Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Morgun – *WORLD PREMIERE!*

I am so excited to announce, in conjunction with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba the WORLD PREMIERE of my work for Symphony Orchestra, Morgun.

It premieres on October 31st, 2014 at 8:00pm at the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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(that’s not me, we just look weirdly alike)

“Morgun” is Icelandic for “morning” and, when I was approached to write a piece as part of the 125th anniversary of the Icelandic Festival, I knew that its heart would be morning.  Perhaps the first morning after the settlers arrived, perhaps “morning” as a metaphor for the start of something new.  At its heart, it was the start of something new.

Growing up in Gimli, MB (the home of the festival) and being Icelandic, the story of the settlers coming over from Iceland in the mid-1800s has always been a part of my being.  Both sets of grandparents spoke Icelandic fluently and I grew up hearing it.; at Christmas, there was never a shortage of pönnukökur or vinatarta, and we were always in town for the festival (but usually working for most of it, being a local and all).

When I was approached by Janice Arnason to compose a piece for the 125th, I was elated.  Janice was last year’s president of the festival as well as my elementary music teacher, piano teacher, and Grade 6 LA/SS teacher – this is how small towns work :) Anyway, I feel immense gratitude that she would ask me to commit something so important and meaningful to the culture of our town.  Even though I’ve worked games for some pretty big franchises, I only have three things published for actual ensembles of live human beings, so I’m still a bit green to professional writing, if you look at it objectively.

But that’s part of growth: If you work really hard, do good work, and are an easy person to work with, people you respect will take risks on you.  This is how it works – someone needs to take a risk on you, and the beauty of a small town is that it’s easy to take a calculated risk because the people you respect have known you your entire life.

In short, I am grateful.  To some degree, I am also lucky, but working hard can help you load the dice.  Like measured risk, it’s measured luck, but I am always grateful when it actually works out :)

I’ll post more about the process later on!

Kenley

Music Ed Monday – The Big Leagues

When I walked into Complex Games that fateful Spring day of 2013, I saw 3D models of, what looked like, the nephews from DuckTales, but immediately put it aside.  I had a meeting with Noah Decter-Jackson (the CEO of the studio) because he wanted to talk to me about an upcoming project.

“… No…” I thought to myself in disbelief.  “I must be mistaken.”

I guess I was trying not to get my hopes up.  Then I passed another monitor and they were tweaking some colour on Scrooge McDuck’s smoking jacket.  Could it be…?

Then I saw Noah and we smiled and shook hands.  He invited me into his office and we caught up for a while (I had been doing contract work for Complex Games for about seven years at this point, so we’ve got a great relationship).  Off the cuff, I said: “Wow, this new game looks a lot like DuckTales!” To which he smiled and said “it is DuckTales.  Have a seat.”

The moment of rising anxiety-mixed-with-excitement is what I’ve come to call the “big leagues” feeling.  That was the first time I ever really felt like I was in over my head.  I was playing in the big leagues.

He walked me through the level design and we determined what would need music and how much.  It was only six tunes and I knew that I could do it, but the quality had to be so, so, so, so high.  I make my stuff as high-quality as I can, but it’s rare that I’ll be lying awake at 11:30 worrying if I put too much mid in the bass EQ.

(That specific example is below.  Seriously, it’s the most iconic bass line in Disney, which will bring me to my next point:)

It’s important not only to want to do a good job, but the other side of that coin is the overbearing feeling of “don’t screw it up.”  And it really is a ton of work.  A metric ton.  Of work.  It’s a ton work that you want to be great, but also to not screw up.

It is so messed up, but I got it done and I grew for it.  I was better for it.  It leads up to something I’ve told my students quite often, best articulated by Courage Wolf:

courage-wolf-bite-off-more-than-you-can-chewThe feeling of being overwhelmed by contibuting something that you believe is beyond you is called a great opportunity for growth.  By going through those feelings of stress, of working so hard you don’t think you can keep going, of continual revision, of the pursuit of your personal best and a constant and consistent strive for excellence, you enable yourself to grow.

I still get those feelings.  I got them with my next contract, KRE-O: CityVille Invasion when I saw toys for the game I was making.  I’m currently working on Betty Boop Dance Card for iOS and I still get those feelings.  Last week, I was so stressed that all I could think about was throwing up and scotch.  But hey, guess what? I made it through without either throwing up or scotch.  When you play in the big leagues, the big league feelings never go away.

Growth is never easy and it rarely feels good until after it’s over.

In teaching, this is what the musical feels like.  It’s two weeks before the show, it’s 9pm on a Tuesday and I just want to go home.  But we aren’t done yet.  We’ve been working on these scenes for months because that’s how long it takes and it has to be good.  That’s one part; the other part (as the pitband director) is don’t screw it up because the singers/actors/dancers are depending on you.  And then the show happens and it’s amazing and we’re so proud of everyone.  At that point, we know that it’s worth it and everyone grew even though it was so much work because it was so much work.

That’s what growth looks like.  You don’t get to grow by doing things you can already do, you grow by doing things you can’t.  You grow by throwing yourself in, drowning for a bit, stressing, struggling, busting your butt, then eventually figuring things out, then working some more, then getting it, then tweaking, then perfecting, then feeling awesome.

So bite off more than you can chew… then chew it.
K

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES: I + VIII + XIII-2

Well, it’s been busy, but I’ve been trying to find an hour or two every couple of days to work through this project.  After beating XIII, I took my copy of FFVIII to get cleaned up and, while the scratches were still there, at least the FMVs didn’t freeze up and I could beat the game.  Then, I went all the way back to the beginning and took out FFI.

These are hardly reviews, but I want to talk a little bit about the experience.  They aren’t reviews because – and I say this with kindness – this process isn’t about other people, just me.  It’s an effort to dig into the stories that were a part of my development through childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.  The music from the series changed my life and influenced my decision to learn about music, write music, and become a composer in my own right.

I owe a lot to the series, now it’s time to relive the stories.  First FFVIII!

Final Fantasy VIII (PSX version)

rinoa_and_angelo

General: Hit and miss, up and down.  It might be better if it were more consistent.

Pros: The Junction system grew on me again.  I really don’t like the Draw part of it, but I love crafting the perfect warriors with Flare/Aura/Haste/Curaga/Full-Life, etc… I would spend hours just finding the right spell for the right stat.  And then getting the GFs learning their new abilities… oh my.  The world was interesting too and had some great environments.  The Trabia bombing, Edea’s parade, Fisherman’s Horizon… many cool places.

The scenes that I didn’t really like when I was younger are the scenes that I loved as an adult.  I loved Timber and that whole sequence where we really meet Rinoa and the Owls.  And the Fisherman’s Horizon sequence was really touching, maybe because I adore “Love Grows,” which is the FH theme.

Cons: The end felt very, very rushed.  Esthar, Space, Time Compression? I wanted more build-up.  Also, Time Compression is a bit ridiculous to me.  Also, Ultimecia comes out of nowhere and I feel like her delivery was very rushed.  I didn’t like that, but I wasn’t really involved emotionally with many of the characters (except Rinoa, I really liked her).

Can we talk about the dialogue? What a trainwreck.  So much unnecessary dialogue and too many scenes dragged on.  Oh, and one exclamation mark is plenty, thanks.

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Final Fantasy I (PSP Version)

So many memories with this game.  This was the first strategy guide that I’d ever seen.  I have been six or seven years old and I have clear memories about this game in my cousins’ living room with their old NES.  This and Mega Man 2.  Memories are funny things…

General:  Nostalgia really got me through this game.  Not that it was a bad game, but its gameplay mechanics really showed their age.  The PSP update is nice and reliving some of those iconic moments in higher resolution was really nice.  Ah yes, the Bahamut Quest, fighting the four fiends, the Mirage Tower, and Provoka (Bikke the Pirate!).

Pros: There was so much that I’d forgotten.  The giant that eats rubies, the vampire and Melmond, the whole Levistone quest and the desert caravan… it was nice to play through that again.  Thankfully, the game isn’t very long (I can’t dump 60+ hours into that!) and it moves quickly.  Seeing the circle of elders, beating the four fiends, and getting the airship for the first time were all very nostalgic.  Nostalgia! Nostalgia! Nostalgia!

Also, I would live in every town in this game (except Melmond).

Elfheim

Elfheim

Crescent Lake

Crescent_Lake

Lufenia

Lufenia (1)

Cons: Everything that’s ever been said about this almost-30 year old game.  No characters, dated gameplay, all that stuff.  But you know, it was still pretty cool :)

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Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3)

Final-Fantasy-XIII-2-Screenshots-01-620x300

I know that I said I wasn’t going to tackle any of the sequels, but I just couldn’t resist.  The more time I spent away from the world of XIII, the more I wanted to go back.  Even when I listen to the soundtrack or look at fan art… I want to go back.  Fortunately, my brother-in-law bought my FFXIII-2 for Christmas last year, so I thought I’d dive into the universe again.  To be honest, I’m glad I did.

General: I love that universe.  I love the environments, especially.  The weather-affected Archylte Steppe, Academia, the Dying World, Oerba… all of it.  Serah made a great protagonist, though I didn’t love Noel, or even Caius as a villain, though I loved Serah.  Let’s address that.

Pros: Crikey, Serah was a great protagonist.  What I loved the most about it was the conscious effort not to make her a damsel.  She was soft, but tough (whereas Lightning was just tough).  She wanted to find her sister and that was her raison d’etre, not finding a husband or swooning for some guy.  Yes, Snow was there, but he was such a subordinate role and, to be honest, that was a really great decision by the writers.  The story is really about Serah, Noel, and Caius (and arguably Yeul) and it stays that way.  There are some nice cameos by Sazh and Lightning, but they don’t confuse the mission of each character.

And that brings to be to another real pro of the character development: All of the characters believe that their actions are for the right reasons, especially Caius.  Sometimes, stories fall into the trap of writing the “evilest evil enemy of evil” whose motivation is weak, contrived and trite.  Caius is actually acting from inside and is trying to do what he thinks is best for Yeul, who he deeply cares about.  Even though I didn’t really love Caius as a villain, I appreciated him as a character, and that says something too.

Honestly, one of my very favourite elements of this game is the trivia game in Academia because it establishes the universe so well.  It addresses the best parts of the culture.  Here are some of the questions:

  • Around 150 AF, what accessory inspired by Cocoon’s pillar was worn by people everywhere as a symbol of friendship? Cocoon charm bracelet. 
  • As the population on Gran Pulse increased, what business took off? Private military companies. 
  • Chocobo riding used to be mandatory at all private schools. However, it was cancelled indefinitely due to what kind of complaint from the parents? The chocobo smell would rub off on the students. 
  • The tonberry parent became a social phenomenon in 300 AF. What kind of parents doe sthe phrase refer to? Those who wield knives when talking to teachers. (my personal favourite)

Just great commentary on the culture of the universe.  Amazing.

The game’s music is really excellent… to be continued.

Element-wise, it’s great.  The battle system, the visuals, all that stuff.

Cons: The time travel plotline feels a bit contrived for a sequel.  Very open… too open.  If only you could find a middle ground between the linearity of XIII and the openness of XIII-2, you’d have a really great game.  Actually, you’d have most other Final Fantasies.  Somewhere between the two extremes of these games, you have a middle ground that almost every FF has done so well.

The music in this game is really excellent, but I only contextually, I feel.  It doesn’t stand as well on its own, but it’s wonderful as you’re playing the game.  There are some really, really great tracks though.

I feel like I’ve covered most of it.  I really enjoyed the experience and, let’s be honest: I’m psyched for XIII-3.  I know that a lot people rag on the XIII series-within-a-series, but it’s really well-assembled.  Or at least I think so, and that’s good enough for me :)

So, where are we in the “Beat all of the Final Fantasies?”

COMPLETED: I, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, XIII

INCOMPLETE: II, III, IX, X, XII

Over halfway there! Five more!

Final_Fantasy_Logos3

Until next time!
Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Transform and Make It So (Part 2)

Optimus%20Prime%20-3In Part One of this mini-series, I reviewed how the character of Jean-Luc Picard was influential to me in my adolescence.   But, when I was a lot younger, I had Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime (from Generation One) was strong without being brutish.  He would fight, but only when necessary.  He would take responsibility of his actions and always, always protect the humans.  That was a big one: He would always fight the battles when needed and never frivolously, but he would do so to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves.  That is an amazing message for kids.

(Side note: Kids had amazing messages in 80s cartoons.  Seriously, Transformers, He-Man, Teddy Ruxpin… it was a good time to be a kid).

But now, for the details:

“Sometimes, even the wisest of men and machines can be in error.”
(Transformers G1: “SOS Dinobots” @21:40)

Everybody makes mistakes, so admit it, take responsibility, and learn from it.

“We must help Ironhide.”
(Transformers G1: “Autobot Run” @14:40)

You always help when you can.  Always, always, always.

“We must have courage, Huffer.  We can’t ignore the danger, we must conquer it.”
(Transformers G1: “More Than Meets the Eye, Part 2″ @14:30)

Huffer precedes the line with “but we’re not fighters like they are.”  Meet the challenge head on.  It’s not about having fear, it’s about what you do in spite of it.

And so many others.  Wired wrote a post about this back in 2007 when the Transformers movie and they really hit the nail on the head:

…Prime practically step-parented the latchkey kids of the mid-’80s. He was our Allfather at a time when flesh-and-blood role models were increasingly few and far between….So when Prime declared, “One shall stand, one shall fall!” in that seismic, tear-down-this-wall timbre of his (or, more accurately, voice actor Peter Cullen), you believed him….

For two glorious years, Optimus Prime was America’s hero….Then in 1986, the original Prime did something that distinguished him from most other cartoon heroes. He died. He died for freedom, for righteousness, and for shelf space….For nearly two decades…the sons of Prime waited for Papa Bot…

With bated breath and shaken faith we await the return of our Almighty Rig. Because without Prime, we’re stuck with whiney Spider-Boys, metrosexual pirates, and koan-spouting kung-fu Christs in designer sunglasses and unisex clubwear. Because he died protecting us in ’86, and nothing’s ever been the same since. Because these days, the only real men left are giant robots…

Indeed, indeed.  The media with which our kids interact affects them greatly both positively and negatively.  When kids see Miley Cyrus at the VMAs and don’t react with disgust, that says something about the message.  The Canadian Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message” and that resonates with culture’s ever-changing online presence, but we also can’t forget that the media is the message too.

In an age where pop culture is so pervasive (and sometimes insidious), we have to be really mindful about both who the models are and which models the kids are following.  It’s fine to have Captain Picard or Optimus Prime on the air, but if no one’s watching, then who cares?

A worse problem is to insert any of these characters into a program that doesn’t match their integrity.  For example, I love(d) the Transformers franchise, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (the second movie) was one of the most sexist and racist movies I’d ever seen.  And in the midst of this terrifying cultural portrayal of women and minorities is Optimus Prime? Are you serious? Writers, do you even know who you’re writing about?

So who’s left to model for kids? Well, real life adolescents and adults.  Brothers, sisters, parents, teachers, law makers, politicians, et cetera.  We need to be the good that they so desperately crave and the leaders they so desperately deserve.  We need to model kindness, empathy, dialogue, patience, perseverence, and care-giving.  Kids need to know that we care about them and will continue to support them even after they leave.  I heard a speaker this morning say “they need to know that even when they leave the house, the door is always open and there will always be a light for when they come back” and I thought that was perfect.

HOMEWORK:

Be mindful of your words and actions this week.  Who’s watching you and what can you teach them? How can your actions model what you desire so deeply to see in others?

Have a great week,
Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Transform and Make It So (Part 1)

Captain-Picard-1This past weekend, I read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about how Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation was a role model for the author (Melissa Martin, @DoubleEmMartin) during her youth.  She starts by describing the alpha males of popular culture:

In most pop-culture media, alpha males are swaddled in visual signifiers of virility and violence. They swagger, they swear, they have unfussy clots of hair stuck at cocky angles. They solve problems. They wear a stone-cold sneer to show their authority; if that doesn’t work, they carry guns to get the job done. When it’s over, there is always a woman who tumbles into their arms. It’s rarely clear why she loves him; just that she is a thing he’s won.

Then contrasts that image with Captain Picard:

Capt. Picard, though, he wasn’t like that. He was a small man, his head ringed by the last vestige of salt-and-pepper hair and lined with all the worries of the years. He quoted Shakespeare and drank tea — Earl Grey, hot — instead of beer. He turned to his advisers, often. He leaned heavily on Guinan, and rarely risked ship for ego. He took risks when urgency inspired, but his authority was drawn on compassion, wisdom and balanced reason.

When I think back to my own youth, there are two dominant characters that were pivotal in my development as a male in this time (along with fabulous family and great friends, of course): Optimus Prime and Captain Picard.

We’re going to split this into two posts, so let’s start with the Captain.

Here’s the appetizer:

Now, the main courses…

“Things are only impossible until they’re not.”
(Season 1, Episode 17, “When the Bough Breaks”)

For centuries, human flight seemed impossible… the Wright Brothers did it.  Similarly, going to the moon, finding cures for diseases, et cetera.  Dream big.  Always.  When you’ve figured out what you want to do, figure out a way to do it.

Even in my personal and professional life, there are experiences that I never thought would happen.  I never thought that I’d be composing for a company like Disney, but it happened.  I never thought that I would be good enough to be published, but it happened.  It’s impossible to sit on your couch doing nothing and expecting great opportunity, but you can double up on opportunity by working hard and putting yourself out there.

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“If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
(Season 1, Episode 1: “Encounter at Farpoint”)

My writing teacher used to say “don’t apologize for your beliefs” and, even now, I have a hard time doing it.  I’ve since been a lot better, though.  I’m okay with having the cast of Final Fantasy VI on my wall in perler beads, or wearing video game shirts to work, or sharing my love of Carl Sagan with my class.  I’m okay with that – I am who I am and that’s okay.  Be who you are, not who you’re not, right?

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“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.”
(Season 2, Episode 21, “Peak Performance”)

Yep.

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“There are times… when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders”
(Season 3, Episode 16, “The Offspring”)

Do the right thing.  Do the right thing.  Do the right thing, even when someone older or smarter tells you to do something so clearly against your conscience.  This whole episode is just a masterpiece, btw.  Classic Trek.

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This entire clip…
(Season 3, Episode 4, “Who Watches the Watchers”)

This articulates my humanism very clearly.  More clearly than I could ever hope to explain and it resonates deeply within me.

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“Living is making choices.”
(Season 5, Episode 9, “A Matter of Time”)

I often don’t like making choices because I often make the wrong ones, if there is such a thing as a “wrong choice.”  But we make them and that’s how things happen.  You never get something from nothing, or you don’t get anywhere by standing still, et cetera.

We say that a lot to our band kids.  “Do you think that the line should get louder here, or softer? Never play it flat, make a choice and see what happens.”  In so many circumstances, it is worse to make no choice than to make the wrong one.  Don’t you think?

Next week, Optimus Prime :)

Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Books, Covers, and Opportunity

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

-Steve Jobs

That sounds like something he’d say, right? Except that he didn’t, the actor playing him said that.

“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.”

- Ashton Kutcher

Yes, Ashton Kutcher.

I went to see Jobs the other day (with my amazing wife) and I was a bit leary of Kutcher’s portrayal of one of the greatest thinkers and inventors of our time.  When I think of Ashton Kutcher, I think of That 70s ShowDude Where’s My Car? or Two and a Half Men.

But seriously, he knocked it out of the park and, while the movie was pretty good, I was totally transfixed by his performance.  The pursing of his lips, the hunched and flat-footed walk, the distant stare, the speech inflection… everything.

That show taught me two things:

1) Don’t go in with expectations (read as: don’t judge a book by its cover).  I think we do this a lot as teachers – we don’t mean to, but we do.  Concurrently, the students will also do a second-order judgement on themselves as you’re doing a first order judgement on them.  They are assessing themselves based on their judgement of your judgement on them.  It becomes a cyclical process of judgement.  Both parties need to stop doing this because it doesn’t help anyone.

Go in with a blank slate, both teacher and student.  Kids are so perceptive of minute actions that I think we really need to be mindful of what we’re sending out.  It might be a small stare, an exhalation of breath, a sinking of the eyes, a slouch, a quick turn away.

A particular former flute player of mine left Band in grade 10 and dove into choir, where she was crazy good.  I couldn’t remember her name when she was in my Jr. Symphonic Band in Grade 9.  I had completely forgotten about it, but she didn’t.  Even on one of the last days of her Grade 10 year, she reminded me that I could never remember her name.

Anyway, Ashton Kutcher was remarkable, even though I didn’t think he’d done anything that really blew me away until then.  But, what really got me, was a speech he made just last week at the Teen Choice Awards (yes, I know, but we’re not going in with expectations, remember?).

2) Opportunity looks a lot like hard work.  This one ties back to expectation too because there are so many opportunities that we get, but feel like we don’t deserve.   The most common one that I see is when students bring back that acceptance letter to Music School and tell me “but I’m not good enough to be there.”  Actually, you are, because you wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t.

But you wouldn’t have gotten in if you didn’t work the audition piece.  Sometimes, I feel like auditions are teaching toward the test.  You work a few pieces so hard that you master them, then you can’t get through something new.  But the lesson of hard work still applies because it got you in the door to the next opportunity (and you couldn’t have even unlocked the piece if you hadn’t worked your skills for years before you started practicing the audition music).

When I got the DuckTales contract, I immediately felt like I didn’t deserve it and that I wasn’t good enough to do it.  I was just punching above my weight class.

punchaboveyourweight

(from Urban Dictionary)

Except that I wasn’t – I could do everything that the creative leads, the producers, and the game and the music wanted me to do.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t obsess over it, or go to bed thinking about the viola part in the B section of the airship level, or if there was too much mid in the slap bass during the opening.   I even sent three or four entirely different (though incomplete) pieces away for the Cowboy level because it had to be right.   There was a healthy balance of “make it great” and “don’t screw it up,” and I suppose that both are important, to some degree.  A similar (but less crazy) feeling happened with KRE-O: CityVille Invasion.

But it’s not like these came out of nowhere.  The company, Complex Games, and I have been working together on and off for about seven years and I’m sure that they’ve had a similar experience in their growth too.  When I first started with them, we were working on a pirate game for Facebook and now we’re doing mobile games for Disney and Zynga.  And that’s growth.  That’s what growth looks like.  (And goodness, they do fabulous work and deserve all of the accolades that come to them).

The growth still comes from hours at a piano or in front of a sketchbook, like an artist in front of a canvas or a horn player in a practice room.  I really like that stuff.  I like leaning over the piano keys and sketching out ideas, then building that musical house one note at a time.

So, here’s my question: What makes you want to work hard? If you don’t know the answer that, then try this one: What do you love? Why not do more of that :)

I think a lot about this, about the nexus of hard work and opportunity.  Some people get lucky (and arguably, a degree of luck is still needed, even for the hardest workers) and some people cheat, but I think that’s the exception.   Yet, so many will pick that one time and try to emulate that… and fail.

“But so-and-so sightread the audition and got into honour band.”

“My friend so-and-so didn’t study for the History final and still got an 80.”

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Tiny Fey explains it best in Bossypants, describing her show would succeed where all other shows about awesome 20-somethings would fail:

For years the networks have tried to re-create the success of Friends by making pilot after pilot about beautiful twenty-somethings living together in New York. Beautiful twenty-somethings living in Los Angeles. Beautiful twenty-somethings investigating sexy child murders in Miami. This template never works, because executives refuse to realize that Friends was the exception, not the rule. The stars of beloved shows like Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld, Newhart, and The Dick Van Dyke Show had normal human faces.

The best don’t start as the best, but they got better with hard work and time.  Put in the time, put in the work, and it works a lot better if it’s something you love.  If it’s something you don’t love (i.e. geometry), you’ll probably still be better off if you give it your best shot.  I hated learning ratios in math, but I use them everyday.  Seriously, every day.

Find something you love and work it.  If you do so honestly, you will deserve whatever comes your way.

When the spark catches…

So, I worked on this game called DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot that was made by Complex Games and published by Disney.  My last post was about it and, now that the game is out, it’s starting to make some waves.

I’ve been following online magazines like Destructoid and Touch Arcade for a long time and today I saw DTSL on both of those this afternoon.  Then on Gamezebo and through YouTube videos.  There’s been so much hub-bub about DuckTales: Remastered that this game has really caught some of the mags off guard.  And really, how many people are expecting a third-person, team-based DuckTales shooter? :)

Very cool.

Very.  Very.  Cool.

(It would be even cooler if they mentioned the music :P)

DuckTales! Woo-oo!

DuckTales

I’m so glad that I can talk about this now.  I can’t believe I got this gig – it’s one of those types.  The type that keeps you up at night from being both excited and terrified about writing it.  Where you’re out for dinner and you can’t stop thinking about how you voiced the harmony coming into the B section of whatever, or if you really want to double the melody in octaves off the top of a piece.  It’s that type :)

DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot soft-launched in mid-July and I couldn’t be happier.  “Soft-launch” means that it launched in a region (Canada, in our case) without much hub-bub so that the technical bugs can be worked out before it goes live around the world.  I’m not sure when the worldwide launch is, but I can still talk about it.

Essentially, the DuckTales villains have stolen Scrooge’s loot and he needs you to get it back.  It’s a multiplayer third-person shooter and it’s pretty fun! The plunger gun is my favourite – yes, there’s a plunger gun.

Sadly, I can’t post the music because I don’t own it anymore.   Sorry, gang.  But if you want to hear it (and have an iOS-capable device), then you can download it for free below!

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/ducktales-scrooges-loot/id638515629?mt=8

More to come!
Kenley

PS: Waaaaaaaaaay more to come.  Some fun things in the works!

PPS: The most fun part to write? Unlocking the perfect slap bass sound in the opening.  Which slap bass? This slap bass:

Music Ed Monday – When They Miss the Beauty

While at Grade 10 Band Camp, the chaperones (all of whom were educators) were discussing the trials of teaching and one of them said something that I haven’t forgotten:

What really troubles me isn’t when they don’t get the material, but when they resist it.  If they’re trying, then they’ll get it eventually, but when they resist it, they will always miss the beauty.

That’s what is really tragic to her: When they miss the beauty.

And we’ve all been there, right? The hashing of parts, the correction of chromatics, the clapping of rhythms, etc.  We know, it’s boring.  It’s boring for them and it’s boring for us.

But it’s okay because we have one-liners to quell their frustration, right? “You can’t access the music if notes and rhythms are in the way,” or “actors can’t make magic on the stage if they’ve still got their heads in their lines.”

Not that I pretend to have any answers, but the older I get, the further I’m distancing myself from those common reasons.  I may find my way back, but this notion of “missing the beauty” has been with me for a few weeks.  I don’t make music for the notes/rhythms, I do it for the beauty.  So I’ve been asking myself how do I make sure they don’t miss the beauty?

That’s been the theme of this month.  Now what does that look like in the classroom?

It’s taken a lot of reflection and, for me, the beauty of a line is usually in its shape.  For non-musicians, that means the rise and fall of volume in a musical phrase.  What really gets me going is when the lines, volume, and intensity all move together.  To be said another way, the musician does what the music demands.

shape

So, even in sightreading (even in technically difficult sightreading), I’ve always made sure that we got to rehearse shape once per rehearsal.  Even if it’s only eight bars, or four bars, or two bars, shape must be prevalent every time.

As it turns out, the kids are really driven by shape too.  Granted, kids are usually motivated and excited by the things that do so for their teacher - it was tuning/pitch for me in high school – but this seems to really connect my kids to the emotional feeling of the music and it does so quickly.  Mr. Cooper from Music Ed blog Cooper’s Divertimento sums it up well:

It can be what Peter Boonshaft calls a “pearl”. It’s one thing per rehearsal that you really work to perfect so that the kids can experience something truly amazing in band that day. A crescendo, perhaps, or a single chord played beautifully. When a kid is part of making something like that happen, when it happens, they feel it somewhere deep down. Remember that feeling? It’s that feeling you get when something sounds so amazing that you just get pumped, or otherwise filled with excitement. If a kid doesn’t care, it’s probably because they either haven’t had that experience, or they haven’t had it regularly, or have been too long without it.

Going back to band camp, I made it my mission to find this feeling in our brass and percussion sectional.  Going into that rehearsal, I really had to fight my “band teaching” toolbelt, to go outside my comfort zone and try something new.  Teach them the thing(s) that make you love making music.  Pick one thing and do it.

Shape.  Shape.  Shape.

I didn’t focus too much on basics because, strangely, they fixed themselves on their own.  As they grew through the phrase, some player’s bad tone got better with more air.  Any wrong notes and rhythms were corrected either by their ears or their classmates and they didn’t need to me to tell them.  When it sounds wrong, they know, and they want to fix it :)

We were rehearsing Brian Balmage’s Whale Warriors and there was one moment where the melody was in three different one-bar statements in the low brass.  Where’s the story? Find it and tell it with shape.  Now teach them that.

whalewarriors

- Crescendo for three beats, then descrescendo on beat four. (if each bar is like a sentence, give the sentence some inflection)

- The shape of the notation is very similar in each bar, so let’s find a way to make them different.

- Now, make each bar slightly louder than the last one.  (take each sentence somewhere… or ‘when in doubt, move forward’)

And there it was.  The basics corrected themselves and the music happened.  The story was told and they knew it.  It was a great feeling in the room.  It was only four bars, but it was awesome.

I’ve been doing it for a month and I really like it.  I feel like I have a little pearl every day.  Granted, the pace of learning the notation is slower, but the ecstacy of playing the music is more present.  For me, that’s a good trade-off :)

Have any great pearls? Or great stories about these moments? Leave them in the comments section!

Until next time,
Kenley

BEAT ALL THE FINAL FANTASIES: Almost Halfway!

So, about two years ago, I began a mission to beat all of the numbered, original canon Final Fantasy games.  No Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (though I’ve beaten it and it’s wonderful), no Final Fantasy X-2 – just the original, numbered games.

Since then, I’ve beaten 4, 5, 6, 7, and 13 (which I just finished tonight).

Final_Fantasy_LogosAlso, I’m not beating 11 because it’s online.  I know, not really a good reason…

Anyway, I was scared that some of the games wouldn’t hold up to my childhood memory, kind of like the way that Thundercats doesn’t anymore.  But, strangely, the opposite has mostly been true.  Here is my current rundown:

Final Fantasy IV (DS version)

General:
SUCH A GOOD GAME!

Pros:
The characters, the plot, the trip to the moon, the new localization… YES! I remembered a lot of the game, so I was tentative to try it again.  I played for a while, then stopped for some reason, then picked it up again.  Oh right, I saved inside the giant and couldn’t get out.  Then I did, bought some items and level grinded (ground?) for a while and then was hooked until the end.  The scoring of the OST was really nice too.

Cons:
The DS version is painfully unbalanced.  I would trounce the enemies for 20 random battles in a row, then die on a usually-useless enemy.  That’s a common criticism, so I’m not too beat up on it.  Oh, and how does Yang come back in the end? And Palom and Porom? It appears that I overlooked some plot holes in my youth…

Final Fantasy V (GBA version)

General:
Exceedingly better than I remember.

Pros:
I first played FFV when I was in high school, but it hadn’t been released in North America yet, so I was playing it on ZSNES with a fan translation patch on my sketchy HP.  The battles were choppy, there was a click delay between the game and keyboard… oh, and I was playing it WASD and I really wasn’t interested.  I got to the Big Bridge and stopped.  When I picked it up on GBA about 10 years later, it was a wonderful experience.  Great localization, some very under-represented music (in the franchise, I mean), iconic moments, the introduction of Gilgamesh.  Oh, and a KILLER update on the job system from FFIII.  The versatility built into the party was amazing.  I really enjoyed the experience.  Also, the Phantom Village was really creepy… like, really creepy, especially when you encounter it in the Void in the end AFTER seeing it trapped in time during the second world.

Cons:
Other than Galuf, I wasn’t terribly interested in any of the characters.  I mean, I wanted Lenna to find her dad and all, but the game really became about getting Exdeath in the end and less about the characters.  I also didn’t really like Exdeath very much as a villain (though, I did like how he came from a tree).  There was something quite unconvincing about him.   They did a better job of him in Dissidia than in the actual game.

Final Fantasy VI (GBA Version)

General:
It’s my favourite game of all-time and it still holds up.

Pros:
I was scared that this game would just be my youth again and it might actually be terrible when I tackled it in my late-20s.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  I could pick this up and play it again today.  The storytelling, the characters, the sequences, the battle mechanics, the Espers, the magic, the customization… and, of course, the music.  While I don’t like the music in the GBA version as much as the original, the structure of the OST (as in “all of the songs working together as a unit”) is remarkably strong.  I care about all of the characters, their stories, their struggles, their backgrounds… It is almost the perfect game (second only to Super Metroid, which is a perfect game).

Cons:
Critics over the years have slammed the customization in the game because it’s so easy to make your characters god-like.  Level them up, give them all Ultima, equip them with the myriad of amazing weapons/armour/accessories in the game and… it’s over? Actually, there’s some truth to that.  I found that I got too strong too quickly and the challenge of the game was compromised.  Granted, it was still a wonderful experience, but it’s nice to die once in a while :)

photo

Final Fantasy VII (PSP port)

General:
Strangely, better than I remember.

Pros:
Yeah, it was great.  While I don’t love this game as much as VI, it still has a place in my heart.  What I really noticed this time around was how fast the battles actually are.  I mean, the earlier games are engaging, but VII’s battle system moves so quickly that I really had to stay on it all the time.  The music is classic and hearing it all in context again – well, most of it.  The story actually made more sense this time too, which is always nice.

Cons:
While I’m very patient with graphics, this pill was a bit tough to swallow.  Great 2D will trump bad 3D anytime (does anyone remember Earthbound 64 before it became Mother 3?) and FFVII hasn’t aged very well.  Graphics aren’t nearly as important to me as they are to the rest of the world, but it’s worth saying.  Also, “One-Winged Angel” has been played, arranged, orchestrated, remixed and performed to death, so it was an anti-climactic final battle.  I know that it’s a crowd pleaser, but there is so much other amazing music in that game, like the Main Theme, J-E-N-O-V-A and all of Red XIII’s music.  Work those more, please!

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)

General:
Mixed, but generally good.

Pros:
After playing VII and VIII (scratched Disc 3, so we’re on a break), XIII is an incredibly beautiful game visually.  The voice acting is beautiful, Masashi Hamauzu did a lovely job with the music, the battles are fast… it’s quite good.  I beat the game tonight and I really enjoyed it.  I cared about the characters too: I loved Lightning and Fang, I enjoyed Sazh and Snow and Fang, and I grew to love Hope and Vanille.  I loved both the worlds of Cocoon and Gran Pulse too!

Cons:
The unravelling of the story was terribly awkward.  I didn’t get what was going on through the first half, though I eventually put it together just before I got to Pulse.  The Datalog was handy for that, but I shouldn’t have had to check it, just write the game better! Also, the positioning of the villain was poor – who am I fighting against anyway? Dysley? Orphan? The Cavalry? Raines? I felt like I just wanted to beat the clock before my brand turned us into l’Cie.  Also, Final Fantasy, you need to stop invented so many goddamn words: l’Cie, fal’Cie, Primarch, Crystarium, Cie’th… Seriously, too damn much.

Also, your locations are SO beautiful, why not introduce them organically.  I’m walking and then, all of a sudden, I’m in this beautiful place for no reason, or Taejin’s Tower, or whatever.  Can a character just say “We’re almost at Oerba, but if we have to go this way, we’ll have to go through Taejin’s Tower.  Legend has it that *yadda yadda yadda*”  That way, the audience at least knows that it’s coming and that it’s a normal part of the environment!

(I still did get emotional in the end, so it’s okay.)

Next stop, beating Final Fantasy VIII! I’m on the 3rd disc, but it’s too scratched to continue, so I’m off on an adventure of my own now…

Until next time!
Kenley

 

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