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Music Monday: Hero of Time March 27, 2017

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hero-of-time-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-album-coverI am very excited this week to feature an album that just launched last night, Hero of Time, a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrangement album produced by Materia Collective.

When I first discovered the Kickstarter for Hero of Time last fall, I was thrilled at the idea of a fan-produced arrangement album of Ocarina of Time performed by a full orchestra, not to mention arranged with the help of some VGM musicians I recognized and liked. I was then immediately saddened to find that with maybe five days left, they still needed to raise something like $30,000 to reach their goal. I contributed my share because I wanted to show my support, but I never expected it to actually succeed.

Lo and behold, in the last few hours of the campaign, they reached their goal and my excitement mounted again, and I spent the next six months watching the updates on its progress and eagerly awaiting its release. Now, here we are, and while I am still waiting for my download code, I have listened to the full album on Bandcamp.

(it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify)

Hero of Time tells the story of Ocarina of Time in epic orchestral form. There are some original sections added, mainly for transitions or track openings, but for the most part, the original tracks from the game are arranged fairly true to form, but generally on a much grander scale, with varying tempos and the addition or encouragement of sweeping strings, booming brass, and huge orchestral hits. The story was condensed for the sake of the album, and some notable tracks from the game are absent, such as Zora’s Domain and Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village appears only as a minor key cello adagio as part of the homage to the Shadow Temple (though the rendition is haunting and beautiful).

What remains, though, paints a beautiful picture of the game’s story, transforming it into a musical journey that seriously sounds like a modern movie score. The original soundtrack for the game was melodic, delightful, and memorable, but not necessarily very emotional. In this rendition, however, Materia Collective did an amazing job bringing the mood of the tracks to life, highlighting the grandeur of Hyrule field and castle, the awe of uncovering the Master Sword, the horror and failure as Ganondorf uses that opening to take over the kingdom and plunge it into darkness, the mystery of Sheik, and more. And in the end, it’s a near straight rendition of the ending credits as performed by a full orchestra, immensely satisfying to someone who has happily listened to the original track in its 20-year-old synthesized splendour over and over again.

I can’t say enough good about how this album came out. In one listen, it has immediately jumped to my top 5 VGM albums of all time. If you played Ocarina of Time and/or enjoyed the soundtrack at all, buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

Music Monday: Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album April 4, 2016

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Xenogears was an RPG for the original Playstation, with soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda, famous for his Chrono Trigger soundtrack, arguably one of the best video game soundtracks of all time (at least in my decidedly limited opinion).

I never played Xenogears. It wasn’t for lack of interest, rather money. However, I’m all about video game music, so when a friend ordered a copy of the soundtrack and received two, I was happy to take the extra. It was different from Chrono Trigger, with a more focused style and distinct Celtic influences in a more orchestral soundtrack, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t know anything about the story that happens when this music takes place, but there are a lot of great and some amazing tracks, and I enjoyed it enough to pick up Creid, a Xenogears arrangement album produced by the original composer that I also love.

51sfd32uc2blYet somehow, a second arrangement album also produced by Yasunori Mitsuda managed to slip under my radar. Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album was released in 2011 and contains fourteen tracks, mostly performed by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra with a couple of piano solos and one vocal track performed by Joanne Hogg (who sounds like the original vocalist for the game’s theme song).

It definitely lives up to its name: the arrangements are very orchestral, using a sizeable symphony along with a choir in some tracks. The arrangements all have quite a bit of depth and are generally fairly dynamic/bombastic. Some tracks I actually wish had some heavier elements truer to the original tracks, but that’s because most of the renditions are pretty close to the source material. There is a little variation in styles at times, but there’s not much alteration of the melodies themselves and many of the songs are straight orchestrations of the original tracks.

Not that that is in any way disappointing; the depth and life of these orchestrations are fantastic, really highlighting the quality of the original compositions. One unfortunate exception is “The Beginning and the End”, a choral track that sounds lovely done with real voices but lacks all of the vocal modulations of the original.

Aside from that, I have no complaints about this album. There’s a lot of emotion, great big sound, and the quality of the arrangements and their performances are both excellent. And the piano solos are just as wonderful. I am also extremely happy with the performance of “Flight”, my favourite song from the original soundtrack.

I highly recommend this album to fans of the Xenogears soundtrack. It is available on iTunes, and really, that’s the only way I would purchase it (unless you really want to pay 4x the price for an imported CD).

Music Monday: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses March 21, 2016

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What was that about a weekly feature? My excuse is that I’ve been spending the past weeks sorting through new music. Let’s just say I’ve been putting the task off for a while.

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I have a problem.

But enough about what I’ve not been doing. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Toronto performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.

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It’s a touring symphony concert playing music from the Legend of Zelda video games. I went in perhaps a bit more experienced than much of the audience – most of the other attendees I spoke with had never been to an event of the sort, whereas I’ve been to Video Games Live four or five times and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy twice, and I had seen at least one preview of Symphony of the Goddesses on YouTube, when they appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert last fall.

The setup is much the same as the other concerts. The focus is on the music, with game footage showing the source material shown on a screen above the orchestra. The screen also occasionally showed closeups of the soloists or prominent sections of the orchestra at times, which I felt was a nice touch. It was a quieter affair than the other video game concerts I have been to, with a very brief introduction to the show by the producer, Jason Michael Paul, and a few prerecorded introductions by series producer Shigeru Miyamoto, series composer Koji Kondo, and one other prominent person (who I regret to say I can’t remember offhand). We didn’t hear a word from the conductor or any of the orchestra and mainly they just played the music.

The Legend of Zelda series aren’t necessarily my favourite soundtracks. There are some that I absolutely adore, primarily A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but overall, I don’t find the music as gripping and certainly not as emotional as Final Fantasy or some other franchises. So, I will admit that while I was very much looking forward to it, I wasn’t necessarily expecting jaw-dropping orchestrations.

Several of the songs performed came straight off the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary album that came bundled with Skyward Sword when it released – which was full of excellent and very dynamic/bombastic medleys and arrangements of various games in the series and whose main flaw was that the songs were recorded too quiet. However, only half of the songs in the show, at best, were the same renditions, so there was plenty of material new to me. Even the Twilight Princess medley was a little different from the 25th Anniversary album.

The show focused on the main console games, playing little or nothing from most of the portable games – Link’s Awakening, The Minish Cap, Phantom Hourglass, etc. – and nothing from Hyrule Warriors (which I don’t particularly lament, seeing as I haven’t played it nor even own a Wii U). There was a very nice mix of source material from the games the show focused on, playing numerous tunes from Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Majora’s Mask, and a couple others. Having a smaller library of music to draw from meant I got to hear more of the situational music that often gets overlooked in place of the main themes.

But ultimately, what that really meant was that a lot of what I heard was straight orchestra performances of music from the games, which was so very satisfying. I hear the music in the game and it has a character of its own and I can tell what the instruments are – and maybe they even sound pretty close – but I am always imagining it performed with real instruments. The battle theme medley, which opened with the regular battle music from Ocarina of Time, illustrated this best for me – it was so accurate to the game and so natural that it took me almost an entire iteration of the song before I appreciated that this is what it was supposed to sound like, not what it did in the game. There was both a great mix of source material and expert arrangements, and the Kitchener Symphony did an excellent job performing them.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. Fans of the Legend of Zelda games should certainly check it out and I really, really hope that they release more recordings of the orchestrations, especially the battle theme medley and the Link to the Past medley.

 

Music Monday: Video Games Live February 23, 2016

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In the interest of posting more about the things I enjoy, I am resurrecting my short-lived feature highlighting some of the music I listen to. This week, I want to talk about Video Games Live.

VGL is pretty much what the name suggests – a concert series that performs live arrangements of video game music, with a symphony orchestra as well as electric guitar usually played by the creator of the show, Tommy Tallarico.

I heard about VGL pretty much right from its beginning in 2005. It seems like something that I would have jumped on, but it took me a couple years to get into it. Live shows aren’t usually my thing and I’m generally more interested in recordings I can listen to later, which weren’t available for VGL for the first few years. Mainly, though, on reading about it, I was convinced that they primarily performed music from new games, and it’s been about 20 years since I was anything close to current in my video game habits.

But, in the summer of 2007 or 2008, I was alerted on short notice to a free concert that they were playing in downtown Toronto. I decided it was worth a trip into the city to see what they were all about.

I am so glad that I did. What I discovered that afternoon was not just masterful orchestrations of video game music both new and old, but an amazingly fun and engaging live show. There was a game of Frogger with the symphony providing the music live as it happened, with the player – a member of the audience – using herself as the controller. There was a Guitar Hero competition on-stage with two winners of an earlier competition before the show where they played Guitar Hero Aerosmith, which was not yet released, and the winner absolutely killed it.Tommy Tallarico himself brought so much energy to the show and drew the audience in and had everyone singing along. And I embarrassed my company by screaming my head off when the encore started, a medley of music from Castlevania, which I recognized from the first two notes while Tommy Tallarico was still introducing it.

I have since gone back to VGL at Gen Con and Toronto. I’ve seen lots more great features, special guests, post-show meet and greets, and even a proposal. I’ve never had so much fun at a live concert as at Video Games Live.

And, of course, I’ve bought the music. I purchased the first two CDs at shows, both of which are signed. For the third and fourth albums, Tommy Tallarico used Kickstarter to fund them and I contributed enough for digital copies. I love them all thoroughly, even the songs from video games I’d never played.

Now, he has started a Kickstarter for VGL’s fifth album. As a previous contributor, I was alerted to it right away, and I’m thrilled to see that barely five days in they are already within 85% of their goal, and I sincerely hope that they will reach at least some of their stretch goals and add more tracks to the album.

I’ve already contributed and I implore you to consider doing the same. For $10 you can help bring this project to life and get high-quality digital files of the entire album when it’s released, along with a bonus disc of an assortment of music from various guest artists – and I can tell you from experience that these bonus tracks are almost as good as the new album itself.

To give you a taste of the kind of music to expect, I’ll leave you with my unexpected joys from each album so far, tracks from games I haven’t played but ended up loving these arrangements.

From the first album: Kingdom Hearts suite

Video Games Live: Level 2 – Civilization IV – Baba Yetu (Duet Version)

Video Games Live: Level 3 – Secret of Monkey Island

Video Games Live: Level 4 – Too many favourites to choose, but for a taste of something different, Metal Gear Solid – Snake Eater