Sunday, June 2, 2013

Behind the scenes: Celebrating 100 published posts! (and introducing a new series: Musings)

I couldn't believe the counter when I saw 99 published posts this morning...  That makes this post number 100!  Yay!  

What a journey this has been!  I've never made a blog or tried to do anything like this before but it's been completely rewarding so far.  I've learned so much, but I have to say the best part has been connecting with other people who like this material.  I've been getting more comments and am starting to have a fair number of readers.  Thank you!  When I've had a crazy day where I think "what's the point of all this?" I come home and see that someone's excited to have found some information here and that's all the more motivation to keep going.  Game music deserves more attention than it's been given (or even, is being given) by scholars.  I'm not meaning to slam those working in the field as they're doing very important, very hard work; what I mean is that for such a huge study of music and culture, there needs to be more than a handful of people working on it.  

This blog is sort of a rebellion from the way I watched many of my scholar mentors work; they tend to keep their work quiet, hoping to get their insight out and published ahead of the next person (who, at least in music, probably isn't very interested in that same topic at all!).  Instead, right now at least, I'm trying to go the opposite way: I want to share all I'm learning as I do with the online community and engage with others who love this material.  Plus, this electronic format is amazing in that I can search through it very easily and find an idea I had earlier, as opposed to flipping back through a book and trying to figure out which dog-eared page is the one I'm looking for.  Maybe one day this will all coalesce into a book of sorts, or perhaps a publication into some form of media that doesn't even exist yet.  Picking up a book and reading about music without being able to hear the music...  bleh!  At best now in music scholarship, it seems we can access recordings online or off a CD, either of which are clunky.  The internet allows for the words and music to be almost seamlessly integrated, and that easy connection is the best way forward.  Several of my friends have suggested that I apply to present about game music at one of the big academic music conferences as the time is ripe.  The attitude at UM seems to be encouraging me and for this field of research.  Right now, though, I'm content: above all this electronic journey is just so appropriate considering that I'm examining game music, which exists in an electronic state.  

100 posts later, I'm reflecting: what am I doing and why?  In effect, I'm just chronicling my notes and thoughts online in this blog as I sift through all that is game music.  A lot of my work so far has been reading published scholarly information on game music to get my mind wrapped around what people are thinking and talking about in the field.  While there's not really an end to that, I can almost see the end of it now.  Let me explain what I mean.  I've either read or am reading nearly every book on the topic of game audio.  The stacks on my desk are diminishing.  This summer, I'll be able to turn my attention more toward individual journal articles.  Now, I've done enough digging now to see the scope of what's ahead-- in other words: I see trees instead of forest.  Of course, there's the old adage, "the more you learn the more you realize there is to learn."  Completely true-- and there's no real end to my surveying literature blog thread.  Even if I could conceivably read everything about game audio, one then finds filaments that point into other materials (film music/research, electronic music/research, etc) where there's ever more to learn.  I didn't even mention new publications, which seem to be on the upswing-- at least in game music, so I don't imagine any shortage of new ideas and readings to encounter.    

I just have to say also that it helps so much that all this material is online right now.  To do this kind of research even five or ten years ago would've meant needing to own or find someone who could let you borrow and play through these games.  Now I can watch gameplay videos online, hear soundtracks, remixes, and concerts easily at the click of a button.  Who knows if all this game music will be available on the internet in a few years with copyright and whatnot...  For me, that'd be a shame, but the relationship between rights and music and online right now might be best summed up with Facebook's iconic phrase, "it's complicated."  While I'm not a game music composer, as a pianist, I have performances and recordings available on the internet that no one's ask me to put up, I receive no payment for them being there, and there are even some I'd rather weren't public because that moment in time wasn't my best.  Welcome to music in the early 21st century.  The internet is changing every profession and quickly-- music is no exception.  I think one of the reasons music has been so dramatically changed by the internet is because nearly everyone loves music, encounters it, and grapples with it daily.  I hear people bemoan often that too much of the internet is devoted to something like pornography or celebrity... well then, let's make more of it devoted to music!  

I'm probably often too long winded for the general blogosphere, and here I've done it again.  So to wrap up, my 100th post is the perfect time for me to launch a new blog thread: Musings.  I've been thinking about this thread since I started the blog and I'm finally ready for it.  Unlike Surveying Literature, Analysis, or My Gaming Audio History, Musings will simply focus on whatever is on my mind with game music that day.  It could be quite long winded or as short as a sentence.  I've now taken in enough information to brainstorm my own thoughts and feel they're not as naive as they would've been many months ago when I started this journey.  So, if you want to hear my less censored, whatever's on my mind, hopefully insightful comments, watch for the thread "Musings" in the future of the blog.  

100 posts...  I might just deserve a drink!  After all, it's 5 o' clock somewhere!  


  1. Congrats on the milestone! Despite just finding (and bookmarking) this blog recently, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading.

    I just wanted to drop a quick note on something, and I figured that here would be a good spot to put it, based on possibly turning it into a future "musing."

    I was looking for a game to play recently to pass some time. I thought about replaying FF8, but I didn't want something too emotionally investing. Then I remembered that I never beat Donkey Kong Country 2. Long story short, I got to K. Rool's Keep, and I could never get far enough into that area to save my game or use Funky's Flights to leave and save somewhere else. So I was stuck there when I was younger, and essentially quit.

    I started playing it again, and rolled through it without much of a problem. Seemed so much harder as a kid. Anyway (and back to the main point), K. Rool's Keep gave me a great chance to re-listen to the music from that game because it seems like every type of level (water, castle, factory, etc.) was in K. Rool's Keep. Wow, there are some great tracks on that game, and the entire series for that matter.

    After I completed DK2, I went ahead and "finished" DK3. I had beaten it a long time ago, but not at 100%. Having to go through various levels and find the hidden coins and whatnot gave me a great chance to re-listen to the music from that game as well. It got me thinking of just how great the music in that series was, and I decided to see who the composer was and if he had done anything other games I might had played. A quick wikipedia search taught me that David Wise (with a couple of friends) was the composer, which I'm sure you already knew!

    I was not surprised to see he did the Battletoads arcade game. However, I was disappointed to find out that AFTER the DK series, he hasn't been up to much. He has a ton of NES credits, but that's about it. I was wondering why do you think that is? He is only 45 years old. Is it perhaps that it takes more time to develop and compose one video game than it did in the past, so he has to focus on one game at a time?

    The thing that I think David does the best is create the perfect ambience to the level setting. Whether it's using metal-on-metal sounds in factory levels, different horns in castle levels to give it a royal sound, stuff like that As a student and teacher of music, I have to imagine you know HOW he does this, via instrumentation and whatnot. There are just certain song-styles that seem to fit with different levels. You can listen to the ice level song from DK2, have no idea what game it's from, but still know that it's an ice level from somewhere. The Ice Cavern in FF9 is another example, along with the Ice Cavern in Ocarina of Time. For an ice level specifically, there seems to be a consistent use of a harp and an echo. WHat are other instruments that go with other level types? Fire and drums? Swamps and Digeridoos?

    So outside of my main question of what happened to David Wise (which was the only question I had when I began this post. Funny how you can talk your way into more questions), I would love to hear details on how composers are able to create these ambiences, because it seems like what an ice/snow level, forest, fire level, etc. sounds like is already ingrained in our minds. Perhaps this was done to us by video game composers in the 80's and 90s?? I think this could be a very interesting "musing," and I would love to hear more!

    Sorry for the long-winded post. That was not my intention when I began!

  2. One more quick note: I could save this idea for another time, but since I'm on the David Wise/ DK Country topic, I came up with an interesting, fun extra point quiz you could use in your class this fall. I came across a youtube video of top songs from the DK Country series (, so for fun, I minimized it, and tried to guess which game it was from. I think that could be a good quiz because you could tie it into the evolution of game music in the mid 90's and a little bit about what I just talked about above with level-types and their stereotypical song-styles. And it could be fun just because I bet most of the people in your class played those games. Just a thought!

  3. Kevin, these are amazing thoughts and I'm so glad you shared them here. I've already started (but not published) blogs on several games that deal with (no joke) what makes an "ice world" sound like an ice world. I think I was thinking about the New Super Mario Bros Wii at that time. In that case, I think it's the sleigh bells that give the wintery feel. I was never a big fan of any Donkey Kong games, though I've played a few. I will give DKC2 a listen at some point in the future. David Wise is already on my radar as I've played numerous games he composed and am going to be highlighting him several times in the "My Gaming Audio History" portion of the blog. I definitely know his composing well. After I've surveyed more of these games, perhaps I'll have a greater sense of what sounds create a certain atmosphere. I also bring my classical knowledge and background when considering these things and want to talk with some of my film music scholar colleagues as well.

    As far as a game music quiz, in classical music training and music history/theory courses, professors often do what's known as a "drop the needle" test where they literally start playing a certain piece at any point and the students have to identify it based on a (usually quite extensive) listening list that's being studied. While I don't think I'll engage in a formal version of that in my upcoming class, I've definitely considered that if I were to develop an extensive multi-class game music curriculum, I would expect students to be able to identify music in a brief hearing clip. Certainly, asking students to judge the setting and situation for game music seems reasonable if they can't specifically recognize the audio.

    I'm just reading a book now that clarifies between music that has a sort of intrinsic understanding upon hearing it and music (or sound effects) whose meaning must be learned. These are deliberate decisions that composers/audio engineers make in gaming. It's very interesting to consider at what point they are understood without explanation and when they to be learned by the player.

    As always, thanks for reading and commenting!