Last week, I took a vacation and spent a lot of time on different trains roaming the region and then walking around a bit. For me, there is no better traveling companion than my iPod. I’m an audio-oriented kind of guy, I love music of (almost) all stripes and, if presented with a choice, will frequently pick audiobooks over their print counterparts for my consumption. But this addiction interplays with my inability to browse shops, be they online or offline, with any sense of discipline.
And so it was that, prior to my trip, while looking for more audiobooks to load on my iPod, I wound up looking through albums of remastered and re-imagined video game musical scores. It’s a convoluted path that isn’t quite out of the blue. Here’s the story: a few weeks prior I had heard an interlude on NPR of Super Mario Theme music being performed via acoustic guitar by a band called 4″ Stud. While shopping for the audiobooks, I took a detour to purchase that song and was soon swept away in a sea of “suggested titles” based on that purchase.
This isn’t exactly a bustling niche of music at the moment, though the exceptions to this rule demonstrate that things might be changing. Final Fantasy scores, for example, are alive and well. So as I weeded my way though the catalogs, purchased and listened, these are the items that stuck out:
1. Video Games Live, Vol. 1 (more info)
Video Games Live is a concert series, much like the Lord of the Rings concert series, we featured earlier this year, wherein a live orchestra and chorus perform musical numbers from a series of games. Or, as they describe it on their site:
“(Video Games Live is) an immersive event created by the game industry featuring the best game music performed by top orchestras and choirs combined with synchronized lighting, video, live action, and audience interactivity. The first and most successful video game concert tour in the world.”
I’ve never attended one in person (they sell out quickly), but listening to the music, I’ll be it’s on helluva show. The arrangements are quite varied: from a piano rendition of the Tetris theme, to the operatic stylings of God of War, to the rock opera-esque Castlevania theme. It’s a blast to listen though. Below is their Civilization IV Medley arrangement for you to sample; it’s got a slight World Beat feel to it that makes for great train ride listening.
Civilization IV Medley
2. The Advantage, The Advantage (more info)
If you, like me about a week ago, don’t know about The Advantage, then here’s the low down: they’re a tribute band for gaming songs. The group formed in 1998 and have been adapting classic gaming songs into pop/rock medleys ever since. I ended up grabbing their self-titled release (not to be confused with their Elf-Titled album). So if you’re looking for an updated blast-from-the-8-bit-past, here’s your group and album. Below, you can hear the band live as they perform the boss theme for Flashman from Mega Man II (a song from this album I’m recommending).
The Advantage play Flashman, from Mega Man II
3. Best of the Best “Collector’s Edition” (more info)
Here’s an example of an album that’s been named perfectly. The Best of the Best is just that and more, it’s a collection of game themes that have been re-imagined, re-mixed, and re-vitalized by twenty of the best game score composers working today. It has one of the best Legend of Zelda renditions I’ve ever heard (orchestral or otherwise) and includes, for your listening pleasure, a rocking version of Duke Nukem (which is now in my “workout” playlist).
But the real gem in this album is also the one I’ve picked out as a sample below. For those who don’t know, Winifred Phillips is one of a very small group of very, very, very talented audio peeps. She’s won multiple awards for her radio drama readings and has composed scores for, well, scores of video games (Spore Heroes, Speed Racer, The Da Vinci Code, to name just a few). And, wouldn’t you know it, her primarily vocal rendition of the Mario Bros. theme song is a sun-shiny highlight on this album. Just be warned, you will NOT be able to get this out of your head once you hear it, it’s that infectious.
(click on “Bonus Tracks” below and then on “Go Mario!”)
4. Fable II (Soundtrack) (more info)
If you were picking out a full-game score, the Final Fantasy series seems ripe for the picking. And it is, but I’m going in a different direction here because I think everyone browsing around will find their way to Final Fantasy, but they might overlook the equally enjoyable Fable II soundtrack. The beautiful thing on this album is that it is symphonic without forcing itself to be sweeping and forceful. Some of the tracks are content to roll through sweetly. It’s a complete change of pace from the rest of the albums and projects on this list and can be recommended not only to video game fans, but to fans of symphony in general. At least, that’s my two cents.
Fable II Theme
5. Zelda Re-Orchestrated (visit the site)
I can remember sitting down as a kid and picking up a Nintendo controller for the first time. Naturally that first game was a Mario title, but it was the Legend of Zelda that captured my heart. It’s pretty clear I’m not alone in this devotion. The people behind Zelda Re-Orchestrated are running a labor of love to remaster the entire Legend of Zelda musical catalog. They’re endeavoring to recapture the music from every game, but it’s their Soundscapes that really began capturing people’s attention (you’ll hear why in just a second). Their currently, as of this writing, working on a Battlescapes project which promises to take their Soundscapes mentality to the darker, more intense music of conflict and is certainly something that fans should be on the lookout for.
Did I mention you can download their stuff from their site? You can. I highly encourage you to donate though if you’re going to grab the music (you can do so here). Enjoy!
Gerudo Valley Soundscape from Soundscapes Vol. 1