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I tend to think I’m a much stronger interviewer than interviewee. I feel more comfortable asking the questions than getting asked them. Feel free to read into that as much or as little as you’d like.

I have a track record of traveling roads less traveled by women than men. I played trumpet nearly non-stop for 20 years – I could give you highlights all day about being a trumpet player who also happens to be female. I’ve been stuffed in trash cans and punched in the stomach because I was ‘better’ than the boys; I found myself in a precarious situation once when I showed up for a ‘special’ trumpet lesson to a teacher in a robe who wanted to give me a back rub. I was 16 years old.

And of course, I love games and talking about games. But let’s get to the point.

A word of advice, to anyone who ever interviews a woman in a ‘male-dominated’ field: never ask them why there aren’t more gals in the field. Never, ever ask a woman why more women aren’t involved in a certain field. I’ve been asked this many, many times.

When I’m asked that question, I instantly judge you for one of two things. Either a) you failed every single history course you ever took, or b) you can’t think of any better question to ask.

What do you expect me to say? Right now, if you think of an answer to that question, what pops to your mind? Why do you think there are fewer female composers, for instance?

Since much of the music you like grew from the world of Western classical music, we can briefly observe from that perspective.

One of the most famous female composers in the classical world is one of the oldest composers on record in the history of music – a woman named Hildegard von Bingen. Check her out; she had an interesting life. A long one, actually.

Fanny Mendelssohn published some works under the name of her brother, Felix. Clara Wieck Schumann had a fairly substantial output, given the societal expectations of a female in the 1800s. And there are many others, believe me. But for centuries, women were actively discouraged from composing music.

Well, women were actively discouraged from doing many things. So, ask me your question again?

But it’s different now. Women aren’t (supposed to be) discouraged from doing things. Because, over time, we’ve learned that in most instances, it just doesn’t matter. I want the world to not give a shit that a composer is a woman. I want that woman to be considered a composer, not a female composer.

In an equal society, nobody would care what gender anyone is at all.

Let’s set one thing straight: I am, indeed, a feminist. I believe in equal rights for women. That means I’m a feminist. And if you feel women should have equal pay and all the nice things that come with equality, then guess what, you’re a feminist too.

But I don’t appreciate calling attention to something that needs no attention. If you think it is remarkable that a woman is a composer, or a trumpet player, or a gamer, then you clearly think very little of women.

My two cents.

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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 the final day of high school, and I am sitting at a German bakery around the corner from my house.  It’s early and my friends are sleepily sitting hunched over coffee.  We’re looking out on an empty parking lot, shaking our fists at our old elementary school literally sixty paces from where we are sitting.  Joy’s contempt for anything that stumbles into her cone of vision complements Claudia’s inability to pronounce the vast majority of the International menu, now she’s mumbling incoherently about rye bread.  Heather has overslept; she’s on her way, but shortly we will be fishing car keys from the dash, how come I don’t carry hangers?  Jenny has decided not to make it to the glittering ribbon cutting, that final bell. She’s asleep and laughing at all of us through her sheets; she‘s been doing so most of the previous week and we‘re all jealous… But our lockers are already empty, and we have said our goodbyes to most everyone. This morning is the last time we will ever gather in this way.  Before the end of this weekend, I will sign stringent contracts with the rest of my future, bet much too high on the wrong horse, and Frank Sinatra’s much rumored, exaggerated death will actually cease to be hearsay: He’ll be dead in less than 48 hours.  Worldwide karaoke bars instantaneously swallow the cyanide capsule tucked beneath their molar as uncles, hobos and the mass proletariat attempt “My Way” in a round.  The Year is 1998.

Fast forward a couple years: my friend Jessica is leaving for Denton; we have talked Zelda and  video games over a counter for a couple years prior to her departure.  We both carry this bizarre sense of staccato dancing  as a way through life’s everyday mishaps.  If the house is on fire, we look for soap to put it out; if there is paper on a table, she will draw sauntering platypus and I will make origami Michael Jackson.  Paints represent undiscovered country… When she leaves I send her random pieces of mail for the first week of her Denton occupation, covered with bananas doing push-ups or the like.  Point being that on each of these occasions, I am not alone.  I am surrounded by friends, people I love. These are singular instances and something I feel the need to protect.  Persona 4 understands these particular granules of time (high school and friendship) to their smallest, finest pellet.  If not cradled closely with both hands, it runs the risk of becoming frivolous and utterly demolished with the inevitable passage of the languishing hours.  The boredom, frustration and losses that one sustains is enough to render the above described and any amount of goodness to watery paste, a contaminant.  It becomes something to be wiped away.  It’s where Persona stands resolute: Your memories, companions – they can balance on its shoulders above the tide.  Please hold hands.

While I drew great pleasure from each one of Persona 4‘s anxious flat-footed congregation of characters… Chie Satonaka in particular garnered striking resemblance and comparisons to the four ladies of whom I just spoke.  Chie is in fact all four women wrapped into one petite forest-green windbreaker.  Closer inspection under glass: I even find Jessica’s friendship bracelets.  So when Chie and I first met in Persona 4, I was overcome, immediately close to her.  There we were: me on the park bench half asleep as she entertained the notions of her fictional martial art… her partiality to noodles and impeccable comic-timing.  She doesn’t feel the need to saturate a room with her presence, no need to irritate with vocalises, there will be no impromptu performance of Loch Lomond.  She’s intelligent, quiet, has empathy, pets, loves children, and she’s gorgeous.  Walking around with her reminds me of the embarrassing  contents of my 7th hall locker: syrupy poems, love letters I will never deliver, and thirty count boxes of cassette mix-tapes, their job to communicate, yet thinly veil my true feelings… Being in love, being 16, lunchtime in a crowded van and failing Geometry.  When staring out on Persona 4’s Sawmegama flood plain with Chie, I am reminded of someone/s….err…..names come to mind, but these are merely my first few months with Chie, um…Joy, Heather, Jenny, Jessica, Claudia….……Time passes.

Something happens though with Chie about thirty hours into the game, where I was actually driven to tears.  Remember Persona 4 is a dungeon crawling, turn-based role-playing game, each member of your team takes a shot at trying to KO the game’s assorted enemies: miniature slimes, Golgotha demons and twelve headed Harpsichord minions.  You’re not always going to win, and frequently you will be knocked down.  This particular turn, my light magic failed (or whatever), and in turn the possessed water bearer (or whatever) flattened me to the concrete.  I am dizzy, and if I am hit again the game is over and with it about an hour’s worth of progress. Then out of nowhere… Chie comes over to my character to help me up, asks me if I am okay, and extends her hand.  This is important, as Chie has just become human.  This moment, it’s so gentle, I can feel the weakness of my character, his feeble trembling fingers being enveloped and steadied upright by the strength of this girl’s tiny, wiry wrists.  Her voice carries over pollution, over the blinding track-light, muting all inherent danger.  Chie is a strength I cannot myself attain.  Loyalty can merely bind you to some people, but love can cut through the draining sibilate of deadly white noise.  I rise back to my feet.

The game progresses further another 30 hours.. It’s me and Chie in my character’s room. My avatar has just asked Chie to be his girlfriend, so here we are, presumably listening to records as Chie fumbles through objects on my shelves.  She visibly tenses, then blushes, telling me finally that she loves me… my simulated character I mean.  But.  It’s the way she delivers the message: its vowels and consonants loose, and delicate. It’s no longer the work of a voice actor, someone hunched inside a cramped studio booth giving her life… it’s Chie, my friend, the girl I have relied and leaned on this entire time.  There is no need to search for words, or contemplate an answer, I need her and perhaps however faintly, she needs me too. Wiser men would walk away, but we got Joy Division on the stereo here, and Chie?  Well she’s wrapping my arm with this bracelet.  I’m not about to move.  Would you?

Thing is, the flash of this event… it’s about much more than the silly business of dating.  It’s the creation of a compact, a resolution to protect one another.  Chie’s actions here completely shed Persona 4 of its layers of immutable, glacially written computer code, moving beyond it to create the permanence of a memory, the imperfect yet blameless gravity of friendship, the give and take: If the other has no lunch money, you order two plates of Foie Gras; if one is failing in Biology the other steals the exam and re-transcribes your notes.  It’s placing yourself, embedding your heels center and head on with calamity and affliction, for the better of the person gripping your hand, shielding them, unknotting their palpable fear.

Chie Satonaka reminds me of everything my friends are to me.  Their characteristics, their sentiments effortlessly relayed through Satonaka’s timbre and strength of broadcast.  It’s uncanny.  This single artificial construct embodies their heart, compassion, and the ceaseless strobe of their glimmer, something without equal, non-negotiable and permanent.  Satonaka was there to remind me that I’m not alone, and I will never be….

In anticipation of the June 4th release of the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Vocal Tracks) Vinyl, Sumthing.com blogger Geno Anthony caught up with composer Jamie Christopherson to discuss the making of this face-melting soundtrack.  Be sure to pre-order your vinyl here.  Preview tracks and purchase the digital album now at Sumthing.com!

Geno:  You know… I have to say…. Since the score for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was introduced into my daily life a few weeks ago, it’s all I listen to.  I am constantly late for work, taking all manner of scenic routes just to hear “Red Sun” one coveted last time before having to clock in.  You have indoctrinated me.  What was your first initial plan for scoring Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance?

Jamie Christopherson:
I definitely aimed to write solid songs that would accompany the gameplay perfectly, but could also easily be listened to on their own outside of the game, so I’m really glad to hear that you’re having fun driving around to the music (while your boss must not be as pleased).  Once you hear the songs play during the boss battles, I could only hope that if you hear the music away from the game it makes you remember that battle all over again – and subsequently want to pick up the game to play again!

Jamie Christopherson

Geno:  This is a bold score with lots of vocals, a generous helping of them.  Let’s talk about those vocal tracks.  Do you find it difficult to write songs for others to sing?  Is it hard to give an artist creative control over pieces you have written?  Do you sing?

Jamie Christopherson:
We basically wrote and produced a whole album worth of vocal songs for the game (13 songs).  The songs were written without any of the singers attached to them, and then we had auditions to find the best suitable singer for each boss song.  We chose the singers based on the natural quality of their voice and signature style, and we wanted them to sing the boss songs as they would on their own albums, with as minimal acting required.  The biggest exception to that was the track “Red Sun” which actually started out with more of a power metal style vocal.  But we changed that on the spot while recording the singer Jason Miller, who had such a great low evil tone that we couldn’t resist.

Geno:  What do you see as being the central musical piece in Rising?  Which tracks did you have the most fun working on?

Jamie Christopherson:
Actually there is a short and simple “Raiden” central theme that happens quite a lot in the score.  You can hear it in the opening menu for the game and throughout many of the cinematic cutscenes.  That theme also appears in a version during the song for the last battle with Armstrong, called “It Has to Be This Way”.  I had the most fun working on the songs that required a lot of collaboration; for example working with Logan Mader on “It Has to Be This Way” and “Collective Consciousness”, as well as the many talented co-writers on the end credit song “The War Still Rages Within”.

Geno: “Return to Ashes” is a great example of the type of cadence, the forward motion you feel while playing as Raiden.  It propels Raiden at his enemies, charging them.  It’s caustic, like a vortex sucking all fluids from your body starting with the saliva in your mouth–there is a palpable dread in it.  Do you think this sort of momentum could have been achieved using a more traditional symphonic approach?

Jamie Christopherson:
We purposefully chose to transition to hardcore heavy metal / electronica during intense battles for exactly this reason, to increase the intensity and momentum.  Many of the stages have orchestral background music actually (albeit there are electronic elements), so if we kept orchestral music going into these more intense battles I don’t believe it would have had the same jarring effect.  It was a thin line that I had to walk between adding extra energy and still sounding like other parts of the game.

Jamie Christopherson

Geno:  “The War Still Rages Within”, “The Hot Wind Blowing” and “Collective Consciousness” are quite emotional.  While they may wear heavy armor, they ache at their core.  These songs, along with “Dark Skies” and “Rules Of Nature”, start to form a complete story arc.  Did you approach these vocal tracks as a chance to tell Raiden’s story from another perspective?  Did you feel any sort of attachment to Raiden’s character after the recording sessions wrapped?

Jamie Christopherson:
All of the boss battle songs are written from the perspective of the boss.  So while there are certainly many similarities in character traits between Raiden and the other bosses, it wasn’t intended to be about Raiden.  The exceptions are the lyrics in “It Has to Be This Way” where the line is blurred between Armstrong and Raiden, and the end credit song, “The War Still Rages Within”, which can be considered Raiden’s anthem.  Living with Raiden for such a prolonged period of time I certain felt a connection to him and to “let ‘er rip”!

Geno:  Where do you usually get your best ideas for compositions and songs?  Anything in particular you like to do before heading into a studio?  For “Rising”, were you given visuals and storyboard materials to draw inspiration from?

Jamie Christopherson:
Fortunately, I was able to see some early video and pictures, which isn’t always the case.  And I had the background information on Raiden and all of the bosses, which was really detailed and in-depth.  Kojima Productions and Platinum Games had some very clear suggestions on where I might find inspiration for the lyrics for the songs.  For example, many of the boss names refer to different wind conditions in parts of the world, so I would research those to get lyrical imagery for the song.

Geno:  High tension and relief must be a difficult thing to repeatedly score.  Rising’s “caution”, “evasion” and “battle” suites are particularly strong.  They are referred to as “Ambushed” and “Ambushed Low Key”.  Do you put yourself into the protagonist’s shoes?  Is it simply a matter of combining a number of pieces into one cohesive blueprint?  It feels like you’re on the battlefield, band and orchestra literally inches behind, stalking, watching.

Jamie Christopherson:
It is a challenge to constantly keep the game player on their toes and alert in a game, and music has a big part to do with that.  If you are intense (or repetitive) the whole time you run the risk of the player pushing the mute button on the remote, and if you are too boring or quiet then the player won’t be engaged enough.  On this game it really helped that the developer would tell me very specifically what scene (including music I’d previously written) was going to come before and after the one I was currently scoring.  In that way I could make sure I could take a bigger picture approach.

Geno:  “Domestic Scars”, “Black Sea” and “The Other Face Of The City” have a mixture of rock and international music.  It has many layers, and through repeated listening I keep finding things I hadn‘t heard before.  Was it difficult to merge these elements and stay true to both influences?  By the way, you have these absolutely gorgeous, subtle guitar lines in all three tracks.  I took a plane and three trains just to make sure you knew that.

Jamie Christopherson:
Thank you for noting those nice guitar lines!  I did mix in some ethnic instrumentation for certain sections of the game, based on what it looked like to me.  Of course, these are all fictional places so I kind of had to use my imagination and come up with a sound that to me was futuristic, exotic and familiar.  That’s the great thing about writing music is that you can blend all of these things together to form a completely new sound altogether.

Geno:  You were tasked with both the in-game compositions as well as the vocal tracks. Were these works done concurrently or was one half-completed before the other? Was there anything particularly challenging about either part of the project?

Jamie Christopherson:
The songs were started very early on and took the longest amount of time to complete.  But I was working concurrently on both the songs and the in-game score up until the very end of the process.  The songs were the most challenging because we wanted to really strike the right balance and blend between many styles, in doing so we wanted to come up with a completely original style that hadn’t really been done exactly in that way before.  So there wasn’t much of a blueprint, which turned into a great thing in that we had to feel our own way in the dark for a little bit before coming out into the super bright light.

Geno:  Rising is something that would greatly benefit an audience by being played in arenas and clubs.  It has everything it needs to go on tour.  Tell me, do you have any additional live performance plans?  To that end, do you prefer live performance over studio recording or vice versa?

Jamie Christopherson:
We did have a live show for the launch of the game in Hollywood.  It was a lot of fun and the fans there were really into it.  But rehearsing the band and getting multiple singers together for a performance definitely requires a lot of logistics and time.  These songs are very complicated to perform live (especially for the guitarists)!

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

Pick up the MGR:R vinyl right here!

Geno:  Your name carries with it a wealth of musical projects–you compose music for television, film and video games.  When did you first start playing music?  What instrument did you start with?  Is there an instrument you don’t like playing?

Jamie Christopherson:
I don’t play guitar that much, which served as a unique challenge on this project because all of the songs were guitar driven.  So I found some great keyboard virtual instruments that emulated guitar enough to allow me to write quickly and legitimately.  But then we hired real guitar players to perform the parts for real.  I’ve been playing music pretty much my whole life.

Geno:  Would you say you’re more of a Pac-Man or Galaga player?  Or are you more fond of side-scrolling games like Double Dragon?

Jamie Christopherson:
Galaga!  Gotta make sure your first ship is caught in the tractor beam.  :)

Geno:  Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Christopherson.  We at Sumthing look forward to your future projects with wild anticipation.  Is there anything else you would like to add, or tell our readers about before you head back to the studio?

Jamie Christopherson:
Thanks so much for your support of the Metal Gear Rising game and soundtrack!

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

 The Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance vinyl is available now for pre-order, releasing June 4.  Digital album available now!

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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’ve been planning this blog for days – seven of them, in fact.  Originally, I was going to talk about how I felt about the Xbox One reveal last week.

But then this found its way to my inbox overnight.

sheet music long

For one day in September in London, you can learn about writing music for games from Jesper Kyd, Martin O’Donnell, Jason Graves, James Hannigan, Joris de Man, Richard Jacques and John Broomhall.

The event is called Game Music Connect.

And before you complain about it being in London, let us not forget that our UK brethren are some of the most passionate gamers in the world.

Anyone with an interest in creating game music is welcome to attend Game Music Connect. It’s not even cost-prohibitive.

I had an opportunity to take part in a similar event on a smaller scale here in St. Paul, Minnesota, in April.  It was mind-blowing for several reasons, not least of which was the absolute enthusiasm with which Jason Graves and Lennie Moore shared their insights.

I’ve had many conversations with lots of different game composers, and their devotion to explaining what they do, how they do it and why they love it is such a breath of fresh air in an industry wrought with secrecy.

Lest I forget to mention, not only will there be composers dishing out advice, but a slew of audio directors will be present as well.  Paul Lipson, Alastair Lindsay, Steve Lord, Nick Laviers and Adele Cutting are also there to share their wisdom.

Anybody wanna go to London in September?

This is way more interesting than my Xbox One insights anyhow.

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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.

Game Music Connect

A-List Composers and Audio Directors Announced For Debut Symposium Event at Southbank Centre, London on September 9, 2013

Featuring the Maestros of DESTINY, HALO, TOMB RAIDER, ASSASSIN’S CREED, DEAD SPACE, HARRY POTTER, KILLZONE, LITTLEBIGPLANET, MASS EFFECT, COMMAND & CONQUER

Game Art Connect Ltd presents a new live event series, Game Music Connect created for fans of music in games, aspiring and professional composers of all backgrounds and those interested in learning about the art and science of creating today’s cutting edge video game soundtracks. Featuring interviews and roundtable discussions with some of the world’s leading composers and audio directors in the video games industry, the first Game Music Connect event is scheduled to take place at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London on September 9, 2013. Tickets for this unique edutainment day go on sale today via www.gamemusicconnect.com.

The premiere UK event series dedicated to celebrating and exploring the craft of video game music, Game Music Connect will host a distinguished line-up of British and international A-list composer talent featuring Martin O’Donnell (Destiny, Halo series), Jason Graves (Tomb Raider, Dead Space series, Resistance: Burning Skies), Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed series, Hitman series, Borderlands series), James Hannigan (Dead Space 3, Command & Conquer series, Harry Potter series), Richard Jacques (Mass Effect, James Bond 007: Blood Stone, LittleBigPlanet 2) and Joris de Man (Killzone series) – and will be hosted by composer, audio director and commentator John Broomhall (X-COM series, Transport Tycoon, A Christmas Carol).

Leading audio directors from both independent and major developers and publishers include Paul Lipson (Composer and Music/Audio Director – Microsoft Studios), Alastair Lindsay (Music Production Manager – Sony Computer Entertainment Europe WWSE), Martin O’Donnell (Audio Director/Composer – Bungie Studios), Steve Lord (Head of Audio – Jagex) as well as freelance audio directors Nick Laviers (Dead Space 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations) and Adele Cutting (founder of SoundCuts and former EA Audio Director).

The day’s programming will comprise of in-depth discussions with these celebrated composers and audio directors, including insights into their diverse career paths and scoring experiences as well as practical demonstrations of interactive music and previews of next-gen original scores. The day will feature a composer panel exploring the evolution of video game music and a philosophical discussion of the art form and its future. Full details of the day’s sessions, involving a mixture of composers and audio directors, will be announced in the coming weeks.

Game Music Connect is created by BAFTA award winner and five-time Original Music nominated composer James Hannigan and veteran game audio director, composer, sound designer and industry commentator John Broomhall, to celebrate and explore the music of video games and the extraordinary talent behind it. Game Music Connect micro-events are also in development to spotlight individual composers’ careers and key works.

For more information and to register for Game Music Connect, visit www.gamemusicconnect.com.

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.

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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.

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