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.

Zodiac: Final Fantasy Tactics Remixed

zodiac-final-fantasy-tactics

One of the groups that I’ve recently been involved with is a music arrangement group called Materia Collective. The collective comprises of musicians, composers, and arrangers who come together to create albums that cover the music of various game titles. A majority of these albums focus on a single game soundtrack like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Undertale. Other arrange albums have a wider range like Mobius, which covers music from multiple Sonic the Hedgehog games or charity albums like Multiplayer III: Wave, which emphasized water themed game music to tie in with the water charity the album raises money for.

This year I had the opportunity to arrange two tracks for Materia’s latest Final Fantasy arrangement album Zodiac: Final Fantasy Tactics Remixed. The album focusses on the music of the first Final Fantasy Tactics game written by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata.

Like many of the previous Materia Collective albums, there’s a wide variety of styles present in the arrangement of the tracks. Everything from rock, jazz, classical, to synth genres are represented on this album, so there’s bound to be something from the 60+ arrangers that speaks to you no matter what your music tastes.

I arranged two tracks for this album. The first was a piano arrangement of the battle theme “Antipyretic.” I’ve always enjoyed the official Final Fantasy Piano Collections arrangements and I wanted to do something similar for one of the pieces from Final Fantasy Tactics.

 

The second arrangement I created was a synth/orchestral hybrid version of “Requiem.” The original track is calming and tranquil, so a synth hybrid sound seemed like a natural fit. This track was recently nominated for an award at the Game Audio Network Guild’s Remix Competition at MAGFest 2017. While it didn’t win in the end, it was an honor just to have the piece considered in the first place.

 

In addition to my arranging work, I contributed a few vocals on the track “The Bwak Choir Cadets” as part of The Bwak Choir. The Bwak Choir is a “Muppet-style chicken chorus” and is the brainchild of Materia Collective member Bonnie Bogovich. The first Materia Collective album Materia: Final Fantasy VII Remixed featured an arrangement of “Waltz de Chocobo” from the group and there was even a music video.

For the Zodiac album, Bonnie arranged the track “Cadets” to be sung (clucked?) by the Bwak Choir. Contributing to the Bwak Choir for the first time was a fun change of pace from the other work I was doing for the album, and listening to the finished product is something that will always make me smile.

 

The Zodiac: Final Fantasy Remixed album has a ton of great music covers from some incredibly talented artists. If you are a fan of the original soundtrack or a game music fan in general, you’ll want to check this one out. You can find the album on BandcampiTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. You can also find out more about Materia Collective and the various albums that the group has released on the Materia Collective home page.

Multiplayer III: Waves

multiplayer-iii-waves

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to contribute a game music arrangement to an album created by the Multiplayer Charity. This group comprises of musicians, mixers, composers, and arrangers who come together every year to produce a charity album. This year’s album Multiplayer III: Waves was created to raise money for Water.org.

Since this year’s chosen charity is an organization dedicated to providing clean water, all of the game tracks being covered in this album are water themed. The source material for the project comes from a variety of games including Chrono Trigger, Banjo Kazzoie, Sonic Adventure, and Assassin’s Creed. Like many of the other Multiplayer Charity and Materia Collective albums, the music genres represented are quite eclectic. These genres include ambient synth remixes, energetic rock and metal covers, and relaxing acoustic arrangements.

The piece that I selected to arrange for the album was the track “Submerged” from the game Earthworm Jim. The track, originally composed by Tommy Tallarico, serves as the background music for the game’s underwater levels “Down The Tubes” and “Tube Race.” Earthworm Jim was a game that I really enjoyed playing back in the Genesis and Super Nintendo era, so this was a fun opportunity to revisit that game’s soundtrack.

 

The original “Submerged” track has a natural upbeat bass groove throughout its run, so arranging it as a rock track seemed like a natural fit. The original version also reminded me of the scores from spy movies like Mission Impossible, so I ended up featuring the flute quite a bit for this arrangement.

A lot of great game music is represented on the Multiplayer III: Waves album, so definitely check it out if you’re a fan of the genre. There are some incredibly talented musicians featured on this album, and it was an honor to be able to contribute to the album and raise money for a good cause. All of the profits from Multiplayer III: Waves goes to the Water.org charity. You can get check out the the entire album on BandcampiTunes, and Spotify.