Chrono Trigger: The Ostinato
Yikes...so I definitely lied about updating more often! :-P Trust me, I, I wanted to! When I'm not traveling with VGL, I work two part-time jobs at home, and lately I've been getting slammed with hours at both of them lately. Money is a good thing! Not having time to practice/compose/arrange/blog is not LOL I do enjoy my jobs to a point though--I work as a singer at a Catholic Church, where I perform for the masses, funerals, weddings, communions, confirmations, you name it. I also work as a hostess in a Chinese restaurant, and WOW, talk about learning a lesson in humility!! Since I started working there three months ago, I have not ONCE seen my boss take a day off. His dedication to his restaurant is very much the same as my dedication to music, and seeing how hard he works literally every single day is very inspiring to me, to work hard every day as musician and better myself and teach myself new things.
So, this week I'm posting only one arrangement, but it contains a very cool musical element that we can learn a lot about: the ostinato! The "Corridor of Time" theme from Chrono Trigger is a perfect example of this motivic tool.
Let's first look at the definition of motive, which is essentially: a recurring musical fragment or idea that characterizes a composition. Hard to describe in words, but it motives are the things in a piece of music that make it unique from other pieces. What's an ostinato then? A motive or phrase that is repeated in the same musical voice. We're not talking "oh the motive pops up now and then throughout the piece"--we're talking some kind of rhythmic, melodic or harmonic idea that is literally looping over and over again. An ostinato doesn't have to last the whole piece of music to be considered an ostinato (although some pieces DO do that), but it does have to repeat several times in a row. The wikipedia article on ostinati that I linked to contains an important point: "Ostinati are to classical music what riffs are to popular music." Riff = ostinato, they're two different terms for essentially the same thing. Examples ahoy!:
Classical music: Possibly the most famous example of rhythmic ostinato in classical music is Maurice Ravel's Bolero. That short pattern in the snare repeats, over and over and over again, for the entire song, unchanging (And the version I linked to isn't even the entire song--the whole thing is close to 19 minutes long!) Also check out Pachelbel's Canon in D and the first movement of Holst's Suite in Eb, both examples of harmonic ostinati. Listen to the unchanging bassline, while a ton of variation is going on in the rest of the instruments--this is called "ground bass."
Pop music: I admit it: I am a Gleek. Here's a version of "Loser" by the cast from the TV show Glee--repeating guitar part right in the beginning? Yup, ostinato. Also, here's an interesting example of a sung melodic ostinato: the Glee cast's version of "Gold Digger."
Video game music: ...CHRONO TRIGGER!! Seriously, this game is filled with great examples. Yasunori Mitsuda uses ostinati to great effect in all of his pieces. "Corridor of Time" has an ostinato that starts off the piece and plays straight through. It can be considered a rhythmic and melodic ostinato, though it breaks the rules slightly; technically, the phrase in a melodic ostinato should be exactly the same each time it repeats, but throughout this piece, the pitches change slightly to support the chord changes. The rhythm and contour are the same, however, so I think it fits the definition of ostinato. If you take a look at the score, you can see the ostinato line is in the topmost stave--it literally never stops looping.
Here are a few more examples of MItsuda-san's use of ostinato in other pieces...can you hear the loop? What kind of ostinato is it--harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, a combination of those?
Chrono Trigger - Undersea Palace
Chrono Trigger - Last Battle
Mario Party - DK's Jungle Adventure (bet you didn't know he did the music for this game!)
Other video game pieces with ostinati.
Donkey Kong Country - Vulture Culture
Mortal Kombat -- Courtyard
Earthworm Jim -- New Junk City
Notice that these examples have ostinati all over the place--Corridor of Time has it in the treble range, Undersea Palace and Vulture Culture have it midrange, and the rest of them have it in the bass/percussion. Actually, in Vulture Culture, there's a few ostinati running at the same time in all of the registers. Cool huh? Ostinato is a very groovy tool.
So, the Corridor of Time! This piece I found difficult to arrange on a reduced piano score. Usually I try to fit everything on only two staves (also known as a grand staff). But my goal is to arrange the music in such a way that you can see EVERYTHING that's going on in every instrument. So let's look at our texture for a minute: we've got the melody, the chords supporting the melody, the bass, and the ostinato. You need at least three hands to get through all of that! So I did Corridor of Time for what's called "Four Hands Piano"--that is, two people playing one piano. So if you want to play any of my 4-hands arrangements, grab a friend and knock yourselves out! :-D
Enjoy the new arrangement of Corridor of Time! More on the way--sooner this time, I promise! ;-)
Chrono Trigger: Texture
Hey all! Was out of town this week, so I apologize for the delay in posting new arrangements! This week, I decided to take a break this week from the carefree happiness of Super Mario World to dig into some Chrono Trigger music. Now I must confess, I still have not actually played this game *dodges flying bullets* but it's not my fault, I tell you! When I was a kid, my sibligns and I grew up with a Sega Genesis and then a Nintendo 64; the only time I got to play Super Nintendo or Playstation was when I visited my cousin's house two or three times a year, and I guess he didn't have Chrono Trigger, because I hadn't even heard of it until I was in college! But rest assured, I DESPERATELY want to play this game, I have absolutely loved all of the music I've heard from it so far, and it's one of my favorite segments that I perform with Video Games Live.
So until I hijack a Super Nintendo and steal a copy of Chrono Trigger, I have been hunting down the music on Youtube. And wow...I can't believe how many orchestral colors Yasunori Mitsuda was able to get out of an SNES sound system. It really is very deep and complex music. Tell me the Chrono Trigger theme wouldn't sound completely EPIC with a live orchestra and solo saxophone.
What jumped out at me when I was listening to the Chrono Trigger music was the use of strong orchestral textures in video game music, which I think was pretty innovative for its time. I've included a link to a VERY lengthy Wikipedia article, but in a nutshell: texture is essentially the way all of the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic elements in a piece work together. And video game music is absolutely the PERFECT way to learn rudimentary texture! Seriously! Early video games (i.e. NES) had only few channels of sound to use for instrument voices, so the texture as a result was very "thin."For example, any piece of music from the first Castlevania: you've got your melody line, your harmony/countermelody line, bass line, rhythm section. And that's it. Because there's only one "voice" per line, it's VERY easy to hear the distinct lines of the texture. I found this awesome video a few days ago that is a GREAT example of how the growing abilities of sound cards give composers more textural ability. And it was not only the number of channels, but the growing number of "timbres" available to the composers. I mean, listen to the Chrono Trigger theme! Some of those sounds are CRAZY good for their time, like the timpani hits, strings, the snare drum! Over the years, video game music has become just as texturally complex as a modern-day orchestra--and in some ways even MORE complex, because video game composers often work with electronic instruments, which means the number of timbres they could create are positively endless. And as a result, all of these new timbres can work with each other in different ways to create new textures of sound.
I liked both of these new pieces for different reasons. Chrono Trigger's theme really gets my blood pumping because it feels like it's always moving forward. The big timpani hits in the bass really give the piece power, but there is also a forward momentum in the quieter sections, i.e. the little harp ostinato that Mitsuda employs starting in m.26; the melody, harmony and basslines have become very long and sustained, to create a sweet, quiet moment. Without the percussion and rhythmic bassline, the harp is the instrument that keeps the piece moving. What a great choice; it's a soft, light timbre, a short, plucked sound, and therefore doesn't take away from the melody and harmonies. It's "there" without distracting us from what we "should" be listening to. I find that Mitsuda-san uses a lot of ostinatos in his work, which I'll write about next week regarding his "Corridor of Time" piece.
"Zeal Palace" also has some seriously dark epicness, in very simple but effective ways. The use of pedal points give it a really forbidding, grim tone. It's like the antithesis of the Chrono Trigger theme, which excites us right at the beginning with loud, in-your-face drums and percussive harmonies; in the beginning of Zeal Palace, the low/high strings are barely moving at all, but it's the lack of movement that puts us on the edge of our seats! Two totally different approaches, but both excite us as listeners. Too cool :-D
Enjoy the new arrangements for Chrono Trigger and Zeal Palace! More on the way!
Video game music was what got me composing as a kid, and I learned the basics of composition from transcribing my favorite VGM pieces. These are my thoughts and discoveries about various game compositions as I transcribe and study them. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts/ideas as well!