Covering a Tune: Arranging Music for Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music – Part 2

On February 2nd, my band, Beta Test Music (betatestmusic.com), will be performing another big concert of video game music and other nerdy favorites at First Unitarian Church in downtown Philadelphia (see here for information and tickets).  This series of posts will highlight the music that I arranged for the concert, explaining the choices in musical selection, instrumentation, and overall presentation.

In Part 1, I discussed my musical selection process for my medley of music from Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III) for Beta Test Music and 2a03+VRC6.  Today, in Part 2, I will discuss the specific methods I used to arrange and compile the entire piece.

Performance Considerations:

So, at the end of Part 1, I mentioned that my medley would include “Prelude”, “Prayer”, “Beginning”, “Deja Vu”, “Riddle”, and “Evergreen” from the AD/CIII soundtrack.  Let’s take a look at how I pieced each of these pieces together.

As the game was written for 2a03+VRC6 originally, I wanted to make sure my pre-recorded sound used this specific set up.  I used Famitracker and added the VRC6 module to the playback.  This gave me a total of 4 live instruments (soprano sax, french horn, trombone, tuba) + 4 pulse waves, 1 triangle wave, 1 sawtooth wave, 1 noise channel, and one simple sampler – so 11 different voices technically.  Arranging for Beta Test, I’ve never used more than 6 total so I really needed to discover a good balance.

Also, there’s a hidden temptation here.  Nintendo music can be played back via .NSF files.  You can uh… load these NSF files into Famitracker and look at the notes and literally use what’s written there line for line.  I decided this would be extremely “karaoke” and lame.  So while I used the .NSF file to make sure I had the right notes, I made sure that my interpretation shined through.

You can’t just… well… STEAL the original music. That’s cheating!

I constructed a master “MIDI” file in Finale and then matched the BPM to the BPM in Famitracker.  The result is some… weird tempos (I think part of “Prelude” is like, quarter note = 82.5) but still, it allowed me to work with the two different programs well.  From the master MIDI, I made a Famitracker track for EACH song (in some cases, two tracks per song) and figured I could patch those together in Sonar X1.  The result was a careful balancing act between Finale and Famitracker.  I will probably find an easier way to do this in the future… but it worked this time.

“Prelude”

I wanted to cover this straight up.  I felt like I didn’t need to change what was there all that much.  I used a hollow sounding pulse to start out the beginning melody and added in all the instruments as needed.  I have everyone drop once the arpeggiated line begins.  I took care to attempt to recreate the “pluckiness” of the original line.  The french horn and tuba enter, with the tuba holding down the bass notes and the horn playing the melody for a bit.  I decided to let the soprano sax rest right until the end and assign the melody to the tuba.  It all ends on a dark chord.

“Prayer”

Again, just a straight up cover.  I have ONLY the four instrumentalists play at this point.  I timed it out on the .wav file so that there’s about 12 seconds to complete this.  We’ll hold the final note until the pulse enters, indicating the beginning of… well… “Beginning”.

“Beginning”

Okay, I stray a bit here.  When I was looking at the .NSF file, I discovered there’s a strange little counter-melody that plays throughout the song.  It’s never really audible.  We begin with this counter-melody, exposed, in the pulse and then in the sawtooth.  I have the tuba enter as well to play along.  I use some interesting tricks on the noise channel to create some fuzz that has a little… variability.  You can also here I used the original 1bit samples from AD/CIII in the background.  The “bass drum” is simply a “triangle bass” (hat tip to Chipocrite for reminding me this exists!).

All the instruments enter to play the “real” beginning of the song and we get moving.  I changed the bass line a lot so that it was more… well… new wave-y.  The original bass line is very rhythmic and almost out of time.  I wanted to make the piece had a stronger “fundamental” beat.  I put the melody in soprano sax and added the other instruments as needed.  I have the pulses dive, just as they do in the real track, and then the trombone+horn+tuba have a kind of nice chorale moment leading into the end of the piece.

To make a little segue between pieces, I used tuba.  “Deja Vu” begins as soon as the pulses enter.

“Deja Vu”

This has been covered a million times by a million people.  My decision, again, was to highlight the background figures that are hidden deep in the NSF.  I proceed to introduce the soprano sax on melody and tuba on bass.  You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of depth here.  I tried to make it a bit lighter so that it was a bit different.

Eventually, after playing through the melody once, the band enters.  The drumline/bassline I used here is well, inspired by New Order’s “Blue Monday”.  The melody is played again and then augmented a bit at the end to a more broad style.  The sawtooth dives and holds.

To make sure there was not confusion for the band on when to enter, “Riddle” begins with distant pulse waves, in the new tempo, and gives the band time to adjust.

“Riddle”

I completely re-orchestrated the first “part” of this song to be broader and much more lyrical.  The band plays along with an arppegiated square wave and added a sawtooth to add some depth to the bass notes.  There’s a brief hold and then we move to the second “part” of the piece.

For a while, the pre-programmed sound just provides the drums for the background figures and adds an occasional detuned square wave.  You’ll notice that I really really really interpreted this piece strangely.  The bassline in the tuba is really all over the place.  I wanted to remove as much of the “Latin-inspired Dracula hunting” aspect of it as possible.

For the “coda” of the song, I have the trombone and tuba play along with the pre-programmed sound.  I really let the NES sounds take over and finish the piece off aggressively with very little by the live instruments.

“Evergreen”

This is a beautiful piece of music- gothic and classical… and a very fitting end to a very good video game.  I wanted this to be emotional… so naturally I cut out all the pre-programmed sound.  This is played ONLY by the band and can be rubato, interpreted, and performed differently each time.  I wanted to make sure that, after all that pre-planning, there was a spot in the piece where we could sit back and reflect as musicians who are inspired and thoughtful and not just as musicians who are following along with a tape, if that makes sense.

Results:

So how does it turn out?  Here’s another teaser.  To hear the whole thing, though, you’re going to need to go to our concert on February 2nd- Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music!

Tomorrow, in Part 3, I’ll talk about another one of my arrangements for the concert- a medley of tunes from Earthbound!  Stay tuned.

About Classical Gaming

Steve Lakawicz holds an MM in Music Performance from Temple University as well as a BM in Tuba Performance from Rutgers University . His teachers include Paul Scott, Scott Mendoker, and Jay Krush. His love of video game music has lead him to form a blog, Classical Gaming, to promote discussion both casual and academic about the music of video games. He is the co-founder of the video game/nerd music chamber ensemble, Beta Test Music and regularly composes/performs chiptune music as Ap0c. He currently resides in Philadelphia where he teaches college statistics at Temple University. View all posts by Classical Gaming

3 responses to “Covering a Tune: Arranging Music for Groundhog’s Day with Beta Test Music – Part 2

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