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:
…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
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.
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,
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.