Monday, May 1, 2017

Aspects of Japanese Modern Musical Culture That I Find Appealing and Unappealing

In my last post, which was a review of Strawberry Illuminati's Hilton Fountains album, I discussed the aspects of the album that I found appealing and unappealing.  I thought it might be a good idea to create a kind of expandable list of things that I find appealing and unappealing with regards to modern Japanese visual and musical culture, as I feel that the country has a lot of unique aspects that often go unexplored.  I'll probably continually update this post in the future or do new posts about new elements as they come up, but for now, here's a few aspects of Japanese artistic culture in modern times that I either find appealing or unappealing.


Musical Chromaticism
This is a very important aspect for me, as it defines a lot of Japanese music that I listen to.  This has a bit more to do with music theory than any actual or specific timbral or visual stimuli.  I think that this love for chromaticism is very reminiscent of Joe Hisaishi's compositions and the Japanese minimalist movement as a whole.  Lots of Japanese songs use either secondary dominants or passing tones to give them a very chromatic and satisfying flavor.  Some great examples of this would be in Joe Hisaishi's work, the Storytellers theme in Getsu Fuuma Den, the ending theme of Arkista's Ring, and many, many other Japanese songs.

Bossa Nova
This is also an aspect that I find to be very appealing.  Bossa Nova was a very popular genre of music in Japan during the 60s and 70s.  Honestly, some of my favorite songs are Japanese Bossa Nova tunes.  This popular influence can be noted in many Nintendo works, such as the wii music, Animal Crossing, and many other non-nintendo-exclusive works.

References to Traditional Japanese Visual Styles
I think that pre-western Japanese imagery is very distinctive and interesting, and I like references to such imagery in modern culture.  Images such as temples and other elements of traditional Japanese imagery and color rules are very appealing to me.  A lot of the imagery from LSD dream emulator definitely feels this way, along with, of course, Getsu Fuuma Den.


Tr-606 Use
While its cousins, the tb-303 and tr-909 became staples of American techno music in the 90s, the tr-606 remained popular only in japan.  Due to its cheapness, ease of use, and relative availability in japan, the 606 was used by many techno and electronic producers throughout the 90s and early 2000s.  This manifested itself in very many experimental electronic albums and songs, branding the 606 a very well-known auditory image in modern Japanese musical culture.  I simply don't like the way it sounds, however.  Notable example are the Katamari Damacy soundtrack and literally almost very piece of Japanese experimental techno music.

High Attack, Acoustic Triangle Waves
To be honest, the reason that I don't like these is simply because they give me the creeps.  The two most notable examples in my mind are the snow world the in Yume Nikki and the rainy day theme from Animal Crossing.  These two pieces strike me as very eery and without much feeling, so maybe my dislike for this particular sound is associative given the fact that I usually like the sound of triangle waves.

Studio Ghibli Mimicry
This is another aspect that I don't really like about a lot of Japanese culture.  While I don't think that this is a huge issue, I don't really like it when other productions either, try to create something similar to the imager of Studio Ghibli films, or try to offer something in its place that doesn't have the same grasp on imagery.  I think that Breath of the Wild represents the Former and Makoto Shinkai's films the latter.  I feel like the main aspect of Studio Ghibli's imagery is its intensive attention to detail, which I think clashes with the vastness and focus on variety in the new Zelda game.

Strawberry Illuminati- Hilton Fountains Review

The album that I'll review today is Hilton Fountains by Strawberry Illuminati.  While I don't find all aspects of this album particularly appealing, I suppose that that's part of the interesting thing about vaporwave as a genre of music.  It's not all supposed to be appealing.  The genre takes the unappealing aspects of music, specifically corporate music from the 80s and 90s and further expounds upon the visual and auditory qualities that come with such stimuli.  I hesitate to use the word aesthetic to attribute any part of this music to, as it may sound rather contrived, but as a whole, the genre of music certainly has many fundamental aspects that define it and boundaries which it often works within while sometimes breaking.  Anyway, now that that short introduction is over, here's the actual review of the music.

1.  Fountain Shimmers
This is a rather creepy introduction.  I can hear pretty faintly in the background some sad almost classical piano music.  However, overlain over it is a kind of ambient drone.  This gives off a kind of eery effect.  The piano music is very sad sounding and nostalgic, while the ambient drone sounds familiar, perhaps reminiscent of some Aphex Twin ambient track or something.

2.  Spotlights
This is a sort of sad vaporwave song.  It's very downtempo kind of and just sounds like a sad wandering song.  It's not incredibly appealing to me, but I do think that it does a great job of setting up a very specific atmosphere.

3.  Walk
This song probably has the most interesting chord changes.  It has a very cool bassline and interesting synth kind of keyboard parts in the background.  It's songs like this that make me wish that I better understood the instruments used in songs like this.  The background keyboards sound so interesting and fluid.  However, unlike the DX-7 electric pianos, they don't have a huge famous context with which to identify.  In the end, it's just another forgotten sound relevant to only a few select corporate mall tunes.  The vibe melody on this seems kind of out of place, but I think that brings out the strange and misplaced nature of this whole album.

4.  Touch
This song feels a bit cinematic to be a vaporwave song.  It consists of one looped sample of a piano, a choir sound, and a few drum sounds, ending with a short melody of a clarinet or saxophone or some other instrument.  This seems more like it would be a video game theme or something that would play during a cutscene than actual muzak.  However, I also think that this is part of the appeal of this and of vaporwave in general.  It's an outsider perspective of a trend which never manifested itself in any kind of community during its prime of societal use.

5.  Moonlight Rendezvous
This one of the shortest songs on the album.  It sounds very dark though, somewhat like something that would be heard exclusively at night.  While a lot of songs- not specifically on this album- give off the image, to me, of streetlights, this song is most reminiscent of the absence of such light.

6.  Cold
This one is very interesting to be honest.  More so than lobby or hotel music, this one has a very fitness club kind of feel.  I think that this associative connection is mainly because of wii sports.  The sine wave bleeps and bloops combined with muzak elements, tr-606 drum beats, and DX-7 pianos give off a particularly Japanese fitness club vibe.

7.  Haze
This track probably gives off the most classical vaporwave sound of any of the tracks on the album.  It's dissonant horn melody that loops and winds over lush, forbidding strings, almost gives off an atmosphere similar to something from Blade Runner.  I think this is one of the most atmospheric pieces on the album and definitely one of my favorites.

8.  Silk Sheets
This song also sounds a bit like wii music.  It definitely has a very building kind of crescendo to it that sounds very nice.  It's honestly one of the more uplifting pieces of vaporwave that I've heard.  While I feel that many of the vaporwave songs that I hear have an almost apocalyptic foreboding nature to them, this one seems rather hopeful.

9.  Romance and Love Flowers
This songs starts off with a very cool sounding electric piano sound.  After that, piano and drum parts get introduced.  I think that these are pretty defining features of the album as a whole.  This songs is atmospheric and has a rather nice feel to it.

Overall, I like this album a good amount.  While there are definitely aspects of it that I really enjoy, it's not something that I find very appealing, which is no fault of the album.  It's simply a subjective matter.  The overall image this album has is a cross somewhere between traditional mall music and Nintendo wii sports music.  Overall, I think that this album, while it might not appeal me personally, definitely accomplishes its goals and is probably one of the most well-put together pieces of vaporwave I've ever heard.  I'm glad this album exists.zfvao

Prog Rock and Chiptune Music

I had originally planned to write a review, along with some interesting facts, about Aphex Twin's piano works.  However, due to my lack of ability to find any new or interesting information aside from a few facts already known to most hardcore fans, I embark now on my next big project, which has to do with a few connections I've noticed within the realm of video game music.

Prog Rock and Chiptune Music

As a child, I often grew up listening to music by Disasterpeace, who did the music, at the time, for the Glyos System Series games and other media, but is most widely known now for his work on Fez, It Follows, and Hyper Light Drifter.  However, when I listened to him in middle school, none of these had been released yet, so I was confined to his earlier works.  Many of his early works have a very prog rock-ish feel, as is the case in Atebite and the Warring Nations and in The Chronicles of Jammage the Jam Mage.  Actually, those two albums are welded together in a broader philharmonic universe the Richard Vreeland created that I believe also has connections into another of his albums, Neutralite the Hero.  The second person that I believe is relevant to this discussion is Tim Follin, a much earlier video game composer.  Follin was not incredibly well known during the heyday of his compositional output, mainly due to his working on games the either were very obscure or never attained much popularity at the time of their release.  However, Follin has recently received a fairly large cult following of people who listen to his old game soundtracks religiously.

The thing that I find most interesting about these two composers is the close correlation with prog rock in their chiptune music.  In Tim Follin's case, probably the best example is the title theme that he wrote for the NES game Solstice.  While this starts off as a very normal song, it quickly gets very crazy and prog rock-ish.  Actually, the music on this game is incredibly extraordinary for the NES.  It's crazy arpeggios following the beginning of the song must have been incredibly taxing both for Follin to compose on the NES and for the NES itself to run.  The overall complexity of the song and its huge length must have also been particularly challenging.

The huge similarity that I see between Follin and Vreeland is in their musical upbringing.  Both of them admit to having been very big fans of prog rock as they grew up, with Vreeland and Follin each citing numerous prog bands as incredibly instrumental in their musical upbringing.  This definitely contributed the prog rock kind of sound in their music, I think that the other element that factors into the use of such a sound would be genre.

In the case of each artist, their most prog rock-esque tunes were used on mainly fantasy albums.  I think that this is an incredibly important factor to consider.  The main reason for this, in my opinion, would be associative elements drawn from the composer to the project worked on.  There is a very associative correlation between progressive rock and fantasy, with many prog bands having huge inspiration in stories such as Lord Of the Rings and other manifestos or high fantasy imagery, story, and world building.  With this conclusion having been reached, it's interesting to look at the role that a composer plays in changing the overall tone of a work of art, specifically video games, due to his or her own preconceptions and notions about what the game should sound like.

One example of this that I think almost directly contradicts Follin and Vreelands' observations about the fantasy games and projects they worked on would be the soundtrack for the NES game, Wizards and Warriors, specifically the Music Intro.  While Follin and Vreeland each saw the fantasy elements of the projects they worked on as having to do musically with prog rock, the composer for Wizards and Warriors took the medieval theme of his game as having more to do with classical music, creating a work that is more reminiscent of Bach's fugues than any piece of rock music.

Overall, I've come to the conclusion that there are two main factors that will factor into how the soundtrack for something, specifically for a video game, will sound.  There is the factor of how the composer was brought up musically, along with the factor of associative trends that they apply to that game.  In a way, these factors are nearly inseparable, as the upbringing of that composer will determine the way that they see the world and thus, so too the musical aspects of the projects they work on.  It's almost beautiful to look at these things and how seemingly random factors can play such a hugely important and vital role into the formulation of labored-over and beautiful works of art.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

3 Choume No Tama - Tama And Friends - 3 Choume Obake Panic!! Soundtrack Review

3 Choume No Tama - Tama And Friends - 3 Choume Obake Panic!! was a Japanese game based off of the anime series "Tama of Third Street".  The game itself has relatively little information online, but I was able to figure out that it was published by Bandai and developed by Tom Create, a company that does a lot of Gundam games and is often hired by studios of other entertainment mediums to do game adaptations.  I liked the soundtrack a lot, so here's a review of some of the tracks from the game.

Track 1.
This track sounds very nostalgic.  I don't know if it's an 8 bit version of one of the songs from the original series, as many games based off of other works tend to go that way, but it's a very nice track. It's very nostalgic sounding and pleasant.  It makes me very sad to think that this game and Tama and Friends in general will go largely forgotten save for a few archiving services, in which case all that will exist of the game and the series at some point will be trivial information- not even anything valuable about the series or the game- and the bare minimum of their content.  Nevertheless, perhaps if this game or the series can go on to change the life of any person, it will have done more than most things accomplish.  It certainly has affected my life, in however small a way.

Track 2.
This track is very upbeat.  It further brings emphasis to how well produced the music for this game is.  This piece reminds me of a game show that would happen in some tall Japanese tower late at night on a nighttime broadcast.

Track 3.
This is a really fast and crazy track.  There are a lot of really crazy arpeggios that honestly seem like they would have been really hard to make.  Overall, this just seems like a song that would be very good for a crazy chase part of a game.  It sounds a bit like something from Getsu Fuuma Den.

Track 4.
This is a very sad and nostalgic sounding song too.  There's actually a lot of very complex layering going on in the background parts of this track which is strange considering the fact that the rest of it is very minimalistic.  The melody at the end of the cadences which goes downward and finishes the sections of the song is especially sad and reminiscent of something that I feel like I've heard before.

Track 5.
This song starts off with a kind of minor melody, but has a chromatic part right after it which then leads into a second minor part.  The chromatic part sounds pretty sad, but also musically satisfying.  I don't really know which part of a game this part would be used for but it reminds me of something from Scooby Doo.

Track 6.
This track also starts off with a minor arpeggio part but quickly goes into a B section that is also in the minor.  The C section is really what is satisfying about this song though.  It is way lighter than the other parts of the song.  It reminds me of driving home from my grandparents house when I was younger.

Track 7.
This track starts out with a repeating bassline and nice arpeggios.  However, once the introduction ends, the melody shifts to a kind of delayed harmonic part and the chords shift to something similar the ending of Arkista's Ring.

Track 8.
This piece is very minor.  It's pretty basic, so there's not a lot I find very interesting about it.  However, at the end before it repeats, the cadences get very interesting rhythmically.  This one definitely has that similar Scooby Doo vibe too.

Track 9.
This continuing trend of almost spook sounding minor pieces makes me really want to play the game to see what kind of sinister problems the main characters face.  This one sounds less Scooby Doo-ish, but the vibe is definitely still there.

Track 10.
This track is, to be honest, just really strange.  I honestly don't know a huge instance in any game or form of media where a song like this would be expected.  I guess that's kind of cool though.  When we listen to video game music, we have very predetermined positions about what that piece is supposed to represent, either through having played the game itself or through just plain experience with different aspects of games.  It's kind of nice to be surprised by something that overturns both these expectations.

Track 11.
This is a very nice jazzy song that somehow made it onto a gameboy game.  The song itself really reminds me of a kind of cross between Fly Me to the Moon and It's Only a Paper Moon, the former usurping the latter in terms of world renown and recognition.  The end especially reminds me of It's Only a Paper Moon however, almost to the point that I'd consider it an homage.  The solo section and bassline of this piece are both really amazing.  It sounds really great overall.

Track 12.
This is another one of the fast pieces from this OST.  While it doesn't really have any specific part that I'd consider to be very appealing, I guess it's good to have tracks like this.  It gives the other tracks that have more flavor more character and uniqueness.

Track 13.
This track has a lot of crazy arpeggios and the different sections are all really cool.  There's higher melodies and then a lower bass part in the song.  It seems like the downward arpeggios that play constantly connect the two parts and give the song a lot of substance.  Also, the B section sounds very familiar, but I can't put my finger on what I recognize it from.

Track 14.
This song seems a little bit of a thematic variation on track 14 to me, but maybe that's just cause I think they start on the same note and have similar instrumentation.  This seems like it would be something that would play at the end. It sounds a lot like Always With Me from Spirited Away.  It also makes funny use of secondary dominants.

Track 15.
This one also sounds like it would be something that would play at the end of the game.  I like how the melody gets more drawn out and less detailed as the song goes on, almost like it's running out of breath.  This song makes me sad that this analysis is coming to an end, as I've worked on this for a really long time actually.

Track 16.
This is also a pretty cool song that also sounds like an ending song.  It sounds like something that would play during morning though, maybe in a situation similar to Manchester By the Sea if that makes any sense at all.  I'm also pretty sure that I hear a lot of references to earlier songs in the game from time to time.  Also, what is it with ending songs and stepwise descending baselines.  It's in literally everything.

Track 17.
Oh wait there is no track 17.  For some reason I thought this went on longer than it did.  :( Oh well.

Well, that's the end of this review.  I hope you liked it.  I've found the end of reviewing this game to be a kind of bittersweet thing, just like the game itself.  Although the game isn't popular at all, it still creates a poignant emotional impact among the huge sea of information that is life.  Having immersed myself in and grown emotionally attached to this game's soundtrack, I hope to never forget it.

Game Soundtrack

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Four Japanese Songs That I really like

Feeling inspired by my most recent Evangelion post, which pretty much just discussed a bunch of random songs that reminded me of Evangelion, here's a list of four Japanese songs that I really like.  A few on this list are from a youtube named Wayne Kim, who posts a lot of rare vinyl and stuff like that for other peoples' listening pleasure.  It's a very good channel and I suggest checking it out, as I won't get into depth about all of the great music that's on there.  However, that being said, here's fur Japanese songs that I really enjoy.  I hope you like them too.

1.  ユキとヒデ - 長い夜 (1967)- Nagai Yoru
I came across this song sometime last year when I stumbled upon Wayne Kim's youtube channel from a Walter Wanderley video that he had posted.  I clicked on this one randomly and really enjoyed it.  I think that what makes this song really unique is the feeling that accompanies it.  The upward tension of the chords in the A section really add a lot to the way the song moves, along with the bassline and vocal melodies, which also push the song along and give a lot of rhythmic pulse and variation.  The B section completely releases this tension in a very beautiful way.  However, beyond this, this song reminds me a lot of wintertime.  Perhaps it's just because that's when I was introduced to it, but I can't help but think of cold nights spent in marble-ornamented malls in Chicago when I hear this.  Japanese art has a greater focus on atmosphere and mood than American styles, so perhaps the reason that the feelings accompanying this piece are so strong.

2.  ユキとヒデ - 白い波 (1967)- Shiroi Nami
If I suggested, at all, the last song I wrote about to be the most thoughtful emotional experience on that album, then I surely hyperbolized my description.  This song, sung by Yuki and Hide, entitled Shiroi Nami or "White Waves," is definitely my favorite both from this album and from Wayne Kim's channel.  On a tangent, in Hayao Miyazaki's works, there are often extremely calming moments scattered throughout, called Ma.  I think that this is probably an auditory representation of such a thing.  It's musical escapism at its finest, meaning it doesn't just take you out of your surroundings.  It gives you something else, an entirely new feeling to experience.  By the time you finish the song, its beauty makes the three minutes feel worth it.  You haven't wasted anything by embarking into the world contained in this music's notes, because you've brought something equally valuable back with you.

3.  Takako Mamiya- 真夜中のジョーク - 間宮貴子
This is a kind of city funk song from the 80s by Takako Mamiya that I really like.  It's a pretty nice minor funk song with muzak kind of instrumentation, while still keeping the loud and melodic basslines accompanying most funk songs.  All the parts of this song blend very well together and are really well-composed.  The introduction goes well with the A section, which then blends flawlessly into the B and C sections later on.  And what is it with Japanese songs and phenomenal vocal melodies.  However, I shouldn't give them too much credit- we've had plenty of jazz and funk songs with great vocal melodies here in the states too!  Anyways, this song reminds me a lot of old malls or airports late at night- pretty much any public places where storefronts and places of business close before the atriums or places of gathering do.

4.  Joe Hisaishi- Illusion
While Joe Hisaishi is most known for his classical pieces and movie soundtracks, specifically those he did for Studio Ghibli, this is one of the pieces that he did for his solo career.  It's very jazzy, starting off with Joe playing an eerie and somnambulous piano solo, which eventually picks up into an intense orchestral arrangement.  This piece is hard to describe, but the swung notes in the melody, along with the somber chords give off a really cool, dark kind of jazz feel.  It's definitely worth checking out.

I hope you enjoyed these four Japanese songs.  I certainly did upon my first hearing and still cherish them to this day.  I'll put relevant links below.  Definitely check out Wayne Kim's channel, as it has a lot of great stuff on it.

Wayne Kim's Channel
Nagai Yoru
Shiroi Nami
真夜中のジョーク - 間宮貴子(Takako Mamiya)
Joe Hisaishi- Illusion

Reviews of 4 Evangelion-Sounding or Otherwise Eva-Related Songs

There are, for some reason, many songs that remind me of Neon Genesis Evangelion, even though they don't really have much implied relation to the series.  There are others that actually have a specific relation to Evangelion, either in the title or in the musical material.  Either way, here's 4 tracks that remind me of Evangelion and that I feel fit the mood and atmosphere of the series.

1.  『Drip Drop』- ◎◙◎ N.E.R.V. after hours ◎◙◎ 03:0
This song, obviously, reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion for reasons relating to the name.  However, there are also a lot of aspects of the song that remind me of the show.  For one, the lyrical part of this song is sampled from one of the songs from it.  I know that the song it's from is related to Evangelion somehow, but I've never actually heard it in the show or relating material.  I think it might be something like Everything You've Ever Dreamed, where it was planned for Evangelion, but never actually used.  Either that, or it's from the rebuilds, which I haven't seen.  In terms of atmosphere, this piece perfectly matches, and even expands upon some parts of Evangelion.  The watery soundscape and the compressed instrumentation really make me think of a rainy Neo-Tokyo or some place deep within N.E.R.V.  The name also brings to mind a great amount of imagery, making me imagine an empty N.E.R.V. Headquarters late at night, housing a plethora of secrets and mysteries deep below.  While this is probably my favorite of Drip Drop's works, he has a lot of other great material, especially his Mix4AMDiscs, which is pretty cool.

2.  Slime Girls- Yumemi
I know that Pedro Silva, the man behind the chiptune/rock act Slime Girls has been inspired by Evangelion at some point, considering the fact that he covered A Cruel Angel's Thesis on his Vacation Wasteland EP.  Before I'd even heard that album, I felt that this song was very similar to the feeling of Evangelion, even though there wasn't much to draw between the two.  The Evangelion soundtrack is mainly jazz and a few other styles of movie-soundtrack instrumental tunes.  The music of Slime Girls is mainly rock and chiptune-based, so there doesn't seem to be much crossover between the two styles.  However, the way the Yumemi is done makes the world feel dark and lonely, and yet with a small glimpse of hope, very much like Evangelion.  It feels like the kind of song that one would listen to when the end of the world is both around the corner, yet still preventable, a feeling that parallels that of Evangelion.

3.  Frankjavcee- Sweet Future Funky Stuff
This song is reminiscent of Evangelion for me simply because it actually samples A Cruel Angel's Thesis.  Along with that, the song also makes use of samples from Give It To Me Baby by Rick James and Another One Bites the Dust.  I think that what I liked most about the use of A Cruel Angel's Thesis in this song was how surprising and abrupt it was.  It sounds like just a normal future funk song, but then out of nowhere the Eva theme just pops in.  This reminded me a lot of the Slime Girls album, Vacation Wasteland, which I mentioned before.  In the album, there's a surprise Evangelion reference in a form of a medley cover kind of the thing.  It was pretty cool because if you hadn't expected it beforehand, or hadn't been looking at the titles, you would have been totally surprised.  It's kind of a way that, after the majority of the album has been played, the entire work could be contextualized in a different way.  Anyways, this song made me think a lot about that.  Once again, Frank's work stands out just as funny, surprising, and enjoyable as ever.

4.  Boards of Canada- Farewell Fire
I said in an earlier post that this is one of my favorite songs by Boards of Canada, a band that I'm not usually that fond of.  This is because, as I said earlier, it stands out to me as very different from the rest of their music.  While a lot of their other material seems paranoid and on the verge of a nuclear apocalypse reminiscent of the Cold War or the 1950s, a purposeful stylistic choice, it seems, Farewell Fire reminds me a lot of Evangelion.  This could be either the apocalyptic and depressive tone, or the haziness in the synthesizer, which reminds me a lot of the space scenes in the series and in the End of Evangelion.  It could be because of the drawn out notes of the melancholy chords, staying present even with their coming end just nearby.  Either way, this song definitely reminds me of Evangelion.

I hope that you liked my review of these four songs that remind me of evangelion.  I'll link to the artists below.  Let me know in the comments about any songs that you find relatable to Evangelion if you have any or if you want to discuss anything.

N.E.R.V. After Hours
Sweet Future Funky Stuff
Farewell Fire

Image Link

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review of Themes in Getsu Fuuma Den and Interesting Facts Part 1

Getsu Fuuma Den was a game published by Konami for the NES and Famicom in 1987.  Although the game never had a huge popularity, and remains rather obscure even today, it ended up influencing a lot of other games.  Castlevania II has noticeable and extreme similarities, along with the NES version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme, which even reused some of the sound effects.  The aspects that I find really amazing about this game, however, have to do with both its atmosphere and mood and its soundtrack.  Like many other Konami games during this era, the developers took no shortage in the sound effects department.  The soundtrack, while of course limited by the specifications of the time, is amazingly well-done, stylistic, and memorable.  This also ties into the atmosphere of the game.  While I've never actually played it, I definitely like the mood and atmosphere, as both were very coherent and well-stablished.  The art direction of this game also goes very well with the color palette of the early 8 bit consoles such as the Famicom and NES.  Anyway, back to the soundtrack.  I'll state some of my opinions and some interesting facts about the 15 tracks of music for the game.

01- Start
This is simply the sound that would play when you start up the game.  The chord is an F#7sus4 chord if you'd like to call it that, but it could be more easily considered an arpeggiation of the first, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth (an octave on top) scale degrees of an F# minor scale.  I think that this is the best bet, considering that this theme is repeated a lot throughout the soundtrack and often extended throughout the rest of the scale.

02- Storytellers
This song is definitely my favorite on the soundtrack.  I'm pretty sure that this would have been used as a kind of introductory song in the actual game.  It's a fairly simple song in A minor.  However, it's amazingly composed and written, especially for a video game of this age.  While a lot of other game soundtracks have the limitation of having to repeat over and over again during long stages, this song is rare and beautiful.  I'm glad that the developers at Konami decided to use up some of their midi data for such a temporary and fleeting song, even if it would only be heard once.  The counterpoint, the melody, the textures- especially at the end- are all amazing.  This is probably one of my favorite retro video game songs of all time if not definitely my favorite from Getsu Fuuma Den.

03- Opening
This isn't really a song, but rather another opening soon effect.  It's pretty cool, though, considering the fact that they were able to make a realistic (to some degree) sounding sword noise with explosions considering the technology they were working with.

04- Go! Getsu Fuuma
This is probably the most widely known of all the songs on the soundtrack, with the exception maybe of the final boss battle song.  This was the song that would play during the overworld menu.  I really like the melody of the whole thing and think that this is a great song.  This theme will be reiterated a few times later, I believe.  This song also sets the stage for the game's characteristic backing chord/bass pattern of a quarter and then two eighth notes, which will be repeated extensively throughout the other songs.

05- Small Shrine
This is one of the first songs to reuse the theme of the upwards arpeggiation in a minor scale.  The first 5 notes are the same as in the Start theme, but the arpeggiation is extended further up the scale.  The arpeggiation goes up and then down before going to a second chord and arpeggiating once again.  The instrumentation of this piece is divided into two parts.  First, there is the arpeggiating part on the top.  There's also a lower part which plays a cool bassline with interesting glissando kind of downbeat notes.  Overall, this is a cool song, which I'm sure would have been interesting and atmospheric during a smaller encounter in the game.

06- One Hundred Billion Light Years Beyond
This is probably the last song from this series that I'll write about, as this post is getting pretty long and I have a lot more songs from the OST to go through.  This song is pretty cool.  There aren't really too many discernible themes, but it definitely grooves well and would be fun to listen to in whatever context it might be used.

Overall, this is definitely one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time.  The themes are all extremely atmospheric and go very well with the feeling of the game.  Anyway, I promised I'd share some fun facts about the game.  The skeletons that have bone whips in certain stages are named Shimon, which translated to gate of death in Japanese.  This is a reference to the name of the main character from Castlevania, Simon.  However, in Castlevania 3, the same whip skeleton is reused, but instead of labeling it as Shimon in the English manual, it is absurdly labeled, "the gates of death."  I hope you had a fun time reading this.  Thanks for taking the time.  Check back soon for part 2.

Soundtrack Playlist

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Some of my Favorite Aphex Twin Tracks That I Think go Well Together

This isn't really a playlist per se, but there are a few Aphex Twin songs that, to me, feel a lot different from the others.  I find a great number of Aphex Twin's songs to be kind of depressing- and not just the ones that are dowtempo or sad.  There are a lot of very upbeat Aphex Twin songs that I find to be moody or depressing in their feeling.  I find that a lot of songs on Drukqs seem this way for me.  There are, however, ultimately a lot of his songs that I think go very well together and establish their own mood very well, one that is different from a lot of the other Aphex Twin Tracks.  Here's a list of some that feel this way to me.

Aphex Twin- IZ-US
This song is definitely one of my favorites from Aphex Twin.  While I think that Richard has better melodies on a lot of other songs, this is definitely still a good one.  It reminds me, as pretty much all these songs do of a trip to England that the school band took last year.  I listened to this song a lot on the bus, so it reminds me of the cold, wet, and bustling streets of London.

User18081971- 35 Japan
This song from his soundcloud is a bit different from the others in that I don't really have incredibly strong memories of it to relate it to the rest of the songs on this list.  However, it does kind of remind me of them.  I feel like this could be a boss theme from a video game or something.

AFX- i'm self employed
I remember on that same London trip that I talked about earlier, I annoyed my roommate by playing this song really loudly all the time.  I like this one a lot.  It has a very nice melody, which is just slightly out of tune, adding just a bit of tension into the mix.

Aphex Twin- Bucephalus Bouncing Ball
This song is pretty cool, especially the strange bouncing ball effect which eventually becomes a percussive part.  The main melody that comes in later makes me very happy too.  This song reminds me of a time when I had to go to a doctor in Chicago for a leg problem and listened to it on the car ride there.

Aphex Twin/AFX- 34 ibiza spliff
This is probably my favorite Aphex Twin song of all time.  It's also probably one of the most relaxing songs I've ever listened to.  A lot of people get a warmer feel from this song, but I think it's pretty icy, but not in a cold kind of way.  A lot of people also believe that this comes from the I Care Because You Do era of songs.  Honesty though, I think that the percussion and synth sounds are much more similar to the style of the songs on Come to Daddy.  Overall, I really cherish the place this song holds in my heart.  It reminds me of relaxing Winters.

All in all, all of these songs are very special to me and really stand out from the rest of Aphex Twin's works.  If you have any suggestions for Aphex Twin songs or any other songs that feel this way, please leave a comment and let me know!

Side Note: Two other songs that aren't by Aphex Twin, but, in my opinion, feel similar to these are Farewell Fire by Boards of Canada and Day of Reflection by Disasterpeace.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Arkista's Ring (NES) Soundtrack Review

Arkista's Ring was a game published by American Sammy Corporation and released in 1990 for the NES.  The game itself received good praise and modest critical success.  What I'll be focusing on, however, is the game's soundtrack, written by Shizuyoshi Okamura, also known as Sizlla Okamura.  Okamura's other work is also interesting and diverse, including soundtracks and other sound design on SD Keiji Blader and P47 Thunderbolt.  The soundtrack for Arkista's Ring has a pretty good popularity of its own, with a lot of themes standing out and remaining very memorable.  I'll talk about a few of them below.

Character Profile
This is a pretty good theme.  I think that the main cool thing about this song is that it features a small melodic theme that gets features later in the soundtrack.  I'll get more into that later.  The song has a kind of standard waltz background part and the melody is pretty nice.  It sounds like something on a carousel.  There's also a later section in 5/4 or 5/8, which is pretty cool for NES music.  Overall, a pretty funky track that provides enough variation to be fun to listen to.

Title Theme
Aside from the final theme in the game, this is definitely one of my second favorite song on this whole soundtrack.  It starts off in a cool kind of descending fashion which reminds me of a Joe Hisaishi composition.  It then switches to a more fast paced, driving part with octaves in the bass part, a style that Okamura seems to like a lot.  Overall, this is a cool song that has a fun descending chromatic style and is also very fun to listen to.

Stage Theme 03
This is probably my least favorite of all the songs on the soundtrack.  It's a lot of arpeggios that repeat a chord change over and over.  It definitely sounds intense though, so I'm sure it would have fit the right mood in whatever context it might have been used.

Stage Theme 02
This is also a very cool and intense theme.  It has a pretty cool bassline that repeats constantly along with the classic white noise percussion of NES games.  This song also has a lot of high octave three-note patterns which go over the bassline and add intensity.  It sound like some spooky theme from Mario!

Stage Theme 01
This song is very familiar to the Title Theme.  It has a nice bass octave part and a pretty simple melody, but it doesn't fail to sound nice and relaxing at any point.  The B section is definitely the coolest part, bringing the melody up to a higher register before flawlessly taking it back down and transitioning back into the main section.  Overall, this is probably my third favorite song from this game.

Life Lost
This is just the death sound for this game.  I can't really compare it to anything because I'm not experienced with other death sounds from NES games.

Game Clear
This song is, without a doubt, my favorite from the entire game.  The first upward melody in thirds, which was a very small part of the Character Profile theme is restated here.  However, it's much more drawn out.  There's also a descending part in the bass, something that seems characteristic of ending songs.  This song is definitely the prettiest song in the entire game and it's really relaxing.  It must have been so exciting for players to finish the game considering how had it is said to have been.  Perhaps it was the bittersweet feeling of an ending, the kind perfectly expressed in this song, that they felt as the end credits rolled and this final song played.

In conclusion, although I never played this game, the soundtrack still brings me immense happiness.  Overall, Okamura did an amazing job on it! I'll attach below the sources that I used to find the information about this game and its soundtrack, as well as Okamura's soundcloud and the youtube playlist for the soundtrack.  Also, I liked the ending song so much that a friend of mine did a midi transcription of it.  I'll put a download below if anyone would like it.

Shizuyoshi Okamura's Soundcloud


MIDI Transcription (It will have to be slowed down a bit though)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lovely Sweet Dream Emulator Kyoto OST Analysis and Review

Lovely Sweet Dream emulator, a surrealistic exploration game made by Asmik Entertainment in 1998 for the Sony Playstation, is an often-mentioned classic in the realm of weird video games.  The game has a simple premise.  The player moves around through strange and surreal worlds, randomly teleporting to another every time they touch an object.  The player is left to explore the spooky low-poly stages and uncover the game's mysteries on their own.  A big part of what makes the game great, however, is the soundtrack, composed by Osamu Sato, who also did a lot of the graphic design and executive art work on the game itself.  I'll take a look at the music from one specific stage, Kyoto.

To start off, the game's BGM (background music) functions in a bit of a strange way.  There are seven sections, Ambient, Cartoon, Electro, Ethnova, Human, Lovely, and Standard, and within each of those sections there are five pieces of BGM, A, B, C, D, and E.  The interesting thing about this system is that the lettered pieces correspond with a certain melody and the different styles make slight variations and changes to that melody.  This results in a level of consistency throughout the stage while also allowing different moods to be played with.  I'll go a bit into depth about the different lettered BGM and then within that discussion talk about the different styles and what they offer to the theme.

This is definitely my least favorite theme of the whole bunch.  The standard version has a really annoying noise in the background which sounds like a camera taking a ton of pictures very quickly.  I don't really like the main melody as much as I like other ones either.  The ambient version, however, sounds very cool, almost like a cool mix between choir-ish sounds and white noise.  The electro version also sounds intense and foreboding while also having a pleasant soundfont timbre in the main part of the melody.  It's also interesting to look at those soundfonts used.  In case you're unfamiliar as to what a soundfont is, old video game systems and computers didn't have the technological capabilities of playing back full audio files like we can today, and even when they became capable, the discs that ran older games couldn't store all he information for the files anyway.  Thus, older video games held samples and midi files.  These samples, which were made up of tones, such as a piano playing a single note for example, would then be played in a musical succession by midi files.  This partnership was much more low-cost than actual audio files for music.  Because of this, video game composers had to choose their sounds wisely, which resulted in a lot of interesting and iconic tones and songs to go with them from this time period.  To get back on topic, the sound which makes up the main melody in standard, cartoon, and lovely is very interesting.  It sounds a lot like a fretless bass sound mixed with a synthesizer.

Upon listening to the standard B theme, it sounds really cool and glitchy.  I think that the standard version of this is much better than any of the others, although there are a lot of really cool sounds used in all of them.  The coolest part in all cases is the weird glitchy ascending part right after the main part of the melody.  In every case, interesting textures are brought out from seemingly average soundfonts.  Looking at a few of the other versions also gives us insight into how this sound was made.  The cartoon version especially leans towards a pitch bend effect having been used in the midi files to get this cool effect.  On another note, the most interesting textures are in standard and electro. It's interesting to look at this part of the soundtrack, because although the loops are short and strange, there's actually a lot of thought and intricacy put into each piece of BGM.

In speaking of the intricacy of these tracks, the standard version of of C definitely qualifies too.  The standard piece creates a really cool illusion.  While the drums, which are sampled from a tr-909, play in the background, a metallic hit sound is pitched up and down in the background.  This gives the whole thing a great amount of movement and ties the piece together.  The strings sound nice and the descending resonant noises at the top are interesting too.  I think that this is the part with the most variation and interesting change between styles.  The ambient version is interesting-sounding, breaking a bit from the original melody, but still being recognizable.  It sounds like something underwater or a crowded subway or something like that.  The cartoon version is weird too, taking the earlier-explored concept of pitch-shifting and combining it with the techniques used in the standard version of this piece.  I really love the lovely version too!  The triangle waves in it sound really familiar and nice to me, so this is the part of C I enjoyed the most!

This piece is one of the more glitchy ones in the game.  I think it has one of the more enjoyable melodies compared to the others.  All the versions of this are pretty good.  The lovely version has a nice percussive melody, the cartoon version has an intense, hollow-sounding sound, the Ethnova version has an oriental-sounding guitar sound, and the electro version has really cool, intense pads.  All these versions feature cool beats in the background, with many of them having biting and visceral snare sounds.  What they all lack, however, are intense kick drum patterns.  The standard version more than makes up for this, with a gut-punching tr-909 kick backing the hectic piano melody.

For some reason, this melody is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this game.  The standard version and lovely are my favorites.  For the standard, the strings on top with a hectic baseline and scattered tr-909 drums dancing erratically in support are really what puts this track together for me.  I think this is definitely the most quintessential song in the game.  The lovely version also has a triangle-wave chord progression, which I really like as always.  The other versions of this are cool too, often switching the bass and chords and creating more dissonance in the parts, but I really just love the standard and lovely versions the most for E.

In Conclusion...
Overall, this game features a very intricate and well-done soundtrack full of background music that suits many moods and fits the aesthetic and feeling of the game very well.  While I wouldn't listen to these on repeat in my free time for the sake of my own sanity, I think they all serve their purpose and go very well with the game.  Overall, this game has a very interesting and cool soundtrack.  I hope you've enjoyed my analysis and review of the Kyoto stage music.  Below, I'll link a video of every piece of BGM from Kyoto, as well as a playlist of every song from the game.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

EVANGELION(8-bit) by megane Album Review

This album, EVANGELION(8bit) by megane, which consists of, as the name would suggest, a variety of 8 bit covers of songs from the Evangelion original soundtrack. I'll start by reviewing the individual tracks. Also, I should mention that I'll probably end up mentioning some spoilers in talking about the tracks, so don't read this review if you don't want the show spoiled. If you haven't seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, definitely watch it- it's probably my favorite show of all time.

1. A Cruel Angel's Thesis/EVANGELION
The opening song to this album is an 8 bit cover of A Cruel Angel's Thesis, the opening theme of Neon Genesis Evangelion. While the harmonies are a little different from the original in some instances, I respect that megane was willing to take some creative risks with this cover. It's always nice to hear some small harmonic reinterpretations in a reiteration of a song that you know well! Where I think this song really takes off, however, is in the third section (Dakedo itsuka kizuku deshou Sono senaka ni wa Haruka mirai mezasu tame no Hane ga aru koto...). While it lacks the upward-moving pad part's effectiveness which was iconic of the original version, what really pushes this version is the sawtooth bassline. Overall, I really liked this track. I think it captures not only the spirit and high energy of the original, but also the emotional aspects of the song too. The triangle wave chords at the beginning also sounded nice

2. Fly Me To the Moon/EVANGELION
I'm honestly surprised at how perfect a transcription this cover is. It's pretty much exactly the original version with 8 bit tones. It absolutely captures the emotional essence of the version from the show off of which it is based. I really like this version. All parts are spot-on, especially the bass and strings. The solo section is also really good. Overall, it effectively recreates the musical material and the emotional effect of the original.

3. Angel Attack/EVANGELION
I wasn't really a huge fan of this kind of song from the OST even when I first watched it. They definitely served their purpose and increased the tension in certain scenes, but they're not really something I'd just listen to on my own. I think it's a good arrangement though.

Another place where megane really nailed this album is on Misato's theme. This is a very cohesive and well-done interpretation of the original. The triangle waves do a very good job of replicating the flute sound of the original, although they could easily be mistaken for sawtooth waves, as there are sawtooth accompaniments underneath. The b section is also really good. Overall, I really like this version. It's a nice callback a few of the more lighthearted episodes from the beginning of the series.

5. A Step Forward Into Terror/EVANGELION
This is a good 8 bit interpretation. The beginning melody is intense, the cadential parts are regal-sounding and valorous like the ending fanfare in Super Mario Bros 2, and the 8 bit synths do a good job of bringing out interesting textures.

6. Decisive Battle/EVANGELION
I think that this is definitely one of the more well-done battle song covers on the album.  I really liked the chippy noise drums at the beginning which go along with the main melody.  The transition into the b section is really good.  It has a nice little triangle wave beep before it goes into the second part, which is backed by really effective triangle wave strings.  This repeats a few times, so you get to hear the buildup of the tension twice!  Overall, I really liked this one.

This song is an insanely accurate arrangement!  It's literally exactly like the original! While I didn't really love the original, I'm really impressed by how accurate this cover was.  I don't have much else to say about this track.

Probably my favorite battle song on this album.  This is a really good cover which perfectly captures the intensity of the original.  I'm pretty sure that this was the song that played when Unit 01 went berserk fighting Zeruel.  It does a good job of recreating the intense brass sounds from the beginning in 8 bit form.

9.  Soul's Refrain/EVANGELION
Before I listened to this cover album, I'd actually never heard this song.  That's because I didn't watch the recap in the first half of Death and Rebirth.  I just skipped to the beginning of the events of EOE.  Since I'm kind of new to this song, I don't have a huge emotional connection to it.  It has a nice melody though, and pleasant chords too!

10.  Return to Primitive Heart/EVANGELION
I've forgotten whether this song was used in Death and Rebirth or the Rebuilds, but either way, it's grouped into the same category of Soul's Refrain.  I liked this song a good amount though, especially the B section.  Both this and Soul's refrain seem a little too late 90s for me though.  They sound more like something out of Gundam Wing than something from Evangelion.

Overall Impressions
All in all, I really liked this album.  It had some really great 8 bit covers of some of my favorite songs from Evangelion.  A lot of the covers were really spot on and did a great job of portraying the many moods in the tracks.  I'll probably end up listening to this album a lot on my phone.  One thing that I would have liked would have been a few more of the more melodic songs, such as the Hedgehog's Dilemma or Rei's theme, but considering the fact that both those were meant for piano, the melodies might have sounded kind of weird in 8 bit.  The Heady Feeling of Freedom or Good, or Don't Be and maybe a few other variations of the main theme could have been cool though, and it would have been awesome to hear an 8 bit version of Thanatos.  Great job to megane on this album! I'll link tracks one and two on youtube and I'll put in an iTunes link too.