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Posts Tagged ‘soundtrack’

More Music

I have been acquiring music at a faster rate lately.  I’ve collected game soundtracks for almost two decades now (the power trinity of Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura are still the backbone of that collection, some of which is noted in my last music article thisaway), but it has sort of been a trickle.  Part of that is the expense of getting CDs often only released in Japan.  Part of it is just that I have other things to spend money on.

So what changed?  The Humble Bundle guys started including soundtracks with the games they sell.  The Indie Royale people followed suit.  GoG.com always offered soundtracks when possible, but I’ve been getting more of their games lately, too.  OCRemix.org has always been great at cranking out good music (free!), but I’ve been perusing their projects more lately, and they recently stepped up with a big Final Fantasy VI orchestral project.

I’ve also been more aware of articles like this one from Syp.  The game music industry is growing up.  (I still wish I could get to a Play! concert.)

Edited to add: I also just stumbled across this little gem of a site… I’ll be keeping an eye on their bundles. GameMusicBundle.com

Anyway, I just wanted to share a few of my more recent favorites, and a few oddball pieces that just seemed worth sharing for one reason or another.

Thoroughly Blue, Crystal Chronicles… I love the light, almost Celtic feel to a lot of the music for Crystal Chronicles, and this one covers a lot of the themes in the game.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s “Inner Light” Ressikan Flute music, performed by a full orchestra.  I love that episode.  I’m not the only one.  (And is that a Starfleet uniform on the conductor?  Awesome.  Nerdy, I’ll grant, but I love that nerdiness isn’t a kiss of death any more.)

Secret of Mana has some great tracks, and this is but one collection/overview.  I really would like to find that soundtrack on CD someday.  For less than $30.  Pesky imports.

Tangled soundtrack’s town music… sorry, I’m not sure on the title for this.  It’s just one of my favorite parts of a movie I’m very fond of.  I wish this piece had been longer.

Magic Taboria, Van Canto… this one is really odd.  It’s an a capella metal rock group, weird enough to start with, but they also appear to be… nerds.  They based this song on the MMO Runes of Magic.  There’s just enough absurdity involved that it makes me smile, even though metal rock is far from my favorite.  Really far.

The Bard’s Song, Van Canto… this was my first exposure to Van Canto.  A coworker submitted this to our weekly “Bad Music Tuesday” event, and, well, I kinda like it.  It doesn’t scream “metal” to me, it’s more of the sort of thing I’d expect from a modern “Gregorian Chant”-ish group, infused with gaming and storytelling sentiment.  Weird, I know.

The Final Fantasy Piano collections all sound great to me.  I’m a fan of pure, simple music (like the FFX piano version of To Zanarkand), and I grew up around pianos.  My mother teaches piano, my wife plays sometimes, my sister plays as well, and my daughter is learning.  This is one of my other favorite piano pieces, Eyes on Me from Final Fantasy VIII

And last, but far from least, there’s Austin Wintory, my newest addition to the “favorite composers” group.  He has a lot of great stuff at his site, but this one is one of my favorites, with touches of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack, shades of Mannheim Steamroller (one of my biggest musical influences growing up) and hints of Celtic and Viking spice:

Horn Soundtrack

I like all of it, but Bound in Stone (track 12) is especially fun.  Oddly, perhaps, it reminds me of some of the fun music in the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, but with a more epic feel.

There’s a LOT of good music out there.

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If the eyes are the windows to the soul, I tend to think the ears are… um… also important.  More for the intake than the output, obviously.  So… doors, maybe?  Anyway…

Good music does good things for people.

No, I’m not talking about sappy hippy gunk like Lennon’s Imagine (can’t stand that song) or celebrities pontificating about Christmas in third world nations and whining about first world problems on their day off, no, I’m talking about music that doesn’t set out to preach.  I’m talking about music that sets out to entertain and maybe uplift.  I see it as something akin to Walt Disney’s famous quote:

I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.

…as in, I’m looking at music that just starts out to entertain, and if it happens to feed the soul or teach something along the way, that’s a bonus.

Anyway, I suppose I blame Syp and Syl for this, somewhat.  They share good music clips here and there, so it gave me the itch to do the same. (Should I change my name to Syh or something to fit the mold better?  Decisions, decisions…)

Most of the music I listen to while working or at home is from video game soundtracks.  Occasionally I’ll splash something like Daft Punk’s TRON Legacy soundtrack in there (really good! …but how is putting the whole soundtrack online legit?), but it’s mostly game music.  Convenient, then, that I work in the game industry, perhaps.  Some of my favorites are as follows:

Mirror’s Edge, a quirky first person Parkour platformer, has a great theme song thisaway, titled Still Alive:

Which, of course, should not be confused with Portal‘s Still Alive song, which is also really good, but very different.

Bastion, a great little game, has a wonderful soundtrack.  It’s different from the laid-back sort of music I usually prefer, but it just hits the spot when I’m looking for something a bit more adventurous.  There’s the great Terminal March

and Spike in a Rail for some sweet, sweet banjo rock,

and the incredible Setting Sail, Coming Home duet

(now in acoustic!)

I don’t play Skyrim, but this makes me want to.  Sorta.  I know, the game won’t let me be a killer violin-wielding bard or a chanting Viking, and it’s M-rated, which I avoid, but… that’s some good, stirring music.

And this definitely makes me want to play a Zelda game or two.

Torchlight 2 has a pretty good soundtrack, as does The Ur-Quan Masters (Star Control 2), especially the fan-made remixed version.  There are a LOT of good pieces of music out there, completely free.  Others I picked up during Humble Bundle promotions, like the Swords & Sorcery soundtrack, which is also good… just not free.  You can listen to pieces of it over at their sales site thisaway, though.  I’m particularly fond of the And Then We Got Older track (track 26).

Oh, and for the next 7 hours or so, the Humble Bundle guys have another great bundle up… and they are including the soundtracks.  This is a fantastic move, and I hope we see more of this in the future.  That’s how I got the Bastion and Swords & Sorcery soundtracks, which were each worth the price of the bundle alone, never mind all the other yummy goodness in each bundle.  Games?  Who has time to play those?  The soundtracks, though, I can listen to while I do something else.

Kingdom Hearts is a favorite series of mine, ever since it was announced and I said “wait, er, what?” to the bizarre but fanboy dream pairing of Disney and SquareSoft.  Y’see, I grew up wanting to be a Disney animator (and I could have worked into a Pixar job, but I won’t work in California), and played a fair dose of SquareSoft (now SquareEnix) games in my teens.  My cultural DNA is infused with Disney and SquareSoft, so the pairing of the two just fit for me.  It helps that the games are pretty fun.  The first piece of music I heard was in the teaser trailer for the game, and I’ve been a fan of Yoko Shimomura’s work since.  It’s a delightful mix of an orchestral score and Disney-flavored whimsy.

The intro for Kingdom Hearts is really good, too.

Utada Hikaru’s work is really good in those games, too, with the theme song for the first (Simple and Clean)…

…and second game (Sanctuary) among my favorites to just listen to.  Sanctuary is a bit odd in that it uses lyrics played backwards to punctuate the piece.  It fits with the theme a bit, and just works as mysterious music.  Sometimes I prefer these game pieces in Japanese, since I don’t understand Japanese.  I can just listen to it as music, and not engage the linguistic part of my brain.  It’s a bit like those Gregorian chants that are good listening sometimes; I don’t understand them, so they are just something delightful to listen to.  I think that’s valuable sometimes, as I wrote about a bit in this old article about hummingbirds (sorta).

I would be remiss not to mention Nobuo Uematsu while we’re talking Squaresoft.  He is brillant, even though he’s turning to the dark side in his old age *coughOtherworldBlackMagescough*.  Dear Friends is an oldie but a goodie, though even better on the N Generation CD.

Terra’s Theme is great,

Roaming Sheep is slightly weird, but good,

and almost every gamer has heard Sephiroth’s One Winged Angel, for better or worse.  (I like it, but it’s overplayed sometimes.)  The whole S Generation CD is really good as well.

Uematsu has such a big body of work that this snipped doesn’t really do it justice, but I’m a big fan of his orchestral work.  My favorite, though, is this lovely little solo piano piece, To Zanarkand.

The orchestral version is good, too, but I love the simple piano version best.

Speaking of SquareSoft, I’m a big fan of Yasunori Mitsuda’s work on Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.  The OCRemix (a great resource, by the way) fan compilation “Chrono Symphonic” is also really good.  My music appreciation gained a lot of depth staring with this ticking clock.

…and Frog’s Theme still makes me smile.  Repetitive as it is, thanks to the nature of game music, it’s still a rousing theme for one of my favorite game heroes.

… but when I really need something to make my day better almost instantly, I often turn to Radical Dreamers (Chrono Cross OST, Yasunori Mitsuda).  The whole 3-CD soundtrack is excellent, Scars of Time perfectly sets the mood (it plays during the game’s intro cinematic)

Dream of the Shore is great “wandering” music…

and Life, Faraway Promise is a fine culmination of the action,

but Radical Dreamers, that’s just right for me.  It’s just… good.  Food for my soul; sweet, delicious fudge.

It’s telling that I know these Japanese artists’ names as well as I know Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Mozart.  I love classical music, and in many ways, I think of these modern composers to be just as talented as the old masters.  That idea may be heresy to some, but even the PLAY! folk see some value in this game music, else there would be no efforts to employ it with a full orchestra in sold out concerts world wide.  (But never in nearby Salt Lake City, the meanies.  Always in the bigger cities, for crying out loud.)  Also, there are gems like Sailing to the World, Yasunori Mitsuda’s non-game composition.  I’ve only heard parts of it, but it’s almost as hauntingly beautiful as the Chrono Cross soundtrack.

These artists are more than mere chiptune flunkies.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with chiptunes… DuckTales in the NES days had some great music.)

There’s a lot here in this industry to value.  Even if it sometimes takes a distant back seat to the other trappings of modern gaming.  There’s a lot of eye candy for those windows to the soul… and a lot of ear candy, too, for… um… whatever portal they are.

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…because they don’t know the words!  (OK, that’s a shameless ripoff of Gnomeageddon’s post over here, which got me thinking about a few different things.)

The Radical Dreamers song from Chrono Cross is one of my favorite pieces of music.  (To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X is also a wonderful piece, but it doesn’t have lyrics.)  The whole soundtrack is excellent, all 3 CDs of it, but that one stands out for me because of the acoustic guitar and vocals.  But, y’see… I don’t know the words.

As I noted in the comment thread over in this discussion about Simon and Garfunkel, lyrics can be funny things.  When I was just a wee little Tesh, my mother loved to listen to Simon and Garfunkel, so I grew up on that sort of folk music sound (along with James Taylor).  Thing is, I listened to it pretty much as music with inscrutable vocals.  It was only later that I listened to the lyrics as something other than music.  That can change the meaning of songs, and dilute or enhance my appreciation of them.  John Lennon’s Imagine is a simple, dreary bit of moderately pleasant hippie music, but I find some of the lyrics rather… unappetizing.  (And, well, I can’t stand Yoko Ono.  She’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.)  I liked it a lot more when I didn’t listen to the lyrics, and just heard it as music with vocals.

In another instance, I like Suteki Da Ne from Final Fantasy X (aside from Otherworld, that game’s soundtrack is excellent).  Melodies of Life from FFIX is also really good… but I prefer both as rendered in Japanese.  The English versions are still pretty good, but suddenly, since I can understand the lyrics, they are no longer something I appreciate on a purely musical level, they are processed differently.  Not only do the meter and pacing change with the translation, subtly mangling the flow of the music, but the words are, well… subpar poetry (like a lot of music, to be fair).  Nothing really offensive, just… kinda cheesy and goofy.  Because I now know the words, I find the songs less appealing (more so for Suteki Da Ne).  I still love the Japanese versions, but I find the English versions less appealing.  Sometimes, a little knowledge has a big effect.  (And, as Jason points out, they don’t work as background music any more; since I subconsciously process the English lyrics, it divides my attention.)

Or, take the difference between this purely piano version of Skimming Stones from Sleepthief (recorded in the sadly now-destroyed Provo Tabernacle)… and this one with Kirsty Hawkshaw’s lovely vocals.  Same piano line, but the lyrics (and other audio tidbits layered in, to be fair) change the song significantly.  I actually like them both quite a bit, but they are definitely different.

Operatic music has a similar effect for me.  I can listen to bits and pieces of something like La Traviata and appreciate the musicality of the singing, but that’s because I don’t understand it.  (That I can’t stand heavy vibrato doesn’t help with a lot of opera, but that’s incidental.)  The few pieces of English opera I’ve listened to just don’t work as well for me.  (Though oddly, a musical like Fiddler on the Roof works pretty well.  Maybe it has to start in English?  And now I wonder how well Broadway musicals like The Lion King work in Japanese…)

Anyway, going back to games and Gnomeageddon, he notes that writing about World of Warcraft tends to meander in pretty similar, well-repeated circles, with authors (myself included) rehashing the same old arguments, just phrased in new ways.  Perhaps the same could be said of writing or game design in general, what with that theory that there are only a handful of “original” stories, and everything is really just a remix.

Perhaps that’s the case, and what we need to make something truly entertaining or enlightening is for it to be a bit, well, foreign to us.  That way we process it differently, and dodge the habits of familiarity and preconceived notions that can all too often taint our perception.  (Think of it as a sort of rephrased idea of “fun is learning” or Raph Koster’s “Theory of Fun“.)

I think it’s a good thing to play games (and read books, listen to music, look at art, etc.) that are foreign to us.  Not incomprehensible, incompetent games, just games that do things differently than what we’ve internalized and become accustomed to.  We can learn things that way, from game design to personal preference.  And as this interesting article notes, great artists draw from a wide variety of sources.  I think this is true for music, games and pretty much any other artistic endeavor, whether as an artist or as a consumer.

Even if it means just humming along for a while.

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