Higurashi biased my expectations somewhat. The much more serious tone of Shiki was a little off-putting at first, but I was quickly drawn into its tragic tale of death, helplessness, and betrayal. Shiki is not a happy story by any means, but that only made its impact more powerful -- the bittersweet final episode made me want to cry.

As you probably expect by now, I really enjoyed the music in Shiki, and I'm convinced that the music is a huge part of this anime's dramatic impact. The soundtrack contains some of the most expressive, emotional tracks I've encountered so far, mixed with a healthy dose of creepy and upbeat as well. In particular, the main, recurring melody of the Shiki soundtrack is one of the most hauntingly beautiful themes I've ever heard, typically presented via expressive instruments such as strings or female voice. I really do love a good vocalist.

The track that I decided to tackle, "Day and Night," is one that contains this beautiful theme. Here's my cover; you can check out the original here.

Day and Night (Shiki): Piano Cover

Composer: Yasuharu Takanashi
Date Completed: 2011-11-09
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, metronome :P
Number of Takes: a lot >.<
Instrumentation: Piano

This piano cover turned out to be somewhat liberal, with some slower versions of the melody surrounding the more conservative interpretation. The ostinato accompaniment line was fairly challenging for me, in large part because my left hand is really t3h sux0rz. Since I made this arrangement by ear, I don't have sheet music this time around. I'm certain sheet music for this track exists somewhere, but if you'd like my particular arrangement, let me know and I'll try to put something together.

That's all for now! Go check out Shiki; you won't regret it.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Piano Cover & Tutorial: High, High, High

Well, this was a faster update than my usual several-month delay. In the spirit of embracing this newly-discovered having-a-musical-instrument thing, I must have spent at least twelve hours over the past couple of days on my piano. I'm sure my life will go back into balance at some point in the future, but until then, MUSIC OVERLOAD. And I'm loving every minute of it. :D

Anyway, in case you weren't able to tell from my entry a few posts ago, I really, really like the show Usagi Drop. Ever since the show ended a few weeks ago, it feels like I have this new, all-consuming void of cuteness in my life, which may only be satiated by playing Usagi Drop music. If my subliminal urging fails to capture your attention, here's a more straightfoward statement: you should really watch this show. Seriously, just look at that picture of Rin over there. SO MUCH CUTE. D'awwww. :)

In the aforementioned blog post, I arranged a version of the show's OP, "Sweet Drops," so this time I decided to tackle its ED, "High, High, High." If possible, the piano version of this song (original here) is even sweeter and more calming than "Sweet Drops," and I slightly prefer the original ED to the OP. I'd actually completed the sheet music and Synthesia tutorial a couple of weeks ago, but decided that I'd actually try playing my own music. Turns out that's easier said than done...let's just say that my piano skillz have deteriorated dramatically since my younger days. >.< Nonetheless, here's the recording, after many attempts:

High, High, High (Usagi Drop): Piano Cover

Composer: Kasarinchu
Date Completed: 2011-10-18
Software: Audacity, Finale 2008, Movie Maker, Synthesia, SynthFont
Number of Takes: ~20 X_x
Instrumentation: Piano

And below's the Synthesia tutorial. Apologies for the poor video quality; I'll see what I can do about that later. As with my last Synthesia tutorial, the left/right-hand designations are purely optional here; just do whatever feels comfortable (in fact, you'll see me using many an alternate fingering in my recording). Sheet music for this transcription is located here, or at the usual place in my Portfolio.

That's all for this time! As always, please leave comments or critique if you have any! Now stop reading this post and go watch Usagi Drop. :P

See you again soon!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Piano Cover: M07 (Kara no Kyoukai)

Man, I've been on super-music-withdrawal recently. I've been adjusting pretty well to my graduate-student life in all aspects except that my exposure to music has dropped drastically. Part of that, of course, is that I'm no longer an undergraduate music major, but another factor is the lack of accessible musical instruments. Luckily, that all changed a few days ago: I finally managed to procure (however temporarily) an electric piano courtesy of some friends, and I feel like I've been rapidly making up for all of the piano-free days over the past two months.

Being the newly-minted anime fan that I am, I decided to tackle a couple pieces of anime music for my first piano covers since February. I decided that the first of these covers would be a piece of music from the anime movie series Kara no Kyoukai (空の境界), or Garden of Sinners. It's a beautiful set of movies (if a little confusing; I still need to re-watch them sometime), supported by an equally beautiful soundtrack courtesy of Yuki Kajiura. The soundtrack is wonderfully atmospheric, tender at moments, creepy or tense at others, but with an overall tinge of poignancy from Ms. Kajiura's hauntingly gorgeous melodies. Indeed, this poignancy is perhaps my favorite aspect of the Kara no Kyoukai soundtrack; Kajiura seamlessly weaves a few common melodies into a number of otherwise diverse musical numbers, generating a sense of unity that I find absolutely beautiful. :P My cover is of the track "M07" (gotta love Yuki Kajiura's naming scheme for these tracks) from the seventh Kara no Kyoukai movie, "A Study in Murder (Part 2)". In particular, it's from this scene if you care for some context.

Anyway, here's the cover!

M07 (Kara no Kyoukai): Piano Cover

Composer: Yuki Kajiura
Date Completed: 2011-10-17
Number of Takes: 20 >.<
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Instrumentation: Piano

Getting this piece together was more difficult than I'd envisioned. I'm not as great of a pianist as I'd like to be, and getting this piece mostly free of mistakes was a sometimes-frustrating challenge that involved many, many takes. There's a reason that most of my piano covers are arrangements rather than transcriptions; it's much easier to get away with the occasional mistake when the cover isn't supposed to be identical to some other piece of music. :P

Speaking of transcriptions, here's the sheet music for my transcription of this piece. Lovely harmonies, but not quite as challenging to transcribe as the previous two Usagi Drop pieces I'd done. Just goes to show that music certainly doesn't need to be complex to be beautiful. :)

That's all for now; look for more music coming at ya soon!

Best wishes,


Friday, September 2, 2011

Aesthetic Update #2 & Portfolio

While making some site updates, I randomly began playing around with some new banner ideas for this website. Several hours later, this blog layout was born. Although I enjoyed the FL-chan layout (image below, if you've already forgotten), I was aiming for something simpler than the colorful spirals from the older background. Admittedly, I don't know a great deal about the touhou characters who've taken FL-chan's spot, but I thought the art was really neat (still looking for the artist to whom credit is due). This layout is certain not perfect either (already some issues that I've identified); let me know if you have any suggestions or comments! It's been fun, FL-chan; perhaps we'll see each other again in a future aesthetic update. :P

More importantly than the visual updates, I've made some crucial changes to my "Portfolio" page in the Favicon at the top of the page. Whereas the "Portfolio" page was once something showcasing just my undergraduate work in composition and music technology, I've now expanded it to include my transcriptions and arrangements that were primarily hosted on my other website. This collection of sheet music encompasses work over many years of arranging and transcribing music, all the way back to my high school days. I've also added a few music-related articles I wrote in my undergraduate classes; I'm particularly proud of the Final Fantasy musicology paper. Check out my portfolio here, or in the link bar at the very top of the page.

Anyway, that's all for this time! I've been working on another longer, Bakemonogatari article-style post, so hopefully I'll have that ready to go in the near future. Have a good Labor Day weekend, my U.S. friends!



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tutorial: Sweet Drops

School's starting in two days omgwtfbbq. O_o In my last few days of relative freedom before classes kick in once again, I decided to arrange/transcribe a number of solo piano pieces from anime and video games, as I've previously shared here. More recently, I've decided to try my hand at using Synthesia, a neat little program that allows you to import MIDI files and play or watch the music on a virtual piano, and decided to build a tutorial on my "Sweet Drops" transcription.

Usagi Drop, the source material for this cute little piano work, is an anime that I've been following as it airs this season. Based on a manga by the same name, the anime is centered around a man who decides to raise his late grandfather's illegitimate daughter, and their adventures together through everyday life. It's extremely cute and fluffy; I was skeptical that I'd enjoy it at first, but it was so adorable that it quickly won me over. Evidently I have a soft side for josei anime. XD

Part of what Usagi Drop's appeal was connected to its OP and ED, found here and here, respectively. Compared to the OPs and EDs I'm used to (typically from shows involving either lots of murder, lots of robots, or lots of sadness), they were much more cheery and catchy, and felt a little more "Western" to me (particularly the chord progressions in the ED). I toyed around with making some piano arrangements of the pieces, but after stumbling across these official piano versions, I was content with just transcribing these amazing pieces. The video below is the fruit of my labor, and here's a link to the sheet music again.

Sweet Drops (Piano Version): Tutorial

Artist: Puffy AmiYumi
Date Completed: 2011-08-28
Software: Finale 2008, Fraps, Synthesia, SynthFont, Windows Movie Maker
Instrumentation: Piano

This was one of the more challenging transcriptions I've made in my music-transcribing career (hehe). I've never been great at harmonic dictation, and this piano piece definitely had some interesting harmonies that threw me for a loop. I'm still not completely sure I got all of the chords correct, but I think I'm pretty close. Another unexpected challenge was the numerous pieces of software that I needed to use to produce this video. It was quite the adventure in software; I wrote the music/generated the MIDI using Finale 2008, swapped soundfonts using SynthFont, recorded the tutorial from Synthesia using Fraps, and used Windows Movie Maker to put everything together. Considering I didn't even know of several of these programs before starting this project, I'd say I learned a lot. :)

Enjoy, and until next time!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Sheet Music Collection #1

So my summer's finally drawing to an end, and I'm about to start this weird thing called "graduate school." I'm a little nervous to be sure, particularly at the possibility of not having a lot of free time for my musical endeavors. I'll try to keep up with it, for sure, but as previous school years have shown, my musical productivity drops dramatically once academics kick in, and this time I don't even have the music major to keep me somewhat on task.

Nevertheless, perhaps in anticipation of less musical weeks to come (I don't even have access to a piano right now, *sadface*), I've recently been putting together a number of pieces of sheet music. So far they're all solo piano arrangements and transcriptions of video game and anime music, though I hope to arrange some for different instrumentations in the future. Due to a few requests, I've put together sheet music for my YouTube arrangements of "I Am The One" and "Always With Me," and I've also finished a few straight transcriptions of some lovely piano pieces from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Usagi Drop (both fantastic shows, by the way). I'd like to eventually submit these to some anime music sites (like this one), but for now, they're available here. Enjoy!

Always With Me (Spirited Away)
PDF; YouTube; Original

I Am The One (Dragon Age)
PDF; YouTube; Original

Inevitabilis (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
PDF; YouTube; Tutorial

Sweet Drops (Usagi Drop)
PDF; YouTube; Tutorial

I've got a couple other pieces I'd like to arrange/transcribe (courtesy of finishing some amazing, beautifully-scored anime shows like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni and Clannad), so look for more of these sheet music collections in the future. I've got some older arrangements (mostly for percussion ensemble) located here, and I'm in the process of migrating the better of those files to this blog; look for that in the near future, too!

Anyway, hope you enjoy these first few pieces of sheet music! Please leave a comment if you have any questions/concerns, or even if you're just dropping by; I'd love to hear from anyone who's enjoyed this work. :)

See you again soon!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bakemonogatari: Exploring the OP-Leitmotif

As perhaps some of you can gather from my recent visual update to this blog, I've been on somewhat of an anime roll of late. While I've been enjoying the clever plot lines and quirky, characteristic animations of the shows I've watched, the musician/composer in me has kept open a keen ear for the shows' music. I've been intrigued by the well-written scores, both similar to and unique from scores for Western media, and have been particularly fascinated with the opening credits and ending credits themes (OPs and EDs, respectively), their significance to the show and importance to the anime genre as a whole.

I've enjoyed the majority of the music I've come across in my anime-watching spree, but I've been particularly taken with the music for the show Bakemonogatari, translated (rarely) in English as Ghostory. While I wouldn't call Bakemonogatari one of my all-time favorite shows -- though I did enjoy it -- the show's music was phenomenal, and I like it even more now that I've gone back to appreciate its genius in more detail. Written by composer Satoru Kōsaki, also known for the soundtracks to a number of other Japanese anime shows and video games, Bakemonogatari's soundtrack is a diverse collection of fairly sparsely-scored tunes, whimsical and lighthearted at times, tender and touching at others, with excellent rhythmic interplay and percussion scoring throughout. The whole soundtrack is well-written, but what makes it stand out most is Kōsaki's clever integration of the show's OPs into the body of the soundtrack.

As is perhaps suggested by the images I've included, Bakemonogatari falls into the category of harem anime, which typically features one male character supported by a larger cast of female characters. Specifically, Bakemonogatari features five main female characters, each of whom (along with main character Ararararagi-kun) is the focus of her own several-episode story arc. Each girl also has her own unique OP (also composed by Kōsaki), sung by the voice actress of the character in question. Typically presented in the second episode of each character's story arc, each OP presents a glimpse into the character's motivations and feelings -- an "image song," according to esteemed website TVTropes. This forms a strong association between the musical idea and the character, and Kōsaki masterfully weaves these musical ideas into the soundtrack tapestry, creating effective character leitmotifs.

Time to slip in a bit of music history: the term "leitmotif" refers to a musical phrase, typically a melody (though sometimes a chord progression or rhythm), that recurs during the course of a work in accordance with an appearance of a person, place, object or idea. Made (in?)famous by composer Richard Wagner back in the late 1800s, leitmotifs now see fairly frequent employ in TV and film scores as musical ties to particular characters, events, or locations (a trend that noted Wagner critic Theodor Adorno scorned). A very famous example of the use of leitmotifs in film is in Star Wars; musical motives tied to key characters or events, including Princess Leia, Yoda, and the forbidden Anakin-Padmé relationship, recur numerous times over the course of the six films. For example, the Yoda leitmotif, presented below, shows up in many a scene starring our diminutive green friend.

In Bakemonogatari, these leitmotifs manifest themselves as instrumental variations of the more pop-style opening themes, presented during significant scenes involving the associated character. Because these scenes tend to be of the more dramatic or romantic variety, the variations are typically slow, poignant works scored for expressive solo instruments like piano and acoustic guitar. These references are so strong and deliberate that even the OP's original key is preserved. Let's take a look at a couple of examples; in each video pair that follows, the one on the left is the character's original OP theme, and the one on the right is the in-scene leitmotif. (Warning: some spoilers follow.)

"Staple Stable", theme song of the character Senjougahara Hitagi (and my personal favorite of the bunch), is the leitmotif that recurs most often throughout the course of the anime. The in-scene leitmotif is one of the longer of the bunch, spanning the entire verse and chorus (0:07 to end of the OP) -- and is positively gorgeous, if you ask my opinion. This same variation returns in the beautiful starry night scene, one of my favorite scenes in any show.

The over-the-top, technoy "Kaerimichi" is the theme for character Hachikuji Mayoi, a cute, headstrong grade-schooler. For the leitmotif's in-scene appearance, the upbeat, sugary-sweet chorus (0:54 in the OP) is transformed into a soft, touching acoustic guitar passage that provides the perfect tone for her departure scene.

Ah, the appearance of the classic "pop" I-V-VI-IV chord progression. :P The overdriven guitars and drum sets of Kanbaru Suruga's rock-style "Ambivalent World" OP yield to the soft timbre of the solo electric piano. Like Senjougahara's leitmotif, this one spans an entire verse and chorus (0:11 in the OP).

Sengoku Nadeko's character theme, "Renai Circulation," appears again during a flashback scene starring the girl. The instrument of choice here is the celesta, its "music box" timbre contributing a nostalgic, reminiscent feel to the reimagined chorus (0:41 in the OP).

All about heavy stuff like unrequited love and inner devils, Hanekawa Tsubasa's theme "Sugar Sweet Nightmare" is the darkest of the five OPs. The deep tones of the lower piano keys sounds even more ominous than the bass and guitar of the original theme, and the higher, more hopeful passages are considerably more moving. The additional suspensions and applied chords in the piano leitmotif add a great deal of emotion to the variation. Another longer leitmotif, this one covers the verse, chorus, and even introduction (0:12-1:23 in the OP).

The aforementioned scenes are the most obvious cases; these character leitmotifs also show up in places one might not suspect -- namely the background music for the preview snippets that appear at the end of each episode. Ever faithful to his theme, Kōsaki elected to write short guitar riffs based on the harmonic progressions of each character's theme song. As perhaps expected, the leitmotif used during each preview corresponds to the character featured in the current arc. See if you can recognize the harmonic references to each character theme in the video below. I've included times to better distinguish where each new riff begins.

0:00 -- Staple Stable
0:14 -- Kaerimichi
0:29 -- Ambivalent World
0:43 -- Renai Circulation
0:58 -- Sugar Sweet Nightmare

My favorite musical passage in the Bakemonogatari soundtrack comes in the final scenes of the show, shown in the video below. Beginning with a melodic pattern already encountered in the anime, the music soon makes way for a reference to "Sugar Sugar Nightmare" at 0:43, as Hanekawa dominates the scene. Note that the "Sugar Sweet Nightmare" motif has been transposed to its relative major (D major compared to the original B minor -- see diagram above); this musical resolution symbolizes the resolution of Hanekawa's turmoil from earlier in Bakemonogatari. As Senjougahara enters the scene at 1:07, the music shifts to the beginning ostinato of "Staple Stable," which lingers until the final "Oshitoyoshi" theme at 1:45. These beautiful passages represent the pinnacle of Kōsaki's masterful use of these leitmotifs, and really show just how much music can add to a scene.

In the world of great anime soundtracks, Bakemonogatari certainly doesn't stand alone, but Kōsaki's clever use of OP-leitmotifs in his score lends the soundtrack a sense of unity that makes it stand out above the rest. It's clear that not only imagination and creativity, but also careful planning, went into the composition of this soundtrack, and for a logical, pattern-loving musician like me, that represents some of the very best qualities of music.

That's all for now. Until next time!



Friday, July 29, 2011

Survey: VGTropes -- Results! (Part II)

A month or so ago, I posted Part I of the results for this survey from last summer. And now, here's Part II! For some more details about the survey itself, please consult one of the previous two posts, but I'll go straight into the results in this post.

I feel obliged to note, however, that significantly fewer people made it to Part II of the survey as compared to Part I. That's what I get for distributing the test in two parts, I guess. Heh heh. Anyway, here we go:

Mystery Track #11:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #11: Icecap (Sonic 3): Ice/Snow

Here's a bit of interesting trivia that most people don't know about Sonic 3: there is indisputable proof that Michael Jackson was originally slated to work on the soundtrack. Mr. Jackson's music was dropped shortly after his scandals went public (showing that people can never truly separate work from personal life), but remnants of his music persisted in the soundtrack. Ice Cap Zone, one of the most popular songs from Sonic's music history, was one track that contained such remnants. Here are the survey results. (Again, as shown below, the most popular answer for each track is highlighted in bold, and the "correct" answer in italics. An answer in both italics and bold means exactly what you think it does.)

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 2/14 (14.3%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 6/14 (42.9%)
Space/Tech: 2/14 (14.3%)

If I'm being honest with myself and accounting for the bias introduced by people knowing the track, "Ice/Snow" barely, if at all, triumphs over "Water," the closest runner-up. Due to some people not leaving comments, I've only a few to scavenge through:
"The tinkly parts of it sound more icy to me."
"It's the echoey bits again. The use of tinkling sounds."
"droplet sounds in the background :D"
This appears to be a track whose deciding factor for ice was mostly based on timbre, although interestingly, a few responses were swung in favor of "Space/Tech" for the same reason. The reasons for the runner-up "Water" were more widespread:
"That clave-like upper part makes me think tropical, or water now that I hear those arpeggios. All the tambres are well-rounded volume-wise."
"The dut-dut-da-dut-dut-dut and doodle-oodle-doodle-oodle-doodle sound wet to me."
"I think of water tracks with softer beats and more flowing than hard"
"The tremulous background melody reminds me of water"
I thought the comment about the soft beats was interesting, since I did notice a similar trend in some water levels myself. Here's the track in its original context.

On to track #12!

Mystery Track #12:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #12: Diamond Dust (Sonic 3D Blast, Saturn): Ice/Snow

Sega Saturn version by Richard Jacques, again. I'm skipping right to the results for this one:

Tropical: 1/14 (7.1%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 1/14 (7.1%)
Ice/Snow: 12/14 (85.7%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

Because I kind of find this humorous, I want to go through most of the comments for this one:
"The jingle bells in the background remind me of winter. Definitely ice."
"The 'sleighbell' sounds from the very beginning immediately give this a snowy, icy, winter feel. Sounds like Christmas even."
"Bells indicate holiday-ish and falling snow haha"
"OK THIS IS TOTALLY A SNOW LEVEL. It's got the classic 'snow' music effect. I will not accept being wrong here."
"Sleigh bells. Tinkle tinkle. Snow!"
"sleigh bells and other things that sound like ice crystals"
"It has bells, and sounds like christmas"
"You better not be screwing around. Sleigh bells?! The bell gliss was pretty obvious. Even the tight piano chords."
"The 'sleighbell' sounds from the very beginning immediately give this a snowy, icy, winter feel. Sounds like Christmas even."
"This one definitely sounds icy to me (I hope it's not one of your tricky ones!)... very majestic. I can almost hear how beautifully crafted this level is from the music."
"the snow sound in the background (like in christmas songs)"
Let this be a lesson to any potential video game composers: if you want people to immediately associate your music with snow, put some damn sleigh bells in it. Here's the context (though I think the music is much more well-crafted than the level itself; sorry, second-to-last-comment-guy):

On to track #13!

Mystery Track #13:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #13: Green Grove (Sonic 3D Blast, Genesis): Tropical

Although some may recognize this theme as that of Windy Valley from the Dreamcast game Sonic Adventure, this track in fact debuted as Green Grove Zone with the Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast. I'm not sure why Sega decided to reuse this theme for Sonic Adventure; maybe the composer got lazy. The responses were pretty biased in favor of "tropical" here:

Tropical: 11/14 (78.6%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 1/14 (7.1%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 2/14 (14.3%)

Despite the prevalence of "tropical," the comments themselves were not particularly cohesive. Many respondents confessed to uncertainty or guessing, and there were a number of creative gems like "Sonic bunnies!" and "sounds like Sonic is sun bathing :P and then birds poop on him a little." The strongest trend I could detect was that the track was upbeat or had a happy feeling to it:
"It's whimsical and upbeat... but not water-y oddly enough."
"island beat (chill feeling)"
"The opening bass line make me think tropical. The track is very colorful, almost like a carnival."
"It makes me think of outside for some reason."
"The music is bright and happy - reminds me of a sunny day on the beach."
And as for the people who didn't identify a particular musical element to justify their answer, perhaps it was elimination of the other four answer choices? I believe that tropical themes tend to me more diverse than the other level types, so process of elimination is an entirely logical justification. Here's the original context of the music:

On to track #14!

Mystery Track #14:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #14: Hot Crater (Sonic Advance 2): Fire

By far the best track in Sonic Advance 2, in my opinion. (Shameless self-plug: check out my remix here!) With the possible additional exception of the Egg Utopia music, I feel that the rest of the rather bland music in this game tends to blur together. The weaksauce GBA sound card certainly doesn't help, either. Anyway:

Tropical: 1/14 (7.1%)
Fire: 6/14 (42.9%)
Water: 0/14 (0.0%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 7/14 (50.0%)

I rather figured that this track would offer some confusion in favor of "space/tech"; the bassline and overall feel is pretty darn techno-y. Indeed, many survey participants pointed out this fact for justification of the "space/tech" trope:
"techno ish"
"Hello techno!"
"Intense, rapid beats. Makes me think of the future."
"lots of electronic sounds/beeping"
"It's got kind of a noisy machine effect. It's got a sort of crackling electric quality to it."
"The static-y staccato notes and whispy melodies have an extremely spacey feel to them."
The comments for the fire-trope people were significantly more scattered, though a number attributed their choice to a fast pace. Here are the "fire" replies.
"fast and techy with high hat kind of driving action"
"Short, repetitive beats make it seem like you could have fire spouting up"
"Chased by a fire monster!!"
"This gives a very unwelcome, enemy-like feel that would be like fire."
"The bass has to be fire or space, and I'm leaning towards fire because of the chromaticism in the melody, but the beat is so techno."
I think the last comment captures the ambivalence of this track quite nicely. Let's see it in action:

On to track #15!

Mystery Track #15:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #15: Isolated Island (Knuckles' Chaotix): Tropical

Knuckles' Chaotix was a unique Sonic game, to say the least. Released for the obscure Sega 32x add-on to the Genesis, the game featured such perks as a (soon-to-be-forgotten) new set of characters, a theme park setting, team-based cooperative play, Ring-based special abilities, and the possibility to hit negative Ring counts. Here are the results for this track:

Tropical: 4/14 (28.6%)
Fire: 1/14 (7.1%)
Water: 5/14 (35.7%)
Ice/Snow: 4/14 (28.6%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

I admit that this track may have been somewhat ambiguous too. If I hadn't already known the soundtrack, I would probably have guessed "ice/snow" due to the cold, echoey synths in the accompaniment. Some felt the same way:
"Faint background tinkles. It reminds me of a snowy village"
"The medium-pitched line prevalent throughout this song feels "cold" like ice and reminds me of ice-skating in winter."
"That sharp ping noise sounds like ice, but the echo in the melody sounds like water. Hmm, chimes. Very jazzy, too."
The stronger "water" comments attributed their choice to the track's timbre as well, though the reasons weren't quite so precise:
"sounds like there are waves in the background"
"I feel like I'm floating, medium tempo"
"Kind of happy. The voices you're using sound aquatic."
"Aquatic feeling."
Finally, the "tropical" people felt that the upbeat, cheerful nature of the track was the deciding factor.
"catch, upbeat"
"can I have some margaritas prease? :P"
"Again, this is upbeat and joyful. Reminds me of a sunny day at the beach."
"This is the kind of music I associate with the tropics (in a non-shooter game anyways)"
Overall, I think any of the three choices could be argued for, regardless of the track's original intent. Here's the gameplay footage.

On to track #16!

Mystery Track #16:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #16: Meteor Base (Sonic Rivals): Space/Tech

In all honesty, I shouldn't have put this track up. I know nothing of Sonic Rivals or Meteor Base, only read up on the game and the fact that it was a space level. Nor does this track really represent the kind of music I'm aiming to produce (music more suited for a two-dimensional side-scrolling platform game). What's done is done, though; results:

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 6/14 (42.9%)
Water: 0/14 (0.0%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 8/14 (57.1%)

Seems like "fire" and "space/tech" are the two most commonly interchanged level tropes, although due to a poor differentiation on my end or an inherent similarity is yet to be determined. The "fire" people noted an intensity or urgency in this track:
"edgy, intense, guitar riff"
"Futurish, but I feel more like I'm escaping a smokey place."
"Kind of a rocky, hard sounding. Like you'd be battling a boss on a mountain/volcano"
"The quick drumbeats and urgent melody make me think of fire"
"It's pretty intense and heavy, as fire levels tend to be. It's definitely got a fast, hard rock feel to it, which works well with fire areas."
Those who opted for the "space/tech" trope mentioned lasers. Also, techno sounds and a heavy rock feel, but mostly lasers.
"heavy rock sounds with lots of percussion and high pitched techno sounds"
"Shit's goin down! Robots! Lazers! Oh fuck!"
"lazer beams"
"feels like HUGE space monster is about to crush me into pieces and all I could do is shoot 'pew pew pew'"
"That intro was pretty mechanical. Sounds like boss music. Oh, those little background noises that change "formants" sound like space."
"Feels like we're coming under attack with this one. We're being shot at? It feels spacey and tech because of the mish-mash of uninterpretable sounds throughout."
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down a video for this one, but here's the track with at least a static background of the level:

On to track #17!

Mystery Track #17:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #17: Palmtree Panic (Sonic CD): Tropical

The Japanese version of Sonic CD has one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks, sporting four different variations for each level theme (present, past, good future, and bad future). I felt that this Palmtree Panic (Past) theme would be a pretty typical "tropical" theme. The survey results appear to corroborate my hypothesis.

Tropical: 11/14 (78.6%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 2/14 (14.3%)
Ice/Snow: 1/14 (7.1%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

No one thought this one was "space/tech"? Really? Heh. Most "tropical" respondents noted the Caribbean-esque percussion, steel drums, and woodwind melodies as defining characteristics:
"Sounds caribbean, and the know"
"Distinctive drum beat and a melody that could be played on a steel drum"
"The steel drum-esque nature of much of the song, and the lackadasical approach makes me lean towards tropical."
"feels like steel drums again...the background beats are beaches"
"The combination of reedy tones and something that sounds like a steel drum make me think of the beach"
"The melody in the foreground sounds very carefree and beachy. Almost sounds like steel drums in places, which definitely remind me of the beach."
And kudos to whomever submitted this awesome, specific response:
"Ooh, very exotic. The syncopation makes me think tropical. Those descending harmonies sound tropical, too."
Below is the context clip; ignore the random temporal shifts in the gameplay, if you would.

On to track #18!

Mystery Track #18:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #18: Volcano Valley (Sonic 3D Blast, Genesis): Fire

But wait, you ask, hadn't we already encountered Volcano Valley from Sonic 3D Blast back in Part I? Indeed we did, but (as mentioned before), there are two versions of Sonic 3D Blast. The previous Volcano Valley track was from the Saturn version, and this is from the Genesis version. Good, pure fire levels in Sonic are surprisingly difficult to come across.

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 4/14 (28.6%)
Water: 2/14 (14.3%)
Ice/Snow: 1/14 (7.1%)
Space/Tech: 7/14 (50.0%)

Among the prevalent "space/tech" answers, the most common comment pointed out the echoing, hollow nature of the synths, evoking a feeling of deep space. Personally, my concept of "space/tech" levels resemble more the fast-paced, Sonic-y outer space fortress-type levels, but I could definitely see this music being used for a darker, space-exploring type of level.
"sounds hollow and echoey"
"echo in the melody makes it sound like space"
"Echo-ey and hollow sounding. Deepspace exploration"
"The vibratto notes make me think of a techy setting"
Here's what the "fire" people had to say. Not quite as collective in their reasoning, but very specific. :)
"This feels factoryish/underground, but I'm again feeling the 'furnace' concept again."
"The rising theme in the baseline almost invokes rising heatwaves. It sounds hostile and firey."
"Those open fifths in the bass remind me of fire, as well as the vibrato in the melody. For some reason the harshness of some fire tracks could also be like tech. I think that groovy bass line and the up-slides make it more like fire."
Here's some good ol' Sega Genesis footage.

On to track #19!

Mystery Track #19:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #19: Lava Reef (Sonic & Knuckles): Fire

Ah, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Good times. The answers for this one were pretty even, except for "ice/snow" -- evidently there weren't enough sleigh bells or something. :P Here are the precise results:

Tropical: 3/14 (21.4%)
Fire: 4/14 (28.6%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 3/14 (21.4%)

Perhaps it's fitting that a level called "Lava Reef" would evoke "fire" and "water" most of all. The "tropical" and "space/tech" answers are pretty scattered, so I won't talk about those. Those who chose "water" indicated a flowy, tinkly characteristic:
"Pretty generic. The bass line is hard, but maybe those arpeggios indicate water."
"Seems akin to the themes I thought were underwater. The layering of background tinkles and (marimbas?) sound aquatic."
"The flowing nature of this song makes me think of water"
Honestly, the "fire" comments were pretty scattered too, but I'll include some here for the sake of completeness.
"sounds minor and tragic"
"The fast tempo is saying "fire" to me here. Don't know where it's from though."
Here's a rather impressive speed run showing this music in context. The level itself is significantly more "fire" than "water," but I think the composer did a clever job in incorporating elements of both, intentionally or not.

On to track #20!

Mystery Track #20:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #20: Tidal Tempest (Sonic CD): Water

At last, this survey comes to a close on this little number from Sonic CD, a nice water cave level. Here are the results:

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 9/14 (64.3%)
Space/Tech: 1/14 (7.1%)

Initially, I was surprised that there weren't more "water" responses (since, you know, there's water running in the background of the track), but now I can definitely hear the "ice cave" response that many offered -- particularly with those high, loosely pitched synths.
"The haunting background sounds kind of icy to me."
"Rushing water, mournful echoes of the wind. It sounds like an icy cavern."
"high pitches sound like ice crystals"
"hollow cave sounds...perhaps an ice cave?"
"The hollow background noises that almost seem to echo make me think of an icy cavernous space."
"What sounds like breath noises to me seems like water dripping in an icy cave."
Those who chose "water" noted the echoes as well, likening them to a submarine.
"hollow echoey background sounds make it sound like in a submarine"
"Underwater sounds. Kind of like submarine radar pings"
"Those airy hits make me think of vastness. It could apply to space, water, even ice. The swing beat makes me think more organic, so I'll go with water."
Let's see what this level looks like, shall we? Again, ignore the time travel, please.

That's all of the individual questions, folks. Join me below as I (attempt to) look at some general trends throughout the entire survey. That's right, both parts!


To perform this pseudo-analysis (by no means in any way scientific), I first compiled all of the responses and sorted them by the participants' answer, regardless of whether the answer was "correct" or "incorrect." I then read through the responses for each particular trope to see if there were any general trends. The entire, extremely lengthy spreadsheet is here, but I've tried to distill the information a bit below.

Tropical Trope

"Tropical" levels in Sonic games all tend to be pretty homogeneous; nearly all such levels contain lots of trees, a sunny sky, a large body of water somewhere in the general vicinity, and (often) a checkerboard level palette. The levels chosen for this survey all fit perfectly into this level trope; perhaps it's no surprise that people tended to be right on the money with their answers, for the most part. The only level that seemed to confuse people was Isolated Island; though I don't think there was anything abnormal about the level itself, the music itself tended to be a little "colder" than tropical themes tend to be. Nonetheless, there were some common characteristics identified by our survey takers:

-Caribbean/Latin elements
-Upbeat tempo/a groove
-Laid-back, relaxed feeling

Fire Trope

"Fire" levels in Sonic games tend to be fairly diverse. Although there are a few typical "volcano" levels, most fire levels tend to be combinations with other tropes: for example, fire/cave, fire/factory, fire/castle, and the like. I'd say that of the four fire levels in this survey, Hot Crater is the sole level that doesn't fit neatly into the fire level stereotypes, being more of a fire/factory level. Interestingly, it was Lava Reef that threw people for a loop the most; I'll admit that the music doesn't necessarily immediately evoke the typical feel of a fire level. Here are a few commonly identified patterns across all "fire" answers, though:

-Intensity, heaviness
-Epic or majestic feel
-Repetitive beats or bassline
-Fast tempo

Water Trope

"Water" levels in Sonic games don't usually stick to the typical "ocean level" conventions; in fact, that type of level is pretty rare in Sonic games. Like fire levels, water levels tend to be combined with some other trope, the most frequent being water/factory and water/cave. The water levels that appeared in this survey mirrored this diversity, including a water/factory level (Tidal Plant), a water/cave level (Tidal Tempest), a water/tropical level (Aquatic Ruin), and a water/I'm-not-sure-what-the-other-trope-should-be-but-there-is-definitely-one level (Hydrocity). Of all the tropes, the answers were most ambiguous for "water," and even for the two tracks where the "correct answer" did win out, the victory was by no means a blowout. While Tidal Plant and Aquatic Ruin drew a varied response from participants, Hydrocity and (especially) Tidal Tempest seemed to strongly evoke other tropes. Generalizations were hard to identify for this one, but here's a try:

-Legato, fluid, flowing lines
-Echoing, muted, or wahwah voices
-"Aquatic" feeling (not sure what that means, really)

Ice/Snow Trope

"Ice/Snow" levels in Sonic games are fairly standard, taking place in some ice cap or frozen mountain; there have only been a few instances where liberties have been taken with this stereotype. Most ice level themes tend to be pretty easy to identify (for instance, check out this one from Kirby or this one from Donkey Kong; the sleigh bells tend to give them away), so I purposely chose a few less easily-recognizable tracks. Seems like this worked, as the newer, more upbeat feel of Holoska and the overtly festive nature of Ice Paradise didn't evoke "ice/snow" as strongly as it did some other tropes. Below are some of the most common responses:

-Bells, sleigh bells or chimes (the obvious one)
-Tinkly or echoing synths
-Jazzy/tight chords

Space/Tech Trope

"Space/Tech" levels in Sonic games are a recurring theme. Typically representing the ultimate or penultimate level in a game, the level is typically set aboard a giant technological fortress in outer space (hence both the "space" and "tech" parts) and usually named "Death Egg" or something else related to the poultry product. As there's a massive amount of variety within this trope, the music tends to be pretty recognizable; thus, "space/tech" holds the honor of being the only trope where participants were "correct" for all four tracks. However, it also holds the honor of being the trope most frequently (incorrectly) attributed to; seems like people definitely have strong ideas of what "space/tech" should sound like. Fire levels, in particular, seemed the most often interchanged with space/tech. Here are some common descriptors of "space/tech" characteristics:

-Techno beats
-Beepy, robotic, or digital synths
-Rapid arpeggios
-Upbeat, fast tempo
-Laser beams/other sci-fi noises

And with that, we can finally draw to a close this project that's been in progress for very nearly a year. Despite my lack of motivation at times, I've enjoyed running this survey, reading through everyone's answers, and gleaning whatever information I've managed to find in the process. Many thanks to everyone who took the survey or helped me along the way, and I hope you've enjoyed this as well! :)

Until next time,


Monday, July 25, 2011

Aesthetic Update #1

So you may have noticed that my blog looks a little...different. I finally decided to amend the layout from a subliminal McDonald's advertisement to a more personal, music-themed getup (hence that whole "eternal sonate" thing). Tragically, my blog now resembles something that an anime-obsessed middle-school girl might put together. Alas.

For the record, this is the blog formerly known as "Under Construction." Ironically, this layout is considerably more under construction than its previous incarnation; I clobbered this entire thing together using MS Paint, haphazard editing of other people's scripts, and much advice from friends; it leaves a lot to be desired. I'd appreciate any suggestions/tips; please leave some comments if you have them!

Finally, for those curious, the random anime girl gracing the banner is FL-Chan, the personification of Image-Line's FL Studio. I've only seen the dancing-sprite version of FL-Chan in the program so far, but evidently she can sing as well. I'll end this post with another picture of her, just cuz she's so darn cute. :P



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Remix: Hot Crater Act 2

Rewind to this time three years ago, to the summer after my freshman year of undergraduate college. Bright-eyed and with my life mercifully free of stressful plans, I decided to take the summer off to just hang out. Along with many fun adventures (among them attending many a card-gaming tournament and completing several role-playing video games), I discovered OverClocked ReMix. It was a profound moment in my life, both in a motivational and completely confidence-crushing manner. On the one hand, the amazing artists of OverClocked ReMix produced absolutely stellar music, no less than works of art, but on the other hand, I wondered if I would ever be able to write music at the level of OCRemix artists.

Anyway, that introduction paragraph, apart from being a pitch for OverClocked ReMix (check them out, for serious), was to serve as an introduction to the program FL Studio, which many OCRemix artists use to produce their music. I've recently started learning how to use this powerful piece of software by downloading the demo version of the program (random aside, naming part of this program "Toxic Biohazard" is not a good idea...yay antivirus software!). While playing around and getting familiar with the program's operation, I decided that I might as well remix a piece of music (since luckily, the demo version set no limits on the number of songs you could export). For this, I chose music from the level Hot Crater from Sonic Advance 2, hands-down my favorite track from that game. Here's the original for reference, and below is my remix!

Hot Crater Act 2: Remix

Hot Crater Act 2: Remix by fireteamtorch

Composers: Tatsuyuki Maeda, Yutaka Minobe & Teruhiko Nakagawa
Date Completed: 2011-06-25
Time: ~6 hours
Software: FL Studio

I had a lot of fun writing this remix. FL Studio is a completely different beast than what I'm used to handling with Finale 2008, but it was intuitive and unique enough to capture my interest immediately. I particularly liked playing around with the effects, as that was something extremely hard to implement in Finale that is a breeze in FL Studio. Sadly, the demo version didn't allow me to load the saved version of this song, which eliminates the possibility of editing it, but I nonetheless learned a lot from making this track. I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions! I definitely still have a lot to learn about music mixing.

And because it seems pertinent to mention it here, I have a SoundCloud account now! It's here or in my "Links" tab, so drop by if you get a chance, please! A few of my other almost-polished mp3s are featured in my account. Hopefully I'll be putting more up there soon!

Have a great rest of the summer!



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Survey: VGTropes -- Results! (Part I)

Remember this survey that I conducted about a year ago? Well, I've finally gotten a chance to begin compiling the results. The results showed some interesting trends, but I'll get right into the discussion. (Many thanks to everyone who took the survey, and if you haven't yet, please feel free to do so at the link above! I promise it'll be fun :P)

I feel obliged to note that when I first conducted the survey, I suggested that the music was from a variety of video games. Indeed, the music was from a variety of video games, but all from one series: Sonic the Hedgehog. I am aware that it introduces some bias, but I chose this for several reasons: that my stronger knowledge of Sonic music would bias my choices anyway, that Sonic levels tend to follow a number of predictable clichés, and that Sonic music is really what I am trying to emulate in my own video game compositions in the end, anyway. Regardless, I still think I was able to provide a strong amount of variety in my chosen tracks, and that the results still have the potential to illuminate some aspects of video game music composition.

So as to minimize the number of brain-asplosions from too much text, I've broken the results post into two parts, of which this is the first. Below are the results for the first ten tracks in the survey. Sample size is somewhat small, but still strong enough to identify a few trends, or so I hope. Each set of survey results includes the "correct" answer (although again, this isn't about being "correct" or "incorrect," but more about identifying trends), the participants' answers, some interesting comments, and the music in the game's original context. You can judge for yourself whether the music is appropriate! With no further ado:

Mystery Track #1:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #1: Egg Utopia (Sonic Advance 2): Space/Tech

I thought that Egg Utopia was a pretty characteristic techno-y, space-y sounding Sonic track. The survey participants agreed, for the most part. (Note: as shown below, the most popular answer for each track is highlighted in bold, and the "correct" answer in italics. An answer in both italics and bold means exactly what you think it does.)

Tropical: 0/21 (0.0%)
Fire: 2/21 (9.5%)
Water: 1/21 (4.8%)
Ice/Snow: 1/21 (4.8%)
Space/Tech: 17/21 (81.0%)

Many people picked up "techno sounds" as one of the defining characteristics of why they chose space/tech for this track. By the repeated presence of the "heavy synths" argument, I'm going to assume the two are equivalent. Here are some quotes:
"The techno sounds..."
"Lots of beep beep boop boop- definitely techy"
"The techno beat in particular makes it seem more space/tech oriented."
"heavy synth"
"heavy snyths / optimistic theme"
I particularly liked this response:
"There are repeated arpeggio type patterns as well echoed sounds. In addition these echoed sounds definitely sound synthesized, and have a frequency (sound tone) that I associate with tech settings."
And here's the track in its original context. I think it works pretty you?

On to track #2!

Mystery Track #2:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #2: Ice Paradise (Sonic Advance 2): Ice/Snow

Oops, the two Sonic Advance 2 tracks ended up next to each other. :O I randomized the order for this, I promise. Ice level for sure (it's even in the name), but the survey responses were more intriguing:

Tropical: 11/21 (52.4%)
Fire: 0/21 (0.0%)
Water: 1/21 (4.8%)
Ice/Snow: 9/21 (42.9%)
Space/Tech: 0/21 (0.0%)

My initial thought upon choosing this theme was that the chimes would give the track a "wintery" sort of feel, and I did get a few comments that followed that train of thought:
"The bells at the back make it sound Chrismas-like."
"Bells, it's all in the bells man. Gives it a Christmasy kind of feel."
"Chimes make me think ice, and the major 7 chords."
I was pretty surprised at the prevalence of the "tropical" choice, but in retrospect, it's pretty clear that there's not much else "wintery" about the piece apart from perhaps the chimes. Let's see what people said:
"The melody is in a major key and very harmonious--eliciting imagery of a tropical setting."
"Very upbeat and happy; seems innocuous"
"More upbeat. Large variety of voices. Kinda sounds like a party. In my pants."
"Something about the carefree and relaxed feeling makes me think beach"
"island beat"
From these results, it appears to me that people identified the bells/chimes as a prominent characteristic of the "ice/snow" trope, but the peppy/happy feel of the song were also characteristics people associated with the "tropical" trope (although there were a few cases where people associated "upbeat" with "ice/snow" as well). Thinking back, I think the prominent use of the organ in this piece is actually something I associate with "tropical" as well. The title of this stage is "Ice Paradise," so maybe the composer was purposely trying to introduce some "tropical" elements in his composition. Who knows? Why don't you be the judge on how well this song works in context:

On to track #3!

Mystery Track #3:

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Mystery Track #3: Volcano Valley (Sonic 3D Blast, Saturn): Fire

One thing I should note before discussing the results for this track is that there are two versions of Sonic 3D Blast. The first was released on the Genesis, and the second on the Saturn (in the same year, no less). The Genesis soundtrack was composed by Jun Senoue of, well, the rest of the Sonic games fame, and the Saturn soundtrack was composed by one Richard Jacques, who would later contribute to games such as Jet Set Radio Future and Mass Effect. As far as I know, there was no collaboration between the two, and certainly both are distinct in their sounds. (Personally, I prefer Jacques', though both are great.) Just keep in mind that the two are distinct soundtracks when you inevitably run into Sonic 3D Blast again in this survey. So, results:

Tropical: 0/21 (0.0%)
Fire: 13/21 (61.9%)
Water: 2/21 (9.5%)
Ice/Snow: 2/21 (9.5%)
Space/Tech: 4/21 (19.0%)

Most people did pick the "fire" trope for this track, which is the "correct" answer. Many respondents attributed a sense of majesty or, as some put it, "epicness" to fire levels:
"very epic burning~"
"fire levels tend to have a bit of a more orchestral "epic" feel to them."
"Has a sense of grandeur that conveys a bright image. Also, it reminds me of a fire emblem game."
"Dark, epic. Sounds like entering a volcano of doom to do battle with the nefarious evildoer"
"very 'fantasy' sounding which I connected with fire"
The interesting thing about this particular response, however, is that the same majesty and epicness was also attributed to "space/tech" and "ice/snow" in a number of cases. For example:
"The bold notes that are held for a long time harken to the majesty and vastness of space"
"majestic / imperial"
(for ice/snow)
Still, I suppose it is telling that most respondents attributed this sort of majestic sound to "fire" rather than the other tropes. Another characteristic pattern present in the answers is one I'll simply summarize as "intensity." Here are some of the responses:
"the intense sounding repetitive baseline seems to describe a "dangerous" environment like fire."
"This track carries a rhythm that drives the song along--leading me to think at first it may be from a fire level."
"Tempestuous, moving and constant."
"Something about the intensity of the music makes me think of fire"
Let's check out how the music works in context. What do you think?

On to track #4!

Mystery Track #4:

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Mystery Track #4: Cool Edge/Holoska (Sonic Unleashed): Ice/Snow

Admittedly, I did expect the answers to this track to be somewhat confounded by the fact that recent Sonic game music has taken a turn for the upbeat and synthetic, something often associated with space/tech-style tunes. The crystal-like synths, which I believe to be the main distinguishing characteristic of this ice level, don't come in until 0:31, which may have made it yet harder to hear the "cold" characteristics of this level. Nonetheless, results:

Tropical: 2/21 (9.5%)
Fire: 3/21 (14.3%)
Water: 2/21 (9.5%)
Ice/Snow: 6/21 (28.6%)
Space/Tech: 8/21 (38.1%)

Answers were somewhat scattered for this one. Even the for the people who guessed "ice/snow" (the "correct" answer), their reasons varied quite a bit, though there was a minor trend of "crystalline" sounds, as one person neatly put it:
"Has one layer that is melodic and higher pitched but in a regular pattern much like a crystalline structure."
"Sparkly music about halfway through makes me think of ice."
"somehow i hear bell-like sounds, and it sounds like a holiday tune"
"Kind of sounds like a Sonic song. I'm imagining kind of a fast-paced beach scene. I'm tempted to put tropical here. Modern sounding voices, but not really 'tech'."
The responses for "space/tech" were interesting as well. The most common trend I noticed between the "space/tech" entries was a fast-paced and "synthetic" feel, along with some other more vague criteria:
"fast paced rock reminds me of speed (spaceship)"
"Fast-paced but synthetic sounding so seems more tech"
"very upbeat, sounds like running...or surfing...but more running like in Sonic"
"It just sounds spacey to me."
"has background tech noises"
"very industrial"
Or, as one respondent curtly put it:
"What the heck does space/tech really mean, actually? And tropical for that matter."
Guessing at a reason for this discrepancy, I'd venture that, as mentioned before, modern Sonic music has become more electronic and fast-paced, due to a desire to emphasize Sonic's speed. In many ways, this has led to a homogenization of styles. Looking past the "space/tech" implications of fast and synthetic, the composer seems to have chosen more subtle elements to show the track's ice-ness, as some people picked up on. Here's the track in its original context.

On to track #5!

Mystery Track #5:

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Mystery Track #5: Aquatic Ruin (Sonic 2): Water

Remember when I said that I would throw some curveballs and put in some tracks that might be indicative of multiple tropes? Here's one of them. While the answer I was looking for was "water" (it is Aquatic Ruin, after all), the style of level lent itself well to the "tropical" trope as well. I'll examine responses for both in the analysis. Unfortunately, because of the relative familiarity of Sonic 2, this result was a bit biased toward the correct answer by people who knew the track. Nonetheless, here are the results:

Tropical: 7/21 (33.3%)
Fire: 2/21 (9.5%)
Water: 9/21 (42.9%)
Ice/Snow: 0/21 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 17/21 (14.3%)

Most "water" respondents mentioned something of a "bubbly" or "muted" timbre in the sounds, as shown below:
"The faintly 'muted' sounding effects give a feel of being underwater and not hearing sounds clearly."
"The tambre of the sounds has this wawa that reminds me of water"
"Kind of "dulled", like underwater."
"slightly slower, bubbly tune"
As for the "tropical" answers, most people were somewhat uncertain about their choice, leading me to read all sorts of interesting explanations:
"Sounds kind of adventurous"
"it sounds happy and upbeat in certain parts"
"Latino sounding...perhaps some flamenco dance? XD"
"the "hoots" at the back could be animal calls =.="
"The intriguing lilt to this music makes me think either tropical or ice."
Or perhaps the most concise answer:
I think what's interesting to note here is that most "water" respondents mentioned the timbre of the instruments as the key reason for their choice, while most "tropical" people discussed more rhythmic and melodic elements. Just goes to show the different ways in which composers inject evocative elements into their music. Here's the original context:

On to track #6!

Mystery Track #6:

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Mystery Track #6: Death Egg (Sonic & Knuckles): Space/Tech

Ah, the good ol' Death Egg. Space/tech levels like this are a staple of Sonic games, and Sonic 3 is no different. I'll go right into the results:

Tropical: 1/21 (4.8%)
Fire: 7/21 (33.3%)
Water: 1/21 (4.8%)
Ice/Snow: 1/19 (4.8%)
Space/Tech: 17/21 (81.0%)

The results seemed to be a toss-up between "space/tech" and "fire" (again, obfuscated by the bias from people who knew the track). The "space/tech" reasons were mostly the same as usual, referring to the "techy" sound of the synths:
"grungy sound, sounds like a generic tech tune"
"again, very upbeat and techno sounds"
"Tinkly with deep bass riffs. Sounds like tech"
"sounds robotic and synthesized"
"Techno again, with multiple layers in a grid. Very technological"
More interesting to me are the answers for "fire," which really probe at people's associations with the "fire" trope:
"The fast paced music reminds me of a lava flow (if that makes sense)"
"This also has that 'intense, pounding' beat that feels dangerous, like fire."
"low notes remind me of things burning"
"The beat is very busy, and sounds are hard. It's a toughie between fire and tech."
"sounds meaner and heavier"
Though the reasons were still a little varied, I'm getting a sense of intensity, fast-pacedness, and lowness as associations with fire. Admittedly, this one was a tough choice between "fire" and "space/tech." I really enjoyed this response, which really highlights why the listener chose "fire" rather than "space/tech":
"I'm kind of picturing a factory here. Maybe that's more tech, but I feel like I'm going through the factory guts. Furnace/hot/fire kind of feel. I don't feel super confident about this one."
Good stuff. Here's some context:

On to track #7!

Mystery Track #7:

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Mystery Track #7: Tidal Plant (Sonic Triple Trouble): Water

I chose this Sonic Triple Trouble track in a deliberate attempt to steer respondents away solely using the timbre of the instruments as the main factor and to encourage consideration of other musical elements like tempo, melody, and rhythm. To an extent, that worked, but a lot of people were still thrown off by the 8-bit timbre of the music. Results:

Tropical: 3/21 (14.3%)
Fire: 4/21 (19.0%)
Water: 7/21 (33.3%)
Ice/Snow: 5/21 (23.8%)
Space/Tech: 2/21 (9.5%)

As can be seen, the "correct" answer, "water," barely eked out a victory. Here are some of the responses for "water":
"the lower note melody sounds watery"
"there's a progression that kind of reminds me of a wave washing in and out."
"I'm a happy fish! This reminds me of my fish :D"
"The music is very bubbly - reminds me of the sea"
"The legato, gliding lines feel like waves in water."
Not the most coherent of responses, but I guess that's to be expected from a somewhat-misleading track like this. Here are some of the responses for other level tropes, which actually bring up a number of great points. Here are the responses for "fire"; I could easily see this music being from a fire level.
"intense beat"
"low notes remind me of things burning"
"fast, intense, and very repetitive, as fire tends to be?"
"the melody's pattern is not very harmonic. Other little crunch sounds could represent spurts of lava or fireballs splashing into lava."
For "ice/snow." Some of the respondents didn't put answers, grrrr. >:(
"I'm getting more of a "windy" vibe than any of the others, but if pressed to fit it in the 5 categories, I would pick ice/snow with a blustery blizzard."
"reminds me of heavy snow at points"
"This one isn't easy. My first thought is 'ice cave', but it could just be like a cave... The tinkle tinkle kind of reminds me of ice. Let's go with that."
Interestingly enough, multiple responses mentioned that this track reminded them of Pokémon and/or Legend of Zelda. I'm hypothesizing that this is mostly due to the 8-bit sound of this track. Here's the original context:

On to track #8!

Mystery Track #8:

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Mystery Track #8: Neo Green Hill (Sonic Advance): Tropical

Despite the Game Boy Advance's limited sound capabilities, Sonic Advance has one of my favorite Sonic soundtracks of all time. Th jazzy feel of the soundtrack is fantastic, and I really like the clever melodic interplay between the Act I and Act II music. Results:

Tropical: 13/21 (61.9%)
Fire: 0/21 (0.0%)
Water: 5/19 (23.8%)
Ice/Snow: 3/19 (14.3%)
Space/Tech: 0/21 (0.0%)

This one seemed to be pretty straightforward. The most common element identified as being "tropical" was that it felt relaxed:
"It's so bouncy and lighthearted"
"Fairly light and free of tension, like a beach."
"Party-ish theme once again reminds me of a tropical scene."
"The major, "happy-go-lucky" feel of this song describes a beach scene."
"Generally tropical levels have more relaxed music to them, to emphasize the sort of breezy feel of the environment."
Interesting, people used the same reasoning for the "water" trope, so I think there's a bit of confusion about exactly what "tropical" vs. "water" entails. As far as the "snow/ice" responses go, here are a few:
"This sounds happy and Christmas-y!"
"sounds like another jazzy holiday tune"
"The melody is very crisp and upbeat - reminds me of snow"
Evidently, there's an association of upbeat with a Christmas-y winter feel as well; I can definitely understand that association. To me, however, something about the harmony of this track makes me think more "beach" than "Christmas." Here's the music in its original context:

On to track #9!

Mystery Track #9:

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Mystery Track #9: Hydrocity (Sonic 3): Water

Oh, the good ol' Hydrocity; brings back a lot of memories from my Sonic 3 days of yore. I expected this one to be challenging, and I was right; this track doesn't have anything especially obviously "watery" about it. The most "watery" qualities about it, in my opinion, are the little "bubbly" introductory motif at the very beginning of the track, the downward glissandos that resemble falling water, and the slight echo-y quality; plus, it doesn't really fit well into any of the other categories. Still, those are kind of a stretch, and I'm not sure I would have guessed correctly had I not already known it.

Tropical: 3/21 (14.3%)
Fire: 4/21 (19.0%)
Water: 4/19 (19.0%)
Ice/Snow: 2/19 (9.5%)
Space/Tech: 17/21 (38.1%)

Unfortunately, I was lazy and didn't control for the fact that some people already knew the source material; consequently, two of the "water" respondents were people who had already played Sonic 3, which essentially invalidates them. The one genuine "water" respondent had this to say:
"Strikes me as a kinda fluid theme going. Sounds like it could most likely be a water level."
"Fluid theme" is somewhat of a cryptic answer. Since most people responded with "space/tech," let's see what their reasoning is:
"Robot "beeps" in background. Also, super over the top.
"didn't sound like it fit the other categories"
"this is a tough one. sounds like shinobi in a factory"
"Sonic again? All Sonic songs make me think of the future, but this sort of sounds like a metropolis/city theme. Could be wrong."
"Sorry I have no idea... doesn't sound like anything. A lot of blippidy's."
"the sounds sound echoed. some higher notes are light and 'glittery'"
"Sounds vaguely familiar. Also from Sonic? Some of the very characteristic 'synthesizer' strains give it a futuristic feel."
Quite a bit of uncertainty here, but most people who gave any semblance of a strong reason mentioned the sounds of the synths. I admit that there aren't many strong characteristics that give away this level's trope. Here's the original level:

On to track #10!

Mystery Track #10:

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Mystery Track #10: Cosmic Angel (Sonic Advance): Space/Tech

I really did pick a lot of songs from the Sonic Advance series, didn't I? Whoops. :P The Egg Rocket-Cosmic Angel pair from this game represents one of my favorite Act I-Act II variation sets within the Sonic universe, with a fairly different style despite an obviously common melody. Results for this one were fairly scattered, though:

Tropical: 2/21 (9.5%)
Fire: 5/21 (23.8%)
Water: 4/19 (19.0%)
Ice/Snow: 2/19 (9.5%)
Space/Tech: 8/21 (38.1%)

"Space/tech" did manage to come out on top in the end, but it was by no means a majority of the respondents. Here are a few responses in favor of "space/tech":
"sounds factory-ish"
"epic sounding and lots of beeps and boops"
upbeat and techno :P"
A few people used process of elimination:
"Not really feeling anything elemental about this one. Upbeat futuristic-ish tune..maybe."
"Don't know it, but I'm also getting the space/tech vibes going here. Not quite as carefree as a water level, none of the majesty of an ice world, none of the danger of a fire land. It could also be tropical without much of a stretch though."
This particular response pretty much sums up my own thoughts about the "space/tech" qualities of this track:
"Those pedal bass notes make me think of man-made, and then those swift upward arpeggios at the end of the loop gave it away."
Of note within the other responses are those for "fire." There was a consistent pattern of attributing a sense of urgency or fast-pacedness to the "fire" trope, as evidenced by these responses:
"Almost like a countdown. I'm not really sure at all."
"again, fast-paced and sounds epic"
"The high pitched urgency of this music reminds me of fire"
The fact that space/tech wasn't represented even more strongly initially surprised me, because this seemed to be one of the more obvious uses of "there are lots of beeps in this track, so it must be space/tech." In retrospect, however, there don't seem to be as many bleeps as I thought there were. Hmm. Here's a clip of the original level:

Anyway, that's all I've got for Part I of these results. Stay tuned for Part II, where I'll go over the results for the remaining 10 tracks as well as (try to) draw some overall generalizations based on the results as a whole.

Until then!