Outbursts #028: 2012 Spring Playlist

By July 19, 2012Music, Outbursts

The long and overdue is finally here (I’m also currently working on the Summer Playlist…so hopefully that comes around the corner soon too). Having finally returned to California after a fun month in Texas, I’ve finally had some down time where I don’t play StarCraft 2. I initially thought that I would have a week before having to get back into the swing of working again, but the heavens above weren’t so kindor…perhaps they were.

With nearly only a month left before school starts again, there isn’t really much one can do in terms of programs or work, especially if you apply / sort it out now. One can only expect a task or job so menial or meaningless that it might even be better not to do it. As to not digress too much, let’s just say I connected with a doctor in Palo Alto with the reference of another doctor from Sugar Land, Texas, and was incredibly surprised to have set up a meeting with him the day I contacted him. The more amusing aspect during this communication was after the doctor asked me to send him my curriculum vitae, he immediately responded with: “Would you help design simple websites while you’re here?” I leave it up to the reader to see the irony.

However, I’m elated that the doctor is giving me an opportunity to fill my remaining portion of the summer with something productive. I am fortunate enough to have had a pretty educational and inspirational summer despite having failed to make my dream of working at Pixar. Until next time, perhaps.

Returning to the task at hand, this Spring Playlist is long overdue and I will try to follow this up with a Summer Playlist as well. Without further ado, let’s continue:


[audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/01-Mirage.mp3|titles=Mirage – ???]

Mesmerizing and atmospheric, Mirage sets the tone for this playlist. By capturing your mind with round synths and grainy (but not uncomfortable) texture, Mirage transports you to a sound space that you never knew existed, appropriately evoking the similar wonders of Spring finally emerging from the stillness of Winter. The subtle use of sharp panning provides a greater depth not present in most pieces or songs. The slow but steady sweeps of sounds also expertly weave in and out with one another, providing a much more organic and substantial field of sound for our ears to rest on. The eventual introduction of a female’s voice, in it’s short and sparse manner, turns into the ‘melody’ of the piece, grounding the sonic soundscape under a line with more momentum. Ultimately, the piece

[audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/02-Floral-Colors.mp3|titles=Floral Colors – Chen-U] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/02-Today.mp3|titles=Today – Tower of Druaga] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/04-¦¦+¦¦¦sTODAY.mp3|titles=TODAY – ???] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/02-Strawberry☆Kiss.mp3|titles=Strawberry “Kiss” – ???]

All these songs are to rev up the playlists energy and get us excited about the warm times (perhaps too warm, due to a certain global warming) ahead of us. Floral Colors hits the floor running with a fast and steady percussive track. At about 6 minutes, though, I wish that Chen-U + SAKURA_bot could have added more modulations and changes in song form. I will admit that I greatly admire the full use of instrumentation and heavy, but not too heavy, layering of voices. The song feels full and broad without sounding too busy.

Today, TODAY, and Strawberry “Kiss” are all examples of your more typical J-POP pieces. TODAY, in particular, shows just how crazy music can get with constantly more than 3 or 4 instruments playing at once, while throwing in the most random sound effects and sound blips throughout. The call/response in TODAY are fun and numerous; if you listen to everything but the vocal lines, you’ll notice how nearly every measure an instrument is allowed to insert it’s own crazy flourish adding a complexity to the song that is quite hard to dictate on paper. Strawberry “Kiss” ends up being much more tame (and perhaps cute) in terms of instrumentation, following the more normal Verse/Chorus transitions and adding additive flourishes at appropriate times.

[audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/01-kagonotori.mp3|titles=Kagonotori – Strings x Piano x Girl] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/09-Gate-of-Dreams.mp3|titles=Gate of Dreams – Nagi] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/14-steve_jablonsky-my_name_is_lincoln-firefly.mp3|titles=My Name is Lincoln – Steve Jablonsky – The Island] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/01-Through-the-Kaleidoscope.mp3|titles=Through the Kaleidoscope – Steven Cravis]

We all need those moments to dream, and what better type of music than pure instrumental? The voice is great and all (particularly not mine), but a lot of people are too focused on lyrics to really appreciate instrumentation and sound color. Instrumental tracks and compositions allow for the timbres of instruments speak for them, allowing the small but significant nuances of tone change express just as much emotion as the human voice. In addition, it allows for instruments, lead or following, to stand out in greater focus; with the presence of the voice, most instruments take the back seat until the instrumental interlude. Here, Kagonotori starts us off with some simple piano and clarinet and string play. It’s sparse arrangement allows for small phrases and turns in melodies to act much like speech articulation or exclamations. The piano keeps everything tied together as the song becomes increasingly emotional and complex.

NAGI paints a 3D canvas of sound that envelopes your mind. Again, the piano makes an appearance. It’s interesting how the piano can be included in so many different styles of music and always feel appropriate. Especially when reverb is added to a piano, the piano’s percussive sound makes the notes sound clear, but its inherent decay can sometimes make it sound like an other worldly gong. With strings and percussion to aide in swooping gestures, NAGI truly evokes an opening of the Gate of Dreams, only revealing just how expansive this arrangment of sounds can be at times.

Steve Jablonsky takes pages from Hans Zimmer and John Powell to slowly build from atmospheric wastelands to epic and slow-mo style intensity. Jablonksy is patient with his work, not rushing himself into setting the pieces for his piece (lol) until we reach 1:09 with the introduction of the picked guitar. Only once a complete phrase has turned, Jablonksy then adds choral voices (which is like ALWAYS needed for epic soundtrack drops). Jablonsky’s method of building up to his climax is quite simple. Using stepwise motion downwards after every leap upwards, Jablonsky effectively modulates from key to key. When he wishes to arrive at the piece’s zenith, he throws that away and just heads straight for his target, using only ascending steps which brings a particular finality about the gesture.

Possibly known by all of you is Steven Cravis’ Through the Kaleidoscope. Once very popular with amateur pianists, Steven Cravis was known for composing piano solo pieces that were magical and simple. One aspect of Cravis’ pieces is his expert use of piano voicing. By effectively keeping a low bass note present on every downbeat, a moving left hand motif, and a dancing upper right hand (usually at least an octave or two higher than the left hand) Cravis is able to employ a great range on the piano and create what seems like a whole quartet of instruments. Through the Kaleidoscope in particular makes great use of melody line flow and Cravis allows for the music to takes its course naturally, rarely forcing a new phrase to change, only adding small ornaments that keep the lines fresh while not overtly modifying.


[audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/04-Various-CELL-BLOCK-TANGO.mp3|titles=Cell Block Tango – John Kander – CHICAGO] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/06-Various-WE-BOTH-REACHED-FOR-THE-GUN.mp3|titles=We Both Reached for the Gun – John Kander – CHICAGO] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/13-Various-NOWADAYS£¯HOT-HONEY-RAG.mp3|titles=Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag – John Kander – CHICAGO]

Chicago’s musical numbers are most magical when accompanied with stunning visuals and dance sequences, as is this film version of Chicago. However, the charm and quirks of the music and lyrics can only really be caught when listened to independently, as the barrage of visual color and crazy choreography ends up being completely distracting. What I find most marvelous about the Cell Block Tango is the pure attitude and energy invested in every stanza and story. The periods with monologues overlaying sparse instrumentations adds another depth (similar to my Yellow Rain Boots song) of intimacy and passion. Many Broadway numbers have narration or dialogue cut in between, and it is in these medium-unique moments that engages the audiences on another level. What is truly most alluring about the piece, however, is the integration of “lip-shits,” “pop,” “cicero,” “ah haa,” as percussive sounds during the entire piece (but especially in the beginning). One thing worth mentioning is that that the film version has some pretty genius choreography and art direction; in particularly the usage of a certain red cloth.

We Both Reached for the Gun, in my opinion, was Richard Gere’s (in the movie version) best song. Actor/singer aside, the song itself energetic and humorous. The hilarious antics and consequent humorous mood changes are something to look out for. It’s ultimately entertaining to listen to the lyrics and how the dialogue pans out. The most distinctive and memorable part is at 1:20 where the main chorus is introduced, and boy is it catchy. The swapping between themes of “Reached for the Gun” to “Understandable” describes the dual tension at work here.

Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag is probably my most favorite song/arrangement from the entire show (you can find the youtube video version here) Especially in conjunction with the plot/storyline/dancing in the film, this penultimate scene gave me chills as the two main characters reunite for a 3 minute finale that embodied their love for dancing/singing, their long-lasting friendship full of both happiness pain, and the catharsis moment where all the characters see the heart of an artist succeed.

[audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/08.-Forbidden-Friendship.mp3|titles=Forbidden Friendship – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/10.-See-You-Tomorrow.mp3|titles=See You Tomorrow – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/11.-Test-Drive.mp3|titles=Test Drive – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/15.-Romantic-Fight.mp3|titles=Romantic Flight – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon] [audio:http://christopherhsing.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/20.-Battling-The-Green-Death.mp3|titles=Battling the Green Dragon – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon]

How to Train Your Dragon is one of my most favorite movies (animated or not), and while a lot of it has to do with the likable characters, animation, and pacing, a lot of the film’s success derives from John Powell’s amazing soundtrack. Composer of film music from Kung Fu Panda, Bourne Supremacy, etc., John Powell over does himself in How to Train Your Dragon with a symphony of epic and emotional motifs. Test Drive and Battling the Green Death, in particular, are awesome in their scope and volume. Test Drive probably only has the over-the-top-omg-impact when viewed with the movie in glorious 3D, but the song itself speaks plainly. Using bagpipes, strings, and wind flutes to paint the cultural style of the Scottish Vikings, Powell adds brass and basses to give body and stature (and a sense of momentum). When Powell pulls a “horror movie” taste at 1:20, we’re thrown off balance, only to finally realize that we’re OK at 1:53 with the earnest repitions of strings. The triumphant entrance of trumpets at 2:02 carries our shaken hearts into the sky as (in the movie) Hiccup and Toothless swerve between stone pillars, evading death the entire time.

Battling the Green Dragon is even more crazy with this regard with a more consistent dark tone similar to one you would hear from John William’s Star Wars’ soundtrack. Powell’s masterful ability to drastically changes moods within seconds to follow what happens on screen is shocking, really. It is at 4:31, however, where John Powell brings back his themes from the entire movie where chills are sent down my spine. From there until the end of the piece, the return of motifs and themes from nearly every part of the movie bombard your ears and very being, leaving you exhilaratingly exhausted by the end.

Forbidden Friendship is particularly worth of note, as it is the point in the film where Hiccup and Toothless finally bond despite their fear of one another. In the end, both their caring natures, curiosity, and desire for companionship bring them together. Forbidden Friendship also is Powell’s most different type of numer out of all the other pieces, with strange bell like instruments. Much like ripples in the water, the staccato strings, intermittent harp, and bells create a compelling texture on top of which the xylophones and flutes can carry more wistful figures. 3:30 is where the ever so steady buildup completely drops out to reveal only shadows of breathes and soft voices, a truly chilling moment where Hiccup and Toothless touch for the first time.

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