Monday, May 18, 2009

Tribute to Camel

I finally forced myself to finish the Camel tribute I've been working on. Here's the link:

http://8bitcollective.com/members/arise_shine/

And here's some background:

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a video game console that gained worldwide popularity in the latter half of the 80's into the 90's, well-known for "classic" games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. Most of you probably already know that. The system brought many innovations into the video game world, including graphics, gameplay, and sound. It was one of the first systems to feature actual musical "soundtracks" for most games. Musical themes from these games became ingrained in the consciousness of millions of video game freaks like myself.

Camel is a band whose heyday was in the mid-70's at the tail end of the British progressive rock "scene." They played a melodic kind of rock, sometimes rockin', sometimes mellow, sometimes goofy, sometimes intricately composed, sometimes jammin' ... often all in the space of one album. My favorite album of theirs is 1976's Moonmadness, which showcases some of the best of the band's composition and playing.

Eventually, someone had the brilliant idea of doing a rock band that plays video game music. One of my favorite bands, Minibosses, has done this to near-perfection. Parallel to that, someone else got the brilliant idea of composing new music for old video game systems. Thus the "chiptunes" "scene" was born.

As a long-time hobbyist musician, I've dabbled in computer-aided music composition, and I was intrigued by this whole thing. I discovered a program called FamiTracker created specifically for the purpose of composing music for the NES, and I just had to give it a try! One of the first things I tried to do was the opening melody from Camel's "Song Within a Song" (from Moonmadness). With user-submitted tablature and MIDI files as a guide, I eventually did the whole song, and I was quite pleased with the result. I listened to the whole album a few times, and I decided to rearrange the whole album in FamiTracker. And so I did! I call it "moonmadNES".

Most of it didn't take me that long to do. Looking at my profile page on 8bc, I finished the first 6 songs in 2-3 months. The last song, "Lunar Sea," is a 9-minute space-rock epic characterized by soaring melodic leads, spacy synth washes, and a persistent 5/8 beat. I completed most of it pretty quickly, but I got majorly stuck on the last part, which is a rip-roarin' full-speed guitar solo from Andy Latimer. I had a fairly easy time with the slower melodic leads with regular rhythmic timings, but that last guitar solo is filled with fast runs up, down, and all around the blues-rock scale. I had the tablature, which showed me exactly what notes are being played, but not the rhythmic timing. I was quickly dismayed that he didn't just use straight-forward 16th-note patterns (or any other multiple-of-2 patterns), but lots of free-flowing bursts of notes. I had to slow it down in Media Player and listen to it again and again, often taking an hour just to get one measure right. And even then, I had to just make stuff up for some of the faster runs. That's what took up the bulk of the last 5 months, that one freakin' guitar solo.

Anyway, so I procrastinated for a LONG time. But I forced myself to work on it one measure at a time (sometimes just one note at a time), and eventually I got 'er done. Well, it's not DONE done, but it's "done enough" for now. I plan on adding some "spiff" to the whole thing (mostly the drum parts), doing some "artwork" for it, doing a longer writeup, and "releasing" it in some fashion.

Thanks to everyone who helped and/or encouraged me on this thing: the uploaders of tablatures and/or MIDI files for many of the songs, fellow chiptune artists--mostly from The Shizz, the FamiTracker support board, the 8bc support board, and friends and farmily.

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