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It’s 1993, and young, universally celebrated composer Yuzo Koshiro has grown tired. His living space is no longer his own, and months ago he began taking resumes and holding interviews in the hopes of hiring a full time staff to see to the managing of his seemingly endless cache of awards. These talks…have yet to bear fruit. What began as a small trophy room in the back of his house sometime in1986 was now inching up his leg like bottom feeding moss and lichen. So praised was Koshiro that his every waking moment guaranteed another sumptuous congratulatory bouquet. His physical awards were more numerous than the throng of ardent and fanatical fans who had slowly taken up residence on his front lawn. Everyone wanted a piece; everyone had an agenda…everyone wanted Yuzo Koshiro. Employers, handlers, friends, fans, things had gotten way out of hand, and a fraying Koshiro, nearly incapacitated, retreated from the impenetrable wall of expectation and endless homage to craft a record that defied all assumptions, labels and objections placed upon it. From seed to birth to masterpiece, this is a celebration of Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets Of Rage 3.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Beat Ambiance

When you think of Koshiro, it’s likely you’ll immediately recall Streets Of Rage 2 and its musical centerpiece Go Straight. And why wouldn’t you? It is a stunning piece of black and white negative capturing Koshiro at one of his most pronounced and analyzed peaks. A gorgeous print will remain a gorgeous print, and it’s one of the reasons why you store its image in memory…it’s something beautiful. With Streets Of Rage 1 and 2, Koshiro became something of a vigilante exposing the more complacent side of audio within the video game industry. His typeset, however, was so radical and so unexpected that the massive waves Koshiro himself created, dictated a change in sides from Cerberus to outlaw.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Moon

Streets Of Rage 3 finds our youthful composer at a particularly thorny crossing. He was THE golden boy, a no-brainer first draft pick chosen to helm a host of triple-A releases the likes of Actraiser, Ys, and Sega’s Revenge Of Shinobi, all before he hit the age of 22. Koshiro’s work went from high watermark to higher watermark, as with each release his ear tightened and his layers became ever more intricate. BUT. No doubt, he was being watched, directed and told in some manner to skew and tame his more outlandish touches. While Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 present him in a furious bare-knuckled state of creative carte blanche, Streets Of Rage 3 is the all dispensatory enema of contracts and direction from his masters.

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Listen : Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage: Dub Slash

Streets Of Rage 3 on the surface is the sound of Koshiro finally baring his teeth at all those who ever once told him no, and to those more concerned with crafting him as a marketable brand instead of the genius musician he clearly is. It’s stark, abusive, and overrun . That’s just it though, you see, all of that is merely its surface. SOR 3 is Koshiro at his most powerful, at his most in-synch, and at his most chaotically unapologetic avant-garde. You HAVE to listen and listen carefully. It’s not that the tunes in SOR 3 don’t come as easily as his freshman and sophomore efforts. Not at all. It’s that there are tunes inside of tunes and melodies tripping over hooks. It’s that there’s so MANY points of articulation that if you turn your head too suddenly you’re likely to have missed one of his more central choruses.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Spinning Machine

Let’s take an example. In each of the tracks for SOR 3, you’re never made to stand on the ground floor. Just when you think you’ve interpreted Koshiro’s jargon, he changes his dialect. The opening number, Spinning Machine, while not adding up to much in terms of time on the clock at a mere 25 seconds, consists of three very different levels. The first 11 seconds play out like blunt force head trauma, but with the later 12 comes a lightness of touch more akin to fusion jazz… much more Bob James. Each of the two very distinct stanzas have their very own legs, but then it becomes 3. Their collision point is where the song actually begins… never mind that each of these 3 verses is STILL very much its own complete piece of music.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Happy Paradise

On that note, let’s listen a bit further down the LP tracklist at Happy Paradise. While Spinning Machine briefly illustrates this point, Happy Paradise showcases this method with far greater detail. As the song begins, and then begins to wear on you, you’re deceived into thinking that you’ve heard all there is to this particular offering. As you toll the minute mark, however, you uncover Koshiro’s gold. My God! Listen to it. Moreover, listen to HOW it is done: all inside the pocket, that sweet spot. Like some saccharine sweet glaze. He plays it like nothing! Listen to his fingers because when you hear them barely bristle the tops of the keys, that’s your signal to cross over into one of several hundred dimensions Koshiro has created specifically for this album. Believe me, when you hear it, OH MAN.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Inga Rasen

Those looking for that immediacy, that unmistakable Koshiro signature, and that direct sequel to the sounds of SOR 2, will not be disappointed as Dub Slash, Beat Ambiance and Random Cross are in fact the heirs apparent to the likes of Go Straight, Alien Power, and Never Return Alive. BUT. Where SOR2’s signature singles were mere anarchy and intermittent brush fires, SOR 3 is a state under martial law and curfew .The audio for SOR 3 IS brutal and Koshiro plays both manic and unpredictable. Koshiro seems to self-medicate though, and as he toys with the levels of lithium in his blood, the more erratic his creations become. Bulldozer, Cycle 2 and the particularly busyInga Rasen,whose beat chafes and ultimately dismantles the underlying melody, and buries the listener in sheet upon layer upon slab of bombastic babbling and indefatigable discordance. They are also markedly brilliant and widely ahead of the established dance music curve set for 1992. Crystal Waters and The Shamen this is not.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Shinobi Reverse

What is also just as fascinating is how brazen Koshiro is about dismantling, satirizing and caricaturizing his own work. Shonobi Reverse and pieces of Percussionare a tantrum born of necessity, a middle finger resolutely engaged in the kersplat of all that has come before it. Mocking, jaded and spent, Koshiro’s backwards squall of lampooning fried noise picks apart his legacy, destroys any notion of him returning to previous form, and sets a dangerous, cloaked precedent of ambiguity for the road ahead. It’s a risky proposition, but from time to time, all great composers need to censure and rebuke all that makes their fortunes stand, and here, Koshiro’s condemnation of his own artistic affluence stands self-assured and void of defect.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: The Poets 1

Closer to the end of side two of the SOR 3 LP, you’ll find two songs The Poets 1 and The Poets 2.

Go ahead. Listen to the first 10 seconds of each. Not only are these completely alien to all of the other works on this record; they are perhaps the only ones working with a structure of verse, chorus, verse. What’s interesting here isn’t so much that fact, nor the fact that it is so strikingly different from all Koshiro’s previous takes, it is the sound, the style of it, and how he has split this obviously single epic composition into two. The Poets 1 and ThePoets 2eschews our composer’s penchant to straddle all genres of dance and instead finds him focused on delivering some kind of sermon on the mount, a definitive rock performance. Not just rock though, this is the early 90’s: the burgeoning of alternative music. This is where aging new wave and college rock meet the 90’s Manchester Sound, Chapel Hill, and Shoegaze. Albeit brief, both remain strikingly fresh today: snarling, dynamic and cutthroat. Koshiro’s radio singles play like all the best from that era: individual, peculiar and entirely euphonious. Yeah, listen again.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Good Ending

Streets Of Rage 3 is a stunning about-face, a reckoning whose applications of bedlam and chaos served to give birth to Yuzo Koshiro as a singular, visionary artistic force.

While the scores of Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 are without question masterpieces like that of The Beatles Revolver or Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Streets Of Rage 3 is a masterpiece for the Orwellian times in which we currently live and much more akin to David Bowie’s Low or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

Koshiro’s insistent and frigid rejection of both his own past master tapes and the shunning of direction from admirers and superiors, facilitated an audacious work going far beyond the present for which it was written. Streets Of Rage 3 is Yuzo Koshiro’s ultimate test of faith, a double bind bet made under extremely tenuous conditions, but it ushered him from mere mortal to untouchable sonic deity. Sometimes, you just have to run with it.

Side Note: Readers, please note that the opening story in this piece is a work of fiction.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Far Cry 4 has some pretty great music. Set in a fictional country in the Himalayas, composer Cliff Martinez incorporated native sounds like throat-singing, gamelan, sitar, sarangi and tabla into the music to bring the landscape alive.

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Far Cry 4

It’s like a lesson in Himalayan music, if you concentrate on the multitude of tracks that incorporate instruments and sounds that are indigenous to the region. The Far Cry 4 soundtrack succeeds wildly with these direct references to music of the Himalayan region.

If you’re unsure what any of these things sound like, take a listen to Sudden Trouble. The stringed instrument you’re hearing is the sarangi. You can hear solo sarangi here. Do you hear how resonant the instrument is? The sarangi has “sympathetic strings”, a set of strings under the set that are bowed. A sarangi player doesn’t “play” the sympathetic strings – these strings exist to resonate sound from the strings that are played.

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 Sarangi

With regard to sympathetic strings, a sitar also has them. Two of the world’s most famous sitar players are Ravi Shankar and his daughter, Anoushka. You can hear Anoushka play a sitar solo here.

“Gamelan” features prominently throughout the score as well. A gamelan orchestra contains several players, many of whom play metal bell-like instruments with mallets. Listen to Secrets of the Goddesses to hear what gamelan sounds like, or you can see an adorable (short) video explaining gamelan here.

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One of my favorite tracks is called “The Mountain Watches“. You’ll hear the “table” drums here as well as gamelan. Learning of table gives you an opportunity to learn about Zakir Hussein. In fact, if you ever have an opportunity to see or hear either Zakir Hussein or Anoushka Shankar in concert, DO IT. In “The Mountain Watches” – listen for the tabla and the gamelan.

One of my favorite Himalayan references in the Far Cry 4 soundtrack is “throat-singing”. This stuff is pretty cool, because these singers able to sing in a way that gives the impression they’re singing more than one note at a time.

HOW? The overtone series. Here’s one example.

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When I was in grad school, I saw a group of singers from Tuva called the Alash Ensemble in concert. My life changed. First of all, their website is fabulous and provides an excellent tutorial in throat singing. Please, spend some time learning about this fascinating and glorious niche of humanity. Visit them here, and listen to the various types of singing. When you return to listen to the Far Cry 4 soundtrack, you’ll hear these amazing sounds spread throughout.

The game might not be your cup of tea; however, I encourage you to give the soundtrack a spin. It’s a great example of fusing Western and Eastern music in a game.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

It’s no secret I’ve played a lot of Bungie’s $500-million MMOFPSWTF Destiny quite a bit since it came out in September. I’ve written about it too much. All three of my characters are maxed out, I have nearly all raid weapons, I have the “Necrochasm”, I have most of the raid gear (enough that all my peeps are level 32), and I have plenty of XP and the various materials and other types of currency in the game.

This wasn’t always the case; when The Dark Below came out, the first round of DLC, I had to buy the armor to get myself to a higher level. I hadn’t earned it through game-play. I was missing key weapons from the initial raid, called The Vault of Glass.*

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A few weeks into The Dark Below, however, I had what I needed (read: wanted) out of VoG. But by that time, the acquisition of those weapons was a waste, because I’d begun collecting new, more powerful guns from The Dark Below.

I acquired those weapons so fast, that soon I had enough of some of them that all of my characters had their own.

I broke all of the extra guns over the weekend. All of them.

Here’s why: Leveling up your arsenal in Destiny requires XP by either using the gun you want to level up, or by turning in missions while holding the gun (or both). Once you have the XP to upgrade the gun, you need currencies like metals and cash to complete the upgrade, and both are easy enough to get. But leveling up requires a third element – another material that’s a bit trickier to get your hands on, and definitely encourages frequent grinding of bounties, raids, daily and weekly missions.

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Yeah, I’m done with all of that. Since I threw out a bunch of guns, I don’t need to do all that senseless grinding anymore. And why would I want to anyway, since once Bungie releases House of Wolves, the raid guns I’ve accumulated to date will become obsolete (as they did with VoG).

I don’t have anything left to do. Not until the new DLC comes out (probably) in May. By that time, I might not care.

When I destroyed the weapons, I felt emancipated from the game. I’ve played a lot of other games in the time since Destiny’s been available, but I’ve always felt this pull – the “I should be grinding” pull.

Bungie lost me as a hardcore player, and most of my friends are moving on as well. Don’t be fooled: we’re still playing, because there are things about the game we all love, or we wouldn’t have spent so much time in it over the last five months. But we’ve moved on to other multiplayer experiences, like Far Cry 4 and LittleBig Planet 3. And if you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, be sure to download Apotheon, because it’s a riot.

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Apotheon

I joked with my friends over the weekend that in ten years, Destiny will be the perfect game, and Bungie will go onto Twitter or whatever’s around then, and say, “We told you it was a ten year plan!”. One friend added, “After about a thousand-dollar investment from us”, and I realized he was right. I plan to pay close attention to how much money I spend on the franchise in the future.

*Without a doubt, the most creative aspect of the Destiny experience.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

In March, Sumthing.com will be giving away an Xbox One+Kinect to one lucky newsletter subscriber! No purchase necessary. All you need to do is sign up for our newsletter and you are entered for a chance to win. If you are already a newsletter member, all you need to do is shut your eyes tight, cross your fingers, and mumble mumble-y luck things to yourself.

To subscribe to our newsletter, either scroll to the very bottom of this page and enter your email address in the signup toolbar provided or opt-in for the newsletter while registering for the site.

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The winner will be drawn on March 16th and will be notified via email. Spread the word! Or don’t you selfish thing, you’re hurting your odds!

There are loads of games I never get around to playing. I don’t have any handhelds like a Nintendo 3DS or anything. In fact, I recently loaned out my Wii, so the only Nintendo product currently in my home is my Game Boy. While it sounds promising, gaming on my MacBook Pro isn’t an option without some sort of investment in repairing its several issues, and I don’t have a PC (except work, where supervisors kindly allow me to occasionally download titles on Steam). Otherwise, I try to play the most-talked about Indie console games, and I play loads of the AAAs.

Last year, I was beyond excited for the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I hadn’t personally felt that level of internal excitement since Mass Effect 3. Prior to Mass Effect 3, I was pumped for Skyrim, as well as Fallout: New Vegas and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

There are plenty of other games I’ve been really excited about, but for those games above, I had that feeling like when I was excited for Christmas as a six-year-old, you know? The kind of giddy, pure excitement.

There are several common themes in that list above: all of these are giant, triple-A games. Two from BioWare, a couple from Bethesda, and a game from Rockstar. All of these games were varying degrees of a hot mess. To be fair, Mass Effect 3 wasn’t a total trainwreck, but it had major issues with mission-tracking, the journal was a disaster, and the end made some people mad.

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Mass Effect 3

I don’t think Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken, but holy cow I was let down by that game. I think it was a combination of a number of things – not being allowed to simply import the origins and stories from the first three games (the game requires us to do this manually online, as if I’m going to remember every single choice I made three years ago). I was overwhelmed by the size of it all, I was overwhelmed by upgrading armor and weapons, by meeting a new set of people, by understanding what the War Table is, etc.

I think I lost more sleep over Skyrim than any other game. It was so broken on the PS3. So, so broken. I managed to play it fine on the Xbox, and wish I would’ve started there first. I wasn’t able to finish Skyrim on the PlayStation. It simply didn’t work on that console. And they never really seemed to care. It still bothers me to this day. Bethesda released Skyrim about a year after the mess that they called Fallout: New Vegas, another game I couldn’t finish because it was so broken. Two broken games in two years (from different developers, but the same publisher). Inexcusable.

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Fallout: New Vegas

As far as GTA:SA goes, I had no interest in having a girlfriend, or any friends, and I didn’t want to eat food and exercise, because I have to do these things in real life. Those are all things I do not want to do in a GTA game. In GTA, I want to steal awesome cars and shoot things and find ridiculous ways to create insane explosions. I want to do those things because I can’t do them in real life. Seriously.

I was looking forward to LittleBigPlanet 3, and I finally picked that up last weekend. It’s been out for a couple months now, and it’s still a little bit of a mess. Playing with three other friends, we got booted out of the game frequently enough to mention it to you now, and the lag we experienced made the game impossible to play at times. I was disappointed.

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Little Big Planet 3

No doubt, I had unrealistic expectations for these five games, even six, if you include LBP3. It seems I finally learned a lesson with Dragon Age: Inquisition, because I can’t find it in me to get Christmas-Day-as-a-kid excited about anything coming out. Nothing.

I’m marginally excited for Bloodborne, Evolve, The Order: 1886 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Not nearly excited enough to pick anything up on launch day. I want to play these games, but I refuse to fall in love with them until I’ve spent time playing them. Think of it like a relationship, if you will. I’ll hang out with you, Bloodborne, but you cannot have my heart until you prove you’re worthy to have it. Same goes for the rest of you.

What are some of your biggest gaming let-downs, and in order to keep things more positive, what are some of your most pleasant gaming surprises?

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

It’s my birthday this week. No big deal. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other; that all ended about the time I hit 30. The only concern I really have now is what to do for it. Food and drinks? Nah, I don’t really like either of them. Skydiving or Zip-lines?  I can’t stand heights. Traveling to Europe or Japan? With what money? You see it’s kind of a chore to not only identify the desired activity, but to then shoehorn it into one weekend spread over a couple hours on those nights. Suddenly it came to me. While visiting my friend Val last week, I noticed his newly renovated front room. Gone were the chairs, gone the end-tables and glass-candy jars .What did I see in their place? Well, it looked very much like Val was ready to open a discoteche: It was one huge empty cube of open space. What’s more, it’s a slightly elevated room, so you have to step up and in. Throw a fog machine in there, a disco ball…rave till dawn.

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That’s when it hit me: I think its time for a dance party. If you think my friends roll with remixes of One Direction, Katy Perry, and Daddy Yankee, however, you’d be sorely mistaken.

When we talk the Charleston and the Hop, our backdrop is always set against ALL video game soundtracks. Here’s my DJ picks for our upcoming night on the floor!

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Listen: Satoshi Ise: Capcom Vs. Snk Soundtrack: This Is True Love Makin’

 Satoshi Ise and the Capcom Vs. Snk Series- This dual set of long-players that comprise this LONG-festering rivalry between Capcom and SNK remains untouched in terms of pure energy and high-gloss production. Time has done nothing to tarnish its relentless vitality nor slow its unyielding BPM’s. Composer Satoshi Ise’s tracks veer erratic: one moment, it’s Serge Gainsbourg, the next, all vapid fashion runway shows, the next diamonds and the Riviera… and the next a hands of stone, blood in, blood out fight club. Jarring, showy, and rightfully unapologetic,  Ise’s cuts of precious stone are pieces well worth their bonkers inflated asking price.

Choice Cuts:  Staff Roll: Master Mind, Naked Blow: Stage Of Sagat,

Real Eyes: Training Stage, Simulation: New York Stage, Wipe Out: Osaka Stage 1

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage/ Bare Knuckle Soundtrack: Go Straight

Yuzo Koshiro’s Complete Works Streets Of Rage/Bare Knuckle-   There is no other way to speak of Yuzo Koshiro other than in terms of a God. Koshiro was doing this sort of vicious and densely impregnable house music long before DJ’s in the actual club business could even fathom his most elementary two-track demos . Koshiro stands alone when it comes to vocalizing the epileptic pulsating lights of an all-elbows dance floor. What’s more, his anthems serve double the purpose, as they provide the backbone of Sega’s walking tall crime trilogy Streets Of Rage. Koshiro provides not only a definitive glimpse of a thrill at the turntables, but also encapsulates a moment in history post Reagan/ Bush administrations, post failed DARE initiatives, and post all extravagances of a decade from which not everyone had quite yet fully awoken.

Choice cuts: Never Return Alive, Alien Power, Fighting In The Street, Back To the Industry, Spin On The Bridge

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Listen: Konami Sound Team: Snatcher Soundtrack: Pleasure Of Tension

Konami Sound Team: Snatcher’s Pleasure Of Tension -  I will remain tight lipped about the Snatcher soundtrack as a whole, as I will be doing a full review sometime this year, but for any dance party I attend, we’re going to play Pleasure Of Tension. Half crowd pleasing fan service( ala Bauhaus Bela Lugosi’s Dead), and half an ample moment for all floor patrons to test their most bizarrely underdeveloped choreography. As with any gathering of this kind, someone’s going to do the robot…this is their window.

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Listen: Atlus Sound Team: Shin Megami Tensei IV Soundtrack: SDDS IV

Atlus Sound Team: Shin Megami Tensei IV’s SDDS IV - Last year’s numbered Shin Megami Tensei release carried with it a soundtrack so deprived and deficient of sunlight, that you’d not be faulted for thinking it was culled directly from the 1982 archives of an imploding Pornography era Cure. Atlus’s sound team brings fear to a crowd of flailing hands and feet: those who came for the line dances and the drink specials. There’s something wonderfully fatal about SMT: IV’s score: its compulsion to draw gasps is intricately tied to the spastic rhythms on its specified radio dial.

No longer anemic and now incorrigibly voracious , this is the Atlus sound played with full boss drum.

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Listen: Daisuke Ishiwatari: Blazblue: Chronophantasma: Sword Of Doom II

Daisuke Ishiwatari and BlazBlue: Chronophantasma’s Sword Of Doom II-At some point during this night, my friend Jorge will fall completely off the fence. Sure, he says that he’s fine, but you know…you just know that he’s not. For a while, he’ll rant still halfway, decently coherent and when he can no longer conceal his outrage, he’ll flat-out change the record that is playing. I’m not above requests, and BlazBlue composer’s Daisuke Ishiwatari and Galneryus play their guitars so completely elevated above their heads, it is amazing their fingers are still attached to the hands moving them.

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Listen: Le Castle Vania: John Wick Soundtrack: Red Circle

Le Castle Vania and John Wick’s Red Circle- While technically having nothing to do with videogames whatsoever, with a artist name like “Le Castle Vania”, one has to beg for pause. The track highlighted Red Circle even seems to pay homage to the old NES style of minute long music loops. You want the thing to play longer, but due to its limited capacity of memory…a minute is all you get. Just so you know, this also gives me the right to call my next band : The Le Phantom Pain’s. Yep.

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Listen: Konami Sound Team: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest: Bloody Tears

Konami Sound Team: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest’s Bloody Tears-  Speaking of Castlevania, I think this one is pretty much self-explanatory. I am talking about that last piece of the night, where people have stopped dancing and when all the food and drinks are gone. Long after the cake’s been served, ( I really hate to rhyme folks), but Jorge will be passed out on the lawn. That last moment of party revitalization: Bloody Tears.

I think it’s time to call it.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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I had a great time at MAGFest. I met great people, heard great music, went to great panels, and ate some delicious food in a beautiful city that was mostly warmer than my home.

I left Washington, D.C. Sunday afternoon, thankful to be well ahead of the giant storm (a storm with a much worse bark than bite). Each time I leave a conference or festival, I leave a bit more inspired than before I got there, and MAGFest was no exception. My praise is high, and even though I think my concerns are important, I don’t have many complaints at all.

My favorite part was the community of attendees itself, and that didn’t surprise me. As vicious as gamers can be online, they tend to be much nicer in person. If I have to be in a crowd of 15-thousand people, at least stick me in with the kind of people who say “excuse me” or “my bad” or “sorry about that” if they bump into you or inadvertently cut or take your seat or something. Largely, these are good people to be around for a few days.

My second favorite part was the arcade, because inside, I’m still that 8-year-old kid who wants to play Galaga over and over again. If you’ve never been to MAGFest, the arcade is insane. Huge and insane. And set on free play!!!!!!!!!!!! There aren’t enough exclamation points for that, seriously. I played arcade games I’d never heard of before MAGFest. Most of those machines are donated, which brings me to my next favorite part/s about MAGFest:

No sponsors! No corporations looming! Lots of free stuff to play! Super short lines, because there’s a lot of everything, and it’s open 24/7. This festival is seriously by the fans, for the fans.

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The music was, for the most part, fabulous. The sound systems, however, were abysmal. The sound was so bad in every single panel I attended, and every single concert or show I wanted to see, that it honestly was worse than I ever would’ve imagined. It never occurred to me, before I left town, to prepare myself for terrible audio at a festival designed to celebrate music.

Now, to be fair, it was in a convention center. But it was in the $870-million dollar Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, opened in 2008. How is that possible? I’m baffled how such a state-of-the-art, gorgeous, new, expansive, 21st-century building which exists, in part, as a convention center where audiences would presumably sit in large rooms and listen to people talk about things could have such terrible audio.

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Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

I understand why the concerts didn’t sound great. A rock band or a string quartet playing inside a hotel ballroom is always going to sound below average compared to an arena or a concert hall. It makes sense that the live shows didn’t sound great. They played in hotel ballrooms, for crying out loud.

Those panels were so frustrating though, even though they were all full of great content! I was encouraged by the amount of conversations I heard, in and out of panels, about copyright law relating to original content, parody and covers. It’s a great conversation to continue to highlight!

My final complaint was borne from the “Welcome to MAGFest” speech that happened in the afternoon on the first day. It was the first organized event I attended in my MAGFest history. It started with a man telling the audience that MAGFest started so many years ago one weekend with a bunch of guys getting drunk and talking about video game music, and he made a joke about how he thought MAGFest should’ve been called “A Bunch of Dudes” instead. I looked around the room to all the women, since there were loads of us, and thought, wow. What a dick.

Obviously, if I’d gone up to him and said something, he wouldn’t have meant it that way, I’m sure he’s a feminist, and that he supports equality and fairness in gaming, but he said it, whatever, it’s done.

Despite that, you should go. Go to MAGFest. You’ll meet great people. Washington, D.C. is cool, the food is great, there are a lot of wonderful things to see and great bands to hear, awesome merchandise to browse (haha! true!), and games to play. Go to MAGFest.

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Red Bull Music Academy. I had no idea who or what they were about until they recently aired a string of shows highlighting a slew of luminous game composers last fall. Did you catch this thing? You didn’t? My God. You have NO idea what you missed. It was a series called Digging In The Carts and it was comprised of 6 very meticulous, very high-end episodes. Particularly amazing is how much they managed to shoehorn into the allotted 16 minute time slot they were given. A show like this is just absolutely huge to those who celebrate the sounds of silicon, and Red Bull Music Academy is to be commended for doing the good Lord’s work. So rather than spoil it, which would be no fun at all, I will leave you to it. BUT wait!

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama : Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Good Morning

Okay, okay! Just let me talk about this one guy featured in it. It will be REAL quick. No spoilers either or my name isn’t Anthony. So Masashi Kageyama. Heard of him? I hadn’t either until the series highlight reel. Maybe, like me, you hadn’t heard the soundtrack to an old Famicom/NES  game called Mr. Gimmick. Certainly, I have extolled the values of 8-bit orchestration over and over on this very blog, but THIS guy…THIS guy, man, he’s CAPITAL, surpassing even the most celebrated saucier of the NES’s 2-channel NSF hardware. Watching his particular story and hearing his music, even for the small instant it is played, really, really stuck with me. There was something about him too: gentle, a very warm sort of  aww shucks demeanor. You want to go up to this man immediately after the show and treat him to really expensive everything, then praise him for hours, because when you hear the stuff he has done, that’s all you’ll be able to do. It is that incredible.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr Gimmick Soundtrack: Just Friends

 

I was fortunate enough to find Kageyama’s entire score for Mr. Gimmick  buried amongst the refuse of ads and obnoxious unboxings on youtube, and for the first time since 1988, I proceeded to capture Kageyama’s streaming audio on an old cassette tape recorder. I had no other options, no viable course of action. It’s not like I could walk into a Best Buy or Amoeba Music for that matter and pick up all of Kageyama’s discography. I was a 9 year old boy again, making the most of a bad situation, recording straight from the television. You all did it! Yes you did. So, anyway, I take the recording with me to school the next day, and start listening to it on the bus, of all places. It’s snowing (yes it snows in Texas), and that dichotomy of miserable sleeting ice outside against  Kageyama’s heartbroken yet obstinate trail of sunshine made that moment of sitting idly in that  bus something both resilient and sobering.

Then Sophia (Take 2) happened…

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack Sophia (Take 2)

 

Sophia( Take 2) is a rare experience. More importantly it’s the rarest of its kind among the particular 8-bit musical world it inhabits.  If it were left unsupervised, say the song (or entire Mr. Gimmick score) were to escape into the land of regular radio, it would stand  stronger than anything recently contemporary or exceedingly current in rotation. These compositions are beyond the superlative, and to analyze and assign them with values would be undermining their entire purpose for drawing air. Still though, one has to try, and Kageyama’s plaintive, dejected exposition on Sophia( Take 2) passionately details that spark of youthful infatuation as it brims over emboldened, then repressed, and then utterly defeated. Kageyama’s song-bird melancholy is gorgeous in spite of its injuries, and Sophia (Take 2) is a mournful masterpiece that manifests very real, very intense emotions. For me, It was SO acute and SO poignant that I lost it, right there on that bus. Now those of you that have read my articles know that I cry at the drop of a hat, so this might seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but I don’t know…these tears seemed ever the more gourmet. I didn’t care if anyone saw me either: let them see! This way, if they ask why, it gives me the impetus to introduce them to Kageyama. I thought it was a pretty fair trade off.  Dignity? What’s that? Who cares? Let the tears roll down.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Happy Birthday

 

Very few artists, constrained by the bit, have ever demonstrated such a capacity to truly emote, and touch their audience with their stories with such limited tools available to them. Kageyama seems like the type whose all embraces conversations and laughter, and when he plays, that warmth and affection comes through unfiltered and unimpeded. Kageyama’s earnest and gorgeously sanguine audio display exemplifies a sophistication and intimacy rarely seen in this genre, and it also stands as some of its very best.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Slow Illusion

While I will leave the rest of the blanks for Red Bull’s short films to fill in, I wanted to make sure you walked away with a larger cup of Kageyama’s wine to sample. He’s certainly one of the most important, yet seemingly overlooked, artists of that era.

Not anymore.

To get an even better idea about his works, please visit vgmdb.com

A very special thanks to Red Bull Music Academy for all their fantastic efforts in bringing the Diggin In the Carts series to completion. It couldn’t have been easy, nor without its very own set of near insurmountable hurdles.

Here is hoping for a second season.

Now please…by all means, enjoy the shows!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter

Sumthing Else Music Works today announced the worldwide digital release of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Original Soundtrack featuring the original score from the breathtakingly atmospheric first-person mystery game focused on exploration and discovery. Created by jazz and classically-trained Polish composer Mikolai Stroinski (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dark Souls 2 trailer), the game’s evocative music soundtrack will be available digitally from Sumthing.com, iTunes, Amazon and other digital music sites on January 27.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter soundtrack has garnered numerous accolades for its immersive and ethereal emotional quality including nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition at the 18th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards and Best Audio at the 15th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.

Describing his process for finding the musical voice for Ethan Carter, Mikolai Stroinski explains, “I’m a pianist. Through improvisation I was trying to come up with a central theme that would capture the story of Ethan Carter. I was planning on orchestrating it once approved. As it turned out, The Astronauts loved it so much they didn’t want to add anything. And so it stayed. If you listen closely to the melodic pieces from the score, you will notice that each one is a variation of ‘Ethan’s Theme’. It borrows either the melodic shape, or the rhythms or the distinguishing melodic intervals.”

Developed by Polish indie game development studio The Astronauts, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a “weird fiction” horror focused on atmosphere, mood and the essential humanity of its characters. With its mixture of a beautiful world with the haunting and macabre, the game is catered to immersive storytelling for adult players.

You play as Paul Prospero, an occult-minded detective who receives a disturbing letter from Ethan Carter. Realizing the boy is in grave danger, Paul arrives at Ethan’s home of Red Creek Valley, where things turn out to be even worse than he imagined. Ethan has vanished in the wake of a brutal murder, which Paul quickly discerns might not be the only local murder worth looking into.

Experience in non-linear fashion, a story that combines the pleasures of pulp, private eye and horror fiction inspired by writers such as Raymond Chandler, Algernon Blackwood, Stefan Grabiński, and H. P. Lovecraft. Explore and interact with the beautiful yet ominous world of Red Creek Valley, which was created with the use of revolutionary photogrammetry technology that allows for nearly photorealistic environments.

For more information on The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter visit: http://ethancartergame.com/.

So it’s still 2015, despite my constant attempts to write and type “14” everywhere. The advent of 2015 means some great festivals and conventions are coming up fast, like PAX South and MAGFest.

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I’m missing the inaugural PAX South in favor of MAGFest. I’ve never experienced anything like MAGFest before, to my knowledge, and I’m a tad overwhelmed looking at the list of possibilities.

It’s a long list, and it’s been a pleasure to comb through it and hear a ton of great music. Even though I spend a lot of time working with video game music, and speaking with people about it, I’m constantly impressed by the magnitude of the game music community.

First of all, I’m thrilled that Do a Barrel Roll will be there. These folks all came from McNally-Smith College of Music, which is right across the street from my workplace. I watched them perform live in November at Gamer’s Rhapsody, and they were flawless. Seriously. Their performance was incredible, as if we were listening to a studio recording. I’m still in awe of it all, and I can’t wait to hear them play again.

Regarding folks I haven’t seen perform – well, that’s nearly everyone else on my list.

I’m dying to hear SAMMUS and Mega Ran. Mega Ran has a pretty great recap of 2014 here, and SAMMUS hardcore rocks the Metroid in this track.

mega ran

How about a band that plays video game covers mixing styles of jazz fusion, funk and rock? Enter “missingNo”, a handful of instrumentalists from Vancouver, B.C. Here’s their record called Warp Zone. Be sure to check out “Stickerbrush Symphony”, and listen to the frickin’ bass player. Now that’s some amazing bass-ing. I’m pumped to see these folks play live!

Here’s a confession; I’d never heard of a visualist before I started digging into the MAGFest program. It seems there will be three there, and I’m going to try and check them all out. Enerjawn, noukon and SBthree are all visualists, combining art and music live. Sounds cool. I’ll report back for sure on these folks.

The Triforce Quartet is a video game-themed string quartet. They’ve recorded a bunch of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mario – nothing too surprising on the playlist, but I guarantee my ears will be begging for the lovely sounds these fine string players make by the time Friday night rolls around.

My biggest “OMG I CAN’T WAIT” show is Yuu Miyake, who’s the primary composer for Katamari Damacy. You can check out his SoundCloud here, but more importantly, if you’re unfamiliar with his Katamari music, go educate yourself as quickly as possible.

katamari

Others I hope to catch in concert include virt (Jake Kaufman, of Shovel Knight fame), On Being Human and the Super Guitar Bros. There will be dozens of other shows too, with dozens of other performers I didn’t mention.

It’s gonna be nuts. I’m bringing the recorder – not to record the shows, of course, but to capture as many conversations about game music as I possibly can. I look forward to sharing it all with you when I come back, or maybe I’ll see you there!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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