Sunday, December 23, 2012

Piano & Voice Cover: Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Mirai Nikki)

Roughly this time last year, I started watching a show called Mirai Nikki (Future Diary), which is probably the best show about a motley collection of serial killers, psychopaths, terrorists, vigilantes and cult members I've ever watched. Apart from revolutionizing the world of yanderes through its character Gasai Yuno, it also had several opening/closing themes that I really enjoyed. Which is, of course, what this blog post is about.

This image is a fairly accurate representation of most of Mirai Nikki.

I've been thinking of putting together another collaborative piece for a while now, and my friend mdoppelganger and I decided to try a cover of "Kuusou Mesorogiwi," Mirai Nikki's first opening theme. Since we'd both attended Animazement 2012 not too long ago and still had our Mirai Nikki costumes, we figured why not try doing a cosplay cover? Many takes later, here's our result, starring mdoppelganger as Minene "Ninth" Uryuu and me as Takao "Third" Hiyama.

Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Mirai Nikki): Piano & Voice Cover

Artist: Yousei Teikoku
Date Completed: 2012-11-20
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: I don't remember
Instrumentation: Piano, voice

Hope you enjoyed watching us make a fool of ourselves. :P As far as technical stuff goes, I feel the need to confess that we didn't record the audio and video simultaneously. Rather, we first recorded the audio, and then filmed ourselves pretending to play and lip-syncing to our own music (which made us feel even sillier than just dressing up in costume and playing music). Pretending (convincingly) to play piano: easier said than done. Also, I don't particularly recommend trying to learn piano in leather gloves and a paintball mask.

Many thanks to the wonderful mdoppelganger for her help in this project; she's an incredibly talented vocalist, and I had a lot of fun working on this collaboration. Please show her some support by dropping by her blog or YouTube channel!

Anyway, this will probably be my last post before I sign out for the rest of 2012, so happy winter holidays! May your new year be filled with peace, love, and music. :)

Minene disapproves.

'Til next year,


Thursday, November 8, 2012

100k YouTube Views!

YouTube Views!

Okay, almost 100,000. I love you guys. :D


Monday, October 29, 2012

Piano Cover: Tsumetai Heya, Hitori (K-Project)

First of all, let me just mention how unbelievably frustrating it is to look up anything about an anime that's just named "K." I needed to get that off of my chest.

Anyhoo, the Fall 2012 anime season started not too long ago, and I've been quite happy with the selection of shows I've chosen to follow this time around. One of these, of course, is the frustratingly-named K, whose content is just as confusing and nondescript as the title. Even four episodes in, I still can't really figure out what the hell is going on, apart from a bunch of bishonen dudes all trying to kill the main character and a catgirl who is naked as often as they can get away with it.

In any case, that may all sound like pretty harsh criticism, but I'm actually enjoying the show a lot. The art is pretty, the characters are likable enough, the show doesn't take itself too seriously, and perversely enough, the fact that I can't figure out the show is actually drawing me back. (Also, awww cute kitty. :D)

Of course, I'm not going to talk about a show without talking about its music, so I'd like to note that the K ED is one of the prettiest anime themes I've heard, ever. It might not be as gets-stuck-in-your-head-catchy as the Tari Tari or Tsuritama EDs, but in terms of sheer beauty it's definitely got 'em beat, right up there with the Dantalian no Shoka OP. If you've read this far, you probably know that I'm about to show off my piano cover of this song, so here it is!

Tsumetai, Heya Hitori (K-Project): Piano Cover

Artist: Mikako Komatsu
Date Completed: 2012-10-25
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: Urgh
Instrumentation: Piano

Oops, should have said sorry (or you're welcome?) in advance for the fanservicey anime clip; I looked for alternatives (really, I did), but this ED clip worked so well for the music that I couldn't turn it down. As for the actual arrangement, I always thought this ED would make a really pretty solo piano piece, and I think I was right. Was pretty conservative with this arrangement, and tried to keep all the low and high points as they were in the original song. I'd also like to note that the first chord progression in the song is probably my favorite chord progression ever. SO PRETTY. I, for one, can't wait to hear the full version of this ED when it's finally released.

EDIT: Due to popular demand, I've uploaded the sheet music here, and an mp3 here. Enjoy! :)

How'd I do? Let me know in the comments! And happy almost-Halloween!

Take care,


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tutorial: Kokoro no Senritsu (Choir Version)

Hi again! You might notice that this is my second post about the same song: Kokoro no Senritsu from Tari Tari. It's not like me to post twice about the same song, but since the show finished up recently and the full choir version was released, I couldn't help revisiting the song. It's just so damn catchy, and the performance by the Makuhari Sogo High School Chorus Club was fantastic. Check out some more of their stuff here, by the way.

Here, have a picture of Mahiru and mini-Wakana! They're awesome.

This transcription, with full three-part voice and piano lines, was a lot of fun to work on. The harmonies were all fairly straightforward, with perhaps a few bars of exception. The voice parts were enjoyable to figure out as well, and it was cool to see myself unconsciously calling upon a lot of the rules I learned in my music theory classes. Putting together the Synthesia tutorial after the transcription, however, was less fun because uncooperative software was uncooperative. Still, what's done is done, and here's the video for your viewing/learning pleasure!

Composer: Shiro Hamaguchi
Date Completed: 2012-10-20
Software: Finale 2008, Fraps, Synthesia, SynthFont, Movie Maker
Instrumentation: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Piano

Those interested in the sheet music can find it here, and for those interested in giving the piano part a shot in Synthesia (it was pretty hard for me =X), the MIDI's here. Thanks for dropping by, and enjoy!

Also, watch Tari Tari. It's a really cute little feel-good show. :)



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thanks for 20,000 Views!

The title says it all here. When I started this blog a couple years back, I expected it just to be something that I mostly visit myself, or occasionally share with some friends at best. To say that I was pleasantly surprised when I started getting visitors from the Internet community would be an understatement. So, thank you! :D

In celebration of this momentous occasion, I decided it might be appropriate to take a trip down memory lane. Here's one of my earliest arrangements that's actually been captured on video. It's "Dream Land" from Super Smash Bros. (perhaps better known as "the Kirby level"), performed by Duke University Percussion Ensemble! Hope you enjoy :)

Thanks again to all of my friends and members of the Internet community for all of your support, and I hope to share much more with you in the years to come!

Best wishes,


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Piano Cover: Empty Loneliness (Valkyria Chronicles)

It's the three-year anniversary of my YouTube channel! A lot has happened in the last three years: finishing undergrad, moving to a new city. Amid all of this flux, music has remained a constant force in my life, always pushing me to improve and keeping me sane through my difficult times (and perhaps acting as a procrastination tool). I've really enjoyed sharing my music and interacting with the YouTube community over these last few years. What better way to celebrate this incredibly important milestone with another piano cover?

I chose the song "Empty Loneliness" from Valkyria Chronicles because I felt that its title perfectly captured the solitude and despair that characterize my desolate life. LOL JK. I actually chose this song because Valkyria Chronicles is my favorite video game of the recent generation (and indeed, one of my favorites ever), and I wanted to revisit to my roots in arranging video game music. "Empty Loneliness" was perhaps the most piano-heavy track in the game, and also happened to be a variation on the inspiring main theme of the game, scored by the esteemed Hitoshi Sakimoto.

I don't feel right letting a perfect opportunity to heap praises on Valkyria Chronicles slip by, so here we go. Valkyria Chronicles is a brilliant strategy-RPG released by Sega in 2008, and paints a heartwarming tale of a small militia squad and the lessons they learn from war and conflict. Everything about this game impressed me, from the creative BLiTZ gameplay elements to the unique CANVAS art style, from the memorable characters to the beautiful music. I'd also like to point out that of the numerous friends to whom I'm introduced Valkyria Chronicles, all of them have fallen in love with it (and even spread it to their roommates). It really is that good.

Anyway, let's get to the cover, shall we? (Spoiler alert: avoid the text if this concerns you.)

Empty Loneliness (Valkyria Chronicles): Piano Cover

Composer: Hitoshi Sakimoto
Date Completed: 2012-00-03
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: Conservative estimate: ~30 <_< Instrumentation: Piano Aww, Welkin & Alicia. :) This song was a lot of fun to play, but I was probably too much a perfectionist with the recording. Admittedly, some of the novelty did wear off after my twentieth or thirtieth time attempting to record this song in the wee hours of the morning. The result wasn't perfect, certainly (I really need to learn how to pedal better <_>), but in retrospect I'm glad I held myself to the high standards that I did. Also, I played around with some reverb effects in Vegas, but I'm certainly no expert with these effects; I'd appreciate any advice!

That's all for this time! To all of my YouTube visitors: thanks so much for your support over the past few years. Here's to hoping that the next few years will be filled with just as many fun piano covers (and hopefully more collaborations) as the past few have been. Cheers!

'Til next time,


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Piano Cover: Kokoro no Senritsu (Tari Tari)

Happy one-year anime-versary to me! The Summer 2012 airing season marks the one-year anniversary of my entry into anime, and it's certainly been a colorful year. In retrospect, it's hard for me to imagine what I was doing with all my time before this sudden infusion of Japanese weirdness into my life. More productive things, probably.

Even before the shows started airing, Tari Tari was the show I believed I would most enjoy this season, and so far I've had no reason to believe otherwise. (Might be because I'm only following one or two other shows so far, but that's beside the point.) How can you not love a show that centers around both music and cute anime girls? Oh, there are guy characters too? You'd never tell from the promo art.

The opening and main ending themes of Tari Tari are both quite cute, but the song I really fell in love with was "Kokoro no Senritsu" ("Melody of the Heart" in English), an insert song from Episode 2 that lingered as the second ending theme. I get a really nostalgic feeling from listening to that song, and I can't quite figure out why; maybe it's the "school choir" feel of the song. "Ending Theme 2" might be the simplest descriptor for Kokoro no Senritsu, but I'd argue that it's closer to a "main theme" for Tari Tari, as it's recurred on multiple occasions and was even used in the original trailer -- which is really where I first fell in love with the song. This is all leading up to my own piano cover, of course. :P Enjoy!

Kokoro no Senritsu (Tari Tari): Piano Cover

Composer: Shiro Hamaguchi
Date Completed: 2012-07-23
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker, Sony Vegas
Number of Takes: 5?
Instrumentation: Piano

Now that you've collected your jaws from the ground after seeing my amazing overlapping piano/anime loveliness, let's talk about this music. :P This is one of my less liberal arrangements; I tried to stick mostly with the original chords for this one. Still, I may have replaced a few of the boring I6/4 chords with more interesting III chords, and maybe altered some of the chord inversions due to laziness. Hey, I still think it sounds all right. >_>

Before I make my exit here, I'd like to mention that I'll be on hiatus for the next month or so in preparation for my qualifications exam. Considering that failure here results in me getting kicked out of school, I'll need all the study time I can get. Have a great rest of July and August, and I'll see you again soon!

Jaa ne,


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Piano Cover: Karandorie (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia)

In another short week or two, yet another season of anime will come to a close. It's always a bittersweet feeling; I'm excited to see what the next set of shows will bring, but it's a bit sad to see these shows finish up one by one. Ah, change.

My newest piano cover is from one such show on its final stretch: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (黄昏乙女×アムネジア), which centers upon ghost girl Yuuko and her associated friends and mysteries. The show's a little hard to sum up. I'd probably describe it as a "supernatural slice of life" show; it's definitely more about Yuuko's day-to-day activities than about horror or mystery. I wasn't particularly attached to the show at first, and while I still can't say it's my favorite of the season, it's definitely grown on me. The recent episodes were actually quite heart-wrenching.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia's opening theme, "Choir Jail," has been remarkably popular among YouTube cover artists this season, so as always, I decided to tackle something different. And honestly, I'm a bigger fan of the ending theme to begin with -- "Karandorie" by artist Aki Ouki. The little instrumental interludes really struck the right chords with me, and the harmony in the song has been some of the most interesting I've heard in anime themes. It didn't take me long to settle on covering this piece. Here it is!

Karandorie (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia): Piano Cover

Artist: Aki Okui
Date Completed: 2012-06-16
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Number of Takes: V____V
Instrumentation: Piano

I admit that I really struggled with this arrangement. I know I say something to that extent every time, but Karandorie was especially challenging for me. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to the key of this piece (gah, it would have been so much easier to take it down a half-step), so it took me a long time just to get the notes under my fingertips. Even after I did, the harmonic instability of the piece -- while one of my favorite things about the song -- made things even more difficult. And as far as making mistakes goes...yeah, there was a lot of that. Maybe I was being a bit of a perfectionist, but it took so many takes to get something I was satisfied with. >_< I finally obtained a presentable result after three days of playing and recording. Hopefully all of that work resulted in something enjoyable to listen to, at least. :)

See ya!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cosplay Interlude: Animazement 2012

May 25-27 marked Animazement 2012 at the Raleigh Convention Center, and I was fortunate enough to find some time off from research to attend. Although this marked the third time that I've attended Animazement, it's actually the first time that I had any knowledge of anime (apart from, say, Pokémon). As a consequence of me-knowing-what-the-hell-things-were, I enjoyed myself immeasurably more this year than at past Animazements. Who knew?

Like last year, I attended Animazement 2012 with a group of great friends, and we decided to put together some group cosplays. Friday was our Mirai Nikki day. Not being a big fan of most of the main male leads in the show, I opted instead to cosplay Takao "Third" Hiyama, the lovable serial killer whose life is tragically cut short in Episode 1. With the rest of my friends cosplaying a number of other characters (Fourth, Ninth, Twelfth, Deus, and Murumuru), we had a fun little Mirai Nikki group for the day.

(1) Takao Hiyama concept art from the Mirai Nikki anime

Given that Mirai Nikki had just finished airing, we weren't particularly inundated with photo requests, so the random convention wanderings were pretty low-stress. To make the most of our Mirai Nikki experience, however, we ended the day with a photoshoot led by our awesome, talented photographer Katsuya Weller. I'd never been in a photoshoot before this, but I had lots of fun working with Kat and my fellow cosplayers. The full collection of photos (so far) is here, but I've added a couple of Kat's photos below.

(2) Takao Hiyama glamour shot O_o

(3) Our full Mirai Nikki group.

For Saturday, a number of my friends from our Friday group decided to cosplay Black Rock Shooter, and I wasn't quite ready to handle the big guns (both literally and figuratively). Instead, a friend and I chose to cosplay All of the Goats, a character from the visual novel Umineko no Naku Koro ni. The goat costumes weren't terribly complicated, but I thought their outfits looked pretty snazzy. There were three other Umineko cosplayers at the convention, all of whom we were fortunate enough to bump into. Finding other cosplayers in our own fandom, particularly a slightly-obscure one like Umineko, is gratifying in a way that's difficult to describe.

(4) Our Umineko goat costumes (photo courtesy of Adam Howell).

Like at past Animazements, we spent most of our convention time walking around, exploring the dealers' room, and food-hunting rather than attending specific events. That said, however, we did catch a few specific events. On Friday night, we stopped by "Name That Anime Tune," a competition where participants tried to identify as many anime theme songs as they could. We didn't get there early enough to participate, but it was fun to spectate; plus, it showed that I really need to touch up my knowledge of anime music. The big event on Saturday was of course the KOTOKO concert; see my last post for details. Finally, we caught the later half of the Masquerade on Saturday night, but we only got there in time to catch the awards. From what I hear, we missed a better-than-average Masquerade year.

Not much more to say here, so I'll just close out with some photos I took at the con. These are just my favorites; the full album is here.

(5) So much Valve in one place. O_o

(6) Magical girls Madoka and Homura (and Kyubey?).

(7) A gang of Twelfths from Mirai Nikki! For reference: this.

(8) Katamari. So cuuuuteeee V_V

(9) I'm no costume expert, but these Alice cosplayers were awesome.

(10) Mawaru Penguindrum group. I WANT THOSE PENGUINS.

(11) My friends Mako and Korra, with fellow Fire Ferret Bolin :P

(12) My friends' badass Black Rock Shooter costumes.

(13) Not only is this guy's spoon too big, but he's also a banana.

(14) One of our fellow Umineko cosplayers. Represent.

(15) My friends' Sunday cosplay: Soul Eater.

(16) .......

That's all for now! Feel free to drop a comment, especially if you're a fellow Animazement 2012 attendee; it's always nice to meet fellow anime fans. :)

'Til next time,


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Concert Review: KOTOKO @ Animazement 2012

After another busy semester, I was finally able to take some time off to attend Animazement 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The weekend was tons of fun and a post about AZ 2012 (and cosplay!) is in the works, but I wanted to take some time to review my highlight Animazement event of the weekend: the performance by KOTOKO.

I won't pretend to know much about KOTOKO beyond the bit of pre-con research I conducted to familiarize myself with her work, but I was certainly impressed by the few songs of hers I did listen to. Even more impressive to me, though, is the fact that KOTOKO writes much of the music and lyrics for her own work (and for other artists!). In a world where so many artists can take the spotlight from performance talents alone (or, as the case may be with some U.S. pop artists, not even that), it's really refreshing to see one who can not only sing well, but can also write great music.

Not counting the last-day-of-classes concerts that I attended during undergrad, this show marks my first live concert starring any vaguely famous artist. The show was hosted in one of the Raleigh Convention Center's ballrooms, outfitted with a stage, lights, and all the appropriate concert gear. The room was pretty small, but it fit the crowd just fine; felt kind of cozy, actually. My friends and I got in line pretty late, so we ended up close to the back; luckily, the room was small enough that we still had a pretty nice view of the stage.

The best thing about KOTOKO's performance, in my opinion, was her energy. She didn't just sing; she truly performed. She danced and moved around on stage almost as much as she sang (I can't imagine having to do both at once); at one point, she brought out a sword and began to swing it around. She took time between songs to engage with the crowd, despite her non-fluent (but very cute!) English. She changed into three separate outfits over the course of the concert. The crowd loved her, of course, clapping and fist-pumping with the music and even demanding an encore with chants of "KO-TO-KO!" Her energy was infectious. Maybe all Japanese artists are like this and I'm just naive, but seeing that much dedication to performance was something new and exciting for me.

Despite the very electronic nature of her music, KOTOKO came equipped with a trio of live performers: a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. For me, the live musicians added a lot to her performance. They played very well, of course, and also had a great deal of energy -- almost as much energy as KOTOKO herself, which is saying something. Plus, they were all dressed up as characters from Lupin, which was a fun touch. And maybe it's just my inner percussionist speaking, but I really enjoyed watching the drummer. Man, that guy can play.

As I alluded to earlier, I didn't know much of KOTOKO's work going into the concert, so I don't have many remarks on the repertoire. I certainly enjoyed the music a lot, though, with some personal standouts being Suppuration -core-, Shooting Star, Unite+reactioN, and unfinished (the ending to Accel World, incidentally the only song I knew well before the concert). I felt like I really got a taste of KOTOKO's musical style through her selection of pieces: for instance, her use of heavy electronic synths and characteristic vocal harmonies. Having a distinctive style is important for any artist, and KOTOKO really shines here.

Below is a setlist that I found somewhere online, arranged alphabetically because I couldn't remember the true order. Click on the little "X" marks before each song for a YouTube link; they're all great pieces.

[X] Ao-iconoclast
[X] being
[X] Chi ni Kaeru
[X] Face of Fact
[X] Hayate no Gotoku
[X] Hirake! Sora no Oto
[X] Light My Fire
[X] Oboetete ii yo
[X] Re-sublimity
[X] Sakura no Ame Moegi no Yo
[X] Shooting Star
[X] Special Life
[X] Suppuration -core-
[X] unfinished
[X] Unite+reactioN
[X] Wing my Way

Photos weren't allowed in the venue, so unfortunately I have no photo evidence from the event. To make my post prettier, though, I did steal a concert picture from KOTOKO's blog, so photo credits are all to her photographer. I'm in that crowd somewhere!

For more photos from the Animazement performance (and, if I'm not mistaken, KOTOKO touring various U.S. cities), check out her blog here. (Note that the blog's in Japanese.)

In the end, I had a great experience at KOTOKO's performance. Was it perfect? Of course not. But was it a lot of fun? Hell yes. I may not have been a KOTOKO fan going into concert, but I think I've been officially converted. :)

See you next time!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Piano Cover: Sora mo Toberu Hazu (Tsuritama)

When I first read about Tsuritama, I wasn't sure what to make of it. The plot seemed strange and nondescript, and I wasn't sure how much I'd like a main cast of all boys. After watching the first episode, though, I was completely taken in. The lighthearted, whimsical feel of the show is strangely captivating, but there's still an air of mystery that keeps you constantly wondering (not unlike Mawaru Penguindrum, one of my faves). It's certainly a welcome change from the fanservice-filled other shows I'm watching this airing season. (The boy-randomly-gets-super-hot-girl shows seem to be even more prevalent than usual this time around.)

Of course, I can't blog about a show without talking about its music, and Tsuritama certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard. I enjoyed the OP quite a bit ("Tsurezure Monochrome," complete with matching dance moves), but the ending them caught my attention even more. It's a cover of the song "Sora mo Toberu Hazu" by Japanese band Spitz, reimagined by girl-trio Sayonara Ponytail. For me, the song was one of those simple but infectiously catchy songs (and not in an annoying way, like sometimes happens). Plus, Sayonara Ponytail's voices are just so darn cute. XD

Heh, Sayonara Ponytail. That's just fun to say. :D

Speaking of Sayonara Ponytail, they've got quite a unique story. Not a whole is known about this group of three girls (Miina, Nacchan and Ayumin); their real identities have been carefully concealed, replaced by cute illustrations and fanciful characters. There's some debate about whether all three girls even exist, but the music is real--they rose to fame through the few songs and covers on their MySpace page. The girls are all fans of anime and were excited to cover "Sora mo Toberu Hazu," so the Tsuritama staff decided to offer them the ED spot. Sounds like a pretty inspirational story to me.

In any case, here's my cover. It's not as cute as Sayonara Ponytail's, but enjoy anyway!

Sora mo Toberu Hazu (Tsuritama): Piano Cover

Composer: Spitz, Sayonara Ponytail
Date Completed: 2012-05-14
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Number of Takes: ~6
Instrumentation: Piano

While my arrangement stays pretty true to the original Spitz cover (apart from ADDING ALL THE SEVENTH CHORDS!), it's heavily inspired by the Sayonara Ponytail cover version used for the Tsuritama ED. But then again, the Sayonara Ponytail version was pretty faithful to the original, so I suppose it's all circular in the end. And can I take a moment to point out how refreshing it is to have a song written in C major? No massive numbers of sharps or flats like so many anime pieces are inclined to have--just good old C major. Just goes to show that you don't have to pick a complicated key to sound good. :P



Monday, April 23, 2012

Concert Review: Distant Worlds St. Louis

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending Distant Worlds: Saint Louis, an exhibition extraordinaire of music from the Final Fantasy series. Led by conductor Arnie Roth and none other than the esteemed Mr. Nobuo Uematsu himself, Distant Worlds marks the first Final Fantasy music tour in the United States. Final Fantasy tours and performances have been held regularly in Asia, Europe, and Australia, but Distant World was the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean. And the American fans everywhere rejoice.

Before I proceed, I have a confession to make: I haven't actually played any Final Fantasy games. O_o Consequently, the concert didn't have the same sort of nostalgic emotional impact for me as I'm certain it did for many other people. For me, it was more of a music appreciation and a learning experience, and I'm happy to say that there was plenty of both. If anything, going to the concert deepened my already-growing interest in the Final Fantasy franchise, and now that I finally have the means to play some games, some FF titles will certainly be in my future. Still, I hope you'll appreciate this view of a Final Fantasy concert from the viewpoint of a relative newcomer. Or at least write me hate mail :P

In any case, Distant Worlds took place in Powell Hall, a grand auditorium home to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. As with my Video Games Live experience, I was a bit too cheap to pay the big bucks for fantastic seats, so I again ended up in the "budget section." I'd say that I got a pretty good deal for the price, though; our seats were directly in front of stage center, and despite being a bit far away, we had a fairly nice view of the orchestra. Win?

Because of my general unfamiliarity with the source material and of the time elapsed since the performance, I won't attempt to bore you with a comprehensive review of every song. Instead, I'll point out a few highlights, and a few areas that I would have liked to see done differently. For those interested, the full list is at the end of the post.

FINAL FANTASY Series: Victory Theme: Introductory song aside, this piece truly marked the beginning of the performance. The little two-bar phrase gathered some giggles from the audience, but wouldn't this be better reserved for the end of a battle section?

FINAL FANTASY I-III: Medley 2010: Listening to this piece legitimately gave me chills. The rendition of the prelude at the beginning was beautiful, and it was an amazing experience to hear the songs I'd studied in 8-bit realized in glorious full orchestra. Man.

FINAL FANTASY X: Zanarkard: Of all the pieces performed that evening, Zanarkand was probably the one that made me most question my life choices and wonder why I hadn't played a Final Fantasy game yet. The haunting melody, delicate interplay in the orchestra and piano, and background footage of Yuna's dance combined to a beautiful experience that words can't really describe. Simply put, I was blown away.

FINAL FANTASY Series: Chocobo Medley 2010: Can't have a Final Fantasy concert without this one popping up, right? I, for one, really enjoyed hearing the different variations, and wish they'd explored even more of them. Super-catchy.

FINAL FANTASY VI: Dark World: According to Arnie Roth, it took Nobuo Uematsu several years to decide on a song that he would be comfortable performing at one of the Distant Worlds events. As it turns out, "Dark World" was that song. I must say I was a little underwhelmed. The song itself was very nice, but there's got to be a song that demonstrates Mr. Uematsu's piano skills better than the quarter-note astinatos of this one. Nonetheless, it was an honor and privilege getting to see Nobuo Uematsu perform. :)

FINAL FANTASY Series: Vocal Pieces: Here I've lumped "Eyes on Me", "Suteki da ne", and "Kiss Me Goodbye", all starring Susan Calloway. So far as I could tell, she sang beautifully, but my seat was a bit too far away to discriminate the (English) words. According to some of my friends, however, maybe that's not entirely a bad thing...

FINAL FANTASY VII: Aerith's Theme: Another beautiful song that gave me shivers. Recognizing the source material really does a lot for the song's impact, and I hadn't even played FFVII before, only heard this song. Also, for those who don't know, "Aerith's Theme" was recently voted into the Classic FM Hall of fame by a large fan coalition. How cool is that?

FINAL FANTASY XIII: Blinded by Light: For all the hate this game gets, I really enjoyed this one, and I was even quite intrigued by the background footage from FFXIII. It's hard to follow in the footsteps of a giant like Nobuo Uematsu, but you can't deny that Masashi Hamauzu did a great job here.

FINAL FANTASY VI: Opera "Maria and Draco": I liked this a lot, but is it weird that I kept expecting it to be in Italian or French and tried to look for arias and recitatives the entire way through? I wonder what my opera-savvy friends would think of this number.

FINAL FANTASY VII: One Winged Angel: The unlisted true finale to the program. There was no choir present that evening, so the conductor asked the audience to sing. Additionally, Nobuo Uematsu popped out and stood at the front of the stage, waving posters with lyrics and thank-you messages. It was the cutest thing in the world. Now, if only the audience actually sang. X_x Come on now, we're all Final Fantasy nerds here; nothing to be ashamed of. I must say this song lost a lot of its raw power without the choral parts.

In the end, despite my unfamiliarity with the source material, I thoroughly enjoyed Distant Worlds: St. Louis. The music was fantastic, the performers sounded great, and seeing Mr. Uematsu in person was a rare and wonderful gift. For the entire car ride back, I pestered my friend to tell me more about Final Fantasy games; I'm sure he was tired of my questions by the end. Listening to the music really made me want to go play the games, and for me, there's no truer mark of the quality of a a video game soundtrack.

Here's the full program, for those interested:

FINAL FANTASY VII: Opening - Bombing Mission
FINAL FANTASY Series: Victory Theme
FINAL FANTASY IX: Vamo' alla Flamenco
FINAL FANTASY X: Suteki da ne
FINAL FANTASY Series: Chocobo Medley 2010
FINAL FANTASY VIII: The Man with the Machine Gun
FINAL FANTASY IX: You're Not Alone
FINAL FANTASY XIII: Blinded by Light
FINAL FANTASY VI: Opera "Maria and Draco"
FINAL FANTASY VII: One Winged Angel (Unlisted)

See you again soon,


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anime Performance Preview #1

So after a couple years of blogs and YouTube videos, live performance #1 is finally in the works! :D The details are still being worked out; I'll keep you posted once more details emerge.

In preparation/anticipation for this event, I've put together a little collection of clips from random anime songs I've learned to play. It's by no means perfect (certainly, my performance won't be), nor is it the full list of songs I know how to play, but it gives a decent idea of what you might expect to hear. The style of these pieces varies from near-transcription to fairly liberal arrangements, but the source material should be pretty self-evident. Here's the clip!

And here's the list of songs again (mostly because I couldn't fit in the artists, who certainly deserve their recognition):

1. Uninstall (Bokurano, Chiaki Ishikawa)
2. The Palm of a Tiny Hand (Clannad, Maeda Jun)
3. Cruel Angel's Thesis (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Takahashi Youko)
4. Cras Numquam Scire (Dantalian no Shoka, Yucca)
5. Sorairo Days (Gurren Lagann, Shoko Nakagawa)
6. Renai Circulation (Bakemonogatari, Kana Hanazawa)
7. Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Mirai Nikki, Yousei Teikoku)
8. Naraku no Hana (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Eiko Shimamiya)

Not much more to say here, so hope you enjoyed the music!

'Til next time,


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mass Effect 2: A Study in Dynamic Music

A few years ago, if I told you about video game music as an area of academic study, you'd likely scoff. In most people's minds, video game music was no more than a series of bleeps and bloops, hardly compelling enough for any sort of scholarly endeavor. However, recent years have proven the contrary, with a number of groups and academic institutions among those to pursue this area of knowledge. With the video game market as a multi-billion dollar industry and continuing to expand, it's perhaps no wonder that video game music is becoming an area of academic interest.

In honor of the much-anticipated release of a particular sequel next week, I decided to center my discussion of video game audio around one of my favorite video games in recent history: Mass Effect 2. Composed by a sound team led by the illustrious Jack Wall (Unreal 2, Myst IV, Jade Empire, etc.), the soundtrack is a respectable collection of music on its own, its diverse and energetic music setting it apart in a world of space operas. However, in-game, amid the ever-evolving action and drama, is where this soundtrack shines most. The Mass Effect 2 soundtrack enhances the gaming experience in many ways, but most interesting to me is its stellar application of one of the most popular and exciting topics in current video game audio research: the concept of dynamic music.

"Dynamic music," generally speaking, refers to music that changes in real-time due to interaction with the audience. Thus far, dynamic music is mostly confined to the world of video games; unlike other forms of media, such as film and radio, where there is very little or no interaction with the audience, the "audience participation" element inherent to video games makes this medium a perfect vessel for this form of interactive audio. Speaking from an engineer's point of view, this so-called "nonlinear" audio can be modeled as a sort of feedback loop (see below diagram). Whereas most traditional forms of audio in media have an uninterrupted stream from the transmitter (the musical composition) to the receiver (the audience), interactive audio introduces an additional projection from the receiver back to the transmitter, granting the audio the ability to evolve in real-time based on the audience's behavior.

While dynamic music in video games might sound like a recent innovation, it has in fact been present for much of video game history. The PSG-, FM- and MIDI-based sound cards of older consoles all generated tones in real-time, like an electric keyboard. While difficult to compose for, these systems made it very simple to manipulate the music dynamically. One might even argue that dynamic music was introduced in the very first game with a true soundtrack, 1978's Space Invaders, whose famous descending tetrachord speeds up as more enemies are eliminated. A clearer example is the 1982 game Dig Dug, whose musical content progresses only when the player is moving. Perhaps a more recognizable example can be seen in the Genesis-era Sonic the Hedgehog games; whenever the player collects a set of speed shoes, the tempo of the music would increase for a certain amount of time. In fact, even if the background music itself changed during this time interval, the tempo nonetheless remained elevated until the speed shoes' tenure expired.

An important turning point in video game music history came in the mid-1990s with the switch to Redbook audio, better known as CD audio. In all conventional respects, Redbook was a big step forward for video game music; no longer were video game composers restricted by the sounds that the consoles' sound cards could generate, and this led to the capability for live orchestral soundtracks such as that of 1997's Total Annihilation. However, Redbook audio was space-intensive, and because it was pre-recorded, it could not be manipulated in real-time in the same manner as the older audio technology. Thus, while compositional styles no doubt flourished, the dynamic music found in many previous-generation games effectively ground to a halt.

In more recent generations, however, increasing computing power has made it possible for dynamic music to reemerge. Certainly, the obvious examples are video games in which interactive music is the focus, including such games as Electroplankton and the Guitar Hero series. Even for non-audio-focused games, however, sound teams have devised clever ways in which to introduce dynamic elements, ranging from simple techniques (fading, "stinger" chords/passages) to more compositionally challenging ones (cue-to-cue transitions, layering). While newer approaches to dynamic music have yet to rival the level of interactivity in the 8- and 16-bit generations, it is certainly headed in a promising direction.

This leads us back to Mass Effect 2, whose soundtrack contains one of the most effective, yet simplest, implementations of dynamic music I have encountered. The dynamic aspects of Mass Effect 2's music can be most readily appreciated in the battle missions, constantly-changing environments where the amount of action at any time is largely controlled at the player's own pace. Because of the wide range of activity in each of these levels, from quiet strolls to explosion-filled firefights, it seems essential to have music that can reflect these frequent mood shifts.

Mass Effect 2 accomplishes this dynamic behavior by adjusting the music to reflect the amount of onscreen activity. (Some speculation follows, I admit, but I think it's a correct simplification of what's going on.) At any point in time, the game examines the total amount of activity currently present and assigns that value to one of several discrete "activity levels." In turn, each "activity level" corresponds to a particular musical texture, which is switched in real-time as necessary.

At the most fundamental level, this technique is equivalent to layering--increasing activity levels correspond to an increase in textural complexity. However, rather than limit themselves to simply adding and removing voices, the Mass Effect 2 composers wrote individual pieces of music corresponding to each activity level. Below are some examples from one particular battle, arranged in increasing activity level:

If not composed carefully, using a separate piece of music for each activity level can lead to some awkward transitions. However, the cohesive compositional style of the entire set prevents this from happening. You may have noticed that the bass pattern stays constant in all four tracks, providing a powerful foundation upon which the remaining texture is built. The same is true of the harmony (or implied harmony, as the case may be). The other voices may change substantially between activity levels, but by holding strong stylistic and structural elements constant, the composers achieve a remarkable sense of consistency. No wonder the in-game transitions sound so flawless.

The best way to appreciate any concept is to see it in action, so here's a clip of me playing one of the combat missions in Mass Effect 2. I've labeled each of the activity level changes encountered in this clip; try to listen for the musical changes during each transition. Also, please forgive my terrible playing; I admit that my gaming skills haven't been the best of late.

For those interested in exploring these activity levels some more, I've created an application where you can manually switch between the four activity levels and listen to how the music adjusts dynamically. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it working as an Internet applet, but below is a download link if you're interested in poking around.

I think we stand at a very exciting point in the story of interactive audio. Modern gaming technology such as the Kinect offer novel methods of feedback to interact with game audio, and a number of existing compositional techniques, such as granular synthesis, hold exciting possibilities for dynamic music. For the moment, however, dynamic music is still emerging, and I'll be pleased to see any game make a valiant effort to introduce some dynamic elements in its soundtrack. If the result is as effective and eloquent as in Mass Effect 2, all the better.

Questions? Critiques? Something I didn't get right? Something you'd like me to elaborate on? Please drop a comment below!

For more information on video game music research and interactive music, please refer to the archive of video game music publications at, particularly this article on nonlinear video game audio.

Happy week-before-Mass Effect 3! :)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Piano Cover: Vidro Moyou (Ano Natsu de Matteru)

Well, hello there, new anime season. For my third airing season, I elected to follow three shows: Another, a creepy mystery/horror piece; Nisemonogatari, the sequel to Bakemonogatari (and yes, the leitmotifs still exist!); and of course, Ano Natsu de Matteru.

The plot of Ano Natsu de Matteru (translated as "Waiting in the Summer," I believe) centers around a female alien named Ichika who, after crash-landing on Earth, begins to develop mutual romantic feelings for a boy. Sounds silly, and it is: the anime never takes itself too seriously. Still, it's a really enjoyable romantic comedy, full of cute characters, awkward moments, love polygons of significant numbers of vertices, and just maybe some occasional fanservice. >_>

The inset music, while quite nice, didn't grab my attention right away. The same can't be said about the ending theme, "Vidro Moyou". (I don't really know what that translates to..."video pattern"?) Despite its simplicity, the catchy melody and neat electronic samples really made this one a memorable one for me. As there's currently no official piano arrangement of the song, I decided to seize the opportunity and write my own. I'm such an opportunist. :P Here's the result!

Vidro Moyou (Ano Natsu de Matteru): Piano Cover

Composer: Nagi Yanagi
Date Completed: 2011-02-12
Software: Audacity, Movie Maker
Number of Takes: ~20
Instrumentation: Piano

This is my first piano arrangement (not transcription) since my Shiki piece. As always, I aimed for something slower and more, shall we say, romantic; I tried to bring the abundant emotion buried in the original melody to the forefront. It's clear that I've been influenced by the great piano versions of anime songs I've encountered over the past year; you can hear textural influences from High, High, High in the quarter-note chords, from Sweet Drops in the right-hand octaves, and from On Your Mark in the simple introductory textures. We learn from the best, after all.

Thanks for dropping by, and happy Valentine's Day! :)

Best wishes,