Gario

VG Music Analysis (Come on down! Discuss Theory!!)

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Hello everyone!

I have no clue how many of you analyze music (for fun, to learn something, for anything really - to be honest, I've analyzed music longer than I've written it :x), but I'm gonna throw this up and see where it goes. For the sake of this thread, it's probably wise to only bring up VG music (it's OCR, after all), but if you want to bring up anything outside that genre, be my guest - I'd be more than happy to discuss it (and I'm sure others would, too)!

Now, if your not a music theorist or anything, that's fine - if you listen to music I'm sure you've heard interesting things in a song and it's caught your interest, yet you also noticed no one else heard the same thing. The point of this thread is to show other people some very interesting musical tricks and the like that you've heard in a song but others may not have. Don't worry about any technical language - just try to get the point across as best as you can. Perhaps there will be other people here that can clarify the technical tricks that occur and help you learn how to use the techniques better.

If you want to just comment on another person's analysis, please feel free - I encourage discussion on the discoveries of others. Please keep the flames down, however - really, I don't know what anyone could flame about here, but you never know.

I'll start the discussion by talking about my favorite VG music... well, basically of all time.

250px-Silver_Surfer_NES_box.jpg

That's right, Silver Surfer, baby!

In particular, I'm looking at the Title theme. Every track on this game kicks ass, but this one has a pretty exceptional level of ass-kickage. It is one of the most advanced piece of chiptunage out there, and I'm here to show you all why.

The degree of single-channel polyphonic lines is absolutely incredible. Basically, a single channel may only play a single note at a time, but the way the notes are played imply more than one line (or instrument) at a time. Using the power of Emulation (I own the game, don't worry), I'll separate the channels so the effects I'm talking about are easier to hear...

A single rectangle wave...

An example of that 'polyphonic line' occurs well at 0:09 - 0:23 (and again at 1:12 - 1:32). There is a note that is quickly played an octave above is an example of a polyphonic line in action. Remember, a single channel may never play more than one sound at a time, so in fact the sound cuts out when the higher note is being played. Now, this isn't the only VG soundtrack that does this, but the way the Follin brothers do it, however, is so seemless it deserves some special attention.

Listening to it closely, it sounds like they took the waveform and had it play the low sound first, filling the ear with the low sound before introducing the upper 'blip' then immediately returning to the lower sound. The effect that comes from that particular placement is that the ear retains the sound of the lower note while the higher note plays, thus giving the illusion that two sounds are playing (when that is physically impossible, given the hardware). Even more interesting is that the higher note is implied in your brain, so you fill out the octave throughout the span of the note in your mind.

Now throughout this song these polyphonic lines occur all the time. Take a look at the other rectangle wave playing in this song (there are two given at any time in a NES game). 0:16 - 0:53 sounds like a series of chords (that's right, chords) playing through when it is only physically possible for a single note to be playing at any given time. It's easier to hear what they do, and the trick is pretty common in NES & C64 games, in general - arpeggiate chords as fast as the system can play the notes in order to make a single line play complex chord structures. However, the Follin brothers use this in conjunction with other not-so-easy-to-hear polyphonic tricks to create a rich, complex environment unmatched by any other game on the NES system (it even challenges most 16-bit systems soundscape, as well, IMHO).

The best is still to come, however... the Triangle wave.

Seriously, what the hell?! 0:09 - 1:16 may repeat the same thing over and over again, but damn, is it a hell of a line to repeat! There's not one, not two but three (possibly even four) instruments being implied there. The pulsing bass, a strong, diving bass drum, and the weaker toms and snare... all on the channel that cannot even fluctuate the volume (let alone play more than one sound at a time). Simply amazing (especially when you add the noise channel [which cover the hats and the 'snare' of the drums] to the triangle to create a full array of drums with the bass - without ever using the PCM!). Now, this isn't unique (Megaman 3's intro triangle does the exact same thing), but I've never heard a game that does nearly as seemlessly.

How did they do it?

The toms and the snare are designed similarly to the rectangle wave I discussed above - the sound cuts out for such a short time that the ear still percieves the bass sound as something that is playing when it is not. The diving bass drum, though, lasts longer than those short sounds - basically past the threshold of when we imply and connect the sounds mentally. I believe that they first hit the bass note sound, followed it by a sudden change to the bass drum sound which dives back into the bass sound again(cutting out for the snare and toms whenever they needed to). Because the sound dives into the original bass it ends up sounding like a part of the bass. However, because of the music before (0:00 - 0:09), the bass drum sound also sounds like a bass drum. Using the power of context and cutting sound out, they created three or four different sounds using a single sound at a time.

Put all of these channels together and you get an amazingly complex soundscape using only four channels (and one of them can only make different samples of white noise). The parts were certainly great, but the sum of the parts compliment each other so well that they really amount to more as a whole.

Basically, I've always been amazed by their complete mastery over the hardware that the Follin brothers had. I could go on for pages about other little tricks and doodads that they used in this song alone (that's besides the other eight great songs written for this game), but I want to leave room for others to bring something else up (and possibly bring up those doodads at another time). Don't worry about the size of my post - I don't expect anyone to spend over an hour writing an analysis of anything on here (although it certainly would be welcome!). In fact, any other analysis I make will more than likely be shorter than this, but I just love that soundtrack so damn much. If you notice something interesting that you don't believe anyone else has heard in a song, post it here!

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hey, this is pretty cool. good stuff. i never knew that about the soundtrack for this game - i had heard it before, and i thought it was pretty good, but i didn't really notice the degree of complexity that was going on.

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TWILIGHT ZONE!

Just wrote a shorter not-very-in-depth thing on Worms 2 ( http://anosou.com/?p=96 )!

Also, I'm currently working on my first academic paper in musicology, an analysis of parts of the Jade Cocoon soundtrack. I chose not to analyze the whole thing but choose tracks that were representative for the soundtrack as a whole.. though this is in Swedish I might eventually translate the 10 pages to english for anyone who's interested.

Anyway, I approve of this thread and idea!

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i'd be interested in your term paper. sounds interesting.

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i'd be interested in your term paper. sounds interesting.

Your interest in my interests is interesting.

I've gotten some requests from VGMdb to translate it too. It should be done (Swedish version) Thursday. Then we're having a day to go through all papers in group and give criticism, then I have a chance to correct any mistakes or such.

After that, translation might happen. We're talking early June. However it's 10 pages and I'm not a native speaker so I won't promise anything but if enough people shows some interest it's more probable :)

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Hello everyone!

...stuff...

How the hell did you ever figure out all this crap? This is insane. I'm glad I got into game music after the Super NES era... this crap is so ridiculous (but impressive).

Great read (especially for someone like me - who knows next to nothing about chiptunes) - and I loved how you included the sound files as examples. U get a smiley.

=)

there.

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I liked your take on Worms 2 soundtrack, AnSo... I need to go out and listen to it soon so I can figure out what 'squidgy' means, but when I do I'll learn something new (which is always awesome).

By the way, what is your musicology paper about? I'm always interested in new things when it comes to music - not to mention a swedish take on something (Americans always try to overcomplicate things with their 'experimentalism'...). Person #2 to show interest :wink:.

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How the hell did you ever figure out all this crap? This is insane. I'm glad I got into game music after the Super NES era... this crap is so ridiculous (but impressive).

Great read (especially for someone like me - who knows next to nothing about chiptunes) - and I loved how you included the sound files as examples. U get a smiley.

=)

there.

I feel you man, I got interested around PS1 :D

I liked your take on Worms 2 soundtrack, AnSo... I need to go out and listen to it soon so I can figure out what 'squidgy' means, but when I do I'll learn something new (which is always awesome).

By the way, what is your musicology paper about? I'm always interested in new things when it comes to music - not to mention a swedish take on something (Americans always try to overcomplicate things with their 'experimentalism'...). Person #2 to show interest :wink:.

Thanks, squidgy was a fun word to pick, right? Elastic also works. But you'll see what I mean if you listen :)

My paper is an analysis of the soundtrack for Jade Cocoon. I do some in-depth analysis (including sheet music transcriptions) of around 10 tracks I feel are representative for the soundtrack as a whole and then talk about how the music works in it's context. Finally presenting some conclusions about the work, typical and/or unique traits for the music and similar stuff.

I was thinking about comparing it to soundtracks from the same genre/era (PS1 JRPGs from the latter half of the 1990's) but that soon got out of hand when the analysis was 9 pages and the paper should be max 10 :D

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I'd heard this main theme many times, and I always considered it chiptune mastery, but I'd never realized what they were doing on such a tight channel limit! I love this soundtrack too.

Check out some of the other songs if you haven't yet everyone, this one has a sweet melody, and it sound's processed, but I'm not sure if that was even possible.

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AnSo, I'd like to read your paper, too. I spent the last two semesters arguing with the musicologists in my classes, and now that summer break is here, I'm beginning to miss what I guess would more properly be termed our "scholarly exchange of ideas."

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AnSo, I'd like to read your paper, too. I spent the last two semesters arguing with the musicologists in my classes, and now that summer break is here, I'm beginning to miss what I guess would more properly be termed our "scholarly exchange of ideas."

Hahaha, that's as good a reasons as any.

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My paper is finally done. To celebrate, I do some casual analysis of processed vocals in Armored Core:

http://anosou.com/?p=103

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Silver Surfer...

Worms 2...

I LOVE this thread :D

I'm not going to go into anyway near the detail of gario in breaking down the music... I have a life :tomatoface:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBM-m82Za_0

This soundtrack was noticeable to me for having a recorded bass tone somehow coded into the sound cartridge altho I don't know the details.

The result - one of the best soundtracks on the nes.

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Ah, it's nice to see some interest in the subject. I'm planning on putting something new here weekly - doing the Silver Surfer analysis was fun and I've got to brush up on my theory skills :). Don't worry, I have no life so I can afford to do stuff like this :P.

The mechanical vocals were pretty interesting there on the 'I can see them All' track. I don't know if it's true for every song with processed vocals, but I felt the lack of motion really contributed to the 'robot' sound (along with the processed vocals, of course). It's a pretty popular technique when you want to add dissonance to choral music in a gentle manner (leave one voice motionless while the rest of the music moves around it) - a personal favorite of mine, by the way.

By the way, that Silius soundtrack was pretty sweet... Maybe I'll go into detail about it next :) I take it the bass is what your talking about (and not the bass drums)? Interesting use of Timbre... I've got to figure out what they did.

Congratulations on your paper, AnSo! I hope it's well received (and it gets translated - I'm still interested in what you've got to say :-P).

TheChargingRhino likes this

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Ah, it's nice to see some interest in the subject. I'm planning on putting something new here weekly - doing the Silver Surfer analysis was fun and I've got to brush up on my theory skills :). Don't worry, I have no life so I can afford to do stuff like this :P.

The mechanical vocals were pretty interesting there on the 'I can see them All' track. I don't know if it's true for every song with processed vocals, but I felt the lack of motion really contributed to the 'robot' sound (along with the processed vocals, of course). It's a pretty popular technique when you want to add dissonance to choral music in a gentle manner (leave one voice motionless while the rest of the music moves around it) - a personal favorite of mine, by the way.

By the way, that Silius soundtrack was pretty sweet... Maybe I'll go into detail about it next :) I take it the bass is what your talking about (and not the bass drums)? Interesting use of Timbre... I've got to figure out what they did.

Congratulations on your paper, AnSo! I hope it's well received (and it gets translated - I'm still interested in what you've got to say :-P).

Thanks for the comments Gario! Glad someone reads it :) If you comment on the blog posts I'll look better too so don't be afraid of that! Translation is on hold until I'm done with the soundtracks I'm currently working on sadly, I'll notify when I'm doing it.

Looking forward to see what you've got in store next!

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Woa! Nice VG Analysis series, there! Irregular meters are seriously the shit (if I write an original song, 50% of the time it's in an odd meter...). Just be careful if your writing for a woodwind quintet - they don't like playing conflicting implied meters simultaniously (I caused a pretty nasty panic at my own Senior composition recital doing that, lol).

It's funny that the guy implied that the sun song isn't heard anywhere else in Zelda - OoT; it's how the field map opens up the music when the morning breaks.

Wow, that's a pretty sweet setup that guy's got. I'll try to make my analyses a bit more accessible (for those that don't want to learn roman numeral analysis or figured bass techniques...), namely because I don't have a scoring program yet (and I refuse to use Finale notepad :tomatoface:).

Someday I'll be kicking ass with Sibelius, again... but I've got to get the finances for that.

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Woa! Nice VG Analysis series, there! Irregular meters are seriously the shit (if I write an original song, 50% of the time it's in an odd meter...). Just be careful if your writing for a woodwind quintet - they don't like playing conflicting implied meters simultaniously (I caused a pretty nasty panic at my own Senior composition recital doing that, lol).

It's funny that the guy implied that the sun song isn't heard anywhere else in Zelda - OoT; it's how the field map opens up the music when the morning breaks.

Wow, that's a pretty sweet setup that guy's got. I'll try to make my analyses a bit more accessible (for those that don't want to learn roman numeral analysis or figured bass techniques...), namely because I don't have a scoring program yet (and I refuse to use Finale notepad :tomatoface:).

Someday I'll be kicking ass with Sibelius, again... but I've got to get the finances for that.

Yeah, now I got interested in doing this FOR SERIOUS. I've got Sibelius 5 and everything ready to go but that requires much more time if I'm gonna do serious theory on every post.. we'll see what happens but damnit ,I've got the urge

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I've actually done quite a bit of analyzing music to figure out how so much sound comes from a limited number of channels. I actually noticed most of the things Gario named in his first post. Chiptunes especially utilize some really impressive things because there is much more to writing a chiptune than just writing four channels and mixing them together. The true masters can imply more than one line into a single channel and convey interesting effects that cannot be done on their own (such as reverb, delay, filters, etc).

I've actually been listening to a few songs from the Jurassic Park Game Boy music and it has some interesting methods in it. For example, the first level music:

One of the pulse waves and the custom wave use the same method as the first rectangle wave Gario mentioned in the Silver Surfer tune. By using a very quick high pitched note right before the rest of the note at a lower octave, it creates a very percussive sound which allows the tune to have a much punchier livelier sound. It also gives the effect of two notes played at once and helps differentiate these two background parts from the smoother longer lead pulse wave.

The lead pulse wave itself also makes a very distinct sound. It does a dive into the main melody but it sounds like its playing two or three notes at the same time. and creates a strange effect that sounds like an extremely fast delay effect. This is actually the pulse wave playing two different notes as fast as the Game Boy can possibly play them. One pedal note and one note that gets chromatically lower every time it is played. The result is a really neat effect that uses only one channel.

Other than that, the Game Boy also has the ability to play noise at two different cycles, allowing two distinctly different sounds to come from the same channel. This allows the noise channel to serve as entire drumset, using the 8-step cycle for harsher sounds such as the bass drum, snare drum, and possibly toms, and the 16-step cycle for softer lighter sounds like hi-hat and cymbals. Combining the two different cycles with different frequencies opens an entire percussion section within one channel.

I'm actually a big fan of Game Boy music because of the fact that it can play two different types of noise. It's really unique among chiptunes.

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It's funny that the guy implied that the sun song isn't heard anywhere else in Zelda - OoT; it's how the field map opens up the music when the morning breaks.

Yeah, that was a complete oversight on my part; I finally got around to correcting it in part 6. Oops!

I'm glad you guys are enjoying those posts. :-)

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Yeah, that was a complete oversight on my part; I finally got around to correcting it in part 6. Oops!

I'm glad you guys are enjoying those posts. :-)

Welcome to OCR, do keep making awesome analysis posts. Cool. Much love!

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The true masters can imply more than one line into a single channel and convey interesting effects that cannot be done on their own (such as reverb, delay, filters, etc).
I know what you mean, there - really, that song I posted originally has a lot of that going on (in fact, it merges the technique of implying reverb with one channel and getting reverb with two channels - allowing them to trick the listener into believing the reverb is still there).

I'm reading the rest of the Zelda series that's there (I didn't know there was six pages, lol) and it seems quite inspired, pointing out the threads that keep the game together in clever ways. I noticed some of the roman analysis used that I didn't quite agree with... Personally I try not to analyze music using roman numerals for every verticle harmony created as sometimes it doesn't represent how the music flows.

Zelda's theme (harmonized on page 2), in particular, would make more sense if it was set in the key of C throughout (thus, allowing the beginning to start on a tonic) and staying on the tonic harmonically through measure 4 (mm 2 & 4 would actually be a set of neighbor tones rather than an actual change in harmony). The next two measures have non-functional passing chords, so a roman numeral analysis would tell us nothing of what happens there. In fact, the only change in the roman numerals would happen on measure 7 and 8 - mm7 would be an applied dominant to mm8's dominant chord in 6 4 position... meaning it isn't even a cadence, in the proper sense of the word.

Funny, even that last measure before the repeat could be interpreted as a very long-scale upper neighbor to the first measure. Damnit, I'd love to give you guys a picture to show you what I'm talking about, but I don't have a scoring program (and bitmap just looks ugly)... it's actually a very Schenkerian way to look at that song, which I'm not sure many people are familiar with...

Don't get me wrong, Bruno - I'm nitpicking a very interesting analysis. Overall it was very interesting (enough so for me to do a bit of analysis myself), and I thought the motivic analysis was very awesome. Thanks a bunch for making it - I really appreciate people doing VG analysis out there online!

EDIT: I just played it out, and I agree that it's in G... everyone's allowed a moment of stupidity :P. I'd still analyze it a bit different, though - I'm drawing something up on bitmap, at the moment - have no fear :)

EDIT (again): Alright, here's what I was trying to say...

AnalysisZelda.jpg?t=1243815315

The blue is the melody, the red is the bassline (the strings provide that - it isn't in the score) and the green is an interesting tidbit from the harp (and that extra note is a mistake - ignore it :P). I made the important notes hollow and the decorations black with a colored outline. Notice that most of the motion is neighboring decoration or prolongation of a passing motion. I don't hear any harmonic change until the 7th and 8th measure, and even then I consider a 6 3 dominant chord to be a lower neighbor of the tonic, so saying that's functional is even questionable. The bass notes are a series of upper and lower neighbors to G, the green notes actually imply a solid G chord in the beginning due to the preceding note (hence the hollow note in green in parantheses), but because the music starts at the second measure above it's hard to hear that...

The green notes are also interesting because of the chromatic passing motion that they create to the dominant chord later (which Dan pointed out nicely :P) - the arcing lines show the beginning to the end of the motion clearly.

The blue notes dance around the 3rd of the scale (lower neighbors decorate it), then leaps up to the second of the scale (due to octave equivilance, I put it next to the preceding note in paranthesis), where it is decorated by a chordal leap.

You see, I don't see any real chord changes throughout the motion - it's all just a big statement of the tonic, in the end.

I'll add that none of this detracts from Dan Bruno's main point in any way, so I'm really nitpicking the hell out of it :)

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I think this is an awesome thread, and I'm really digging reading through it. I'd seen the Ocarina musical analysis for the first time earlier this year and had a great time reading that, too; it was really interesting. I hope what I'm about to post isn't seen as an attempted hijack, haha. I don't really have an analysis to offer, but I have a question (sort of) that I'd like to maybe get some feedback on from a musical theory standpoint.

One thing I've been wondering about recently is how composers evoke a certain quality in their music that's sort of ethereal and has a certain subtlety to it. It comes up a lot in ambient and other, similar music. One example of what I'm talking about in a video game soundtrack is something like the Galaxy Map music from Mass Effect (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-19bl4_SDfI). Outside of the video game world, I think almost all of BT's album This Binary Universe does this, too (like here:

).

Whenever I write, I always end up writing chord progressions and melodies that are much more distinctly set in a certain emotion and have much more pronounced tension/release and cadences. But in the type of stuff I've been listening to, the pieces don't have the same sense of forward momentum or the same, clearly labeled emotional quality - it's a lot more subtle. The pieces don't feel as compelled to move to a certain, conclusive tonic chord or anything like that as you would normally encounter in popular music, for example.

What I'm wondering, I guess, is what is going on in these types of situations from a musical standpoint? What types of chord progressions, inversions and chord changes are being used? Or is it something else entirely? I'd really like to better understand how to analyze or even write this kind of music. Thanks a lot - sorry for being so wordy, haha.

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I know what you mean, there - really, that song I posted originally has a lot of that going on (in fact, it merges the technique of implying reverb with one channel and getting reverb with two channels - allowing them to trick the listener into believing the reverb is still there).

I'm reading the rest of the Zelda series that's there (I didn't know there was six pages, lol) and it seems quite inspired, pointing out the threads that keep the game together in clever ways. I noticed some of the roman analysis used that I didn't quite agree with... Personally I try not to analyze music using roman numerals for every verticle harmony created as sometimes it doesn't represent how the music flows.

Zelda's theme (harmonized on page 2), in particular, would make more sense if it was set in the key of C throughout (thus, allowing the beginning to start on a tonic) and staying on the tonic harmonically through measure 4 (mm 2 & 4 would actually be a set of neighbor tones rather than an actual change in harmony). The next two measures have non-functional passing chords, so a roman numeral analysis would tell us nothing of what happens there. In fact, the only change in the roman numerals would happen on measure 7 and 8 - mm7 would be an applied dominant to mm8's dominant chord in 6 4 position... meaning it isn't even a cadence, in the proper sense of the word.

Funny, even that last measure before the repeat could be interpreted as a very long-scale upper neighbor to the first measure. Damnit, I'd love to give you guys a picture to show you what I'm talking about, but I don't have a scoring program (and bitmap just looks ugly)... it's actually a very Schenkerian way to look at that song, which I'm not sure many people are familiar with...

Don't get me wrong, Bruno - I'm nitpicking a very interesting analysis. Overall it was very interesting (enough so for me to do a bit of analysis myself), and I thought the motivic analysis was very awesome. Thanks a bunch for making it - I really appreciate people doing VG analysis out there online!

EDIT: I just played it out, and I agree that it's in G... everyone's allowed a moment of stupidity :P. I'd still analyze it a bit different, though - I'm drawing something up on bitmap, at the moment - have no fear :)

EDIT (again): Alright, here's what I was trying to say...

AnalysisZelda.jpg?t=1243815315

The blue is the melody, the red is the bassline (the strings provide that - it isn't in the score) and the green is an interesting tidbit from the harp (and that extra note is a mistake - ignore it :P). I made the important notes hollow and the decorations black with a colored outline. Notice that most of the motion is neighboring decoration or prolongation of a passing motion. I don't hear any harmonic change until the 7th and 8th measure, and even then I consider a 6 3 dominant chord to be a lower neighbor of the tonic, so saying that's functional is even questionable. The bass notes are a series of upper and lower neighbors to G, the green notes actually imply a solid G chord in the beginning due to the preceding note (hence the hollow note in green in parantheses), but because the music starts at the second measure above it's hard to hear that...

The green notes are also interesting because of the chromatic passing motion that they create to the dominant chord later (which Dan pointed out nicely :P) - the arcing lines show the beginning to the end of the motion clearly.

The blue notes dance around the 3rd of the scale (lower neighbors decorate it), then leaps up to the second of the scale (due to octave equivilance, I put it next to the preceding note in paranthesis), where it is decorated by a chordal leap.

You see, I don't see any real chord changes throughout the motion - it's all just a big statement of the tonic, in the end.

I'll add that none of this detracts from Dan Bruno's main point in any way, so I'm really nitpicking the hell out of it :)

Gario, your string part's notated two octaves too low; it should be above middle C in alto range. The low harp notes form the bassline, and they're also doubled in the strings -- an octave above in the repeat of the initial eight measures and an octave below in mm. 11-18.

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