sumthing else

Insider Blog

If there’s anything really nice about the way the Internet is laid out, its that any one topic can lead you further into countless subtopics until you find what you are looking for.  I’m glad the tools are now available to become less passive in our consumption of media because it wasn’t always this easy.  See if you follow this…

I’ll start with racing games. I used to really like racing games.  I still do, but I guess I’m more of an arcade racer fan as opposed to the high-realism of the Forza’s and Turismo‘s that lead the pack these days.  That’s not to say I need to have weapons and crazy power-ups in my racers nor do I need their skill levels rubber banded to hell and back.  I just like the way that some racing games knew how to harvest the best mix of fun and skill and present it in a slick package with smooth visuals, responsive controls and a kick ass soundtrack that made you want to move.  I’m talking F-Zero, Wipeout, Extreme-G on one end and more towards “realism” are Need for Speed, Rallisport Challenge, and Blur.  I was going to cover a lot of cool racing tracks and albums but felt compelled to zoom in on one thread of the story and see where it took me.

I was a big fan of the Need for Speed titles.  I think I stopped playing when they moved away from exotics and prototype racing and into imports and the urban environments of their later titles.  NFS III had a special place in my heart in that it was the first racing game I played over a network.  Countless hours of being chased by cops or pursuing speeders or unlocking all the cool prototype cars and special pursuit vehicles. When Hot Pursuit 2 came out I was itching to crack it open, though this time I was playing on Xbox.  There were a lot of great licensed music tracks  in the NFS series and for the first time I didn’t bother flipping on the user soundtrack options in Hot Pursuit 2One song would stick out, get stuck in my head, and strike my heart like none other.

“Sacrifice everything you know…”
“Sacrifice everything you know…”

“Sacrifice everything you know…”

I would sing to myself unknowingly.  Who the hell is that?  Where did that come from?

“Dreams are seldom what they seem…”
“Dreams are seldom what they seem…”

Ok.  How did these fragments get in my head? The game lists them as “Pulse Ultra”, song: “Build Your Cages”.

NFS2

Great game.  Great soundtrack.

Internet is GO.  Did a quick search and found their website, forum, fan club, etc.  I just want to hear more!  Album name…”Headspace”.

Headspace

Now this was many years back before you could just YouTube up a music video or even buy the album on iTunes.  Real World is GO.  I went to my record store and started searching the bins.  Found it!  Six bucks.  Ok.

recordstore

Do you guys have a Google I can use?

On my way out the guy behind the counter tells me they are playing a concert nearby.  Pulse Ultra, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Chevelle.  That sounds pretty interesting.  I search for tickets, buy a pair, and take my brother to the show.  Pulse Ultra was AMAZING live, great energy, solid presence and super talented.  My eyes are fixated on the guitarist who is putting on a frenetic and contorted display of strumming and fretting.  This guy is having a blast and it is translating into the crowd.  Great show.  First time seeing 30STM and Chevelle as well, but… well, they weren’t in Need For Speed, were they?

in concert

So I bookmark their website and keep checking for updates.  Word of a new album soon.  Yay!  Meanwhile the NFS series isn’t keeping my interest the same way it used to.  I move to Rallisport Challenge and find myself adding a lot of Pulse Ultra to the customizable playlist.  Any news?  Anything to report?  No album.  No band?  They’re breaking up?  Poo.  Double-poo.  I start lending out Headspace in some kind of last ditch effort to drum up support, but it doesn’t matter.  Pulse Ultra is no more.  Shame too, I could tell so many great things were to come from them in the future.  I stop checking the website for any more rumors, I just let it die.

Now I’m actually a fan of some of the members’ new projects, Alone Architect and The Chronicles of Israfel. Alone is more electronic, ambient, and progressive while The Chronicles of Israfel is a bit of virtuoso guitar playing against complex compositions, its a concept album actually and its sequel is soon to be out.

Alone ArchitectChronicles

You see, you can let a game soundtrack affect you if you’re open to it.  I guess this goes with any piece of art, but I let that game slingshot me from admirer of a song to seeing them live to following its members post-band projects.  How many other great things and adventures are out there to be discovered when we stop becoming passive consumers and start owning our experiences and be willing to dig a little further?

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Tony Porter holds a degree of science in Audio Engineering with extended studies in Game Development. He is currently an audio engineer at n-Space in Orlando, FL and has produced or managed audio for numerous games such as Skylanders Giants (3DS), Square/Enix’s Heroes of Ruin, the portable Call Of Duty series for Activision, and the BAFTA nominated Great Big War Game among dozens of other titles across all platforms.

Of course, I love video game music.  I listen to it all the time, and I’m always looking forward to collecting and hearing more.  I even have some favorite composers. (Wall and Kyd, hi!) Oddly enough, I think everyone should listen to it even if they don’t play video games.  Video game music is not just enjoyable, but it’s also a conversation starter. And usually, that conversation starts with, “What are you listening to?”

I’ve heard that question a bunch of times from my parents and others who don’t play, and when I tell them it’s from a video game, they are always surprised. The fact is, many people still look down on video games as an entertainment medium and an art form.  Although I would disagree with those who would dismiss them, a lot of people still think of the earlier arcade games (Pong, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong) when they think of video games.  It can’t be helped, I suppose.  Video games came onto the scene, and people who weren’t interested didn’t study their evolution that closely.  Sometimes, it simply takes hearing a violin or a piano to make those people wonder what they’ve been missing.

pong

Steadfast public perception circa 2013

Culturally, every new music form that emerged from the ether was rejected by the previous generation (not unanimously, but still).  What I always found interesting, though, is that orchestral music is always universally accepted and validated.  Don’t get me wrong – not everyone likes or appreciates classical music, but only the most elitist of listeners have ever found certain types of orchestral music to be vulgar or unworthy.  People even still associate it money, further substantiated by the formal dress of both the players and the audience at live events.

At some point, however, video games managed to turn that stigma of formality on its head.  I will certainly not deride the early era of MIDI-generated music.  We all know that some of the most memorable video game melodies come from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras.  But as soon as video games started moving onto formats capable of holding CD-quality music, developers and sound engineers started approaching composers for their soundtracks if they didn’t become composers themselves.  I remember the first time I heard the theme to Myst III: Exile, which starts quietly and unassuming but turns into a choral masterpiece in one fell swoop.  Although I appreciate what the Rand brothers came up with for the previous two games, it was the first time I rummaged through the OGG files in the game’s directories to find what I had just heard.

mystiii

It happened again when I heard the “O Fortuna”-esque “Liberi Fatali” at the start of Final Fantasy VIII, and again at “Subterranean” on the Lorenzo’s Soil level of Earthworm Jim 2, and so on and so forth.  Games started appealing to my own musical preferences.  There was a time when I would basically need a violin, a piano, or a choir to be enraptured by a musician’s work, all of this spearheaded by an obsession with early Tori Amos albums.  When the previously absent orchestra started to pop its head into my games, I started whispering to myself, “I have to have that.”  And when I started playing it aloud, my parents would start inquiring about what I was listening to because they were unaware that I had any appreciation for orchestral music.

finalfantasyviii   lorenzossoil

                              “Fithos…lusec…”                                                               Groovy.

I think that in many ways, music was the first piece of the video-game-as-art acceptance puzzle.  Graphics were still behind, with “realistic” imagery being reserved for CGI cutscenes and the like.  Storylines have been strong for decades, but many people weren’t willing to play to experience them.  This is a sad statement about art in general, though.  Frankly, from my experience earning an art degree, the common determination if someone is a good artist was based on his or her ability to render an object or a person in paint as photorealistically as possible.  Renaissance artists are often regarded as masters, while the moodiness of Italian Baroque, the titillation of Rococo, and the social commentary of Pop Art go unrecognized.  With this strange cultural prejudice in mind, it’s not surprising that it’s still video game music that I find turning heads before any of the other amazing elements that comprise video games.  It can most closely resemble what people consider good even on a subconscious level.

On that note, I’m happy to be liberated of such nonsense.  I can look at artwork and consider what it’s saying more than how well it represents what I already know.  In fact, what I already know is boring compared to what people can imagine and the myriad ways they find to express it.  Game makers are continuously finding new ways to express and challenge the status quo, and I like that music could be part of the gateway into that.  Check out the recently Grammy-nominated soundtrack to Journey, composed by Austin Wintory.  It is an undeniably moving and straightforward soundtrack coupled with an abstract metaphor of a game.  And it is a step towards people understanding what we’re talking about.

journey

Purchase the Journey soundtrack here

I’m OK with music being an “in” because it’s a universal language, perhaps the only one video games are required to speak.  I’m compelled to refer to a professor I had in college, Phil Orenstein.  He once told me that any medium I use to create art should be used in a way unique to that medium.  For example, do things with paint that can’t be done in photography or graphic design.  Video games have really been doing that for years, which may be why they can be so polarizing.  They aren’t trying to be another medium because their hearts are all about interactivity.  So let the music be the pied piper that beckons the people, I say.

Little known fact: Phil Orenstein invented the inflatable chair.

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Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer. When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences. He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).

There are so many ways to ruin a game.  Music, of course has never ruined a game for me, since we can control volume levels in game music these days, but bugs, glitches, incoherent stories, terrible graphics?  The list goes on.  And sometimes, it’s the cinematics that ruin games for me.

Such is my experience with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.  I bought the game several weeks ago, but saved it until yesterday.

I was ecstatic (which should totally have an ‘x’ in it, by the way) to see the art by Studio Ghibil and to hear Joe Hisaishi’s score.

Let me be clear: these aspects are better than I could’ve imagined.  I adore Hisaishi’s music in this game.  And the art and visuals never ceased to amaze.  I caught myself with my jaw open a lot, gazing at the beautiful environments in Ni No Kuni.

I honestly cannot remember how many hours we played yesterday (I let a PS3-less friend take over control).  But I can guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that we actually interacted with the game far less than we sat there and watched cinematics or read instructions.

I. Do. Not. Have. The Patience.

Ni No Kuni 2

Is it, Drippy?!  Is it really?

I want to play.  Perhaps because I didn’t get to play games when I was a kid (my temper was too awful). Maybe that’s why, when given a controller, I just want to… well… USE IT.

Not long after I moved to the Twin Cities in May, 2008, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots came out. Had I ever played MGS anything before? No. Let that fact influence this next part however you wish, but I loathed every single second of that game.

It had eight hours of cinematics, with one lasting more than one hour.

And when it won game of the year, and loads of other awards, I thought, what’s wrong with me?  More appropriately, I could ask, what’s wrong with game ratings?, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog that I’ll probably never write (hmmmmm…).

I’m so, so sad about Ni No Kuni. I was really looking forward to playing it. But now, when I think of playing it, I feel slightly resentful, as if some ex of mine wants to have lunch or something.

Ni No Kuni 1

“Ahhh!  More cutscenes!”

But every cloud has its stupid silver lining, doesn’t it?

Well, the silver lining in this baby is exactly what I hate about it. The lengthy and numerous cinematics gave Hisaishi’s music plenty of opportunities to shine.

And his score is brilliant.

Hisaishi’s music isn’t background, it’s foreground support for the tale that unfolds. The ever-so-adept Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra plays flawlessly, and it’s such a treat.

I don’t mean this as a backhanded compliment, but the score is wonderfully traditional. There are plenty of soaring melodies that are easy to sing along to, and Hisaishi uses the colors of the orchestra so very well.

Listen to “Morning of Beginning”.  In many ways, it’s reminiscent of Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Mood”.  It’s a piece Grieg wrote as incidental music (music that accompanies or supports) for a play named Peer Gynt.

Loads of traditional classical composers wrote music like this – music that supported what was going on up on the stage.  Not in the sense of opera, where there are singers performing the story; more like talking plays with soundtracks.

The best part about game music?  We can enjoy it even if we don’t necessarily enjoy the 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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

It’s Mother’s Day, the one just past, and I am buying ice cream with my family inside a gas station.  Never mind that this is El Paso, Texas; never mind that that but ten paces away I can also buy corn in a Styrofoam cup, and if waffle cones aren’t what I am craving… there’re also Menthol cigarettes, bags of spoiled fruit and knockoff Hostess… something called Gansito.  Never mind all that, because the real problem here is that this will be considered an outing.  A filling station that dispenses soft serve is not to be trusted, but the lure of the local circular’s coupon was simply too much for me to resist.  This is supposed to be a special day somewhere, and here we are at the Stop and Get.  Mom doesn’t seem to be holding it against me, but I know once everyone’s daily journal is written, there will be reference to the undeniably economical uncle, the degenerate brother, and the son who brazenly took his mother to a place for dessert where bathrooms require a key tethered to grime-covered woodblock for entry.  Living this one down won’t be easy.

Gameboy ninja

Would you want to play this?

So what’s my point?  Well this whole event reminded me of how I have always felt about handheld gaming devices, I hate them.  These ridiculously bantam machines make feculent the sumptuous, revelatory home console experience; this is verboten, this is defilement.  Cavorting with new game software is a private moment; it’s celebratory and should be treated with ritual and liturgy: the box free of cellophane, faint wafts of acidic varnish coming off the manual, as the loading screen erects both pagoda and false idol, promising religious epiphany and absolution to be contained within.  Rules apply here, outdated or otherwise.  I am a fan of the antiquated, and liken cartable gaming versus home gaming to that of blue jeans and the Victorian corset. Jeans never fit me right, and I rather prefer the form fitting embrace, the clasp of that corset.  And if I am to wrench, eek myself inside it… If you please, shut the door.

Gameboy ninja 2

Wouldn’t you rather be playing this?

This hatred has been longstanding.  When Nintendo’s Gameboy launched in 1989, I grimaced.  I was staunch in showing no support and heckled those who seemed to find solace in its half-inch, nonexistent screen, its gurgling sound card on the verge of irreversible collapse from the moment a single noise emanated from its hollowed, blown speakers.  This was the stuff of off-brand superhero toys, flea market close-outs.  Except everybody was buying it.  What’s worse, they bought these games, games that felt like their code found birth inside a junior high computer literacy class.  The ability to string together 0’s and 1’s to make a smiley face does not credentials create.  Success happened though: big franchises found numbered sequels, new IP sprouted from its tendrils.  My own brother-in-law had that original Gameboy, such betrayal, reaching Tetris’s kill screen over and over and over until one day, the burdened, compromised machine’s knees gave out.  But I spent the preceding two decades completely avoiding all portable devices.  I was happy being disconnected, a curmudgeon lying low in my impenetrable ornate palace of unwieldy, elephantine Amiga and Neo-Geo machines.  If the hardware’s housing and engine weighed less than Ununoctium, I bid it find shelter elsewhere.

Fire Emblem

You have chosen wisely!

Then about a month ago, my friend Jorge shoved his Nintendo 3DS XL into my hands, going thesis on its features, unyielding in his fanaticism.  Something you have to know about Jorge: he’s a genius.  Not like your friends telling you their children have genius potential, or people that claim their own, Jorge IS actually a genius.  What’s better, his sagacity fails to hobble his social skills making him neither introvert nor irked Poindexter.  He literally takes atomic physics by day, and plays League Of Legends all night.  So when he speaks, I listen.  As my own brain can barely process infantile block puzzles in Resident Evil 4, I figure I could learn something.  His ultraist zeal when speaking of the 3DS tasked me with the idea for procurement.  Then he let me play about a minute of Fire Emblem Awakening, and that’s all it took.  Years of decalescent stand-off ends amidst Twizzlers and peep-show demo.  Weeks later the full surrender came in writing.  I now spend lengthened lunch hours at work desperately fortifying my units in Fire Emblem, as these guys die permanently if you’re not careful. There is marriage in the game: unbeknownst to me you cannot wed a Mage and Pegasus Knight, that union just equals bastard children… And if you’re wondering how the pit-stop ice cream turned out…. We ended up at a Baskin Robbins, next to a place called “Aqui Es” and by all accounts, that apparently means they sell jeans.

Aqui Es

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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.

 

So, I’m flipping through some old PC games I own.  Most are either incompatible with current OS or too scratched to install properly.  More troubling, I notice a lot of the “multi-disc” games are missing discs.  I see a lot of Disc 1’s and Install Discs but no Disc 2’s or Play Discs.  Where did these go?

I look through another binder: music CD’s.  I start shuffling through and I come across Outcast Disc 2.  Oh!  That’s right.  I yanked a lot of the game soundtracks from my game binder and moved them to my music binder.  The binders themselves are a bit antiquated these days, falling apart.  I used to keep all games and music CD’s in their cases or boxed up on shelves for display and easy retrieval.  Only took a few back-to-back pack-up-and-moves to give that idea up and shove ‘em all in binders.  But these weren’t really “soundtracks,” were they? A quick history…

Redbook audio is any audio stored on an optical device that is “streamed” through the hardware for playback.  It’s the same definition for all CD’s and, for a while, games began to include the music in this format for a number of reasons: it saved on install footprint, allowed higher fidelity “uncompressed” music (and cutscene audio sometimes), and was CPU friendly.   The disc would usually have a Track 1 that was only Data, some identifier about the disc volume and perhaps some other instructions relevant to the game.

What this meant was that you could yank that CD and pop it in a boombox, skip track 1, and enjoy the game music outside of the game, in your car, at work, or wherever.  If you poke around the net you’ll find people’s lists of games that allow you to do this, though most are Playstation games and let it be known… I’ve never owned a Playstation 1, 2, or 3. I’m sure I’ll do a blog on that later, no worries.  ANYWAYS… This was great because at the time game soundtracks were pretty much non-existent in the commercial world, so you couldn’t really bring the music with ya.

I’d say my first “love” in this regard would in fact be Outcast, that voxel-friendly haunt of the mid-90’s that was super ambitious, immense, and failed to play consistently on any machine.  Some things looked great and others were smudgy 3D objects, depending on the angle and depth at which you viewed them.  What was beautifully consistent was the epic soundtrack penned by Lennie Moore.  Others would hear it and want to know what movie it was from.  Oh, it’s this game called Outcast, you should check it out…etc.  Hey, cross-promotion going on!  You can’t buy that kind of word of mouth.  It’s such a shame that most game soundtracks won’t receive a proper release.

619898-outcastjewelcase

Take a listen!

I often found myself listening to a soundtracks far after I was done playing the game.  Total Annihilation, composed by Jeremy Soule, serves as one example.  The sweeping orchestral front of this music was the heart and soul of the game.  Just hearing it makes me want to find my install disc and download whatever patch or driver it is that will enable me to play the game on my current machine.  I’m not very good at RTS’s but this music always gave me the spirit to try, to excel.  Why not bring it with you to the outside world?  Maybe it will help you glide through traffic more gracefully, swing into tighter parking spot, or learn something about love.

Total_annihilation

Get Annihilated, give a click

Fortunately, the one that sticks with me the most was the first to make the jump to modern listening devices: Quake II.  The original Quake’s soundtrack was amazing, but it’s hard to just pull it up and go about your day with its dark ambiance shambling in the background, mucking with your subconscious.  Quake II, however hits hard and fast with an industrial metal edge that will rock, shock , and razorwire its way through your mind.  Sascha Dikiciyan (aka “Sonic Mayhem”) is responsible for that landmark in game music, and the advent of Redbook audio in games helped permeate its presence among gamers.

250px-Quake2box

Here she is…

There are tons more games I could list here.  They don’t really use Redbook audio in games anymore.  Current game media typically have plenty of storage (outside of cartridge based systems) and audio codecs have improved so music can play at unnoticeable levels of compression with very little impact on CPU.  And as hard drives keep getting smaller and cheaper, we won’t be dealing with physical media very much longer anyways so… time to rip these discs once and for all – once a novelty and wondrous discovery, now just trivia.

Good music, though!

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Tony Porter holds a degree of science in Audio Engineering with extended studies in Game Development. He is currently an audio engineer at n-Space in Orlando, FL and has produced or managed audio for numerous games such as Skylanders Giants (3DS), Square/Enix’s Heroes of Ruin, the portable Call Of Duty series for Activision, and the BAFTA nominated Great Big War Game among dozens of other titles across all platforms.

Blackwell, Primordia and The Shivah Soundtracks Available on Sumthing.com

New York (May 14, 2013) – Sumthing Else Music Works, the premier label dedicated to licensing and distributing video game soundtracks, today announced that it has entered into a multiple-title licensing agreement with indie video game developer and publisher Wadjet Eye Games. Under the terms of the agreement Sumthing Else Music Works will license Wadjet Eye Games’ catalog for digital release on www.sumthing.com, Amazon MP3, iTunes, and other digital music services.

The deal announced today with Wadjet Eye Games includes the following titles:

The Blackwell Convergence Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Thomas Regin

The Blackwell Deception Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Thomas Regin

The Blackwell Legacy Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Peter Gresser

Blackwell Unbound Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Thomas Regin

Da New Guys Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Chris Moorson

Primordia Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Nathaniel Chambers

The Shivah Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Peter Gresser

Resonance Original Soundtrack
Music Composed by Nikolas Sideris

Founded in 2006, Wadjet Eye Games has developed a reputation for producing award-winning and critically acclaimed adventure games for the PC. The company’s award-winning portfolio includes The Shivah and the Blackwell series, both of which have garnered Game Developers Choice nominations, Puzzle Bots, which was selected for the Penny Arcade Expo’s PAX 10 showcase, and IGF Student Showcase winner Gemini Rue. Wadjet Eye Games is located in the East Village, NYC. For more information, visit www.wadjeteyegames.com.

My first love has always been classical music. Maybe cats. But probably classical music. A runner-up would be video games. I feel like I got pretty lucky once games started recording orchestral soundtracks.

I remember the first time I heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. I’m talking about the entire symphony, not just the first four notes or whatever. I’m talking about the super-awesome part between the third movement and the fourth movement, which happens without pause (a rare occurrence at the time). So the third movement goes BAM right into the fourth… and the entire time up until that moment, we’re in this dark, minor, serious place. But that fourth movement absolutely bursts with triumph and valor and courage, in C major and all its glory, and I thought, this sounds like movie music.

And every single time I hear the final movement of Beethoven’s 5th, I think of the imaginary scene that that music conjured in my mind in that moment more than 20 years ago.

This sounds like movie music.

For a while, I was a film soundtrack junkie. Randy Newman’s score for The Natural was one of my favorites, and that led me straight into the arms of Aaron Copland. John Barry’s Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves led me to Ralph Vaughan Williams and Jean Sibelius.

Fortunately for us in 2013, we also have game soundtracks to lead us into classical music. And I love classical music for many of the same reasons I love playing games – it takes me somewhere.

Here are some pieces I often think of when I’m playing games.

sheet music long

Gustav Holst – The Planets (1914-1916)

When Holst finished writing The Planets  in 1916, Pluto hadn’t been discovered (or subsequently demoted to a dwarf planet) yet. And Holst was fascinated by astrology, which makes a difference in understanding how he put it together. Since astrology studies the impact of planetary bodies on our own Earth, Holst didn’t write a movement for it. That leaves seven planets, therefore seven movements, each of which had a subtitle indicating its astrological character.

Like Mars, the Bringer of War. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. Mercury, the Winged Messenger, etc.

Each movement has a unique character, inspired by these subtitles. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger” features really fast scales up and down the orchestra. “Mars, the Bringer of War” is perhaps the most famous movement, in the unusual and unsettling time signature of five beats to a measure – lots of drums and brass… because war, that’s why.

“Neptune, the Mystic” not only featured an offstage female choir, but was one of the first pieces to feature a fade-out ending.

In many ways, Holst took musical paradigms and over-exaggerated them, or maybe he just perfected them. Regardless, The Planets will rock your world.

I think of The Planets so often it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific soundtrack. Tomb Raider by Jason Graves comes to mind, mostly due to the grandeur of Graves’s score.

Also hear: Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations

 Tomb_Raider_Cover

Available Now!

Ralph Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910)

I mean, seriously. This piece. Just… just listen to this piece. Vaughan Williams was great at capturing one word into music – lush. Interestingly enough, Vaughan Williams was doing what many composers at the turn of the 20th century ended up doing – looking backward with the future in mind.

If that makes sense.

The theme Vaughan Williams used came from 16th century composer Thomas Tallis, but VW gave it the 20th century touch by writing it for a massive orchestra. Strings only, though; no brass or percussion parts in this one. The Fantasia is written for two orchestras plus a string quartet.

Normand Corbeil’s score for Heavy Rain is reminiscent of this style of composition.

Also hear: Maurice Ravel, Mother Goose Suite

 

George Crumb – Black Angels (1970)

For any budding numerologists,  Black Angels will keep you busy for a time. Unless you just look up the answers on the Internet, I suppose.

Normally, I’d be really into the structure of a piece like Black Angels, but I’m more taken by the way it sounds.

And it’s kinda terrifying.

Written for electric string quartet (yep), the piece also requires the players to play gongs and crystal glasses. There’s chanting, too.

It’s an amazing example of the texture and color you can get from just four people, and if you like Garry Schyman’s BioShock scores, you’ll like George Crumb’s Black Angels.

Also hear: Krzysztof Penderecki, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

crumb1“Needs more gong.”

Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

The Rite of Spring changed music forever – actually, the anniversary of its premiere is right around the corner. The premiere on May 29, 1913 is famous itself for the riots that broke out in the audience, mere seconds into the performance.

Just listen to it, and tell me if you don’t think it sounds like a pagan sacrifice of a virgin. Probably would’ve freaked me out in 1913 too. In addition, he used a lot of weird instruments people weren’t familiar with, like bass trumpet, contrabassoon and alto flute.

If you like Russian music, listen to (German) composer Boris Salchow’s score for Resistance 3.

Also hear: Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet

 Resistance_3_Cover

Click here to purchase

Ottorino Respighi – The Pines of Rome

Respighi hit this one out of the park. He actually wrote two other pieces about Rome, but we mostly don’t care about those (Fountains of Rome and Roman Carnivals). Not that they’re bad, they’re just not as absolutely frickin’ perfect as Pines is.

Epic comes to mind when I hear this piece. It’s really epic. And the end… oh, man. The end of this piece is SUBLIME.

Respighi really was great at just about everything. One of the things composers admire about him was his ability to write just the right melody for just the right instrument – he was an excellent “orchestrator”.

Inon Zur wrote a great score along these lines for a less-than-great game called Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

Also hear: Respighi, Ancient Airs and Dances Suites 1-3

To avoid overstuffing you, I’ll stop for now. But give yourself the luxury to listen. Take the time to listen. Let the music take you on a journey.

sheet music long

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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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

FUSE

Composer Boris Salchow (Resistance 2, Resistance 3, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time) swaps his baton and orchestra for Moog synthesizers and rare vintage audio processors as he reunites with Insomniac Games to score their new sci-fi video game FUSE published by Electronic Arts. FUSE thrusts players into the roles of four elite, covert agents each with their own Xenotech weapon and set of unique skills used to fight to protect mankind from a deadly alien energy source known as FUSE. Salchow’s original score blends analog electronic elements, adrenaline infused drums and musical sound design to provide a foreboding and rousing sonic landscape for FUSE’s dark futuristic setting and intense co-op action experience. FUSE will be released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on May 28 in North America and May 31 in Europe.

German-born composer Boris Salchow is classically trained but just at home in the electronic music world. Combining these two worlds he began his scoring career writing commercials, promos and prime time television series for leading networks in Germany. Now based in Los Angeles Salchow has composed for feature films and video games including the internationally-released action thriller 80 Minutes, additional music for Elsewhere, and additional music for the Sony/Screen Gems’ teenage horror mystery Prom Night. Salchow ‘s music can also be heard in Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Sony’s Resistance 2, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time, and Resistance 3. Salchow continues to write music for commercials, promos and trailers for some of the most prestigious brands in the world including Adidas, Audi, and Lamborghini.

Recently Salchow scored the feature film adaptation of the award-winning documentary series Germany From Above (Buena Vista International) recorded with a 70-piece orchestra and mixed at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin. This visually stunning film is comprised of breathtaking aerial shots of Germany. With only a few words from the narrator, the movie provided a unique opportunity to take the audience on an inspiring musical journey befitting the film’s grand scale. Germany From Above premiered with a special event at Germany’s largest movie theater, where Boris’ 90-minute score was performed live along with the film. For more information on Boris Salchow, visit www.borissalchow.com.

FUSE is a four-person co-op, story-driven, action game that allows even solo players to experience the unique attributes of each agent by using the game’s LEAP feature – a feature that can be used to switch the player between the four characters at-will during combat. Each covert agent is equipped with unique skills and weapons that are not only necessary for survival, but also help create unexpected and extraordinary results. Xenotech weapons are powered by a volatile alien substance that gives players unique capabilities that expand their strategic options in and out of combat. Through lethal teamwork, players can complete objectives and kills to earn Fuse points for powerful upgrades. Players can also play online or offline and level up along unique character paths, allowing players to unlock more powerful Fuse-driven abilities as the game progresses. In addition, the game’s progression system is unified between different play modes, allowing players to continue improving their agents regardless of how they play. For more information on FUSE, visit www.fusegame.com.

This week, I have chosen three vastly exceptional musical themes found in fighting games.  Why fighting games?  The answer is simple: Fighting games – it’s what I do.  Why three?  Well, I might lose you after say, 1,300.  I figured best to keep it short.  Here goes!

3. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 : Cave Stage – The pearlescent jewel of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, with no shred of doubt, lies in the soundtrack’s use of dive-bar-open-mic-amateur-hour largesse.  Every successive number turns its once-jovial patrons gentle mockery into a clamoring Mephistophelian Bronx cheer.  Its dented saxophone, its directionless, garbled marimba all hit a startling plateau as Cave Stage re-imagines Jean Auel’s Clan Of The Cave Bear with Carly Simon adrift on ice sheets and yammering to a disembodied, upside-down, two-foot mystic.  Simon’s consummate forte of howling through apartment windows is usurped by stalactites and muscled, costumed deformities.

Marvel vs Capcom 2

2. Persona 4 Arena: Heartful Cry -in Mayonaka Arena – Shoji Meguro’s musical deconstruction of rickshaws and his addition of random Japanese businessmen to breakfast cereal rarely speeds anywhere.  Meguro is happy to let its narcotic drip parade you hazily around.  Under his laws of technicolor state, it makes sense to pronounce man and head of cabbage married.  Meguro knows, once you taste his bowl of exquisite boiled hair clippings, you will never want to return to your garish, bromidic existence of responsibility.  Heartful Cry fecklessly rams pedestrian and crossing guard, bulldozes through houses of worship, and throws you in front of its scalding tires.  Good thing you decided not to wear your cleats.

Persona 4

1. Darkstalkers Vampire Savior: Red Thirst– For the most part, Mexican novelas, to a non-native Spanish speaker (myself), lack sense and clarity.  Like using an oven in place of a card table, letting finches fly about your bathroom un-caged, or laminating filthy bed sheets, you’re constantly wondering what it is you’re looking at, and why they are all so distraught.  Take for instance the telenovela Bendita Mentira.  In its overwrought 90-second opening, we are treated to nothing but images of smoldering candles and incessant choral blustering.  The show begins: there are lengthy scenes in the house sitting room, then the kitchen, then back to the sitting room, but where are the candles?  That’s what makes it all so brilliant; it leaves you wanting that wax.  Good news if glimpses are what you crave, because it’s all Vampire Savior composer Tatayuki Iwai provides.  Still though, Tatayuki is bold in taking his yellow porridge mix to the wall, splashing its monochrome color against sheetrock in the hopes of capturing the essence of Egypt, even though it appears he’s only seen the Pyramids and Valley Of Kings through library microfiche.  Through weighted scrutiny and laborious tinkering, he arrives at his opus finally saying aloud: “Well there are some bricks.”

Darkstalkers

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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.

I had an enlivening experience this week.  I put a potential gamer and a good game together to create a match made in heaven.  May their experience forever be bliss.

I’ve written before that the idea of getting non-gamers to enjoy video games involves getting past that whole “game” part.  Whereas other forms of art involve more esoteric forms of challenges, video games embody an obvious one.  Regardless, I don’t act defeated.  Despite every person who laughs when I talk about my favorite thing to do, I always look for that single drop of curiosity – that twinkle in the eye.  Maybe it requires an extra modicum of watchfulness that other gamers do not possess or are not willing to maintain, but you wouldn’t believe how many people find themselves suddenly interested.

On Sunday, I had some friends over, and one friend out of the blue mentioned that he’s been playing “Mario.”  After some mild questioning, I managed to suss out that he meant Super Mario Galaxy. He expressed that he found it interesting, but it was just too tough.  That is not particularly hard to fathom. Suddenly being tasked with controlling a being in a 3D environment while avoiding obstacles can be very overwhelming.  Personally, I did not make the transition very smoothly.  My experiences with Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were downright hilarious.  Regardless, I asked my friend if he liked the game, and he confirmed it but lamented that games, as an entity, seemed challenging.

supermariogalaxy

I’m already disoriented.

My gears instantly began to work. I did not want to lose this one.  So I got to interviewing him about his particular interests.  I completely understood what he found challenging. Starting your gaming interest with Super Mario Galaxy or other games like it is like being given a jet and being asked to fly it. It’s intimidating (and could result in death).  First, I explained to him what a platformer was.  While this kind of explanation could bore someone wholly uninterested, I knew it would help him on his path to true video game enjoyment.  I asked him if he liked the idea of playing more games like that, which he did. Then, to see where we could take this, I asked if he’d like something deeper with a story or more thinking involved, which he did.  In my mind, this could lead to other good platformers, but it could also leads to traditional RPGs where the majority of the challenge is in thinking as opposed to execution.

What could I give him that would be a positive experience?  I just recently finished Okami (for the fourth time) – the game is beautiful and wonderful and fun and…no, it’s too much.  The first thing to consider is the buttons.  One thing my friend said was, “There were just so many buttons to learn.”  Let’s not forget that the vast majority of people who don’t game last remember playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System or even an Atari.  In terms of in-game functionality, we’re talking one or two buttons and a directional pad or stick at most to beat a game.  On the Playstation 3, for example, most games take full advantage of the Dualshock 3 pad, which involves two analog sticks and 16 individual buttons.  Don’t even get me started on motion controls that are often shoehorned in.  Alright, Okami‘s out.  What’s next?

Okami

Deceptively serene. 

I don’t own a Wii, so I couldn’t give him a classic game to play from that bygone era. I’d have to turn to indie games!  They focus a lot on platforming and very simplified experiences.  My first thought was Outland.  Again, this might have been because the game is so darn beautiful, but it had another element that I thought important – it starts simple and becomes progressively more challenging.  Moreover, it involves a lot of puzzle solving.  However, Outland also posed a problem. It gets challenging kind of quickly, and executing the solutions to puzzles involves quick reflexes and, you know, button mastery.  No, that one won’t do.  Why don’t I just give him Ikaruga and open the window so he can jump out?  Ugh.

Ikaruga

…No.

So I sat with him on the couch and looked through what I had downloaded already from PSN, and while scrolling, I hung for a few seconds on LIMBO, before moving further down the list just to see. But my friend asked, “Wait. What’s LIMBO?”  It all clicked then, and I launched the game and gave him the controller.  LIMBO is perfect because it does something many games don’t do. It actually teaches the player how to play modern games. So deceptively didactic, it works like a charm. It had the beauty of Okami and Outland (and a million other amazing games) and it had the progressively challenging gameplay that Outland features, but it lacks the immediacy with which one would feel inundated from a first-person shooter like BioShock or a wild adventure game like Bayonetta.  LIMBO”s story is also more simple and approachable than an RPG, at least in terms of trying to hook someone in under an hour.  I’d hate to make a friend sit through a promising 20-minute cut scene only to be overwhelmed and die during the first battle.

Outland

Not for the faint of heart.

I don’t know that all experiences with introducing a non-gamer to a game can turn out so fortuitously, but he was hooked from the first minute.  The mood, the environment, the mystery about what is going on all lured him in, and the simple gameplay held his hands steadfast to the controller.  What LIMBO does differently is that it starts with a boy lying in a field who does nothing. The game doesn’t tell you to do anything, and it’s clear that out of some frustration, you’ll become tempted to start tapping buttons. Tapping X opens his eyes.    Tapping it again moves him a little.  Soon, he is standing up.  OK.  Now what?  This stick seems to move him, but I’ll fall down that ditch.  One of these buttons has to do something to go over the ditch, right?

So it goes until you reach a point where you absolutely need to grab something and move it with you in order to proceed.  Then, there’s a point where your solution is not further right; it’s actually back where you came from to the left. Sometimes, you’ll hear a sound you never heard before, and because you keep dying, you’re inclined to investigate it.  Don’t get me wrong. In terms of quickly digesting the experience, LIMBO isn’t perfect.  At one point my friend kept trying to float across a pool of water on a box that get dropping him, causing him to drown.  Eventually, I asked him what the definition of insanity was.  I tried to be absolutely subtle and as minimalistic as possible in my hints.  As much as I believed he could figure most of it out on his own, I wanted him to feel nothing but progress on this journey that we were actually taking together.

LIMBO

Fitting first steps.

My friend doesn’t own a video game console to play LIMBO, but when I revealed that it’s available for Mac, he was excited all over again.  That’s something else to keep in mind.  Don’t introduce people to games they’ll only be able to play at your place, especially if you don’t see them that often.  Make them want to go home and continue.  Give them the tools they need to feed the passion themselves.  Also, don’t be too dismayed if your friends don’t instantly change their lifestyles to meet yours.  That will probably never happen.  Although it sounds condescending, like a child, you must only encourage.  Everything that happens from there will make you prouder.

The next day, I told my boss about my experience, and he called me “some sort of video game matchmaker.”  I like that.  It’s a role I constantly try to play, and I consider success maintaining someone’s interest while I talk.  The moment I convince someone not to dismiss gaming is the moment that turning him or her onto games becomes possible.  I will leave you with these tips from this and other different experiences.

  1. Focus on the person’s own interests.  I’d love to show people the brilliance of Asura’s Wrath‘s over-the-top battles and L.A. Noire‘s facial mapping, but I have to remember that the setting, the gameplay, or both might be unappealing to someone who likes science fiction or puzzles in the newspaper.
  2. Use your knowledge of games to ask questions.  You can’t shove a person into any game.  Bring up gameplay concepts and genres to see what even tangentially catches his or her fancy.
  3. Have a diverse library of games, or know how to access one easily.  Frankly, if all you play are first-person shooters or real-time strategy games, your collection could be alienating.  Get to know games you aren’t playing to help this along.
  4. Think a suggestion through.  This is related to the above tips, but it really pays to consider if someone who hasn’t touched a controller since 1983 can handle 3D movement and trigger assignments.
  5. Make the person play the game.  You and I may love watching people play games, but you showing the game off is not the same experience.  You’ll never find out if it’s the right or wrong match if you play it in front of your friend.  Nobody’s watching your fingers.
  6. Don’t be afraid to try something else.  I get it.  The game you chose is amazing, but your friend has a glazed look over his eyes.  Move on.
  7. Recommend something accessible.  If your friend only has a Mac or a work laptop, the latest AAA blockbuster either won’t be available or won’t work.  Don’t ignore the tons of games that are available and do function.

What about you, The Reader?  Have you ever had an experience turning someone onto games for the first time?  Do you remember someone getting you into them?  Maybe you have some tips to share that I glossed over.  Leave me some comments!

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Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer. When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences. He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).

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