Groundhog’s Day Wrap Up

Hey guys!  Thanks to everyone who came out last night.  We had a really good time playing for y’all.  We made the best of a boring holiday AND the weather.  Not bad.

If you saw any of the merch last night and was like:  oh man, I want that but I can’t buy it now…. Fear not!  You can still purchase ANY of the items you saw yesterday on our Bandcamp – Merch page.

Also, we’re working on the audio and video from last night…  Stay tuned!

Lastly, if you’re in the NYC area on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), we’ll be playing a small set of music at Spectrum.  Check out the details here.

Again, thanks for coming out and supporting this nerdy little chamber ensemble from Philly!

preview: Final Fantasy III/VI

Hi again! Wow, Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music is TOMORROW.  WOW.  Remember to get your tickets in advance HERE and save some money.  That would be killer.  In his final preview, Steve will talk about his arrangement of music from Final Fantasy III/VI

Today, we’ll talk about my arrangement of music from Squaresoft’s (it was still Squaresoft back then, I believe) Final Fantasy III/VI AND go over 1000 words again.  SWEET.  Take THAT Doug.

First Impressions:

Many of you by now know that the game we played as kids, Final Fantasy III, was actually the sixth installment of the Final Fantasy series.  There’s a lot of reasons for us not getting the other games but I won’t really go into it.  Google can explain everything, I promise.

Final Fantasy VI is probably the reason I’m doing what I do today.  The tunes from this game are really what solidified my love of music, both classical and video game based.  I’ve played through this game so many times that I can successfully write down an entire walk-through, room by room, without actually being in front of the game (I’ve had to exercise this ability before on command and I’ve been pretty darn accurate).  I used to sit in my room and play along with the battle themes and dungeon themes on bass.  I was that kid.  I mean, did you expect anything different?  I’m writing a game blog haha.

I was trying to think of how many play-throughs I’ve done of FF6 and I think it’s something like 45-50.  I lost track.  I used to beat this game once every other weekend when I was in middle school, start to finish.  My favorite set up is the Invincible Gau – Merit Award + Genji Glove + 2x Tempest + Rage: Stray Cat = Cat Scratch for everyone… a lot of times!  Try it – it’s a lot of fun.

Anyhow, enough nerd flexing here.  Let’s talk about the music.

Musical Selections:

Final Fantasy VI, composer: Nobuo Uematsu

The soundtrack to this game is massive.  And it’s also really good.  There are very few tracks that would boring for the audience to experience if they’ve played the game.  Most of the music is iconic in its own right.

Naturally, the one thing I’ve wanted to do from this game for YEARS is “Dancing Mad” – the whole freaking thing.  Like, that would be so epic and amazing.  There have been other versions of this tune, by Uematsu’s own The Black Mages, at Distant Worlds II, etc.  I’m actually disappointed with these versions… I don’t know if they capture the tune exactly.  I mean, one of them is Uematsu’s direct interpretation of his own music… but still!  I think it could be better, somehow.  Point is:  I’m not covering “Dancing Mad”…. this time…

My selection process boiled down to really what works for the group.  A lot of the battle themes and what not have a wide array of extra instruments that we can’t really pretend to emulate.  That’s kind of the issue with covering tunes from SFC/SNES games- it’s not just 3 audio channels.  There’s incredible amounts of polyphony and with a group that only has 4-5 instruments, it’s really hard to give the music justice.  This immediately eliminated many of the tunes with deeper polyphonic textures.

I did, however, find some pieces I thought really fit for the style of the group.  Uematsu likes to write for some SNES instruments that sound like french horns and trombones.  I really geared my selections toward that.  Let’s take a look.

Performance Considerations:

For this piece, we’ll be using our standard set up:  soprano sax, french horn, trombone, tuba, piano, and drum set.

As you know, I’m a big fan of covering tunes from the beginning of games, throwing in some tunes that I like, and then kind of making a medley out of all that material.  Naturally, I wanted to start this off with something you’d see/hear just by starting a new game:

Final Fantasy VI – “Opening Theme”

Okay, so while I love the stacked fourths that this opens with… well… we only have 4~ instruments and there’s certainly more than 4 notes here.  I decided to cut part of the intro.  We will start right at 1:14, skipping the initial part.

We don’t have bells so I decided to have the tuba come in with a low C.  I mean, LOW C.  We’ll see if I can pull this off on Saturday.  I may wuss out.  I have everything orchestrated so that the soprano sax takes the upper lines.  French horn and trombone travel a bit across the harmonies.  There’s so many instruments in the texture, I had to really scale down what I thought we’d be able to do.  I have piano try to save us a bit by covering some lines… but still.

We then move to that “Terra” or “Tina” part of the “Opening Theme”.  Soprano sax is a dead ringer for oboe or whatever that instrument Uematsu assigns for the melody is.  I have trombone and french horn cover the string flourishes in the background.  Tuba covers the bass line.  Piano covers the “celeste”-ish sound.  Simple.

Final Fantasy VI – “Awakening”

Okay, I don’t go and cover “Terra’s Theme” again here, I just use the first part of this piece as a transition.  Soprano sax covers the upper voice in a rubato style- the rest of the band enters on fermatas and moves harmonically when needed.  This is about a 10 second transition.  Then, we’re met with another theme:

Final Fantasy VI – “The Returners”

I always loved this theme.  It just happens to fit very well with our orchestration.  Tuba covers the bass line, of course.  Soprano sax covers the melody, with trombone and french horn assisting with the counter melodies as needed.  Piano covers the repetitive string parts.

As far as I know, there’s either no covers of this song or not many, at least live.  I’m happy we’re doing it.  I’m also happy we’re doing this:

Final Fantasy VI – “Save Them!”

This was a stretch.  There’s a TON of voices in this tune… but it’s so perfect.  This was probably one of my favorite themes as a kid.

Soprano sax covers a lot of the moving string lines.  Be on the lookout for Mark, he’s going to be playing a lot of notes haha.  French horn, in this piece, is actually orchestrated for low horn (you’ll notice it when you listen to the piece).  I have french horn cover those spots and more.  Trombone and tuba cover various lines.  There’s a VERY prominent timpani part so I have tuba cover a lot of that.  I also have tuba cover the very fast moving lower voice line at :33.  I’m proud of how this turned out.  It’s going to sound so freaking cool.

After “Save Them!”, I wrote an original transition based off “Locke’s Theme”.  Trombone is in the melody and tuba responds.  After two fermatas, we move to probably one of the most fun pieces we have planned for the entire program….

Final Fantasy VI – “Metamorphosis”

Wait for Shadow?

I love this piece.  A lot.  And anyone’s who’s played the game knows this is a very frantic and emotional time in the plot.  I know this has been covered before… but not with tuba, haha.  Soprano sax handles the upper lines (including some of the ridiculous string runs toward the end of the piece).  French horn and trombone act as a section and cover all those meandering, for lack of a better way to put it, “Phantom of the Opera”-like lines in the background.  Tuba rocks out.  This is criminally fun to play.  Drums hold down the hard rock beat.

This is a lot of material, obviously, but I figured we needed on last tune to bring it all together so I chose a theme that really shows off the orchestral nature of Uematsu:

Final Fantasy VI – “Locke”

I figured this would be a perfect closer.  Soprano sax covers the lead, as usual.  French horn and trombone… well, they cover tons of different parts throughout the piece to make it all work.  Tuba covers the bass line, as usual.

I created a small transition with french horn, tuba, piano, and drums alone and then we go into a reprise of Locke’s theme, in a new key and with a slower tempo.  I tried to really play hard into the orchestral nature of our instrumentation.  There’s a pretty dramatic trombone and tuba solo in octaves at the end.  The piece winds down and ends on a very open chord.  I thought this added a nice little touch.

Results:

I’m extremely excited that we’re playing this piece.  If you want to hear it live, you’re going to have to come to our concert this Saturday, February 2nd, at First Unitarian Church – Chapel in Philadelphia.  It’s going to be a pretty amazing time, trust me.  It’ll be good to stop and talk to some of you about video game music too, IN PERSON.  So psyched for that.  See you there!

This concludes our “preview” series for our concert!  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!  Explain to them why going to this concert will be life changing- maybe even show them links to our website.  Then, finally, show them that they can buy magical tickets from the land of cyberspace that are cheaper than at the door!  OoooOOOoooo!

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!