July 22, 2013: Final Fantasy Battle Medley

Do you know what makes me feel, strong, brave, energetic and unstoppable without fail?  Destroying goblins and end bosses in Final Fantasy with powerful magic, gambits, genji weapons and huge, shiny materia!  Final Fantasy has been giving me endless supplies of joy since I first played it, when I was 12; the music is a massive part of the reason why.

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As a composer, I’ve fooled around with many video game songs on the piano, keyboard, harp, flute and recorder while trying to come up with my own melodies; I often return to my favorite video game soundtracks for inspiration.  I have composed/arranged several remixes, cover songs, tributes and medleys as a result of playing around with these video game themes.  The most recent one is “Final Fantasy Epic Orchestral Battle Medley” (you can link to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSO4M64oS8Y) which combines 16 classic FF battle themes from games 1-10.

Most of my work (including my remixes) is slow, melodic, dreamy and peaceful- and this is usually how I like it- however, with the battle medley, I aimed to do the exact opposite.  If you are a Final Fantasy fan reading this, you are likely well aware of Nobuo Uematsu’s achievements, not the least of which are his varied battle themes, which have a distinctly exciting and, for lack of a better word, bad-ass quality about them.  This was something I wanted to capture and isolate in this medley, just to challenge myself a little.

Us musicians are sometimes worried that the intricacies of our work will go unnoticed- the flourishes, the accents, the added and varied harmonies, the key changes and the delicately equalized volume are among many of the things that take time and painstaking effort- which is why I wanted to share some of details about the work that went into this particular song.

Often my songs include parts for over 40 instruments.  In this one, I used full string and brass ensembles, two different organs, a piano, an electronic square wave and bass guitar, a timpani, snares and a tambourine as well a vast array of electronic percussion instruments.  I write all the parts in a midi program (the midi functions as a rough draft for what the song will be when it’s recorded) and I use a VST plugin with samples of real instruments for the finished piece.  With some of the programs I use, I have to record every instrument separately, in order to line them up, mix and equalize them and add effects to individual parts.  If I didn’t do this, I would not be able to control the volume properly, and my songs could end up with overly loud percussion, drowned out melodies, underwhelming bass, improperly blended harmonies and many other interesting little problems.  It took me over sixteen hours to complete the battle medley, not including the time it took for me to record it or put together a video to accompany it.

The order of the themes I included in my battle medley was one of the things I put the most thought into.  I had to make sure that they all bridged together smoothly, or at least in an interesting way, which is one of the most challenging aspects to composing, whether one is arranging their own work or the work of another.  I had to make many alterations to the keys, time signatures and percussion, striving to maintain uniqueness as well and consistency throughout the composition.  There are several “tricks” I have learned, primarily from classical and psychedelic music, that help me to accomplish this.  One method is to create a continuous instrumental that can function as a foundation.  I did this with the bass guitar sections.  Uematsu’s bass lines are fairly versatile and easy to knit together, along with the percussion sections.  Using the same sets of instruments as “glue” between melodies was very useful in this project.  I composed several harp arpeggios that would “sweep” one movement into another.  I also did this with clashing cymbals that would “count down” the beats on the last measure in a movement so that the listener’s ears would anticipate a change.  There are many other such techniques that composers must employ in order to make their music flow smoothly.  Ironically, this effort usually doesn’t get noticed unless it’s done improperly, since the song can then listened to as a whole.  A musical composition is much like a painting: if there is an glaring inconsistency, it stands out to one’s eyes and sometimes detracts from the things around it.  The same is often true of abrupt musical changes.

There are many battle songs from Final Fantasy that I feel deserved to be in this medley that I did not include, for instance, I did not include anything from Final Fantasy 9, even though I adore the game as well as its soundtrack.  I wanted to include every popular battle melody, but the song was already more than thirteen minutes long, even after I trimmed it down.  I’ll probably do another battle medley in the future in order to finish what I started!

-Kee

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