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!
Castlevania: Basic Texture
This week's theme was Castlevania. I really get a kick out of arranging music from this game, it's very easy for me to just crank one out in about fifteen minutes because each song follows a very clear formula. You can hear very easily that composer Kinuyo Yamashita must have had only four channels of sound to work with, because the song is constructed in distinct lines, which make up the "texture:" You've got your bass line, which tends to hang out in the mid-bass clef register, occasionally dipping lower to the bottom of the clef; then there's your melody line, in the mid/top treble; then the middle line goes one of three ways, either harmonizing the melody, acting as a countermelody, or doubling the bassline. The last channel is of course the percussion track. Almost every single composition from the game is divided up in this way, but the formula never gets old! My favorite line to listen to is the mid-line, because it fluctuates so easily between all of the different functions; one second is harmonizing the melody, and then suddenly it's breaking off into a countermelody, etc. Take a listen and follow along with the score to see what I mean!
Enjoy the new Castlevania arrangements for Nothing to Lose, Stalker, Vampire Killer and Walking on the Edge! More are 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!