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,