FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask

Of all the game music that I’ve been wanting to arrange/remix as part of the Materia Collective, the music from The Legend of Zelda series has been at the top of my wishlist. Last year Materia Collective released an excellent orchestral Ocarina of Time album Hero of Time from Eric Buchholtz. This year I was able to join in on the Materia Collective album FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask to cover music from the Nintendo 64 sequel.

Majora’s Mask has been one of my favorite games in the Zelda series, despite it being one of the more unusual entries. It’s been nice to see the game become more popular among the fan base, especially with the re-releases on handheld. For this album I had the opportunity to arrange the tracks “Snowhead Temple” and “Final Hours.”

Often in my approach to arranging music, I will try to imagine what a particular artist would do with the melodic and harmonic material of a piece. “Snowhead Temple” has a very loose and improvised sound, so a jazz ensemble seemed like a good fit. One of my favorite avant-guard jazz albums is Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and it became the primary inspiration for this arrangement. You can hear this most prominently in the opening and closing sections of my arrangement.

 

The track features two soloists from Materia Collective whose performances really helped bring the piece together. Sean Schafiansky performs on Soprano Saxophone and Ken Crouch did some wonderful work on Trumpet. This arrangement was wildly different from what I’m used to creating, but it was a lot of fun and I love how it turned out.

The track “Final Hours,” aka “Last Day,” was a more straight forward orchestral arrangement for me. The original track plays during the last five minutes of the game’s three day cycle. The first time I heard it in the game it caused me to stop and just absorb the atmosphere of the game in that moment, even with the clock ticking down to the end of the world. The original track is foreboding and eerie, so I wanted to create something that evoked that same experience from when I first played the game.

 

One of my fellow Materians Lauren Liebowitz performs a solo on Flute for the opening of the arrangement. While it’s a brief cameo, it provides an appropriately haunting introduction of the main melody. I also did some sound design for this track. Throughout the piece you can hear low rumbles of the moon coming closer, boulders crashing down, and a handful of other atmospheric effects. This is one of the more cinematic sounding arrangements that I’ve done and I’m glad I was able to create it for one of my favorite pieces from Majora’s Mask.

In addition to the above tracks mentioned, I contributed vocals to a number of other arrangements on this album. This includes Nautilus T Party’s rock cover of “Ikana Castle,” titled “Ikana’s Wrath;” Fredrik Häthen’s orchestral arrangement of “Calling the Four Giants,” titled “Termina’s Last Hope;” Laura Intravia’s orchestral reimagining of the final boss music called “The True Face;” and Garrett Steele’s short but sweet arrangement of the “Missed Event 2” track. Last but not least, it wouldn’t be a full Materia Collective collaborative album without an entry from Bonnie Bogovich’s Bwak Choir. I contributed the usual chicken vocals and played some kazoo in this goofy rendition of the “Min-Game” track, titled “Mini Bwakky Cheepy Game“.

FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask was an absolute blast to work on. There’s tons of great arrangements and remixes on this album, so definitely give the entire album a listen. You can find FATE: Majora’s Mask Remixed on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Google Play.

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LAUNCH: StarCraft Reimagined

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the original StarCraft game. To help celebrate, Materia Collective has released an arrangement album of music from the original soundtrack. The album is split into three EP’s, with each one representing a race from the game. The separate EP’s also focus on a set of genres to represent the different races. The Zerg album “RUSH” is all high energy electronic, rock, or EDM covers. Meanwhile, the Terran have a funk and disco themed EP titled “Funk Bunker.” Finally, the Protoss album centers on acoustic and ambient arrangements on the “Nylon Pylon” EP.

I don’t have a lot of experience playing the original StarCraft. I remember playing a few custom matches against friends at party’s back in the day, but it was never a game I really delved into. Upon listening to the soundtrack again, some of the tracks that drew me in came from the Protoss race. They are wonderful ambient tracks, with really cool shifts in tone. I ended up choosing to arrange “Protoss Two” for solo piano.

 

This ended up being an interesting challenge, since the piano needs some creative solutions for imitating the long-held chords and low drones of the original track. A big inspiration for my approach came from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for solo piano. Particularly the “Old Castle” and “Great Gates” movements, which respectively feature quiet, atmospheric passages and large bombastic chordal passages. It was a fun arrangement to work on for the “Nylon Pylon” EP and i really enjoyed the creative challenge.

LAUNCH: StarCraft Reimagined has a lot of different styles and genres represented across the three EPs. There’s something for everyone who’s a fan of the original StarCraft soundtrack or just enjoys good music. You can check out the LAUNCH LP’s on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Google Play.

Future Dance Land: An Electronic Tribute to Diddy Kong Racing

One of the great things about working on Materia Collective arrangement albums is that there are plenty of opportunities to try something new in terms of genre or collaboration. Electronic Dance Music, commonly just called EDM, is not a style that I usually write in. So when this latest EDM project was proposed, I jumped on board.

Future Dance Land is an EDM themed arrangement album of music from the hit Nintendo 64 game Diddy Kong Racing. Because EDM contains a wide spectrum of genres and sub-genres, there was plenty of room on this album for a variety of stylistically different interpretations of David Wise’s score.

For Future Dance Land I covered the track “Boulder Canyon.” My original plan was to do a Trip-hop reinterpretation of the track, significantly slowing down the tempo to create something drastically different from the source material. However, during the writing process it became a more atmospheric downtempo remix, than anything that could be considered specifically Trip-Hop. It wasn’t what I set out to do originally, but I like how this arrangement came out in the end.

 

There are some wonderful arrangements on this album from a great group of remixers and artists. There’s also a ton of variety present, despite the album’s concept being limited to the EDM genre. You can check out the full Future Dance Land album on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Google Play.

Brain + Brawn (Original Game Soundtrack)

I’m happy to announce that my soundtrack to the game Brain + Brawn is finally out. Brain + Brawn is a space themed puzzle game by developer Spork Games that was released earlier this year for the iPhone and iPad. In addition to creating the sound effects for the game, I wrote a few pieces of music for the game.

 

Because there are only two backing tracks written for the game, a main menu theme and the main game theme, I wanted to add some extra music for anyone buying the album. As a result, the two main tracks each have a piano arrangement counterpart.

 

The Brain + Brawn OST has been released through Materia Collective, a game music label which I’ve worked with before on a number of game music arrangement albums. The label has been publishing original soundtracks in addition to their amazing arrange albums, so I’m delighted to have my original music included among their other releases. If you haven’t listened to the other albums they’ve published, you should definitely take time to look through their catalogue.

In addition to the album, there is digital sheet music available for the Brain + Brawn piano arrangements “Robot Lullaby” and “A Puzzling Ship” on Sheet Music Plus. A big thanks to Sebastian Wolff for the music engraving to help get the sheet music ready for publishing.

Working on and releasing this album was a lot of fun and I hope people enjoy listening to it. You can find the full Brain + Brawn OST on Bandcamp and Google Play. Versions of the album containing just the in-game tracks can also be found on Spotify and Amazon.

SPIRA: Music from Final Fantasy X

As has been a continuing tradition of Materia Collective, the group has released another arrangement album based around one of the Final Fantasy soundtracks. This time around the focus is on the music of Final Fantasy X, from composers Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, and Junya Nakano. This double album is titled SPIRA: Music from Final Fantasy X. The albums are organized as two mixes called Zanarkand Mix and Besaid Mix.

Like many of the previous Materia Collective releases, the albums consist of covers, remixes, and arrangements from a large group of artists and musicians. The Zanarkand Mix primarily features electronic, synth, and rock arrangements, while the Besaid Mix is mostly comprised of acoustic covers. There are a few exceptions to this rule, primarily to avoid too many iterations of the same theme showing up on either album. For this project I produced two arrangements and contributed my vocal talents to a number of other artists’ tracks.

 

The first track I took on for the project was “Besaid.” The original track and its remastered counterpart are both relaxing and tranquil pieces, so I decided to go in an ambient electronic direction with my arrangement. All of the instruments are either electronic in nature or are acoustic in origin with some type of processing applied. The wave sound effects that bookend the arrangement are from field recordings that I took last summer on the coast of Maine.

 

The second arrangement I produced was “Movement in Green.” The piece was a last minute entry from me, so I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to work on it. Despite the limited time, I think the track came out well and I accomplished what I was aiming for overall. The track takes heavy influence from the work of Joe Hisaishi, particularly his work on the film score to Spirited Away. Like many composers, I’m a huge fan of his music, so it was a fun challenge to emulate his style in this piece.

As I mentioned, I also contributed backing vocals to other artists’ tracks for this project. This included John Robert Matz’s two tracks “Out of the Frying Pan (And Into the Spaghetti),” an arrangement done in the style of a spaghetti western score, and “Bemknesyka (The Trials),” a Red Army Choir-inspired version of “The Trials” sung in the Al Bhed language from the game.

I also participated in some backing vocals for Jordan Chin’s “This is Our Story” an arrangement of “This is Your Story.”

Last, but not least, I participated in a Bwak Choir arrangement by Bonnie Bogovich of “Bravely Forward” titled “Bravely Bwakking Forward.” The track features the largest ensemble for a Bwak Choir arrangement as of this writing.

The SPIRA: Music from Final Fantasy X albums Zanarkand Mix and Besaid Mix are available on multiple services including Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp. The albums boast a large range of styles from some very talented people. If you’re a fan of the Final Fantasy X soundtrack definitely check these albums out.

Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the indie game FEZ. On top of being a great exploration and puzzle game, FEZ has a wonderful electronic soundtrack created by Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland. To help celebrate the puzzle game’s anniversary Materia Collective has released an album of acoustic covers of the game’s soundtrack titled Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album. As part of Materia Collective I contributed a cover to the album.

There are a few reasons for restricting this album to an acoustic direction for the arrangements. First, by distancing the album from the electronic sounds of the original music, it gives the album a distinct sound. Taking a soundtrack that existed in the realm of synthesizers and digital effects and bringing it into a world of acoustic instruments makes for a much different listening experience. It also forced those of us creating arrangements to come up with different approaches for interpreting the melodies and harmonies of Rich Vreeland’s score.

I also think that it was good to avoid synth remixes of FEZ, since there are already some excellent electronic re-imaginings of the soundtrack on albums like FEZ: Side F and FEZ: Side Z from the game music remix community. With Tesseract, we are taking the music in a less explored avenue.

My arrangement on this album was for the track “Progress.” Much of the music in FEZ has a minimalist composition structure, with “Progress” in particular having some similarities to the music of composers like Steve Reich. The music is constructed out of multiple ostinatos and rhythmic patterns that stack and build on top of each other. In the actual game, these adapt and shift in real time with the gameplay. For the arrangement I stuck with the structure that Rich Vreeland created on the official soundtrack.

Since this arrange album was emphasizing the use of acoustic instruments, I did as much of the track with live instruments as possible. Normally I use virtual instruments for the music that I create, so tracking live audio for a majority of a project was a new adventure for me. The guitars, bass guitar, organ, and bits of the percussion were performed by me live, with the remaining accompaniment instruments played with sample libraries. My idea was for the music to sound like an improvised jam session, using the guitars, bass guitar, and percussion to provide a steady backing texture, with the other instruments soloing over them.

 

The two instruments that I knew had to be performed with real instruments (as opposed to samples) were the flute and trumpet, since I had arranged them to have the melodies that play over the other instrument’s rhythms and chord patterns. I was delighted to bring my Materia Collective friends John Robert Matz, on trumpet, and Yishan “Catboss” Mai, on flute, for this track.

This was my first time having other musicians contribute to one of my tracks, and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Their performances really brought the quality of the arrangement to the next level, and I will definitely be bringing Materia Collective members onboard for future arrangements when possible.

Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album was quite fun to work on and a great learning experience. There are some great arrangements featured on this album. Be sure to check it out if you’re a fan of the original FEZ soundtrack or enjoy acoustic music arrangements. You can find the Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album on Bandcamp, Spotify, and iTunes.

Train Jam 2017 Albums

On my way to the 2017 Game Developer’s Conference, or GDC, I took part in the Train Jam. Like all game jams, Train Jam is an event for game developers to get together and make a game in a limited time with specific restrictions. The Indie Train Jam takes place on a the Amtrak California Zephyr line running from Chicago to San Francisco. The trip was a 52-hour journey across the western half of the United States that resulted in some fun collaborations and interesting games.

As with many game jams there was a mix of artists, programmers, and audio people all working together to create games within the time limit. On this jam we had more than 20 composers/audio designers participating among the 300 game jam attendees. By the end of the Train Jam, over 70 games were finished.

Charlie McCarron, one of the other composers on the Train Jam, had the great idea of collecting all of the songs created by the composers during the jam, and putting them up as a set of albums on Bandcamp for free. There are over 60 tracks created by the twenty or so composers that participated in the event.

The music is divided into five different albums, with each one representing a music genre of sorts. For example, my piece from the game Chicken Fight is on the Train Jam 2017: Chip album, since I went for a retro synth style on that track.

 

The games from Train Jam 2017 can all be played on the itch.io website and you can find all five Train Jam 2017 albums on Bandcamp. There’s some excellent material here from all of the composers who participated. A special thanks to Charlie McCarron for taking the time to gather all of the music from the composers and assembling everything into a coherent set of albums on Bandcamp. The Train Jam was a lot of fun and I hope everyone enjoys the games and music that we created.