Video Game Music for the Soundtrack Obsessed...

Special care must be taken in composing video game soundtracks, since the majority of the pieces are played in the background on loop while the player is traversing the game. Thus the pieces must be good enough so they don’t drive the player bonkers. I’m a complete soundtrack junkie, so when I find at least one piece that I love from a video game soundtrack, I must check out the entire thing. Below is a list of my favourite pieces from my favourite video game soundtracks! 1. “Three Years of Anger” by Austin Haynes from Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller This soundtrack was composed for an indie game, and this piece was actually what sold me into buying the game. It has a sense of sinister grittiness with the grating instruments and the male vocals. 2. “The Star Festival” by Mahito Yokota from Super Mario Galaxy In my opinion, Super Mario Galaxy by far has the best soundtrack of all of the Super Mario franchise since it actually was performed by a full orchestra! I love the light and bouncy tone of this piece. The synthetic instruments add a celestial feel. 3. “The Adventure Begins” by David Stanton & Ben Stanton from King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember I wasn’t too crazy about this remake of a classic PC adventure game series, but I have to admit some of the tracks are quite beautiful. This piece has an enchanting fantasy flavour with flutes, piano, and harp. The original game soundtrack theme even plays into it. 4. “Main Theme” by Gustavo Santaolalla from The Last of Us The reason why I decided to play this game was because I first heard this piece. I love the prominence of the guitar. With just this main instrument...

Gaming Symphonies: A Reawakening...

The holy trinity of Video Games Live, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, and Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY should be on every gamer’s bucket list. I’ve attended them five times, collectively, and I’d rather take an arrow to the knee than miss one of these symphonies next time they tour in my area. Video game concerts are part performance and part classical orchestra, with a bucketful of nostalgia on the side. Large screens project scenes from a game’s key moments, synchronized to the live music. There’s dramatic lighting, occasional acting, lots of cosplay, and a surprising number of geeky marriage proposals in-between. Sometimes there’s audience participation, too. Bellowing out “One-Winged Angel” in a mass sing-along (with Nobou Uematsu leading the lyrics) may be the most unabashedly geeky thing I’ve ever done in my life (even if I was Engrishing my way through the Latin lyrics: “bells, frogs, big cher-ries, Peter Pan, magic cheese, SEH-FEE-ROTH”). Gaming soundtracks have come a long way since the 8-bit beeps and dings. I doubt the original video game composers ever imagined their work would be performed fully orchestrated; but take a look at most acclaimed retro titles and you’ll find a composition so theoretically sound, you’d think the composers could see the future in-between the notes they penned to sheet music. At my most recent Distant Worlds concert, I heard Final Fantasy VI’s “Opera Maria and Draco” for the first time as the night’s finale. A twelve-minute opera movement, this piece was originally composed for the 1994 NES, using nothing but jangling MIDI sounds and synthetic “voices.” It received a two-minute-long standing ovation. And an encore. Gaming symphonies are making classical music “cool” again. Video game concerts are re-envisioning classical music and reawakening interest in...

Anime themes that rock May29

Anime themes that rock

Since May is our music-themed month, we will be regaling you with fun playlists every Friday. These are the anime theme songs that make us wish we spoke Japanese (except in the case of the Pokemon theme; we can sing along with that one, and frequently do). Pokemon It’s the very best, like no theme ever was. Attack on Titan We will keel all ze titans. Fairy Tail Yes, it’s SUPPOSED to be “tail.” Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood That armor must’ve cost Al an arm and a leg. Sword Art Online This theme reminds us we want to take sword lessons and develop...

TV themes that we sing along to May22

TV themes that we sing along to...

Since May is our music-themed month, we will be regaling you with fun playlists every Friday. These are the geek television intros that are songs with lyrics by various bands.   “Big Bang Theory Theme” by Barenaked Ladies (The Big Bang Theory) We’re going wherever the music takes us, kitten. “Short Skirt Long Jacket” by Cake (Chuck) The first song in our stakeout mix. “Save Me” by Remy Zero (Smallville) This one is not in our stakeout mix. “Carry on my Wayward Son” by Kansas (Supernatural) This song reminds us we’re hungry for pie. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett (Freaks and Geeks) You know what happens to people with bad reputations, don’t you, Sam? They end up getting killed in...

Final Fantasy battle medley May19

Final Fantasy battle medley...

In honour of music month, one of our guest writers (who is also a musician, you may notice) elected to write us a song. Saddle up your Chocobos, strap in the Onion Kids, and Locke and load my friends. From the Cloud comes the Lightning and takes us out of Winnipeg Snow and right to the Edge, mister Mark Barron. Final Fantasy battle medley! by Mark Barron “No fancy production here; this is all just live in front of my webcam, except the two obvious parts where there are overhanging chords and different effects. The downside is that after the two takes, I realized I had cut off some of my left hand, which I’m thankful to say is much less painful than it...

TV themes that we never skip May15

TV themes that we never skip...

Since May is our music-themed month, we will be regaling you with fun playlists every Friday. These are the geek television intros that we never skip, because the music is so good. Either that, or our love for the show is so great that we associate it with the theme. We’re not sure which. Futurama Not sure if the Futurama theme is awesome or super awesome. Firefly I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, no power in the ‘verse can stop us listening to this theme with nostalgia. Warehouse 13 This theme was nominated for an Emmy in 2010, but it would have been put on a shelf and ignored forever. The IT Crowd With all due respect, I have it on good authority that if you listen to this theme more than once, you can break the Internet. So please, no one try it, even for a joke. It’s not a laughing matter. You can break the Internet. Battlestar Galactica This theme music has happened before, and it will happen again. So say we...

Music inside the fourth wall May14

Music inside the fourth wall

While attending a film school in Norway, I was challenged with an assignment to film the same scene twice, with the goal to create two vastly different reactions from the viewer. There was a catch: music wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t impossible, but it was hard. Music is an easy (and powerful) tool to invoke a desired emotion. Taking that one step further—when the soundtrack is actually part of the story itself and not beyond the fourth wall—creates something as powerful as a Balrog in heat. From “Carry On My Wayward Son” blaring loudly in Dean’s ’67 Chevy Impala to the outright comical bane of Lana with Archer’s “Danger Zone,” there is no shortage of unique examples we can call upon. But there are only a handful of absolute masterpieces that not only add to the culture of the show but become pivotal and iconic pieces that completely encapsulate what the story stands for. The music is the duct tape that holds the universe together.Take the legendary work of Tolkien and “Far Over the Misty Mountains,” for instance. Peter Jackson’s interpretation of this song is a positively brilliant opening to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The dwarves sing it as a dirge; it is the mournful cry of a band of brothers, grieving over their lost kingdom. It also foreshadows the destruction that is to come, that not all would leave unscathed, and gives us the unique psychological insight into the dwarves. They knew some of them would die. They are haunted by this, but they all go forward anyway. Then there is the crazy backwater town, Canton, where Jayne Cobb is a folk hero. Our favourite band of spacefarers discover that he’s been pretty much elevated to godhood amongst the people. Fear and dread are instantly washed away and replaced instead with shock, joy and comedy the moment the lyrics pour out. “Jayne.. the man they call Jaaaayyynne.” That song represents a pivotal point in the character of Jayne. That is the moment when Jayne finally begins to question his own selfish intentions. The confused Jayne is forced to deal with selfless sacrifice and in his words, it “Don’t make no sense.” There are only a handful of absolute masterpieces that become pivotal and iconic pieces. In “Out of Gas,” the shuttle captained by Zoe returns before being recalled. Jayne’s shuttle does not. Jayne fumbles with his words trying to explain away why they did not return. If he was the same Jayne before visiting Jaynestown—he wouldn’t have cared. And in “Ariel,” Jayne finally understands who he is, and who is family is. This character arc all begins with the song in Canton. And, of course,“The Rains of Castamere.” How many reaction videos exist on YouTube to the now infamous Red Wedding? In that brief second after the first note is played and before the horrific slaughter, there is a moment of sheer terror. Everyone in the room knows exactly what is coming. As the audience, we feel that moment of terror in the same split second that the characters do. The event remains burned into the hearts, minds, and souls of every Game of Thrones fan, and the moment is scored beautifully with “The Rains of Castamere.” Sometimes I feel like film scores are trying too hard to manipulate me to feel a certain way, possibly to make up for mediocre storytelling. But when the production is amazing and when the story moves me, the music is the duct tape that holds the universe...

Life in full colour May13

Life in full colour

There’s a reason why Voldemort can’t touch Harry. There’s a reason why the Elric brothers stick together no matter what on their quest for the philosopher’s stone. There’s a reason why Frodo manages to get the ring to Mordor. Love is powerful. And that’s why I’m afraid of it. Loving someone opens yourself up to a world of hurt, like Kousei experiences when he loses his mother. It’s hard to watch him struggle over falling in love with Kaori, because I have a sneaking suspicion of what’s going to happen to her. I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started watching Your Lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso); I just knew it was about performing music, something I could relate to. “Just seeing the same sky as you makes familiar scenery look different.”I was immediately caught up in the story of Kousei Arima, a boy who is famous for his piano playing by the age of eleven, but his mother’s death results in a mental breakdown during a performance. Two years later, he hasn’t touched the piano since. Until he meets a girl who changes his perspective on everything, of course. Kaori Miyazono is a free-spirited violinist who loves to perform her own interpretation of the score, much to the chagrin of the judges and delight of the audience. She becomes friends with Kousei and persuades him to start playing the piano again. Even though playing the piano again takes Kousei through traumatic memories, Kousei is encouraged by Kaori’s vibrancy and agrees to be her accompanist. He begins to see colour in a world that used to be monotone. It’s not until Kaori collapses during their first performance that I realize where this story is going. “A lump of steel, like a shooting star. Just seeing the same sky as you makes familiar scenery look different. I swing between hope and despair at your slightest gesture, and my heart starts to play a melody. What kind of feeling is this again? What do they call this kind of feeling? I think it’s probably… called love. I’m sure this is what they call love.” —Kousei Arima He lets himself fall in love with her, just as he lets himself fall in love with music again. He even tries not following the score like the “human metronome” he used to be, but searching for freedom from the past by mimicking Kaori’s style of playing. Love is powerful. And that’s why I’m afraid of it. There is a scene I found beautiful in the second-last episode where Kousei is visiting Kaori in the hospital and tells her he is again giving up music, claiming that it is taking everyone he cares about away from him, that he’s afraid of being alone. But she tells him that he has her, that she is going to struggle to live so she can spend more time with him, and he should struggle to. “We risk our lives to struggle, because we’re musicians, remember?” —Kaori Miyazono She breaks down and tells him not to leave her, because she is also scared of being alone and wants more time with him. As if that isn’t heart wrenching enough, Kousei, encouraged by Kaori’s words, does go to his big performance, and it is during this same time that she is having risky surgery. Love is powerful and brings powerful emotions along with it. There’s no avoiding joy and there’s no avoiding hurt when it’s involved. I wonder if I was Kousei, would I have been brave enough to step out of my lifeless world when love had scarred me so? I think I would have, and I think I have already done so in the past, but that doesn’t make it any less scary or any easier moving forward. I can’t be the only one that feels that way. I like to think...

Music as soul May11

Music as soul

Music is a portal to the soul. It creates emotions in us like nothing else can. There’s a reason most movies and television series have soundtracks, because the music can inspire viewers to feel a certain way. The first episode of Angel season two, “Judgment,” introduces a crucial character to the series: Lorne, the green-skinned, red-horned demon who runs a karaoke bar called Caritas. Caritas, which is the Latin word for “mercy,” is a place of sanctuary: weapons are not allowed and a spell on it ensures that no demon violence can take place inside. Instead, humans and demons come to sing and receive advice from Lorne, for he has the ability to read a person’s soul when they sing. Music moves us in ways nothing else can. At the beginning of the episode, Angel, Wesley, and Cordelia are not able to find the demon they’re tracking, and so Wesley brings them to Caritas to talk to an associate; Wesley tells them that he’s been meaning to take them there, but that “it’s a little outside the box.” They meet Lorne, and when Cordelia asks who he is, Wesley says, “He’s connected to the mystic. When you sing you bare your soul. He sees into it.” Angel, of course, really does not want to sing, so Lorne says to him, “This isn’t about your pipes, bro, it’s about your spirit. I can’t read you unless you sing.” Lorne is probably my favourite character from Angel. He comes from a demon dimension called Pylea where there is no music. The other members of his family, the Deathwok clan, also have mystical aura-reading abilities, but they use theirs when they hunt to track prey. Pylea is a brutal world and Lorne does not belong there, gentle soul that he is. He belongs in a world of show tunes and sea breezes. I find his soul-reading ability fascinating; if there ever were a way to read someone’s soul, I think singing would be it. There a vulnerability that comes with singing, especially when you’re singing in front of other people; you’re already sharing a part of you that others don’t see as often. “This isn’t about your pipes, bro, it’s about your spirit.” Music is so tied to emotion. I’m not a musician, beyond playing the flute in high school, but I do know the sheer delight of singing with others in a choir. Time magazine reported on one study conducted by a team of Swedish researchers that found when people sing together in a choir, their heart rates sync up because they are breathing in unison. But there are emotional effects as well. Björn Vickhof, the team’s leader, noted that, “When people are singing slow songs together, waves of calming effect go through the choir.” It interests me that Lorne comes from a world with no music, and yet it is so essential to his abilities. I wonder, with the absence of music, if he felt incomplete, like he was missing something from his soul. I can only imagine his joy upon entering this world and finally finding a purpose for his powers. Music can compel our feet to dance, bring tears to our eyes. I think that’s why it’s so soul-full; it moves us in ways nothing else...

Video game music that we love May08

Video game music that we love

Since May is our music-themed month, we will be regaling you with fun playlists every Friday. This is some of our favourite tunes from awesome video games. We love that the Civilization IV song is the Lord’s Prayer. And also, Lindsey Stirling is one of our favourite musicians of all time; go listen to all her stuff on YouTube. “Zelda Medley” (Lindsey Stirling) This gives us the feels. Time to go play Ocarina of Time.   “Baba Yetu” (Civilization IV) This is actually the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. It was the first video game theme nominated for a Grammy.   “Never Forget” (Halo) We will never forget how amazing the Halo soundtrack is.   “Fear Not This Night” (Guild Wars 2) This Guild Wars 2 song is our sandwich, along with the game itself.   “One Winged Angel” (Final Fantasy VII) You can’t go wrong with Final Fantasy music. Really, it’s all...

Geek songs that amuse us May01

Geek songs that amuse us

Since May is our music-themed month, we will be regaling you with fun playlists every Friday. Up first are our top five picks for silly songs. Give ’em a listen, give ’em a laugh. You can’t really go wrong with these. What are your favourite geek songs that amuse you? Did we miss any?   “Want You Gone” (Portal 2) The epitome of GLaDOS’ character is depicted in this song. We want to put her, Mal Reynolds, James Ford and Veronica Mars in a room together and see what happens.   “Bad Horse” (Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) High-ho, Silver!   “The Mysterious Ticking Noise” (The Potter Puppet Pals) Once you try to perform this “song” in a group you realize how much fun it is. One of the Geekdom House Wandering Minstrels‘ better songs since it didn’t require us to stay on key.   “White and Nerdy” (Weird Al) Also, the original version with the Luigi death stare is high on our list of favourites.   “If I Didn’t Have You” (Howard Wolowitz) Our commander’s certain she’d be a goner if this song was used to serenade...

The Wandering Minstrels of C4 Feb25

The Wandering Minstrels of C4...

“To love and serve the nerd and geek community.” That was our small group’s mantra and with Central Canada Comic-Con (C4) less than half a year out, we were frantically brainstorming service ideas. We settled on a plan that used many of the talents present in our small group  and formed the team who would eventually be called “The Wandering Minstrels.” The idea came to me when my wife and I remembered attending one of the coveted pre-screenings of Serenity back in 2005. Full disclosure: we arrive at the movies remarkably early to ensure that we get the primest of seats. So there we are, fifth row from the top, dead centre, and ready to witness what we believed would be cinematic gold. My favourite parts of the day were when someone was brave enough to request a song from us, or even more brave, to come up and sing with us. Even though we were surrounded by other Firefly flans, we felt alone. Sure, there was plenty of conversation happening around us, but it was all contained within small clusters of people. Perhaps it was out of boredom or from being punch-drunk on the anticipation of space cowboy drama, but after a quick whisper, my wife and I broke out into song. “Jayne.. the man they call JAAAYNNNNNNE!” What unfolded was truly a sight to behold (or something to earhold – is that a thing? Spell-check says no). The entire theatre joined us, erupting into song for our favourite loveable, untrained ape. The results were even more remarkable. Exhorbitantly priced snacks were being shared from the top row to the bottom, compliments of fandom t-shirts and cosplay were thrown from one side of the theatre to the other, and these former strangers suddenly found...