Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – Gamer Score Edition

It's true. It’s not every week that Audiosurf devotes the entire week’s catalogue to one musician.  It’s also not every week that the musician in question composed music for one of the year’s top browser games.  However, Audiosurf being the indie success story that it is, I’m not surprised by the marriage of the two.

Danny Baranowsky, or danny B, got his start remixing classic videogame tunes over at OverClocked ReMix.  He then went on to serve as a judge on one of their panels before breaking into indie film scoring in Phoenix, AZ.  He’s since started writing video game scores with his new company dB Soundworks.  He’s been contracted by a variety of indie game developers, including the folks over at Flashbang Studios

Dylan went for broke this week, offering up six of Danny’s tracks for riding.  You may even recognize the first one, which is from the immensely popular Flash/iPhone game Canabalt.  So hit the jump and let’s start surfing.


God Canabalt is so good. Playing “Run” separately helps me articulate why it works so well for Canabalt.  The low, looming strings portend something evil, creating an auditory impulse to just keep running.  You don’t know from what.  You just know that, according to those strings, whatever “it” is means business.  The actual track appears to be a twice-through loop of the main theme, with an underwhelming uphill section in between.  I love the xylophoney work over the faint, chugging guitars.  And during the final set of hills, the percussion starts shaking the track ever-so-slightly, mimicking Canabalt’s collapsing structures.  The overall vibe is that of a 32-bit entry on a Matrix soundtrack.  Crunchy, forward-pushing and digital with just a few brief sections where you can come up for air.  If you didn’t listen to me weeks ago, go play Canabalt and then play this song.

There are varying accounts on what this song is actually called.  I'm sticking with BOSS FIGHT AAAAH. I don’t know much about Super Meat Boy other than that it’s a challenging 2D platformer coming to the Wii Q1 next year.  Its Flash incarnation was dubbed simply Meat Boy and can be played over at Newgrounds.  If “Boss Fight AAAAAAH” is any indication, it should be another epic retro game in the vein of ‘Splosion Man or Cave Story.  The song sounds like someone took some meth, played Mega Man for a week, and then composed a boss fight theme while the Black Mages played in the background.  It’s bursting with fervent guitar, some kind of wailing keyboard, and tons of little electronic drum fills.  You can see from the graph the track’s periodic nature, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it just repeats three times.  The uphill sections here are just as interesting, more engaging than the one in “Run.”  Whereas boss music from the olden days often attempted to connote grander themes of struggle or triumph, this – from the title through to the instrumentation – humbly acknowledges its role and predecessors, then cranks the whole thing up to eleven.

audiosurf last level I’m running out of metaphors for boss music here, people.  “The Last Level You Will Ever Play” recalls vivid memories of pattern-memorization and controller-throwing rage.  I’m picturing boss sprites disappearing and reappearing on the screen, hurling pixilated fire and other hazards to boot.  What really sold me on this one was the rolling drums during the chorus.  danny B’s best work surfaces when he eschews traditional chiptune instrumentation and mixes in some real instruments.  While the drums here may still be an electronic sample, they sound more alive than your standard midi set.  It grants the track a kind of hyperkinetic war drum feel.  Perfect for slaying princess-snatchers and evil masterminds.

Other Selections

“Boss of Dooooom” sounds just a bit too much like “Those Who Fight Further” for my taste.  The endless keyboard noodling feels ripped from the FFVII track, so ripped as to the point of distraction.  I’m also not a huge fan of the drum sound on this one – a bit lo-fi when compared to his other tracks.  While I’m sure this song will serve Super Meat Boy (presumably it’s off that soundtrack) fine in context, “Boss Fight AAAAAH” is the superior of the two.  “The Teaching Robot” is by far the most headache-inducing track I’ve ever played.  The camera is so tight in on your vehicle and the hills so turbulent that it’s damn near impossible to track upcoming traffic.  I honestly had to seriously brace myself for the second time through.  It’s a fine chiptune song, with a very pleasant melody.  I just wish I could ride it for longer without nearly vomiting.  “O, Merciful Bullet” runs at a lower average mph than his other tracks, providing some welcome respite from the craziness.  The drumming, however, continues to be absurdly complex for a track of this nature.  If you’re not burnt out on chip-processed music by the time you get to this one, give it a ride.  But it’s totally fine if you pass it by.

Author’s Note

I haven’t listened to this much 8-bit music consecutively since I covered Kind of Bloop a few months ago.  Prior to that, I hadn’t overdosed on it like this since my days holding a hand-cramping SNES controller.  Still, it’s good to revisit your roots every once in a while.  And danny B’s got a talent for tapping into that sound.

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters.  The more I adjust, the more I’m loving Eraser’s beefed up abilities.