preview: Pokemon – Red/Blue

Hi again! Wow, Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music is just 2 days away.  Remember to get your tickets in advance HERE and save some money.  We all like doing that.  Anyhow, here’s Steve with a preview of his awesome Pokemon Red/Blue medley!

Hi again.  So Doug told me to keep my posts under 1000 words.  We’ll see how that goes hahaha.  Let’s take a look into my musicial selections for my medley of music from Pokemon- Red/Blue.

First Impressions:

Pokemon is the undisputed best selling RPG of all time.  The series has made BILLIONS of dollars for Nintendo.  The characters from the games and anime are instantly recognizable… and so is the music.  This was another game I really wanted to cover with Beta Test.  There are sooo many fans of the series and so many remixes of these tunes.  I really felt like Beta Test should have their own Pokemon medley.  I wanted to present a piece that invokes the nostalgia of being young again and using Game Genie to cheat and catch 30 Mews… or… uh…  maybe something more wholesome – like stealing your friend’s Pokemon cards…. well… maybe being a youngster wasn’t all that fun, in retrospect.

The point is- MANY of us played and loved this game.  And it would be nice to have a moment where we can all sit down and enjoy the game together.  Also, I thought it would be super fun to play… and it really is.

I’ll also credit MissingnoXpert‘s Let’s Glitch Pokemon Yellow series for inspiring me to get this work completed.  And, just so you know, I’m not using any cheating devices right now.

Musical Selections:

Pokemon – 1st Generation, composer:  Junichi Masuda

So, and I just learned this today actually, the game came BEFORE the anime series.  The music in the anime series is actually based off the original compositions for the game by Junichi Masuda.  And here I was going to go on and on about how this music was adapted from the anime.  I’m glad I looked that up first.  Sheesh.  I love the Information Age!

Okay, so without going into incredible detail about sound, the music was written for Gameboy, meaning there should be only 3 polyphonic voices that really have to be mapped to instruments.  It also means that well… some of these lines will be very difficult to play on real instruments because Gameboy sound programmers usually take advantage digital sound’s speed.  I would have to tread lightly.

I also didn’t want to bore the audience terribly.  Each town has a theme, each cave has a theme, etc- a lot of these are just incidental.  For instance, does anyone really have an attachment to this?:

I mean, we all probably remember SOMETHING about Mt. Moon… but all I remember is spamming Repels and being annoyed by it.  This is actually an interesting track… but in terms of performance, we may as well just be Jigglypuff.

A lot of the town themes were kind of clunkers too.  Don’t get me wrong, they fit into the game really well but in terms of performance?  Not so much:

(Mark should cover that on toy piano, actually…. just a side thought.)

Anyhow, I decided that it would be a lot more fun to create a Pokemon medley that gives you the experience of turning on the Gameboy, loading your file, and getting into a fight- a small narrative if you will.  It was a little artsy, even for me, but I felt like that was the best way to treat the game.  So, here’s what I did.

Performance Considerations:

This piece was originally arranged for Beta Test’s old configuration (clarinet, tenor sax, trombone, tuba, piano, and drums).  I had to rearrange it for the new set up (soprano sax, french horn, trombone, tuba, and drums).  I removed the piano in the new version for simplicity.

So, back to my “narrative”.  What happens when you turn on your Gameboy to play Pokemon?

Pokemon – “Opening”

Boom – this intro.  I figured I would start off with this.  I consulted the anime/Super Smash Bros versions of this particular song to add some extra color.  I placed the upper lines in the soprano sax.  The french horn gets a chance to lay into those counter-melody responses (much like in the anime version of the song).  Tuba holds down the bass and the drums provides a steady beat.  This clip above, actually, shows pretty much how long this section will take.

Now, let’s load our file.

Pokemon – “PokeCenter”

We load the file and find ourselves in the PokeCenter.  When I used to play, I remember saving MANY times in the PokeCenter, especially while changing Boxes or getting ready to turn the game off.  I felt it would be reasonable to assume that you may find yourself starting here, checking your Pokemon, and leaving.

For this, I made it a “low end” solo.  I have the tuba take the melody, trombone take the bass, and french horn, which loves to play upbeats, play upbeats.  It’s cute.  I hope I don’t crack a note.

So, let’s walk out of the PokeCenter then, shall we?

Pokemon – “Cerulean City”

Oh, we’re in Cerulean City.  Cool.

For this, I covered it straight up.  I have soprano sax take the lead voice.  French horn gets to rest for a bit.  Trombone and tuba split the bottom voice (upbeats and downbeats respectively).  Right before it repeats, I have the soprano sax drop out and let the 3 brass instruments have a nice little chorale.

Let’s say we want to LEAVE Cerulean City.  It’s kind of boring…. so we’d probably:

Pokemon – “Bicycle Theme”

Get on our bike!  That’s a good idea.  We can get out of the city and try to find some Pokemon trainers to fight!  I included a version of this song above that is 10 hours long.  Enjoy!

I have soprano sax cover the upper line and trade off with the trombone half way through.  Because I’m a total maniac, I assigned the tuba to play ALL of the lower voiced notes here…. so both downbeats and upbeats.  We’ll see how well I do at the concert.  It’s really hard!  I’ll need to find a way to take a breath since well… computers don’t breathe.

Okay, we leave the city and bike around until-

Pokemon – “Female Trainer Encounter!”

YOU ENCOUNTER A LASS!  OH NO!  And her heroic battlecry:  “My boyfriend is cool!”   :/  I… see.

Covering this is easy – I have the band play it for a couple seconds so we can contemplate what the Lass is trying to say…  and then!

Pokemon – “Trainer Battle”

Lass sends out Jigglypuff and we’re not impressed.

Soprano sax takes over the upper line.  It was nearly impossible to figure out a way to get the other instruments to play the opening lick, by the way.  So at the beginning, the rest of the band kind of just… makes some hits while the soprano sax drives us into a new tempo.

The piece is a straight up cover.  Tuba covers the bass lines (both the downbeat and upbeat… which is tough… again).  Trombone takes over some of the melody as we go through.  French horn is assigned to kind of bridge the gap between all the of the parts.  It should be SUPER EFFECTIVE!  Yes.

Now that we’ve ultimately embarrassed the Lass…

Pokemon – “Trainer Victory Theme”

We win!  Yey.

I have tuba play the melody here again, in a trio set up with the trombone and french horn.  Soprano sax enters and we wind down to the end of the piece.

Opps, that’s like 1350~ words.  Oh well!  I got too excited, clearly.

Results:

A fainted Jigglypuff.  To hear us perform this live, you’re going to need to be at Beta Test Music‘s show this Saturday, February 2nd, in Philadelphia – “Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music“.  I hope to see you guys out there.  I have ONE MORE little blog post for tomorrow for you guys.  Stay tuned!

Check back soon for more posts from the Beta Testers!  And don’t forget to come see us play the music from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Earthbound, and MUCH more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends!  Be like:  BRO, THERE’S THIS AWESOME GAME MUSIC CONCERT AND IT’S GOING TO BE SO COOL AND WE HAVE TO GO.  Or just ask politely.  Remember, advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!  Mathematical! 

preview: “To Good Friends” – Chrono Trigger

Hi again!  Here’s another Beta Tester providing a sneak peak into their arrangement.  Today, Mark will provide a small peak into his arrangement of Chrono Trigger’s “To Good Friends”.  Enjoy!

It all started with a trip to my local music store (Collingswood Music). I saw a little piano in the window and asked about it. It turned out to be a piano with chimes instead of strings (aka a ‘toy piano’). When I asked about some of the dead notes on it, the owner of the store turned the piano over to inspect it, promptly dumping the keys all over the floor. After spending a half-hour reconstructing the instrument, I took home a ‘Little Legend’ for half-price. Its timbre was used to great effect in a saxophone concerto arrangement (it replaced the harp and vibraphone). From there, I’ve acquired 5 more, ranging in size from 25 keys to 49 keys. I’ve had two pieces written for me so far (one by Beta Test’s own Douglas Laustsen), and I’m determined to use it in as many contexts as possible: David Bowie covers, orchestral scoring, piano with tape, etc.

Music boxes grew out of the toy piano craze. Performers such as Phyllis Chen create intricate soundscapes with toys and mechanical instruments, and I became intrigued by the possibility of mixing live instruments with mechanical ones. ‘DIY music boxes’ that are programmed with paper strips have been made in three sizes (15, 20, and 30 notes); of course, I have one of each size. With the proper resonating box (cigar boxes work nicely), they are quite loud. At our concert on February 2nd, a 30-note music box will accompany a horn and trombone duet. The music box part is online here.

While I started my musical life as a saxophonist, I am increasingly interested in placing vintage keyboards, found objects, and woodwinds into unique combinations. The orchestra’s available timbres are too familiar; our ears need new sounds. A recorder trio with an electric piano has a sweet, relaxed tone that is more melancholy and nostalgic than a string trio with piano could ever be.

Nostalgia is the primary tone of music boxes and toy pianos. They remind me of a childhood I never had (a childhood almost nobody had), but they also remind me of a perfect Sunday morning with light streaming in through a café window while I read Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. The piece I arranged for this concert comes from Chrono Trigger, which was one of my favorite games growing up. It is the epilogue (“To Good Friends”), which was originally for music box and orchestra. My arrangement strips it down to a harmonized melody with music box accompaniment.

Check back soon for more posts from the Beta Testers!  And don’t forget to come see us play the music from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Earthbound, and MUCH more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

preview – Earthbound

Hi again folks!  Our show is this Saturday and we’re still having some of the Beta Testers provide sneak peaks into their arrangements.  Today, Steve will provide a small peak into his medley of music from Earthbound.  Enjoy!

Great!  Hi again folks!  Today, I’ll discuss my arrangement of tunes from Nintendo and HAL Lab’s Earthbound (Mother 2).

First Impressions:

I’ve always wanted to do a medley of the music from Earthbound.  The game has a massive cult following.  There are people who are very loyal to the series, especially since the 1st and 3rd installments of the series were never officially released in the US.  I’ll be honest, I never really gave Earthbound a good play-through.  I think I got to Winters and stopped or something.  It was long ago.

Strangely, my idea to do this medley was actually inspired by the music from Mother 3.  I recently finished playing through the fan-translation version of the game and was enamored with the gameplay and story.  It got me listening to Earthbound‘s music again and I figured it was finally time to do a proper medley of the music.

Musical Selections:

Earthbound/Mother 2, composer(s):  Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka

(Disclaimer: Because I know hardcore EB fans will blister me about this, I’m aware of the “controversy” between the shared composition of this game and that many of you feel that Tanaka gets too much credit for the soundtrack.  I’m still listing him here, though.)

I was first astonished by the size of this soundtrack!  This soundtrack is a massive 122 tracks of music.  It took me a long time to wade through.  Still, there’s a lot of good choices for our set up.  Much of music is in a “jazz big band” style and setting.  We have a soprano sax, french horn, a trombone, a tuba, keyboard, and drum set.

My early favorites for covering were, in no particular order, “Pokey Means Business”“Demo Intro”, any of the town themes (I had already arranged “Winters” for Beta Test’s last show), “Saturn Valley”, and maybe really any of the battle themes.  I figured that doing a whole “Runaway Five” set would be cool too, especially because of our instrumentation… but I also felt like that could literally be its own medley.

I also realized this game had a lot of tracks that, well, would not work with our group.  A lot of the battle themes are very atmospheric and crazy.  For example:

or

Yeah.  Uh, I didn’t think a trombone could make some of these sounds so I had to pass.  Though, I love these tunes.  Anyhow, let’s see how this turns out.

Performance Considerations:

One of the things I realized right away is that tuba did not fit in the medley.  I could use it to cover “Saturn Valley” but it just wouldn’t provide the right sound for many of the heavy bass driven tracks.  So while I had originally planned on having tuba, I decided to write the piece for soprano sax, french horn, trombone, bass guitar, toy piano, and drums instead.  And yes, I added toy piano.  You’ll see how that fits in in a moment.

The completed piece is a medley but structured in three movements.  This gives us the option to pause between pieces for instrument changes or what have you.  On February 2nd, however, we will be performing it without stops.

Earthbound – Opening Credits

I felt like this is the perfect opener to the medley.  The piece could actually stand alone as an opener, really.

The best part of this piece is the instrumentation.  It’s like it was perfectly designed for our ensemble.  I put the “trumpet” line in soprano sax.  French horn would serve as a “trombone 1” and trombone could cover the lower trombone sounds in the piece.  Bass would play… well… bass.  There’s bound to be some parts missing in the drums because of the dense texture but I tried my best to figure that out.

Also, there is a CRAZY, almost “just for effect” triplet run at around :44.  Yeah, I kind of wrote something else there.  There’s no way we could make that sound like music haha.

Earthbound – Onett

So yeah, I did choose to include some town themes.  I figured that these are tracks that even the casual gamer would remember.

I assigned soprano sax to all the upper lines you hear.  I made the trombone cover the upbeats.  The french horn helps out with the counter melody.  The melody at :45 sounds like it was written for a MIDI trombone… so why not a real trombone?  Bass is bass.

I decided to try to retrofit some of the weirder instruments here into our ensemble.  The result, unfortunately, is the loss of guitar strumming, weird glockenspiel like sounds, and some other effects.  I feel like it’s still very effective, though.

Earthbound – Twoson

This was WRITTEN for french horn.  Clearly.  I assigned Mark (our soprano saxophonist) to move to toy piano to cover the piano sounds.  I put french horn on the melody and bass on bass.  I let trombone take a little break and come back for the reprise.  (This track is so much fun to play on bass- so awesome.)

Earthbound – Pokey Means Business

Any of you familiar with the game will be pretty much amazed that I decided to include this piece.  And I wanted to make sure we do it justice because it’s so freaking awesome.

I have soprano sax, stopped french horn, and muted trombone cover the 3 “emulated” NES lines.  The drum part is written to be played as mechanical as possible.  I doubled up the very little melody before the 2nd part of the piece (I like to call it “Business Time”).

Now, “Business Time” presented issues.  I originally wrote the part to include double bass drum pedals and the whole deal.  Unfortunately, I found out that our drummer did not have any experience with metal drumming and I didn’t want to put him in an awkward situation.  Therefore, I changed the drum part to be more of a “punk rock” feel instead.

Everything else though?  Line for line covered.  I have our guitarist come in JUST for this piece and rock out with total distortion.  I’m pretty proud of how this particular part turned out- it’s going to be so cool live.

Earthbound – Eight Melodies

To finish it off, I decided to include “Eight Melodies” and have the main line on toy piano.  I re-orchestrated the bass line and harmonies for some extra surprises.  The entire melody ends with a short bass guitar and toy piano duet.

Results:

Want to hear how it turned out?  This arrangement will be premiered by the ensemble at our show this upcoming Saturday, February 2nd, at First Unitarian Church – Chapel in Philadelphia.  It’s going to be great.  You better be there!

Check back soon for more posts from the Beta Testers!  And don’t forget to come see us play the music from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Earthbound, and MUCH more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

preview: Castlevania III, Part 2

Aloha, folks!  Our next show is just around the corner! Join us on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. As the show approaches, some of the Beta Testers are going to chime in here to talk about the music we’ll be featuring at the concert. This is Steve’s write-up on Castlevania III, Part 2.  Enjoy!

In Part 1, I discussed my musical selection process for my medley of music from Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III) for Beta Test Music and 2a03+VRC6.  Today, in Part 2, I will discuss the specific methods I used to arrange and compile the entire piece.

Performance Considerations:

So, at the end of Part 1, I mentioned that my medley would include “Prelude”, “Prayer”, “Beginning”, “Deja Vu”, “Riddle”, and “Evergreen” from the AD/CIII soundtrack.  Let’s take a look at how I pieced each of these pieces together.

As the game was written for 2a03+VRC6 originally, I wanted to make sure my pre-recorded sound used this specific set up.  I used Famitracker and added the VRC6 module to the playback.  This gave me a total of 4 live instruments (soprano sax, french horn, trombone, tuba) + 4 pulse waves, 1 triangle wave, 1 sawtooth wave, 1 noise channel, and one simple sampler – so 11 different voices technically.  Arranging for Beta Test, I’ve never used more than 6 total so I really needed to discover a good balance.

Also, there’s a hidden temptation here.  Nintendo music can be played back via .NSF files.  You can uh… load these NSF files into Famitracker and look at the notes and literally use what’s written there line for line.  I decided this would be extremely “karaoke” and lame.  So while I used the .NSF file to make sure I had the right notes, I made sure that my interpretation shined through.  You can’t just steal the original and add some instruments!

I constructed a master “MIDI” file in Finale and then matched the BPM to the BPM in Famitracker.  The result is some… weird tempos (I think part of “Prelude” is like, quarter note = 82.5) but still, it allowed me to work with the two different programs well.  From the master MIDI, I made a Famitracker track for EACH song (in some cases, two tracks per song) and figured I could patch those together in Sonar X1.  The result was a careful balancing act between Finale and Famitracker.  I will probably find an easier way to do this in the future… but it worked this time.

“Prelude”

I wanted to cover this straight up.  I felt like I didn’t need to change what was there all that much.  I used a hollow sounding pulse to start out the beginning melody and added in all the instruments as needed.  I have everyone drop once the arpeggiated line begins.  I took care to attempt to recreate the “pluckiness” of the original line.  The french horn and tuba enter, with the tuba holding down the bass notes and the horn playing the melody for a bit.  I decided to let the soprano sax rest right until the end and assign the melody to the tuba.  It all ends on a dark chord.

“Prayer”

Again, just a straight up cover.  I have ONLY the four instrumentalists play at this point.  I timed it out on the .wav file so that there’s about 12 seconds to complete this.  We’ll hold the final note until the pulse enters, indicating the beginning of… well… “Beginning”.

“Beginning”

Okay, I stray a bit here.  When I was looking at the .NSF file, I discovered there’s a strange little counter-melody that plays throughout the song.  It’s never really audible.  We begin with this counter-melody, exposed, in the pulse and then in the sawtooth.  I have the tuba enter as well to play along.  I use some interesting tricks on the noise channel to create some fuzz that has a little… variability.  You can also here I used the original 1bit samples from AD/CIII in the background.  The “bass drum” is simply a “triangle bass” (hat tip to Chipocrite for reminding me this exists!).

All the instruments enter to play the “real” beginning of the song and we get moving.  I changed the bass line a lot so that it was more… well… new wave-y.  The original bass line is very rhythmic and almost out of time.  I wanted to make the piece had a stronger “fundamental” beat.  I put the melody in soprano sax and added the other instruments as needed.  I have the pulses dive, just as they do in the real track, and then the trombone+horn+tuba have a kind of nice chorale moment leading into the end of the piece.

To make a little segue between pieces, I used tuba.  “Deja Vu” begins as soon as the pulses enter.

“Deja Vu”

This has been covered a million times by a million people.  My decision, again, was to highlight the background figures that are hidden deep in the NSF.  I proceed to introduce the soprano sax on melody and tuba on bass.  You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of depth here.  I tried to make it a bit lighter so that it was a bit different.

Eventually, after playing through the melody once, the band enters.  The drumline/bassline I used here is well, inspired by New Order’s “Blue Monday”.  The melody is played again and then augmented a bit at the end to a more broad style.  The sawtooth dives and holds.

To make sure there was not confusion for the band on when to enter, “Riddle” begins with distant pulse waves, in the new tempo, and gives the band time to adjust.

“Riddle”

I completely re-orchestrated the first “part” of this song to be broader and much more lyrical.  The band plays along with an arpeggiated square wave and added a sawtooth to add some depth to the bass notes.  There’s a brief hold and then we move to the second “part” of the piece.

For a while, the pre-programmed sound just provides the drums for the background figures and adds an occasional detuned square wave.  You’ll notice that I really really really interpreted this piece strangely.  The bassline in the tuba is really all over the place.  I wanted to remove as much of the “Latin-inspired Dracula hunting” aspect of it as possible.

For the “coda” of the song, I have the trombone and tuba play along with the pre-programmed sound.  I really let the NES sounds take over and finish the piece off aggressively with very little by the live instruments.

“Evergreen”

This is a beautiful piece of music- gothic and classical… and a very fitting end to a very good video game.  I wanted this to be emotional… so naturally I cut out all the pre-programmed sound.  This is played ONLY by the band and can be rubato, interpreted, and performed differently each time.  I wanted to make sure that, after all that pre-planning, there was a spot in the piece where we could sit back and reflect as musicians who are inspired and thoughtful and not just as musicians who are following along with a tape, if that makes sense.

Results:

So how does it turn out?  Here’s another teaser.  To hear the whole thing, though, you’re going to need to go to our concert on February 2nd- Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music!

Check back soon for more posts from the Beta Testers!  And don’t forget to come see us play the music from Castlevania III, Pokemon, and MUCH more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

preview: LA NOIRE

Our next show is coming up on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. As the show approaches, some of the Beta Testers are going to chime in here to talk about the music we’ll be featuring at the concert. This is Doug’s short preview on and around LA NOIRE

I’m a big fan of noir. As film style, it provides a really fascinating counterpoint to America’s narrative of the Greatest Generation. Behind America’s Golden Age success story is tragedy, scandal, and lots of foggy dark alleys.  While the rest of the country basked in its post-war optimistic sunshine, noir is where pessimism went to hide during the night.

Truthfully, I get my noir fix a little more frequently from cultural products other than films. Pessimistic hard-boiled crime novels, at their best, just have a way with words that push all the right buttons for me. If you’re looking for a suspenseful downer or two, I can’t recommend enough David Markson’s Harry Fannin novels. Currently, I’m really digging Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, which is a cross between crime fiction and Lovecraftian horror. Its messy and complicated and one of my favorite monthly comic reads at the moment. You can play catch up if you pick up the trade paperbacks.

Both of those examples perfectly capture the noir atmosphere, which is what I look for in defining the style. That, in a nutshell, was my problem with LA NOIRE. It was too often bright and clean. The game more frequently pushed towards horror than suspense. For some reason, running people over with your car in sunny LA didn’t feel grim, but routine.

I don’t want to give any plot details away because the game was fun to play, and the story snakes around various parts of LA’s lawbreakers extremely well. Team Bondi also found the perfect game mechanic to unveil their unprecedented face detail by making you identify facial tics to suss out liars. As a game, LA NOIRE definitely played well. I just didn’t think the visual elements captured the noir style as well as they could have.

But the music! The musical cues were by and large great. Both the tracks they brought in from the post war jazz world and the soundtrack written for the game felt authentic to noir. I re-worked the main theme to be a cool and dark feature for Mark on the alto saxophone. It rubs a little Taxi Driver dirt into the rainy LA night.

Come see us play the music from LA NOIRE and more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

preview: Castlevania III, Part 1

Hi again!  As we’ve been saying, our next show is coming up on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. As the show approaches, some of the Beta Testers are going to chime in here to talk about the music we’ll be featuring at the concert. This is Steve’s write-up on Castlevania III, Part 1.  Enjoy!

In Part 1, I’ll discuss one of the biggest arrangement projects I’ve done in my entire life – Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III) for Beta Test Music and 2A03+VRC6 (FC/NES) accompaniment.  Yep, that’s live music + pre-programmed NES.  On my blog, I talk about these chips all the time.  Now it’s time to actually use them.

First impressions:

Since the humble beginnings of Beta Test some 4 years ago, I’ve really really really really wanted to get us playing along with some 8bit or chiptune pre-programmed sound.

Honestly, there really wasn’t anything stopping me from doing this.  So, why was this not done earlier?  Well, partially because I wasn’t really sure how to manipulate the sounds well enough using FamiTracker to make Nintendo music that was convincing…. and partially because it’s ridiculously time consuming.  Ask anyone who composes chiptune music-  it’s not just like you’re sitting in front of Finale blasting away on your MIDI keyboard.  It takes a lot of subtle nuance, mainly due to the “manual” nature of technology behind the sound generation (more on this later).

Eventually, with the encouragement of some good friends (hat tip to Chipocrite) and others (hat tip to others), I decided to get a project going.  My decision was to cover the music from Akumajou Densetsu, a game we call Castlevania III here in the US.  While not the most famous game in the series, the game itself has probably the best soundtrack from the NES generation of  Castlevania games.

Let’s take a look my musical selection process.

Musical Selections:

Akumajou Densetsu/Castlevania III, composer:  Hidenori Maezawa

Maezawa’s soundtrack for this game is very complex, bass driven, and at times, extremely atmospheric…. in the Japanese version.

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post on my blog, the US-released Castlevania III is missing the VRC6 audio mapper.  The VRC6 adds an extra 3 channels of sound – 2 pulse waves and a sawtooth wave- to the standard NES sounds – 2 pulse waves, 1 triangle wave, 1 noise channel, and a simple 1bit sampler.  Does this make a big difference, though?

What we heard:

What Japan heard:

VERY UNFAIR.  VERY VERY UNFAIR.  The Japanese version is capable of using the sawtooth for the bass- a much more convincing “bass” sound over the triangle.  In fact, the Japanese version doesn’t use the triangle wave AT ALL.  Weird.  You’ll notice a lot more polyphony as well.  Maezawa, in addition to composing for this game, is the CREATOR of the VRC6 module.  All of these factors lead me to decide to arrange the music from the Japanese version of the game, hence why I keep referring to my arrangement as Akumajou Densetsu over Castlevania III.

Now, for the record, Beta Test HAS played an arrangement of music from this game before without pre-programmed sound- we did so at “Beta Test Presents:  MONSTERS!” back in the fall of 2011 – so I already had a good idea of what music I would like to cover from the game.  The track above ,”Beginning”, is a classic Castlevania series theme and naturally would have to be included.  It is also the music that plays for the very first level of the game.

As an aside:  I believe that when covering music from games, it’s always important to include music from the beginning of the game because that’s what people remember the most.  Every time someone plays the game, they have to go through the first level, regardless of how far they get.  I feel that this makes all game arrangements accessible and I’ve used this strategy on nearly all the arrangements I’ve done for Beta Test.

The introduction music to this game is actually really beautiful.  Take a listen:

I decided that inserting this into the arrangement would really take advantage of our live instruments.  Digital sound’s advantage over real instruments is that it can be manipulated for basically ANY kind of playback- from ridiculously short to infinitely long tones.  However, real instruments are much more capable of producing extra amounts of variability on-the-fly since a line can never really be reproduced the same way.  My point is:  lyrical pieces will probably always be interpreted better when played by real instruments vs. chiptune audio playback (or at least it’s a helluva a lot easier haha).  I decided that I should take advantage of this when I can.  Speaking of which:

I decided that this would also work well with our instrumentation.  It’s short but can provide a transition after the “Prelude”.

So I had “Prelude”, “Prayer”, and “Beginning”.  I needed to add some other tracks with some meat.  I thought this would be a good choice as well:

Good old “Vampire Killer”.  Such an iconic track.  I figured everyone would recognize it.  It would also be really fun to remix.  Then, I wanted to add a personal favorite to the mix:

As Doug from Beta Test always says about this track:  I don’t get it- you’re marching your way to Dracula to a Latin beat?  He kinda has a point… but still, it’s a good track.  I also chose it because it’s not used very much in the complete series (though it is brought back here).

Lastly, I decided we should end with something lyrical and thoughtful after blasting through a bunch of upbeat tunes.  The ending to the game came to mind:

Again:  advantage – real instruments.  I thought this would be perfect.

So, my medley was set to be:  “Prelude”, “Prayer”, “Beginning”, “Deja vu”, “Riddle,” and “Evergreen”.   How does this turn out?  Was I able to mix the real instruments and the digital sound convincingly?  Check back soon for Part 2.

And uh… here’s a small teaser of the completed product (played here by MIDI playback+2a03/VRC6):

Check back soon for more posts from the Beta Testers!  And don’t forget to come see us play the music from Castlevania III, Pokemon, and MUCH more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

In Rehearsal

So what were you all up to this weekend? Us Beta Testers were working on our completely new set of music for our upcoming show on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Brandon and Doug took some photos during practice. Take a look:

 (click to embiggen)

Brandon and Sam practicing Xander and Anya’s song from Buffy

Mark and (almost) all of the instruments he’ll be playing

Steve on the bass guitar playing some music from Earthbound

Rob and Brandon

Mark doing some Earthbound toy piano-ing

Ben is pumped.

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preview: Once More, With Feeling

Our next show is coming up on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. As the show approaches, some of the Beta Testers are going to chime in here to talk about the music we’ll be featuring at the concert. This is Doug’s short preview on and around the music from the Buffy Musical Episode, Once More, With Feeling

I am regularly called a teenage girl. Most of the time, its in response to my enthusiastic love for the Buffyverse. If one has to be a teenage girl to appreciate Joss Whedon’s teen drama amongst vampire world, I’m pretty okay with that.

People who love Buffy tend to love this episode. Why? Well, its probably not because the actors are great singers. They’re kind of really bad (except Giles, the Monster of the Week, and maybe Tara). I think people love the episode because it fully integrates itself into narrative at that moment in Buffy’s story.

Some shows have musical episodes that are tangential to the series plot. Once More, With Feeling furthers the complicated angst of season 6 by having Buffy sing, rather than talk, about how her friends dragged her out of a nice happy afterlife (one without, you know, bunnies). Most shows have a really idiotic excuse to explain why everyone is singing. Buffy comes close to outdoing the best monster of the week show ever by using its monster to make everyone sing about their lives.

The challenge in picking songs for us to do at this show revolved around finding a few moments that involved just a couple of singers. We’ll be doing the big baddy Sweet’s opening number What You Feel and Anya and Xander’s song I’ll Never Tell. Hopefully, if you all like these, we may return to the episode’s book down the road and do a couple more. I know I’d love to get a big chorus together to do They Got The Mustard Out.

Between this episode and Angel’s Lorne, its clear that Joss Whedon has a thing for musicals. I’m pretty sure he’s a Sondheim fan, and I think he should incorporate more singing into his works. Spidey already has his own musical, so there’s no reason he can’t expand the concept to other Avengers. It seems perfectly sensible to have Captain America lead a big chorus line at the end at the end of the next Avengers film.

Come see us play the music from Once More, With Feeling and more on February 2nd at the First Unitarian Church. Tell your friends! Advanced tickets are cheaper than at the door!

Next Show: Groundhog’s Day!

Your next chance to catch us in performance is approaching fast. We’ll be at the First Unitarian Church in Center City, Philadelphia on February 2nd, aka Groundhog’s Day.

We’ll be doing an almost entirely fresh set of arrangements and music. This will definitely include music from the games Castlevania, Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI, and Bastion. We’ll also be doing our own take on music from the Buffy musical episode Once More With Feeling and some original music from Doug.

We’ll also be putting the spotlight on some of the tunes between now and the concert on the blog, so keep an eye on that spot.

At the door, tickets will be $15, but you can get them in advance for $10 on ticket leap.

Here’s our page’s event listing, and don’t forget to share the facebook event with your friends!