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! ;-)
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!