By Michael W. Harris
Just like all the popular movies these days, this blog series has its own after credits scene. Rather than setting up the next film, though, this post is meant to highlight a few albums and items that didn’t fit in well with the more cue-focused posts that made up this series, along with offering some final thoughts and links for more readings.
I did a lot of listening in preparation of this series. I wanted to get a feel for the breadth of Final Fantasy VI musical arrangements that are currently available. While this niche fan genre has quickly become more main stream, especially as professional orchestras are trying new ways to draw in diverse audiences, I obviously pulled on a small number of albums in this blog series.
One album that I did come across that I was quite taken with, though, is Final Symphony which is performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. What I find most interesting about it is how the album, based upon a concert tour much like Distant Worlds, takes music from three Final Fantasy games (VI, VII, and X) and had arrangements made that conform to the traditional classical music concert program format.
For those who never took music appreciation, or played in an orchestra, or worked box office for a symphony (I have done all three), the standard classical music concert usually follows a format of: 1) concert overture, tone poem, or other work that lasts for about 10-20 minutes; 2) accompanied solo concerto, or other work for soloists and orchestra; 3) Intermission; 4) major work, usually a symphony or otherwise lengthy piece.
There are, of course, numerous variants for the format, but what I just laid out is the standard model when planning a symphonic concert. What Final Symphony does is follow this model with having a program that includes a symphonic poem based on FFVI, a piano concerto based on FFX, and a symphony based on FFVII. There are also purpose written encores for both the concerto and symphony using music from the series, along with a newly composed short overture inspired by Uematsu’s music.
Check out the FFVI symphonic poem below (note that this recording is with the Royal Philharmonic and not the LSO):
The most interesting album I discovered, though, is the OverClocked ReMix tribute album Balance and Ruin (named after the World of Balance and World of Ruin in which FFVI takes place). This album is nothing less than a track by track remix of the entire score for FFVI, and also includes a number of other additional remixes and tributes that combine multiple themes. I mentioned this album in the last post as it is the only place that I found an arrangement of the ending credits suite, but I promised to discuss some of my favorite tracks from it in this final post.
First up is “Ascension of a Madman” by Steffan Andrews. This is a remix of Kefka’s theme and was one of the first tracks that really leapt out at me when I first listened to the album. What I found so compelling about Steffan’s remix is how he picked up on something already present in the original and amplified it. That “something” being the rather Danny Elfman-esque quality of the music. As a villain, Kefka’s music always had that circus like (re: Elfman) quality, and in “Ascension of a Madman,” Andrews runs with it. He perfectly orchestrates the theme in Elfman’s style and makes it sound like a lost cue from Batman Returns or Beetlejuice.
Next up is “The Impresario” by Jake Kaufman and Tommy Pedrini. This is actually the track that brought Balance and Ruin to my attention. After my post on the opera, Ryan Thompson tweeted a few more version of the aria and opera for my perusal and “The Impresario” was among them. What was immediately apparent to me was that this track was what the Black Mages’ version of the opera should have been. It is a deft blending of all the hard rock and metal styles that the Mages perform in except that Kaufman and Pedrini make it work. And while I said in the earlier post that I thought that the Mages failed in covering the opera because the music didn’t lend itself to it, I am happy to say that Kaufman and Pedrini prove me wrong. “The Impresario” is equal parts Queen and Dream Theater, and is all together awesome.
While many of the remixes draw and electronic beats and pop/dance music tropes, others look backwards towards art/classical music and make arrangements that are clearly meant to be performed live. Such is Rexy’s remix of the theme for the Empire Gesthal, “Gestahlian Sonata.” In the original game, this ominous piece plays as the party, finally in possession of an airship, uses it to fly across the sea to the southern continent and confront the evil empire that has been behind so much suffering. Rexy’s remix into a single movement piano piece takes the original theme and also mixes in hints of Kefka’s music for good measure. It almost feels more chilling for its starkness.
I’m not entirely sure why “Mogstradamus” by Brandon Strader jumped out at me. Maybe it is because it took Mog’s already kooky theme and amped it up with a healthy dose of EDM inspired silliness. Whatever the reason, though, it worked. And seriously, what is up with that ukulele?
Lastly, I want to highlight what I think is the most ambitious track on the album: Derek Oren and Jeremy Robson’s remix of the final dungeon music, “Trauermarsch.” Anyone who knows my love of the works of Gustav Mahler will immediately hear why this track endeared itself to me. In it, Oren and Robson blow up the dungeon crawl music from the final dungeon with many of the funeral marches from Mahler’s symphonies. I won’t try to list them all, but I think that I heard parts of symphonies II, III, V, and maybe VII? It has been too long since I listened to all the Mahler symphonies so I am a bit rusty. Regardless, it is a remarkable and complex remix. Kudos to Derek and Jeremy, and I would love to hear this piece played by a live orchestra.
And here we are coming towards the end, but before I go I also want to point readers to two articles that I read before writing the first post just to give myself a feel for how many people remember Final Fantasy VI. The first is by Aidan Moher and is a retrospective on the game written in 2014. This served as an inspiration for me to include my own recollections of the game and its influence on me while writing the series. It is a longer read, but well worth the time. The second article is not nearly ambitious in scope, but does a nice job of distilling much of what makes FFVI so enduring for many of us gamers. It was also published back in 2014, as were many pieces I read since it was the twentieth anniversary of the game.
Finally I want to give a last shout out to Ryan Thompson who was really a cheerleader for this series and constant booster. It has been, by far, the most ambitious blog project I have undertaken, and sadly with my teaching schedule getting started again, I will not be attempting anything like this in the near future.
And with that, after seven posts and over 8,000 words, I bring this series to a close. Thank you all for reading. Good night, and good game.