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.