YouTube is an Amazing Thing, Part III – Still Alive

In the early days of this blog (February of 2009), I did two posts on videos on YouTube (here and here), tracing a few trends or just looking for goofy and cool content.  They were light on heavy academic thought, but in a way I believe them to illustrate just what a diverse and rich source of cultural study YouTube can be for the scholar.  And while I haven’t really been able to come up with a coherent academic thesis for any of this material, I still think it is interesting (re: cool) enough to be brought to the attention of you, oh web community.

For this installment my starting point is the song ‘Still Alive’ from the video game Portal, released by Valve in 2007 (read about it here).  I’ve never played the game myself, but a friend of mine brought this song to my attention a few weeks ago, and it’s haunted me ever since.  The lyrics are tied in quite closely with the game and are supposedly sung by the computer that you defeated to win the game, but just as the player is trapped in an experiment, so does it seem that by playing the game, you yourself were furthering that experiment.  (On a purely music geek level, I love the chord progression to get from the refrain back into verse, modulating from F major to D major.)

Here is the original song as seen and heard in the game.  It’s hard to see, but on the left hand of the screen are the song’s lyrics with the credits in the upper right hand and the lower right hand portion of the screen has different signs and symbols relating to the lyrics.

After being featured in the game, the song has taken on a life of its own on YouTube with dozens if not hundreds of covers being performed by fans of the song and live performances by the song’s writer Jonathan Coulton – more on him in a bit.  What I’m going to use this particular post to do is explore on a very surface level the phenomenon of chiptune music.  I touched on this in my last post when discussing Bear McCreary’s score to Dark Void Zero, and while I am no expert on this subgenre of music, I do find it fascinating (here is the Wikipedia entry on it).  Basically, it is using either an existing program to emulate the sounds of the NES/SNES or other contemporary system when writing music, or actually using the console/computer itself (which is what I think McCreary did).  This can be accomplished by creating an interface device to run the music program through the console or, in some cases, using an existing piece of software like Mario Paint for the SNES.

In terms of classic “8-bit” chiptune versions, there are quite a few floating around on YouTube that used different filters and programs to achieve their sounds.  Here are two that I found that are pretty good.

What I also find interesting about both of these is that they actually took the time to create 8-bit style loading screens.  This next example takes the whole chiptune genre to new extremes by moving out of the video game nostalgia realm and into 1980s computing by using an old synth and Commodore 8080 to create what sounds like at times the score to WarGames.  It is an extraordinary homage inspired by the very look of the original game’s ending screens (as seen in the first video clip).

As far as chiptune versions go, I believe that final example just about makes impossible to go any further, so we shall leave that realm to discuss the composer himself, Jonathan Coulton.  First, a video of him playing the song:

As an artist Coulton has never really broken into the mainstream, but he has built a loyal following amongst geek-dom by penning some songs used in video games and also writing songs on themes near and dear to the hearts of geeks the world over, and like a true geek, he has used the internet to build his fan base.  I first heard of him a few years ago via his rather amusing, folky cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ’90s hit “Baby Got Back.”  In such a context, the sheer absurdity of the lyrics are highlighted.

But showing just how self-aware an artist he is, after the song “Still Alive” was released as a downloadable track for the video game Rock Band, Coulton actually performed the song live at a concert using Rock Band.  There is something post-modern about this and also very coy.  Many people complain about games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero because the player is not actually becoming a musician or really performing, plus that you’re not composing songs but just playing along with another artists’ performance.  But here we have the artist and his band playing the game version of his song.  What’s most amusing is that his band actually fails at many points.

Well, I don’t really have much more, but I’ll leave you with one final version of the song, this one performed at the annual Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX) by Coulton and uber-geek Felicia Day (who has appeared in many a Joss Whedon project, including Dr. Horrible and also has her own webseries The Guild which you should really check out).

Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

3 Bullet Reviews – Iron Man 2, Robin Hood, and Dark Void Zero

Happy Friday to one and all and I hope you enjoy this coming Memorial Day Weekend.  Here at the Temp Track, I hope to get two more posts up this weekend following this one.  One of which might be delayed because I will be doing some limited transcription for it.  Anyway, on to three quick shot reviews to kick off the summer film score season plus a long-delayed review.

Iron Man 2 (John Debney) – Let’s just get this out of the way, John Debney’s Iron Man 2 score is a step up from Ramin Djawadi’s score for the first film, but, just like the sequel itself, I still found it lacking.  In the case of the film, I felt that it was too safe and didn’t take any chances (especially with how it handled Tony Stark’s drinking problem), not to mention the complete lack of character development.  In terms of the music, I felt the most effective aspect of the film was in its deployment of songs by AC/DC throughout, especially the opening sequence utilizing “Highway to Hell.”  According to the credits, Tom Morello, formerly of the band Rage Against the Machine, provided additional music.  I’m not sure without seeing the film again how this worked, but if I remember correctly, there were some more guitar/rock non-song tracks that I might have been from Morello’s hand.  Anyway, in the end, I felt that the score, like the film, was okay, good in places, but lacked that something special that made me want to run out and buy the score album or see the film again.

Robin Hood (Marc Streitenfeld) – To begin with, a few comments on the film.  Much has been said about the gross historical inaccuracies of the film, and I’ll give you that.  The film is flawed to be sure, and the characters of the film are very ill-defined such that outside of the main characters, I really couldn’t tell you who anyone is.  And the characters themselves are very one-dimensional, which is indicative of the film as a whole.  But, that being said, this is a Ridley Scott film, and if you go to a Ridley Scott film hoping for rich story lines and deep plots, then you are looking to the wrong director.  One goes to a Ridley Scott film for amazing visuals and on this count Robin Hood delivers.

  The score is by Marc Streitenfeld who has been Scott’s composer of choice since A Good Year (2006), and while I was not wowed by his work on either American Gangster or Body of Lies, shortly after Robin Hood began, I knew I wanted to pick up the score album.  In it, he mixes modern scoring practices (lots of strings and percussion, careful use of brass) melded with the occasional traditional British Isles instruments (lutes, drums, small bagpipes) to great effect.  In many ways, it reminds of elements of McCreary’s Battlestar work, though in my opinion, a lot of composers have started to borrow heavily from what he did on that series.  But, in the case of Robin Hood, the usage of such instruments is logically warranted and well done.  My biggest complaint is that either the sound system of my theatre was bad/adjusted wrong or the film was poorly mixed (I’m guessing the former), because there were some muddy parts of the film where I had a hard time separating out the audio elements.  Regardless, I found the score exciting and fresh, and, unless something better comes along, I’m adding it to my short list of Oscar contenders along with Danny Elfman’s Alice in Wonderland score (of which I meant to put a review up for months ago, but I still have yet to see the film).

Dark Void Zero (Bear McCreary) – And speaking of Mr. McCreary, I finally downloaded this $3.99 gem from iTunes last night.  This is a short score album for a DSi game that is made is the best NES 8-bit tradition.  The project had its origins in an 8-bit version of the original Dark Void title theme that McCreary made as a joke, but the powers that be at Capcom liked it and decided to actually make the game.  The score itself is retro-cool to its very core and anyone who was alive in the 8-bit era and played titles like Contra, Metroid, or any other classic NES game will find lots to love.  What is most interesting about this score is how it fits into a larger cultural trend of 8-bit retro nostalgia, and furthermore, a growing genre of music using 8-bit music chipsets or synthesizer patches.  I might talk about this a bit more in a future post.

Anyway, be on the look out for a few more posts this weekend and grill up some hamburgers and hot dogs for your friends at the Temp Track.  We’ll take them to go.

Bear McCreary’s “Dark Void” – A Review

This past Thursday, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, and now Human Target composer Bear McCreary released his score for the recent Capcom game Dark Void.  As I don’t own a PS3, XBox360 or any other modern gaming machine, I have not played the game.  Thus my comments will be based solely based on the music itself.

Those of you familiar with McCreary’s BSG work will find a lot here that you’ll recognize, though in a larger symphonic idiom.  His trademark percussion sound is in full display in most of the score’s tracks along with some new sounds – including ondes Martenot.  I won’t go into much depth of the themes and such, McCreary already does a great job of analyzing the score over at his blog.

If we talk about McCreary as a composer, it is quite evident that his style has retained much of his signature sound while also evolving as the ensemble at his disposal has grown.  For a good example, compare his early Galactica material with the score for the final episode, “Daybreak.”  Further, besides the expanded symphonic palate, there is also some very distinct harmonies that have entered into his writing, and these are on display in the Dark Void score.

One of the most enjoyable things about this score is how he weaves the main theme in and out of the cues, changing instrumentation, keys, and even harmonies.  The level of thematic integration is beyond what I have normally experienced while gaming, especially outside of RPGs (though I readily admit that I am not much of a gamer these days).

At the head of this review, I mentioned the new tv series Human Target, of which McCreary is scoring.  These two scores, along with the finale of Galactica, are all linked in my mind and represent a new level of complexity in his scoring.  For these projects, McCreary had a larger orchestra at his disposal, and where that might be a drawback when one thinks of how he has made his name in crafting a unique sound by having smaller ensembles and soloists as the basis for his scoring, it has instead taken his compositions to a new level by deepening the synthesis between traditional Western symphonic instruments and the world music instruments that his orchestra of LA based musicians play.

All is this is to say that McCreary fans should order, or download from iTunes, this score sooner rather than later.  Those who dislike how percussive his scoring is, though, will find nothing here to change their minds.  Regardless, I still think McCreary is one of the best composers working today and I can only hope that soon he’ll get the call to work on a major studio project.

The First Annual Tempi Awards!

And now, the 1st Annual Temp Track Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (in Film Scores), coming to you live from Ball Room X (the storage closet) at the Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn in Springfield, USA.

Welcome folks to The Temp Track’s first Year End Awards Spectacular!  I had a musical number all prepared, but Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris both backed out at the last minute.  So let’s just get down to business. 

Disclaimer:  I do not claim to have heard every score and release put out this year, so there are probably scores that I should consider but haven’t because of ignorance.  If there is something that I have overlooked, let me know so I can add it to my listening list.  Also, this is mainly going to be Film Scores, but occasionally I may sneak in a TV or Video Game score.  There will be three or four nominees in the categories and one winner except for Composer of the Year, which only the winner will be named. 

First we have Score Release of the Year.  This category is for a score release, either a new score or re-release of older score.  The basic criterion for this category is the importance of the release to the world of Film Music, be it the music itself or a re-release of an important score either in a new or expanded format. 

The Nominees Are:

Airplane! (Complete Score) – Elmer Bernstein (La La Land Records)

Back to the Future (Complete Score w/Alternate Takes) – Alan Silvestri (Intrada)

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4 – Bear McCreary (La La Land Records)

Freud – Jerry Goldsmith (Varese) 

And the Tempi© Goes To:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Complete Score) – James Horner 

Our Next Category is for Score of the Year, and this one is pretty self-explanatory: best new film (TV episode or Video Game) score of the year. 

Nominations Go To:

Avatar – James Horner (Lightstorm Entertainment/20th Century Fox)

Battlestar Galactica, “Daybreak” – Bear McCreary (SyFy Channel/Universal Studios)

Star Trek – Michael Giacchino (Bad Robot/Paramount Pictures)

Sherlock Holmes – Hans Zimmer (Silver Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures) 

And the Winner Is:

Moon – Clint Mansell (Liberty Films/Sony Pictures Classics) 

And finally, the first ever Alfred Newman Tempi© Award for Composer of the Year goes to Michael Giacchino.  Mr. Giacchino wrote three great scores for Summer release films (Star Trek, Up, and Land of the Lost) along with his continuing work on TV’s Lost and Fringe, and it is for the continuing high quality of work that his achievements are recognized by The Temp Track.  Keep up the good work.   I will offer this challenge to Mr. Giacchino  should he ever perchase to visit this humble blog, though:  I love what you’ve done in the past, but now that you’re established in film and television, it’s time to stretch and explore new sonic worlds.

Okay, now before we go I’m going to go out on a limb, look like a fool, and make some bold predictions for who will get the Oscar nominations for Best Original Score.  Without further adieu, here we go: Avatar, Moon, Sherlock Holmes, Up, and Alexandre Desplat’s Coco Before Chanel (I haven’t actually heard the score or seen the film for this one except for excerpts on iTunes, but people seem to have liked it and I needed a fifth). 

Well that’s it from the scenic Ye Olde Off-Ramp Inn.  I hope you enjoyed the show, have a good time at the after parties and a safe journey home.

Note:  I still have yet to see Sherlock Holmes so I have yet to post my review.  Hopefully I’ll see it this weekend and have a review up early next week.

Film Score THURSDAY Top 5: End Credit Suites/Songs

Last week’s Cowboy Bebop list weighed heavily towards songs during End Credits, which made me think about doing an entire list of End Credits songs and suites (obviously excluded will be those already covered in the previous Bebop list).  Basically, there are no rules for this list.  The only criterion is that it is music that makes you stay in your seat (or not change the channel) during the credits.  Many times the Credits music will have segued from the previous cue, when the track on the CD release is such, I will give the combined title (for example “The Throne Room/End Title” from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope).

The List:

– “Epilogue/End Title” from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by James Horner – I’m actually listening to the new “Expanded Edition” release as I write this, and let me assure you that it is a wonderful thing to be-heard (that really should be a word if it’s not).  I’ve professed my love for Horner’s score elsewhere, and rest assured that every time I watch Wrath of Khan that I do let the DVD play all the way through to the end.

– “The Rebel Fleet/End Title” from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams – When the original Star Wars films were re-released back into theatres in the ’90s, I made sure to stay in my seat during the credits for Empire.  One of the scores that made me fall in love with film music, and the credits sums it up perfectly.

– “Ending Theme” from Final Fantasy VI by Nobuo Uematsu – Back in early June I did a top 5 of themes and cues from Final Fantasy VI, but this mammoth cue ends the game takes it to a new level.  This cut is just over 21 minutes long and begins right after the player beats the final boss.  It cover the “Ending” of the game which goes through each playable character and their theme and closes out the story and then into the credits.  To this day I still go back to my save game (right before the final battle) just to watch and listen to this sequence.

– “End Titles” from Independence Day by David Arnold – Arnold today is most well known for his James Bond scores, but his early collaborations with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin resulted in two very good scores: Stargate and Independence Day.  While there is not truly special about the “End Titles,” it does do a great job of recapping the music that came before, the job of any good End Credits suite.

– “Extreme Ways” by Moby from The Bourne Identity, et al – One of the things I love about the Bourne films is how you know the credits are about to begin because you hear the first notes of Moby’s “Extreme Ways.”  I can’t really describe why it’s such a great song to kick off the end credits, but I just know that it is perfect.  As a treat, a link for the video (YouTube won’t let me embed the clip for some reason).

Want more?  Okay, here are some Honorable Mentions:

– “End Credit” from Batman: The Animated Series by Danny Elfman – Also known as “34-seconds of Sheer Awesomeness,” Elfman’s adaptation of his Batman film theme is short, sweet, and just about perfect.

– “Shiki no Uta” from Samurai Champloo by MINMI – this End Credit theme from Shinichiro Watanabe’s  other anime series isn’t as good as “The Real Folk Blues,” but it is still up there, and beats just about every American television show’s end credits (heck, these days our credits are just excuses for more ad space or plug the latest episode of Survivor or some other such nonsense).  This a video of the entire song, not just the Credits portion.

That’s it for now, tune in next week…

Music and the Moving Image 2009

AKA 3 Days and 27 Papers Later…

It’s hard summarize a conference, even if it was on the concentrated topic of “Music and the Moving Image.”  So I’ll start in broad terms: it was a good experience for me in many way, I heard many great papers, and listening to other scholars in the field speak has given me confidence in my own research.  And even though my shy nature kept me from asking many questions and talking to everyone there, I was able to force myself to talk to a few and very much enjoyed the brief conversations I did have.  In short, I definitely want to go back next year, and hopefully I can present this time (I did submit for this year, and will do so again for next year).  But even if I’m not presenting, I would still like to go if possible.

Anyway, I’ll discuss briefly two of the 27 papers I heard.  First is Matt Young’s “Who is the Iron Man?: Establishing Identity in Comic Book Films.”  Unfortunately I didn’t take notes on this one, but I remember most of it.  Basically, Mr. Young’s paper dealt with how the identity of the hero is constructed in a superhero film, both in terms of plot and music, but goes on to discuss how the establishment of the heroic identity is frustrated in the recent film Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau (who is so money and doesn’t even know it…sorry, just had to quote Swingers there).

This establishment is three fold: first a music theme is tied to the hero (usual during the opening credits sequence), the hero states their new identity (the “I’m Batman” moment), and that identity is recognized by the media.  Obviously much discussion was made about the music itself, but he did discuss the other two also, but I’ll only discuss the musical aspect here.  The musical establishment function is undermined from the start, not only is there no opening credit sequence, the film immediately opens in the Afghani desert to the sound of wind.  After the establishing shot, we are greeted to AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” which is exactly not the song one would expect to hear (which would have been Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” which had been prominetely featured in the film’s ad campaign).  When, after the lengthy exposition, we finally do have a title card, there is no music, but rather just the sound of metal striking metal, and we hear Jeff Bridge’s character say “Tony Stark,” dialogue bleeding in from the next scene.  Young makes the point that our hearing Stark’s name mentioned over the “Iron Man” title card further weakens the heroic identity, something further achieved by the many denials of the existence of Iron Man by the army and others.

Iron Man himself has no solid musical identity in the film, but rather is accompanied by guitar riffs and other industrial sounds in the soundtrack, while Tony Stark does have a theme (which Young pointed out was taken from the theme song of the old Iron Man cartoon), this theme is even played diegetically as the ring tone on Rhodes mobile phone.  Young further more establishes that all three of the identity establishing motives come at the very end of the film.  First we see the name “Iron Man” printed in the media, then Stark, in the last line of the film, states that “I am Iron Man,” and as the credits begin to roll, we are greeted by our long sought for Black Sabbath song (of which, of course, the opening line is “I am Iron Man,” but Favreau chooses to start the song after that line, and actually edits the snippet we do here so that there are no sung lyrics).  All in all, an interesting reading of the film’s use of music, and one that shows that even when a film’s score isn’t the best, how it functions within it still can be a worthwhile investigation.

The other paper I want to discuss came during a panel that was devoted to sound design in film.  First James Wierzbicki of the University of Michigan discussed design in six early films of Hitchcock (sometimes called the “Thriller” Sextet), and the third paper was from Liz Greene, who actually works in the industry along with teaching, discussed the work of Alan Splet.  But it is Juan Chattah’s paper “Defying Sound Design Convention: A Model for Analysis” that I would like to discuss briefly.

What Chattah has done is lay out a very clear system and terms for talking about sound design, one that I touched on in my post on Diegetic and Non-Diegetic and shifts between them.  But even though people have talked about these shifts and moves in the aural space, what Chattah has done is to lay out a consistent way of speaking about them (and there was discussion afterwards about the very use of terms ‘diegetic’ and ‘non-diegetic,’ which I believe were first applied by Claudia Gorbman in Unheard Melodies, though I’m not sure, but that’s neither here nor there).  In short, Chattah calls the “Diegetic” and “Non-Diegetic” space “Fields” and then within each field you have three separate “planes”: the voice (dialogue), music, and noise.  He then outlined three ways in which sounds can shift or interact between fields and planes.  First is Overlap (in which two elements of the same planes interact between fields, for which he used the final scene of “The Conversation” as an example, a film that came up many times in various papers), second is Replacement (music replaces noise is one example), and then Transference (which can happen as music moves between fields, but also in other ways, noise shifting to music, but a move between fields is necessary…I think).

A very interesting talk, and I’ll have to be on the look out for him publishing the system, it could come in handy down the road.  I also heard two separate papers on the use of Wagner in John Boorman’s Excaliber, sound and music in two films by Michael Hanake, two papers on use of sound and musique concrete in Gus van Sant, and another on Ne0-Surrealism and the MTV aesthetic in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

In review, a great conference, and I would recommend if you are at all interested in film and media music to check it out.  The site for the conference is here and you can actually still look at the abstracts for this year’s conference.  Keep a look out on the site, I think the call for papers will go out around September or so.

Film Score Friday Top 5: Themes/Cues of ‘Final Fantasy VI’

Okay, I know I’ve promised a post summarizing my recent trip to NYC, but it’s been a long week.  I hope to have that up this weekend sometime.  But as teased last week, I’m devoting this edition of FSFT5 to my top 5 from Nobuo Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy VI, which is among the classics of video game scores in my humble opinion.

Some background, first, though.  The Final Fantasy series is one of the longest running in the video game industry with the thirteenth edition of the franchise coming out soon for the PS3.  It has also inspired numerous spin-offs and companion series on other consoles (such as the Final Fantasy Legend games on the Game Boy, though those are technically part of another franchise from the same company, but only in Japan…I won’t try to explain it here), but it is the core series which was score entirely by Uematsu for the first 9 installments, and the next 4 with various collaborators, that are nigh legend amongst many vg music fans.

The game at hand, FFVI, was released state side in 1994 as Final Fantasy III due to the fact that parts II, III, and V were not released in the US until long after the seventh installment exploded on the PS1 console.  The game itself involves around 50 hours of gameplay (pretty standard among RPGs of the era), and Uematsu’s score, when released on CD, took up 3 discs.  The score is made up of individual themes for all the major characters and settings of the game, with certain cues only appearing during key plot moments in the game.  If you want more info on the game itself, check out the Wikipedia article.

My own personal history with the game does merit mentioning.  I got it when it released in 1994, and was captivated by the music, especially the fact that the game actually featured a 30 minute opera about 20% of the way in in which the player has to participate.  I didn’t beat the game, though, until years later in the fall of 2000 when I took my Super Nintendo back with me to college and set out to beat it.  If you’re a fan of game music, I really do recommend tracking down the soundtrack collection.  With a bit of persistence, you can find many vg music dealers stateside who sell it for a reasonable price.  Many cues, including the entire opera sequence, have been performed and recorded with live performers with varying levels of success.

On to the list:

1) Celes’ Theme/’Aria de Mezzo Carrattere’ – Even though Celes is not THE main character, her theme is the one that has haunted me for all these years.  The theme is used most stirringly as the aria in the opera, which Celes has to sing.  The aria itself, called ‘Aria de Mezzo Carattere,’ has been recorded numerous times in various forms (I even arranged it for bassoon trio).  I’ll give you two versions here: first a video of the sequence taken from Game Boy Advanced re-release, the instruments don’t sound as good as the original on Super Nintendo, but thankfully the synth voice sounds much, much better…

and secondly the version from the disc release Final Fantasy VI: Grand Finale which is a live performance of the aria…

2) Kefka’s Theme/Dancing Mad – Kefka is the main baddie of the game, starting off as just a merely annoying general, he develops into a megalomanical clown bent on destroying the world.  Yes, I said clown, he basically looks like one.  The final battle with Kefka is accompanied by a battle track called Dancing Mad that on the soundtrack release lasts almost 18 minutes.  I’m including it as part of this selection because the middle section of it is based on Kefka’s theme.  Here’s is the original theme as released originally…

and as a special treat, here is ‘Dancing Mad’ as played by Uematsu’s heavy metal/prog rock band The Black Mages which plays covers of his music.  It’s split into two parts because it’s over 10 minutes long, and the max length on YouTube is 10 minutes…

I just love this version, it captures the epic nature of the song, the wicked organ solo (which is in the original version), plus it has some great guitar solo work.  And yes, that is Uematsu on keys.

3) Slam Shuffle (aka Zozo city theme) – I’ve got to admit that as a kid, this was the first theme to really stick in my head.  It’s got a great beat and hook to it, plus the city of Zozo, with its urban decay and seedy characters is one of the most memorable locales in the game.

4) Phantom Train – Played during a specific sequence in which our heroes have to battle their way through a haunted train, this bass heavy, plodding sort of waltz, is a great piece that ultimately bares a strong resemblance to the character Shadow’s theme (number 5 on the list) in terms of tonality, meter, and overall sound (at least accompaniment).

5) Shadow’s Theme – My childhood friend would probably tell me that is the best part of the game, but oh well.  The mysterious Shadow was captured perfectly with the equally enigmatic theme, who’s whistling harkens back to Morricone’s ‘Whistling Theme’ from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

There are 14 playable characters in the game, and along with Kefka, there are 15 identifiable themes for chracters, along with many, many, many other themes that go with specific locations and/or situations in the game.  Choosing only five can’t really do the score justice, really.  The other truly impressive cue from the game is the ‘Ending Theme,’ which is over 20 minuts long.  It accompanies the ending sequece and credits and includes all the playable charcter themes, and many others.  In many ways, knowing this massive ending lay ahead was what drove me to beat the game.

Not sure what next week will be, but if you have suggestions/requests just let me know.

Film Score Friday Top 5: Video Game Themes (8-bit era) – Early Edition

I’ll be leaving for New York and the Music and the Moving Image conference tomorrow, and while I plan to try and blog from the conference, I doubt I’ll have time.  So I’m posting this early, and I’ll try to write some thoughts on various papers when I get back next week.  In the mean time, I’ll try and tide you over with this meager helping.

I readily admit that most of these top 5 lists do come from my own personal experience, and with video games, most of that experience is limited to the 8- and 16-bit eras (with most PS1 and PS2 games I know limited to the Final Fantasy franchise).  So without further adieu, my selections for best NES (and one Game Boy) themes:

#1: Underwater Theme from Super Mario Bros. by Koji Kondo: Ya, I could of picked the main overworld theme, but that would be two easy.  I’ve always liked this waltz theme from the water levels better, anyway.

#2: Moon Theme from Duck Tales by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi: If you don’t know the game, or don’t frequent YouTube game videos, you might not know this level theme, but it’s pretty well known to 8-bit music fans.  I’ll give you two videos, the original music, then brentalfloss’s version with lyrics (you might remember him from second YouTube post).


And brentalfloss with lyrics:

#3: Main Theme from Mega Man III by Yasuaki Fujita (aka Bun Bun): I already wrote extensively, and shared many videos, on this theme in the above linked YouTube post.  All of that still goes, and even though I only discovered it through video game midis years after the game’s release, it quickly became a favorite of mine from the 8-bit era.

#4: Main Theme from The Legend of Zelda by Koji Kondo: Just as iconic as the main theme from Mario Bros.,  and by the same composer, these are the themes that launched Nintendo’s two power franchises that have lasted to this day; for over 20 years and five consoles.

#5: Prologue from Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy) by Nobuo Uematsu:  As I said in an early post, Uematsu is the John Williams of the video game world (or in mathematical terms, John Williams : Films as Nobuo Uematsu : Video Games).  For most of my youth I only had a Game Boy, and some of my earliest favorite games were the Final Fantasy Legend games (even though to this day, I have yet to beat one of them!).  This theme was also an early favorite of mine, and introduced me to the musical world of Mr. Uematsu.  (In this clip, it is the first track you hear.)

So that’s it for now, I’ll see y’all when I get back.

Next Week: Top 5 themes from Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy VI.

Film Score Friday Top 5: Superhero Scores

So I’m going to start a hopefully weekly segment here at The Temp Track.  Based  on the Film Score Monthly website’s weekly “Film Score Friday,” I will select some “theme” and pick my favorite five scores to fit it.  The idea here is to actually spur some dialogue with you, the readers, as you comment with your favorites.  I also hope that I will learn of some scores to listen to, as I am still learning and listening, trying to educate myself.

First, some rules: it does not have to just film scores, I plan on including as much tv and video game music as possible (this is unless, of course, I stipulate the medium, i.e. TV Themes).  Second:  I’m not saying that these are “the best,” but rather just my favorites.  Lastly, if a composer does multiple films in a series within the theme, I’ll choose only one of the scores, and a tv series counts as only one entry.

With today’s theme of superhero scores, I have defined the genre as one in which a character has extraordinary ability (either natural or aided by tech), and uses it for the betterment of society.  The characters need not be ones that first appeared in comics (i.e. The Incredibles), but also, a film that is an adaptation of a comic/graphic novel necessarily a superhero film, etc (i.e. 300).

So without further adieu, my Top 5 Superhero Scores:

1. Superman: The Movie – John Williams: What can be said that hasn’t already?  The Superman March is so iconic that Bryan Singer instructed John Ottman to use it in Superman Returns.  If anything, the score itself has actually outdone the films, as the franchise has had exactly 2 good films (with 3/4 of it coming from the Richard Donner material of Superman II and the other quarter coming from the plane rescue in Returns).  For me, the best cue is actually is “The Planet Krypton,” with its slow addition of instruments, building from a solo trumpet to full ensemble.  It reminds me of a Strauss-ian sunrise.  Part of reason I actually went to see Returns was because of this cue’s use in one of the trailers.

2. The Incredibles – Michael Giacchino: What do you get when you cross the music of James Bond with superheroes?  You get the score for The Incredibles.  Using spy-tinged guitars with Giacchino’s signature jazz/rock infused orchestral style, the score captures the spirit of the film perfectly.  I particularly like the cue when Mr. Incredible discovers what “Kronos” is and the scene cuts back and forth between him and his wife discovering that he has been sneaking out and using his powers.  It was at that moment that I became a Giacchino fan.

3. Batman Returns – Danny Elfman: I could have easily selected the first film’s score, but I really prefer the dark, cold tone of Returns, especially the Penguin’s theme – creepy and sad all at once.  Also the addition of Elfman’s signature untexted children’s chorus really makes this score stand-out in my mind.

4. The Dark Knight – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard: I could of filled out this list with all Batman scores.  Between Elfman, Goldenthal, Zimmer/Howard, and the scores for Batman: The Animated Series, Batman is the comic character who has translated best into film/tv and music (with the exception of the Joel Schumacher films, great scores, terrible films).  With Dark Knight the stand out elements are the new themes for Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face, with the cue “Watch the World Burn” on the album being a favorite (and at one point reminding me of the ‘Allegretto’ of Beethoven’s Seventh).

5. Spider-Man – Danny Elfman:  I really struggled with this slot, becuase I couldn’t really think of another stand-out score in my mind.  I like Elfman’s work here, but since I’m not a huge fan of the film, and since I have yet to really listen to the score on its own, it is hard to separate the two.  But after watching the film again the other night, I feel confident in placing the score in the fifth spot.

So there you have it, my top 5.  Please comment, tell me yours, give me suggestions of scores to list to.  I want to encourage discussion in the comments section.

Next week: TBD