Tag Archive: Music


ThePianoGuys


Nearly a year ago now, my Sister, Lyle, showed me an impressive youtube video. It featured a cellist playing a Star Wars cover/parody. You may have seen it. If not it’s here.

I was pretty impressed with the cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, and watched a few more of the small selection of videos associated with ThePianoGuys as they existed then. At that time there weren’t very many at all. I liked what I saw, but with such a limited selection of stuff, I liked them in a “I hope they do more” kinda way.

A week later, I’d moved on.  For nearly a year I went on with my life having pretty well forgotten about ThePianoGuys, despite the positive first impression.

Then, during my parent’s visit a week ago, they showed me one of their newer videos:

It caught my attention, but at the time I was too busy to look further into the videos that they’ve released, so I put it on the back burner.  Yesterday, while watching both the little terrors I like to call my children, I needed some music to help sooth the baby and keep the 3-yo entertained.   I looked up ThePianoGuys and played some of their stuff.  As it happens, I picked Moonlight, a piece inspired by Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata and 7th Symphony. That video caught me.

About an hour later, I’d listened to the vast majority of their videos and had ordered their first Album. Three hours later and I’m beginning to eye up the solo albums of Steven Sharp Nelson and Jon Schmidt.

I have always been a big fan of Classical Modern Fusion, and these guys are among the best I’ve heard for that genre, if not the best. Listening to their music makes me somewhat sad that I stopped playing the violin when I was 18, and even more sad that I never started playing the hammer dulcimer like I promised myself I’d do someday. Even so, I’m mindful that I still have the opportunity to pick up an instrument and start playing again, so I may as well see how much a dulcimer costs these days (As it turns out, you can pick up a 2 1/2 octave dulcimer for around $400, I shall consider that). And, more importantly, I owe it to my kids to make sure they get an eclectic exposure to music, especially given Tron’s enthusiasm for music in general (it’s likely he’ll be getting a keyboard and piano lessons given how enamored he is of the pianos he’s encountered).

I suppose I should start seeing how much season tickets to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra cost… and see if Blue Man Group is going to be playing in Milwaukee any time soon.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

The Tragedy of Tales of Legendia


For those uninterested in Video Games, you may want to just head over to Library of the Damned and hang out there today. Very video game intensive post ahead!

Recently (within the last 3 months) I pulled out an oldish PS2 game that TacoMa’am had picked up for me: Tales of Legendia. She’d snagged it for $4.95 from a video rental store that was clearing out all their PS2 inventory. I’ve long been a fan of the Tales series, so it was a lucky find for $5.

It turned out to be $5 extremely well spent, too. In the play-through of the game (and it was much longer than anticipated) I found that it stacked up pretty well with the other entries into the series. The gameplay was solid, the plot and characters were very well done, and the voice acting was spot on (drawing heavily upon the established troupe of voice talent that does dubbing for 90% of the Japanese imported Anime and video games).

Yarr, thar be spoilers ahead!

The game also had an interesting feature where it was really broken into two games. There was the first ‘half’ of the game which followed a very complete plot and has an ending and credits. After the ending and credits you’re thrown right back into the game. As it turns out, you’re only about 1/3 of the way through the game. The second half of the game exists almost as its own entity, with a unifying plot separate from the first half that explores all the characters more completely. The director of the game called this an optional portion of the game, though nobody is sure why. In order to get a “game complete” credit on your game-save and open up New Game+ you HAVE to finish this second part. Further, a lot of the neater aspects of the game (such as the arena, synth-items, side-quests, ultimate-weapons, etc) aren’t available until this second half. And the second ‘half’ is nearly twice a long as the first half and is much deeper and fleshed out whereas the first half feels almost rushed at times (due to the fast pacing). People who have played the game through almost unanimously facepalm at the director’s assertion that the second part of the game is optional; since it clearly isn’t. In fact, if you don’t play the second half, you miss out on at least 3/4 of the game content since there is so much that isn’t unlocked until the second half.

This leads to one of the two tragedies of the game: The voice acting is only in the first half of the game and the second half is just “text bubbles.” It’s a real shame too, because the second half would have come alive if the voice acting had been extended to include it. I’m going to give the makers of the game the benefit of the doubt and assume that they ran out of space on the game disk and just couldn’t fit all the sound files that would be necessary for the second half. It could also have been budget concerns as there would have been several dozen hours of extra recording necessary to add voice to the second half.

The other tragedy of the game was the music. By and large I found myself unimpressed with the music from the game; there were a few very good tracks I liked as I played through, but mostly it didn’t seem well done. However, one of the tracks I really liked so I took the opportunity to get the soundtrack for the game and listen to it, and that’s when I discovered the real tragedy of the music: The music for the game was very well composed, and completely orchestrated (almost unheard of for a PS2 game, and even modern games are rarely fully orchestrated). What went wrong then? The recording studio they hired to record the music did a HORRIBLE job.

If you listen to an orchestral recording that has been done well you’ll notice that it sounds very clean. Individual instruments or instrumental sections have clear definitions, and the different levels of sound are distinct and balanced. This is achieved in a few ways. One way is to record all the instruments separately and then mix them; this used to be very popular, but with better sound systems and recording studios, is not as popular as it once was because such a recording style often sounds less dynamic. Instruments tend not to harmonize as well since they’re either playing alone, or while listening to a recording of other’s playing. In a setting where the instruments are actually playing together, the performers will (often without thinking) adapt to one-another and produce something that sounds more “whole” than when recorded separately and then mixed together.

Thus, productions that can afford to do so will opt for the second method: whole orchestra recording. Disney (and indeed all the big movie producers) have been doing this for decades. It’s technically a harder thing to do, but results in a much better, harmonic product. Often you have to put microphones in individual instruments (key instruments like soloists and first/second chairs), as well as setting up recording for individual sections and further record the orchestra as a whole. Sound directors (those clear plastic sheets you often see at concerts that are being recorded) are used to help isolate sections while still allowing for collaboration of the players. Unfortunately, this kind of recording is much more expensive, requires more equipment, and a larger more carefully designed recording room. Once you have all your recorded material, all the different tracks taken from a single piece of music are overlaid, and mixed back together aiming at producing a balanced and clean sounding recording of the orchestra. If the studio did their job correctly, the result will sound like you’ve got the best seat in the house when listening to the playback. This is why soundtracks of Disney movies sound so direct: they have one of the best recording studios in the business for doing whole orchestra recording.

And then there’s the way the music was recorded for Tales of Legendia. It sounds like they plopped the orchestra in an empty auditorium somewhere and put a single microphone out where the audience would be sitting. They put microphones in a few key instruments, but other than that just one recording of the orchestra from a distance. The sound is horrible. Lots of echo, the instruments blend together and are indistinct, the low (bass) end overpowers the high end in many places, and solos and voice work is far too overpowering because they are recorded directly. It’s like listening to musical chaos most of the time. And it’s worse because the music is actually very good if you listen past the horrible recording/mixing job. Such a tragedy that the game developers could not afford (or chose not to hire) a professional sound stage to do the recording. The whole thing sounds like some of the high school recordings we made of the orchestra I was in: very amateur. Even individual recording/remixing would have produced a far superior product to what was actually produced.

Had the game voiced the second half, and hired a good recording studio to do the music, Tales of Legendia would have easily been a contender for my PS2 top 10, and potentially joined the list of my “Essential Plays.” As it stands though, the poor musical presentation combined with the lack of complete voice acting, plus a few smaller flaws, knocks the game out of the runnings. Top 25 perhaps, but even on the low-end of that.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

NOTE: I’ve mentioned my “Essential Plays” a few times on my blog. Starting soon™ I’ll be using my Monday’s Game spotlights to cover my “Essential Plays” lists.

Video Game Sound Tracks


Again, I’m unrepentant that I enjoy video games.  But one of the things that has always been high on my priority for games is the musical score.  Games that have a bad score (or worse, no score) I can usually only play for a few minutes before having to put down and find something else to do.

Music, for an interactive activity like a game, is part of the art of the whole presentation.  The music helps set the mood, backup the action, add tension to the moment, and so on.  If you don’t have a good score, you aren’t getting the full potential from the game.  And, sadly, a lot of games seem to think that the music in unimportant.  Either it’s missing entirely, it’s a short score of keyboard noodling, or it’s just the occasional track that feels more like an afterthought.

Some games can get away with this, like the SIMS which has it’s own built in MP3 player.. or a flight Sim game where music actually is unimportant.  But for most video games you can’t have a good game without a halfway decent score.  Luckily, even though it’s a common oversight (though it’s getting better so far as I’ve seen), there are a lot of very good scores out there.  So good in fact that the soundtrack itself is worth a purchase (and anymore soundtracks are starting to come with the games).

5 of the best that I own are as follows in my order of preference:

5. Chrono Trigger:  Chrono trigger is probably one of the best RPGs ever constructed, and arguably one of the best video games ever made.  Top 10 material at least.  Anyway, part of the wonder that is Chrono Trigger is its phenomenal score written by Yasunori Mitsuda a composer who’s done more than a few game music scores in his day… and the odd musical.  More so because it’s entirely in 16-bit midi.  The soundtrack is almost entirely without re-mastering and shows that even with the limitations of the 16-bit instruments you can produce something that is not only enjoyable to listen to, but is beautiful in the complex use of what is a rather simple medium.  You can snag it for $30 now that the DS remake has made it popular again, and I think there is an MP3 album for purchase form itunes.  Bad dudes has a pretty decent remix album called Chronotorius that is worth checking out as well.

4. Terranigma:  You’re a rare gamer if you’ve even heard of this game, let alone play it and own the soundtrack.  Terranigma was a game made for the SNES that never left Japan.  The only way for anyone outside Japan to play this game would either to import it and know how to speak Japanese, or to play the tan translated emulation (there is also apparently a Pal version of the game… 1 copy in existence for $300… yeah). I’m not big on the emulation scene in general.  Emulated games are a good way to get your hands on games that either never left japan or can’t be found anywhere for reasonable money (Mega Man x2 for instance).   In this case Terranigma is one of those;  there is no reasonable way for a person in the U.S. to play this game; so until it’s released on WiiWare, go download it.  Anyway.  Terranigma featured a very short, but very good soundtrack composed by Miyoko Kobayashi and Masanori Hikichi, composers who are also not strangers to the video game world. Of note the ending credit music is reason alone to have the soundtrack. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is even harder to get your hands on in a legitimate way. After searching for a few years I broke down and just downloaded it from some website.  It comes with 8 remixed tracks that are very well done in high bit midi.  To date I have never seen a legitimate CD or MP3 compilation of Terrinigma offered for sale.  C’est la vie.

Also, you’ll see US  release- Terranigma games on ebay, those are scams avoid them.  They just made their own sticker and stuck it on a different (probably broken) game cart.

3. Chrono Cross:  The sequel to Chrono Trigger appeared a number of years later for the Play Station and once again featured a musical score written by Yasunori Mitsuda.  Interestingly enough, even with the same composer the music is much different and utilizes a much upgraded 32-bit midi instrument set.  This enhanced instrument set really agrees with Mitsuda as the score is much better than that of the first game.  There is more than a hint of Celtic influences in the music as well, which separates it quite a bit from his earlier work; yet threads of his style are easily found between the two scores.  Even though the game did not seem to attract much interest (despite being very good), the score is no less worth owning an listening to.  Unfortunately, since Cross hasn’t had a rebirth like trigger you would be lucky to find a copy for less than $40 because it’s a Japanese import.  I snagged it for $20 about 8 years ago off Ebay, so maybe you would have luck there too.

2. Eternal Sonata: A very recent addition to my sound track list.  Eternal Sonata was a beautiful game in terms of background and music.  The gameplay was pretty good… once you got pretty deep into the game.  Anyway, the soundtrack is a rarity in the video game world as it is ENTIRELY orchestrated.  That’s right, no midi or synthetic music; all orchestra.  The score was composed by Motoi Sakuraba and Frédéric François Chopin. yes, THAT Chopin, the game featured 7 of Chopin’s piano pieces; which was appropriate given that Chopin was one of the main characters in the game.  The music is beautiful, both well composed and well performed and definitely worth a listen.  Unfortunately, until/unless a regional release is made of the sound track, the only way to get it is to either download it, or to pay huge amounts of money for an import copy.  As of yet, I’ve not seen a copy for under $50.

1. Ar Tonelico Melody of Elemia :  For a game based around music, they really hit the nail on the head with their soundtrack.  Easily some of the best and catchiest music I’ve ever heard in a video game.  It was composed by the Gust sound team (Akira Tsuchiya, Ken Nakagawa and Daisuke Achiwa) who are known for their extensive work in composing the music that appears in the Atelier Iris and Mana Khemia games (Which are also good soundtracks).  Stylistically the music runs a pretty large gambit, which is probably why they use a composing team rather than a single composer.  There isn’t any one style and even if you don’t like it all, there’s probably at least one or two pieces that you’ll like.   The music for this game is difficult to collect because it was released in 3 albums.  A 2-disc OST that was packages with the pre-release of the the game (yay), but also two concert CDs that contain all the songs missing from the OST.  I’ve never seen either of those concert CDs for less than $50 imported; so downloading might be the best choice (It’s kind of a jerk move to put most, but not all the music from the game on the OST anyway).

So there you have it.  Those are the top 5 out of my rather extensive video game soundtrack collection.  It’s also what I listen to most days on the way to work or during long trips.  Yeah, TacoMa’am is just thrilled I like the music so much.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?