Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: video game music

Sabbatical Roundup – Highlights

Today is the last day of my sabbatical.  Who would’ve thought 150 days would blow by so quickly?

It’s been a very productive five months, though, and I thought that I’d share some of my favourite events and projects from my sabbatical time.

1) Premiering Morgun with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

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There is something very surreal about getting to work with some of the best musicians in your community.  Writing something for the WSO has always been something of an unattainable goal in my musical life.  I always sensed that they were on a different level than I am (and they really are), but a select few people with the right connections took a risk on me and, before I knew it, I had the commission – paid for and all.

While the premiere was amazing, I’ll never forget the moment that they started rehearsing it.  Both the conductor and the ensemble were in plain clothes and only Matthew Patton (composer and curator of the Winnipeg New Music Festival, which all of you should attend), Peter Johnson (editor of the Lögberg Heimskringla newspaper), Vikingur Ólafsson (the amazing Icelandic pianist with whom I had the privilege of sharing the concert) and I were in the hall.  When the strings started stacking the harmony through those opening measures, there was a feeling of awe and beauty like I’ve never felt before.

I’ll write more about the experience later on because there’s just so much to say.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  Here are some pictures from the premiere!

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2) Meeting Maddy’s Mom

During the summer, I was asked to write a piece to commemorate the life of Madison Fleming, a 10th-grader from Olds, AB who had died suddenly just after school had been dismissed for the summer.  While the research was emotional, I was hardly prepared to walk into this girl’s home and sit with her Mom, Pam.

I wrote about the experience in Olds in an earlier post, but I didn’t write about meeting Pam – I’m not sure why, I just didn’t.  Her house was beautiful and well-kept and she greeted us at the door.  She had a friend with her and they were clearly talking about Maddy before Karri (the band teacher and commissioner) and I arrived, but she still smiled as she led us inside.

While looking at pictures and hearing stories, it was clear that the family was so happy and fulfilled before Maddy died.  While she was a fighter, she had her whole family behind her and they cherished every moment.  When you see pictures of the family at the lake or at her baseball game, there was a sense that no time was ever wasted, but instead was genuinely spent together.

Pam is a profoundly kind person and you know as soon as you see her.  She just brings an energy of warmth wherever she goes and I think about her family often.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  #Kindnessmatters

3) Banff!

It took me a few weeks to really realize how transformative my time at the Banff Centre really was.  I worked so hard, I was exhausted, I was bitchy in the middle of it, but it was so worth it.  I met some incredible human beings, some wonderful musicians, and I got to work full-time on music for an ensemble for which I’d never written before.

Some of the people I got to meet:

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Sammy, Kelsey, Abby and Neil

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These lovely ladies, Kelsey and Jodi

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Here’s Abby, Jodi and Kenna, as well as Team Australia (Jessica and Xina, who are some of my very favourites)

And so many others too! Including the wonderful Sarah Slean, who is also one of my very, very favourite human beings.

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And here’s where we were…

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4) The Release of Horus Heresy: Drop Assault

I’ve worked on very few contracts/commissions that actually scare me – DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot, The Matters of Kindness – but Drop Assault was definitely one of them.

I play Dungeons & Dragons with someone who is very serious about the Warhammer 40K universe, but particularly the Horus Heresy origin story of it.  When I found out that Complex Games had gotten the rights to make a game set in that universe, I was hoping that I could write for it and, thankfully, I was the guy.

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The advance for the contract was almost-entirely spent on upgrading my instrument libraries.  I knew that what I had wasn’t good enough for a game of that scope and depth, so I took inventory of what I needed and went up from there.

That being said, I’m super proud of the game and I’m quite pleased with the score.  We worked really hard on it and it took many resubmissions to get it right, but we definitely got it.  You can pick it up here if you want to check it out!

5) Finishing the “Icelandic Folk Song Suite”

It was the hardest thing I ever wrote – and by “hardest,” I mean the most technically complicated and harmonically complex.  It’s Level 5 (second hardest level in Concert Band music), four movements and eleven minutes long.  I had it kicking around in my head for about a year, but I knew that I had to get it down, I just needed the time…

And it took about six solid months.  Granted, I didn’t work on it every day, but it was always there writing itself in my head as I was doing other things.

It premieres on May 4th, 2015 by the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble.  Going to be a wild good time!

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There is so much more I could write about (getting published in The Teacher, for example), but there’s something to be said for just having the time and energy to do things right.  Not to be rushed to finish a commission or a game contract, but just having the time to make it as great as it can be.

I am so grateful to my school and school division for allowing me to take one semester to write.

Now back to the classroom 🙂

-K

 

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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)

VGM Wednesday (Friday) – “Com64” from “Sword & Sworcery”

“Com64” from Superbrothers: word & Sworcery EP, by Jim Guthrie and released in 2011.

This past week, I was recording the Episode 6 of the IRL Podcast with Francesca and Kyle.  This particular episode was about the Humble Indie Bundle V, which I talked about last week.  They also wanted to talk about the music, so they asked me to come on (from previous Into the Score experience, and I think that we’re always looking for reasons to podcast together because we always have a great time).

While we were discussion the music from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Francesca brought up a piece that she says “she can’t listen to on the bus anymore.”  It’s a bonus track called “Com64” and, when I listened to it, I immediately knew why.

As soon as I started playing it, I started moving my body back and forth, bobbed my head and did some punch-dancing in my chair.

That four-on-the-floor bass (0:08)…

Then the kick (0:12), with the rhythmic noise tracks clicking on the upbeats (0:00)… GAH! What a solid foundation!

Then the synth groove comes in with the main riff with the bass in octaves… (:17)

Then the turnaround (0:36) right before the melody comes back in with octaves (0:41).

GAH! Dancing so hard!

I hope you’re all dancing so hard too! Also, it’s officially summer for teachers, giving rise to many days of crazy dancing.

Have the best time,
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “A Proper Story” from Bastion

“A Proper Story” from Bastion, by Darren Korb and released in 2011.

So, the Humble Indie Bundle 5 was released just a few weeks past and it included this highly-praised game called Bastion.  I’d heard of it, but never played it.

It wasn’t until Francesca over at the IRL Podcast sent me a note and told me that Episode 6 is going to be on the music from the Indie Bundle and invited me on the show to talk about it.  Because Francesca is awesome and I want to promote indie games as much as possible, accepting was a no-brainer.  She really wanted to talk about two games in the bundle in particular: Sword and Sworcery and Bastion.

Well, better start playing them 🙂

Sword and Sworcery has been around for a little while and is scored by Jim Guthrie (who scored the fabulous Indie Game: The Movie), while Bastion is scored by Darren Korb.  Both games are spectacular and you’ll hear a lot about the music if you check out that ep of the IRL Podcast., but let’s start with Bastion.

Korb describes the music as “acoustic frontier trip hop,” which is right on the mark.  The strummy/slidy acoustic guitar gives it a real Western edge, especially the minor pentatonic opening riff of “A Proper Story.”  But it’s not only that, it’s the sliding into the chord shape that happens after it too.  So, even just in the first four bars, we hear the riff, then three slide patterns; the riff, then three slide patterns.

Right after that, the layers of electronic drum beats come in.  Deep kicks, synth cymbals and tambourine, then a synth snare on two and four.  During that sequence, the acoustic guitar part changes to a progression of

| Im     Im      | Im    bIII IV|

… which in itself is a rough-and-tumble rock progression.  However, the acoustic guitar that slides into the chord shape (of the Im chord) doesn’t make it feel like a rock riff, but almost like a cowboy one.

Then the mandolin and sitar come in and trade bars, like a call and response in jazz.  The mandolin brings in a bluegrass sort of feel, while the sitar (with its augmented seconds and 1/4 tone bends) incites a Middle Eastern flavour to the harmony.

It’s SO eclectic and we’re not even out of the first 30 seconds 😐

This is Bastion, now go out and buy it 🙂

(Then listen to the IRL Podcast in two weeks!)
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “Battle with the Masked Man” from Mother 3

“Battle with the Masked Man” from Mother 3, by Shogo Sakai and released in 2006.

I had a great chat with my friend Joey, at a social* this past Saturday, about this very sequence in Mother 3 for GameBoy Advance.

(there appears to be too many commas in that sentence, but if I wrote “I had a great chat with my friend Joey about this event at a social, it makes it seem like the final battle of the game took place at the social… which, in fact, it didn’t).

Without giving anything away, the fight with the Masked Man is the climax of the entire game, both because it’s the final battle, but the identity of the primary antagonist is revealed (at last!).

The brilliance of the battle is in the timing.  Joey recounted that he barely succeeded, he was down to his last HP before the events of the fight really transpire.  His brother also played the game and said the same thing.  This was a common thread among those who fought and one realizes that those conditions are part of the programming – you’re supposed to just scrape by.  The battle wears you down to absolutely nothing, exhausting all of your PP (magic and ability points) and all of your healing items before finally, there’s nothing left to do but die.

Now, the genius of designer Shigesato Itoi is that he also considers how the player feels during each scene and how they experience the game.  Here’s how he describes it (spoiler-free)

During the final battle, ______’s ghost appears, scolding [them] and telling them to stop fighting, though she is harder on Lucas, because he is still alive. Itoi stated that the player feels very sorry for _____, and that even more so than the good, the bad need to be rescued. He further states that “there’s a deep meaning behind it, but they had to keep it simple because the game was written in Hiragana”. He had to beg the developer Brownie Brown to “add in the program the operations in the game perfectly enough to add the super subtle timing between lines.”

The writer and producer stews about every second of dialogue, every single word and how it’s all delivered.  Sure, big studios do this all the time with voice actors. motion capture and directors, but this is a game that looks like it should have been released for Super Nintendo, not PS3.

I posted about this battle because I have particular memories about this scene – the stress of almost dying, the emotional depth in the fight itself, the inner struggle that comes with revealing the Masked  Man… it really made a mark on me and that’s what I look for in art that I keep around 🙂

I know that this isn’t the first time that I’ve hit Mother 3 in VGM Wednesday, but it’s just a game that’s so much deeper than it looks, which I just love.  Don’t judge this book by its cover, you’ll be glad you didn’t!

Kenley

* In the event that any readers here aren’t from Manitoba, a “social” is an event thrown by friends of the bride and groom (usually, but not always) to help the couple raise funds for the wedding.  There are silent auction prizes, lots of dancing and usually the consumption of abhorrent amounts of libations… (we won a fire pit!)

Quote comes from wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_3#Final_battle

VGM Wednesday – Ending Theme (Orchestrated) from Final Fantasy VI

“Ending Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, by Nobuo Uematsu and released in 1994.

I know that I’ve posted this before, but this version is different and it celebrates the completion of a project that I’ve been working on for quuuuuuuuite some time.  But first the music…

I’ve heard just about every FF6 live performance/arrangement/orchestration on the web and I was SO happy to finally find this.  I’ve listened to the Ending Theme more times than I can count and I never ever thought that I’d find a live recording of it.  This comes from the “Final Fantasy VI: Littlejack Orchestra” concert at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall in August 2009, according to the video uploader.

I found this version after months of research on the Japanese web. I had previouslyheard of a concert devoted exclusively to FINAL FANTASY VI: “LittlejackOrchestra” at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall in August 2009. Being unable to attend,I had to find a single record, and my efforts were rewarded by putting the hand (or click …) on the video repeatedly. Far from perfect despite my edits, I grant you!

I think that he did an okay job editing but, to be honest, the recording isn’t the only thing far from perfect.  The performance is okay, but a lot of sections are out of balance and out of tune (especially in the upper woodwinds).  It’s still very impressive, don’t get me wrong, but if we’re going to do it, let’s really do it.  Symphonic Odysseys and Symphonic Fantasies come to mind… now those are performances!

To be fair, they are an amateur orchestra and they really played their heart out.  Their set was also incredibly long, which may have been to their detriment.  A solid article at “Original Sound Version” was written by someone who attended the show and is really worth the read.

Now, for the project.

Earlier this month, one of my students was talking about how much she loves the Harry Potter series.  She’s read all of the books a jillion times, had movie marathons, owns all of the wands, and more.  I must say, I was a bit jealous that she loved a universe that much and I wish that I did too.  Granted, I did at one point: The Final Fantasy VI universe.  I decided that it was time to revisit this place where my heart once belonged and see if there was still a place for it inside.

Thankfully, there was  🙂

This one in particular pays tribute to a game that was such a huge part of my musical (and gaming) upbringing.  I decided to make the cast of the game in perler beads (beads on grid, iron them down into a pattern) and it really enabled me to rediscover what I love about the game.

My fiancee would ask about the dog, for example, I could explain that the dog was the companion of the detached and dark ninja, Shadow and the canine’s name was Interceptor.  He was the village dog in Thamasa, but had a particular affinity for Shadow back when he was a robber named Clyde.  You know, Thamasa is a pretty interesting village… (and then go on from there).

Another time, she asked about the man in the life jacket (Cid) and I recounted the Solitary Island part to her, especially with Celes and her complicated personal struggle.

Even now, the real beauty of the game is the complexity of story and backstory in each character.  I mean, the plot is interesting, but it really just enables the characters to deal with their struggles and overcome their own personal demons.  The game has a loose story, but the best narrative is the 16 parallel stories going on inside the characters.

I still love it and still think it’s beautiful 🙂

Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Still Alive” from Portal

“Still Alive” from Portal, by Jonathan Coulton and released in 2008.

Talk about being late for the party! So, after four years, I’ve finally played/beaten Portal.  I use those two words in the same sentence because I beat it in one sitting.

I just couldn’t stop 😐

I thought that the 19 test chambers were some sort of “teaching the game” sections of the game.  And then, they took a really long time.  See, I thought “wow, this is a really long opening, I wonder what could possibly be after this.” And then it’s “over…”

… (except, of course, that it’s not over, but it’s not exactly “just beginning.”)

Kind of confusing, which is why I never knew how much game was left.  After I finished the 19th test chamber, my fiancee wanted to watch a movie and I kept saying “I think that I’m near the end, just another half an hour!”

Three hours later, I finally reached GLaDOS and that was that.

I really loved it.  I mean, I really loved it and totally get why everyone was all about it in 2008.  When it came out, I just didn’t get it.  Well, that all changed on Sunday.

What really pulled me in (REALLY) was the writing on the wall.  I really wanted them to develop that further (and maybe they do in sequels or extras) because that really enhanced the whole universe.  I mean, it would have been a whole different game, but then what happens to the guy/girl?

Also, when you first see the cake is a lie on the wall, you can’t really stop your forward momentum – you need to play through the story.  It’s like the mid-point in BioShock when you finally meet Andrew Ryan – I won’t ruin the moment for you, but you really can’t help but continue on.  I felt powerless to stop the momentum of the story, which was so interesting emotionally, like continue to follow the signs into the dark forest, you know?

Anyway, do you have any good memories of Portal?

Until next time,
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “Zero’s Theme” Medley – The Plasmas

“Zero’s Theme ~Medley~” from Mega Man X, performed by “The Plasmas.”.

One of my earliest prominent memories of video games was going to my aunt and uncle’s new house in St. Rose du Lac.  They had Mega Man 2 and, like most who grew up with it, it was a transformative experience.

Then I got Mega Man 3 and 4 a little while later, and they were cool… but then came that silver-coloured issue of Nintendo Power.  Come on, you know which one I’m talking about.

Mega Man X 🙂

Now, I was nine years old in 1993 and I knew in my heart that this was the pinnacle of the Mega Man franchise.  I mean, look at this resolution!

And then was Zero! And then Zero’s intense metal theme! (Well, metal for SNES anyway).  That theme BLEW MY MIND.

Then came X2 and the craziest thing happened: Zero had a new theme? Which, for character themes, is kind of bizarre because you want to hear the continuity of it through the series.

Anyway, enjoy the metal rendition by “The Plasmas.”

Kenley 🙂

VGM Wednesday – “Super Mario RPG Medley” by GaMetal

“Almost every song” from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, by GaMetal, posted by January 9, 2012.

I don’t have words… Actually, his comments say everything for themselves, so here they are:

Almost EVERY song from the soundtrack is featured.

This song itself is split into 7 ‘acts’ as I’d like to call them, combined together to form this enormous tribute. Over 40 different songs are featured; the tracklist (with nifty time links!) is as follows:

Act 1: In the Beginning
The Sword Descends and the Stars Scatter 00:00
Got a Star Piece (Pt 2) 00:45
Fight Against Koopa 00:54
Super Pipe House 1:45
Where Am I Going? 2:33
The Road is Full of Dangers 2:53
Fight Against Monsters 3:26
Victory 3:55

Act 2: Mushroom People and Tadpole Adventures
Hello, Happy Kingdom 4:20
Still, the Road is Full of Dangers 5:23
Fight Against a Somewhat Stronger Monster 6:00
Let’s Go Down the Midas River 7:27
Grandpa and the Delightful Tadpoles 7:54
Shock 8:31
Sad Song 8:33

Act 3: Geno, Yoshis, and Moles
Here’s Some Weapons! 9:34
Let’s Play Geno 10:15
Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms 10:43
Rose Town 11:51
Welcome! Yo’ster Isle! 12:16
Let’s Race 13:02
Hard-working Moles are Good Moles 13:19
Docaty Mountain Railroad 13:55

Act 4: Booster and his Wedding
Welcome to Booster Tower 14:41
And My Name’s Booster 15:23
Slope 17:11
The Merry Marry Bells Ring 17:38
The Starlights Flower 18:18

Act 5: The Sea, the Monster Town, Clouds and Volcanos
Sunken Ship 18:42
Going Shopping in Seaside Town 19:02
My Paradise -Monstro Town- 19:29
Margarie Margarita 20:13
Let’s do the Fluff-Fluff! 21:11
Barrel Volcano 22:21
The Axem Rangers Drop In 22:58
Fight Against an Armed Boss 23:25

Act 6: The Path to Smithy and the Final Battle
Koopa Castle 24:44
Weapons Factory 26:03
Fight Against Smithy 27:28
Fight Against Smithy, Who Likes Transforming 28:39

Act 7: A Grand Ending
Goodbye, Geno 31:08
Seeking Dreams through the Windows of the Stars 32:11
Happy Parade, Delightful Parade 33:19
And the Parade Draws to a Close 36:02

I love that this was a labour of love for him.  Also in the comments, he’s said that he works on this 3-10 hours per day, 5 days a week.  He just wanted it to be perfect.

(but seriously, imagine learning almost every part on almost every song on an album/soundtrack).

Good job, sir 🙂
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Prologue” from Castlevania: SOTN

“Prologue” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, by Michiru Yamane and released in 1997.

This piece has so many aspects that I’ve loved from music throughout my life: Music, 80s guitar, Romantic Era-esque arpeggios overtop of thick choral and string chords… it’s like my whole musical career wrapped into one piece.  All it needs are cadential resolutions to IVadd9 chords and we’ll be set.

(I really, really need to stop using that cadence).

When I had a PS1, it wasn’t really cool to have a PS1 anymore.  I’ve always been painfully behind on the times.  I finally picked it up when I was in university in 2002 (about five years after its release) and, after hearing SO much about this game, the disc was scratched.  That’s what I get for picking it up second-hand.

In 2006, I tried again.  My PS1 had since brokedown, but I acquired another copy of the disc, so I thought that I would rip the disc image and play it on my Mac.  I mean, I purchased it legally, I just wanted to play it! Then my gamepad screwed up and Alucard would keep walking left… no matter which direction I tried to make him go.  A broken analog stick, you see…

Then finally in 2009 (I think), the Dracula X Chronicles came out with an unlockable feature of Symphony of the Night.  I really had to work to unlock it… many an hour put into this venture.

But it was worth it: I finally got it.   And I loved it.  Ugh, Metroidvania makes me so happy…

And Alucard is just so awesome 🙂

Okay, this is getting too long.  Please play this game.  Hopefully you’ll have better luck getting it to work than I did!

Happy VGM Wednesday… err, Thursday,
Kenley