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German Whale of Mystery

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided to participate in a month-long Game Jam sponsored by the Baltimore Indie Games group. The theme of this jam was “Random Name Generator,” and thus each group was tasked to click a button to receive a name, and if they liked the name, make a game out of what they were given. My group decided to generate about ten names we liked, which we voted down to three, which we voted down to one: “German Whale of Mystery.”

Before I get into the details of the game, my team consisted of my friends Stephen and Andrew, a group of three computer science students from American University, and me. Stephen was charge of the art, I did the music and sound, and the others worked on programming. Some of you may be thinking that a six-person group is quite large for a game jam, but it worked for us because our programmers didn’t have a ton of experience in game design. It ended up working well for us!

As for the game itself, German Whale of Mystery is a stealth platformer set in World War II, where a whale is infiltrating the Nazis’ base to defeat (who else but) Hitler. In order to successfully reach Hitler, the whale must avoid guards by hiding behind objects and donning costumes to move from level to level in the Nazi stronghold. If a guard catches you, you meet your end in gruesome fashion.

If you’d like to play our game, do so here! Be sure to read the description at the bottom of that page for the controls.

Focusing solely on the music, I ended up creating five tracks for this game:

1. The Duke of Whales

“The Duke” was my first track for the game both in concept and in creation. If you played the game, you probably thought it strange that the level theme had such a definite ending—there’s a reason for that strangeness. This tune was originally intended to serve as its title theme, but after seeing the animation of the whale moving, I swapped it with “Blubber Blues,” which you’ll hear next.

My original concept was that, since we were doing a game set in World War II, I should write a big band piece. In order to represent the whale, I decided to make the bari sax the featured instrument. Now, I wouldn’t say that the tune is a period piece by any means – it wasn’t done particularly in the style of big band tunes from the ‘40s – but it gets the point across.

This tune, like most of the others, was written in Finale and features no production edits. Not only did I want to keep the tunes sounding “lo-fi” due to the game’s art style, it was in my best interest in terms of time to keep the production value low.


2. Blubber Blues

Though the title suggests that it might be a traditional blues, it’s really just a blues-tinged piece. As I mentioned above, I wrote this one as a level theme, thinking it should be good sneaking music. It turned out, however, that the whale walked quickly and with confidence, so the tune no longer fit. Luckily, it went well with the art on the title screen.


3. Folk Whale

The first costume that the whale encounters is the lederhosen garb. I set out to write a polka and came up with this, which is more of a polka-esque romp that captures the utter silliness of the game.


4. Scotch and Ginger Whale

The second costume we came up with was a fancy suit, complete with top hat and monocle. I went with a harpsichord on this one as opposed to something more complex like a string quartet because I needed to bust something out relatively quickly. It wasn’t necessarily “fast” to write a solo piano piece, but it did save me some time. To extend the tune’s length without writing all new sections, I wrote an alternate left hand part and sandwiched it between two instances of my original idea.


5. Fin (Game Over)

This tune turned out to work well for both the “You Died” and the “You Win” screens. I had written some goofy lyrics for it and thought to record myself singing in four-part harmony, but didn’t have the time, unfortunately. I spruced this one up in Logic because the Finale vocal samples were just too horrible and the program’s mix wasn’t passable.

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There you have it! I’m going to work on cleaning up these tunes a little bit in Logic so that I can be prouder to have them up on my website, but otherwise, I’m happy with the way they – and the game – turned out. I can’t wait for my next game jam challenge!

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“Behemoth”

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Behemothffix

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The work below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

About a month or so ago I was thinking about what kinds of tunes I hadn’t yet written that I should write for my demo. The most obvious of the missing genres was a film-like tune—an epic tune fit for cinema in the ilk of Lord of the Rings or even the soundtrack to Skyrim.


Granted, my tune sounds absolutely nothing like the Skyrim tune above, haha, but I was certainly thinking in terms of having that BIG sound… a big, epic sound with a lot of brass and space and all that good stuff.

I’m sure that you’ll get that impression from the beginning of my tune, “Behemoth,” but it kind of devolves from sounding like a film piece into sounding more like a piece of game music. I committed to this transformation right after I wrote in a part that sounded game-y, especially because it opened up new possibilities and allowed me to put in ideas that wouldn’t have made sense if I wanted to continue to think in terms of film. Very early on you’ll hear the entrance of some pointy-sounding flutes, for instance—those came from the removal of the film restriction that I had put on myself.

So because the music started to sound more like a game I decided to think of it in the context of a game. The original sound was intended to be “epic battle;” thinking about games, some of the most epic battles take place when you’re fighting bosses. Thus, I started to imagine a giant beast – specifically that which looks like a behemoth from the Final Fantasy series – bursting into a room ready to chomp you in half.

And with that…

 “Behemoth” on SoundCloud

While the brass is more representative of the “epic beast boss battle,” I wrote the woodwinds as if they were harbingers of insanity or twistedness. They’re meant to put the player on edge or even scare him or her a little. This idea was almost assuredly influenced by a couple of different Final Fantasy tunes.

“Kefka’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI will always come to mind when thinking of a tune that is supposed to represent someone truly evil and insane. On its own, one may not hear those villainous attributes, yet when the player hears the theme played as Kefka, for example, poisons Doma, it really gets under his or her skin. In affecting the player in such a way, the true genius of Uematsu ‘s writing comes out. Start the below video at 6:01 to see what I mean. More

Adding to the ‘finished’ stack…

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

Hey! It’s been awhile. I’ve got two tunes for you to check out.
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Fanfare and Jubilee (Remastered)

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This was actually completed about three weeks ago…

If you compare it to the original versions of the tune you’ll find some changes in the actual composition (as opposed to the sound), but nothing too significant. Mainly, I made the ending shorter so that the listener wouldn’t lose interest. I had thought before that the buildup to the large section that features all of the instruments playing together would be a good idea; however, even I as the composer was fatigued by hearing just one instrument come in at a time. Also, you’ll notice that the trombone starts off the buildup instead of the trumpet, and the percussion doesn’t take extra time to build up either. I think you’ll agree if you compare the two that it was in every listener’s best interest to shorten that section.

While this tune is technically final, having sought out some criticism of it I learned from other composers that they find the mix too dry. While I set out for a drier mix, I am going to run with the suggestions and see how I can improve the sound of the piece by altering the reverb to give it more depth.

(“Fanfare and Jubilee” on SoundCloud)
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A Binding Harmony

This next tune was written for the TIGSource Musical Challenge XXIII. You might recall that I entered one of the challenges a while back with my tune “Mr. AC (Keep Your Cool).” For that tune, the challenge was to make a thirty-second looping battle theme; for this, things were a bit less constricting. The challenge was, simply, to create a love theme. More

Woods Theme (Remastered)

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

woods

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got around to remastering the first track that I ever did for this blog, “Woods Theme” (or “Theme for the Woods,” as I called it in earlier posts).

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I usually do my larger-scale compositions in Finale first, which doesn’t have quality sound samples. So, I always aim to go back and remaster the tracks I write in Finale by putting them into Logic and using better samples, as well as by making my own mix instead of using what Finale does automatically.

It feels good to get one under my belt. It’s definitely not my favorite part of the creative process, but it certainly is fulfilling when you finally feel satisfied with a mix. There’s so much to be very meticulous about, and if you don’t have a ton of experience in that world, it can be maddening. Luckily, I have the time right now to stop, let my ears rest, and then resume later, which makes things better on the mental side. Arguably, there’s always that looming “just get it done!” approach that is very effective for the mind and for productivity [which I skimmed right over]; however, at least for this tune, I wanted to make everything perfect. And I kept on learning up until the last bounce as a result.

Remastered (Logic): 

Original (Finale): 

“Woods Theme (Remastered)” on SoundCloud

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I even set the remastered version to someone’s walkthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, below:

While you all have heard some of my other final cuts on tunes that have been produced in Logic, you hadn’t yet heard an orchestral piece. As you might imagine, it can take longer to do the production on a piece the more instruments one has because s/he has to make sure that everything is the right balance in every section of a tune. When conducting, a live orchestra, one has the benefit of the musicians knowing what dynamics to play when. They also know how hard to play notes and how to emote passages in the best manner. Everything melds together well due to a combination of the players’ training, what’s written on the score, and what the conductor is doing. More

Interludes: Happy Tunes

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

Being that I’m a little over two weeks away from entering into the third month of my sabbatical (crazy to think about that), I decided that I need to get serious about finishing and mastering some of my older ideas.  I’ve got a couple of new tunes in the oven, but cranking out tunes in Finale that sound synthy doesn’t do me very much good in terms of marketing myself in this day and age.  Here are two tunes that I recently finished, both of which might be a bit uplifting:

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 “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Mario Kart Title


“Happy-Go-Lucky” on SoundCloud

I wrote most of “Happy-Go-Lucky” a while back, but had a lot of cleaning up to do with it. Originally it didn’t include drums and it sounded very bare. There was just too much space! I thought that I needed some chordal textures at first because the bass sound was holding down a rhythmic base, but I was completely wrong–drums were the answer, and I knew it immediately after I put them in. Gotta give a shout-out to my old professor, Robert Jospe, since I knew what rhythm I wanted to use. Thanks for teaching me how to groove, Jos!

This tune is meant to be the title screen of a racer, and while I was thinking more “F-Zero” at first, David Graey commented on my SoundCloud, saying that the tune reminds his of the Mario 64 race theme (though he’s not sure why, and I’m not totally sure why either, to be honest, haha). I decided to make the picture that of a Mario Kart title screen as a happy medium between his interpretation and my own.

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“Monday’s Theme” (final edition)

Harvest-Moon
“Monday’s Theme” on SoundCloud
*Bonus points to whoever locates and correctly identifies the musical quote in this tune!

You might remember this little diddy back when I first posted about it last January. From that post: More

Sabba4 (Draft 1.0) & Eliminating Emptiness

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

space colony

When I’m feeling a little down about new stuff that I’m making on a certain day, sometimes I tell myself to go work on a jazz-influenced piece since that’s the music that I have the most experience performing and listening to.  Sometimes forcing myself to work on a jazz piece produces the beginnings of a new tune that I like and sometimes it doesn’t; but when the results are positive, I end up with tunes like “Mr. A.C. (Keep Your Cool)” and my latest, the tentatively titled “Sabba4” (short for Sabbatical Tune #4, but I’ve also come to like it as a title ‘cause it sounds all space sector-y).

Here’s what I have so far for the first part of it:

Sabba4″ on SoundCloud

I pretty much got the first 30 seconds over and done with one day and then moved on to do the next bit a day or two later.  Using Finale I wrote the vibes melody first and then created the harmony, etc., and when I put it in Logic I noticed something: there was a distinct emptiness in the second part that wasn’t in the first (or so my ears told me—you may disagree).  Take a listen to the parts I’m talking about back-to-back:

OLD CUT: 

NEW CUT: 

Do you hear what I hear?  There is a significant energy to the piece that seems to drop out starting at :10, and it’s not because of the lack of a piano as a whole.  I chalked it up to the bass duplicating the vibes too much, the open feel of the drums, and the downward harmonic movement of the guitar chords leading into the open sound of the line after it (i.e., everything).

The question of whether it sounds fine as a piece of music wasn’t what was bothering me because yeah, I think that the old cut sounds good.  However, I think there is just too much space and the energy suffers due to it.

Writing for a game, that’s a problem.  Or, at the very least, writing a piece like this without a particular situation in mind from the beginning, it’s a problem.  Music for a game needs to continuously add to whatever the player is experiencing because it is tied to and thus affects that experience directly.  If the music somehow shifts the mood to an odd gear in the middle of a situation, it most certainly has the ability to detract from the situation and make it less believable or authentic. More

Interludes, 2/25/13

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

The day that I started writing “A New Horizon” was a day that bore more fruit than just that tune.  In fact, I ended up producing skeletons of two other tunes, each with its own, different feel.  Throughout the week I’ve been touching up those tunes and today I finished up my work with them; plus, I wound up mixing one other tune that I had started a while back but never got around to revisiting.  Let’s take a look!
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“Kalimba”

Jungle ruins


“Kalimba” (SoundCloud)

As you probably have read before, I enjoy exploring new instruments and sounds by loading up the samples on Logic and just playing around with them using my MIDI controller.  “Kalimba” was birthed that way; I established the groove of the piece by using none other than a kalimba sample and cruised from there.

The tune was built the same way that you hear it develop.  One groove was made, then I thought of what should go atop that, etc.  I really like the Logic sample “South African Singers” and it seemed to fit right into the sound of the kalimba, so I wrote that vocal part (though, it’s more of a different texture than a ‘vocal part’).  Really, this was one of those tunes that just fell together.  If you get the chance, listen to it with headphones–I had a good time playing with the panning, and I think it adds more to the atmosphere if you can experience that element of the piece.

The only thing that took some time was mixing it and getting it to sound the way I want it to.  Interestingly enough, I’m still not sure if I like how it’s mixed, and the reason for that is I’m not really sure how the tune sounds on the ‘general device.’  I know what it sounds like through my Sennheiser HD598s, I know what it sounds like through my Apple display, and I know what it sounds like through my MacBook Pro speakers.  The issue is that my headphones are fantastic and the Apple products’ speakers are horrible; therefore, while the mix may sound great for stereo headphones, I don’t really know what it sounds like in the open air on normal speakers.  I’m especially worried about the volume levels… If the mix sounds crazy or terrible on your device, definitely let me know what you’re hearing!

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“Hypothesis 209” (Sabbatical Tune #2)

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Yuzo Koshiro DJing at MAGFest XI


“Hypothesis 209” (SoundCloud)

Back in middle and high school, I really liked to play “Dance Dance Revolution,” and that resulted in me having a sort of ‘techno phase.’  Flash forward to now, I finally have written my first techno tune, and I had a blast doing it.  Again, “Hypothesis 209” began with me playing around with the synth sounds in Logic.  The difference from this instance and “Kalimba” is, however, that I wanted to play with the synth sounds because I wanted to make an electronic piece, not just because I wanted to play around with a new sound. More

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