ReMix: Portal 'Live from [SUBJECT HOMETOWN HERE]'
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Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to present our FIRST Portal ReMix. It's also our first ReMix from the University of Maryland's Gamer Symphony Orchestra, the second live orchestral OC ReMix ('A Symphonic Tale' was the first), and the first live recording that I was actually present in person for to end up here on OCR. Larry and I hit up the GSO concert last year and these guys and gals delivered quite a helping of arranged orchestral VGM bliss, for free, in a full ensemble that even included a choir. Far from simple transcription, the GSO embraces interpretive arrangement in much the same way OCR does, and while this recording/performance has some issues, the creativity, enthusiasm, and talent of its members comes shining through.
We caught up with Greg Cox (conductor), Chris Apple (music director) and Justin Johnston (PR director) at MAGFest VII and recorded a sweet little video interview that tells you most of what you need to know. Larry did the interviewing, and I did the editing - my first time editing an interview, which is its own special type of challenge, but I think given the impromptu setting, background noise, and relatively free form nature of the source material, it came together well. In HD, too! We'll be at their FREE concert this Saturday at UMD in College Park, MD - check the URL and show up if you can make it, should be awesome.
By now, of course, most of you are familiar with 'Still Alive' (not to be confused with the Mirror's Edge theme of the same name) from Portal; it made a permanent mark in the world of VGM by introducing a rare element - humor - into a vocal track that fit perfectly with the game's narrative. Justin, who submitted the mix for the GSO, writes:
"GLaDOS, the artificial intelligence who serves as the antagonist of Valve's "Portal", is unique in the depth and complexity of her personality: She is split up among a number of different personality "cores", all of which conspire to create her character. GLaDOS, voiced by opera singer Ellen McLain, is also unusual in that she was called upon to sing "Portal"'s closing song, "Still Alive", written by Popular Science's "Contributing Troubadour" Jonathan Coulton. We decided to explore GLaDOS' manifold personality through our orchestra's own sonic diversity, letting "Still Alive" meander through a variety of different sound worlds, each shedding its own light on the Coulton's infectious melodies and on GLaDOS' elusive nature. This song was recorded live at the Gamer Symphony Orchestra's Spring Concert on May 13th, 2008."
The lead vocal was actually re-recorded for this submission by Jen Johnston, Justin's sister, so the lyrics/singing would be more prominent. And check this action out: Mr. Coulton even pimped the GSO recording in his own blog. Pretty groovy. Yet, even with the composer's own nod, the judges STILL have to do their thing. It's who they are. It's how they be. Larry was there with me for the actual performance, so let's start with him:
"Everything after 1:15 sealed that this wasn't just going to be a straightforward orchestral cover. A bit rough around the edges, but an overall strong live performance full of good unorthodox ideas befitting a truly unorthodox source tune.
Awesome way to cap off the night by the GSO. Thanks so much to Justin and the entire GSO for inviting djp and myself to check this out. Some of the performances were pretty spotty to start the show out, but overall they did a good job and showed off the strength and potential of the Gamer Symphony Orchestra concept, something I'm surprised no one else at the university level has really tried to push, since it's clearly a hell of a lot of fun. Clearly when you want the first Portal mix on the site, you gotta do it big."
And big they did it. It's a good point, though: this IS a modern classic of original VGM, and I'm glad our first mix of it brings so much to the table. Jimmy adds:
"This is a fantastic example of how sometimes it's more important to provide the listener with something compelling rather than something produced with QLSO Platinum, or otherwise the Boston Pops orchestra. Props all around to all involved in this performance. Wish I'd had the privilege of seeing this one live."
Judges did due diligence and noted some tuning/recording/performance issues that are definitely noticeable, but anyone familiar with the trials & tribulations of recording large ensembles (or conducting or performing in them) can commiserate. The GSO is doing some great - and most importantly, fun & inclusive - stuff, and this is a perfect mix to showcase that and introduce them to some new ears. Thanks to Greg, Chris, and Justin for the interview, and be sure to check out some of the GSO's other recordings at umd.gamersymphony.org. See you at the concert, if you can make it - the cake may be a lie (</dead_horse>), but the music is for real.
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