ReMix: Portal 'Live from [SUBJECT HOMETOWN HERE]'

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Portal

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.

djpretzel

Discussion: Latest 15 comments/reviews; view the complete thread or post your own.
Crulex
on 2013-05-08 20:22:52
I've said this before, but the only issue I ever seem to have with some of these "live" ReMixes isn't even some mistakes or things that sound a little off. Hell, that just adds to the live experience in my opinion, because that's what happens in live performances. But sometimes the recordings for these things seem to hurt it at some points when they aren't cleaned up. Still, recording aside, the arrangement kicks ass and the singer's voice is lovely. Being a huge fan of Portal and it's music, especially the credits, it's pretty sweet to hear a ReMix that goes through several sections of whimsical playing and slow playing while keeping the feeling alive. Love the audience laugh at 0:58, and between the orchestra and the background choir, I legitimately enjoyed this one. So good.
Emunator
on 2009-12-22 02:21:30
All production/technical problems aside, this is a great homage to a theme that really needs more coverage :-P It's nice to get some more full-ensemble remixes going through the front page, even if they're flawed I think the majority of us regular people can still appreciate them for what they're worth! :-)
KyleJCrb
on 2009-12-04 18:11:11
Liz;619616 wrote: I wish the mp3 Kyle linked to was still up!

Here ya be. They changed the URL: http://umd.gamersymphony.org/audio/GSO%2009%201%2010%20Still%20Alive.mp3
ella guro
on 2009-12-04 18:06:50
I wish the mp3 Kyle linked to was still up!
I agree about the intonation issues with the performance. That doesn't kill me though...this is very well conceived, and could be excellent with better execution.
My issue is that I don't think it's humanly possible to improve on the original. I think it's one of the most effective (and strangely emotionally affecting) pieces of video game music I've ever heard. But it's at heart a pop song. Having it be arranged for orchestra takes away some of what made the original work so well for me.
I think what the GSO does is really cool, and I can understand why they'd do an arrangement of this (cause it's so damn popular), but I'd still rather listen to the original.
42
on 2009-12-04 17:09:20
Mtlbro;555767 wrote: Holy CRAP going to check this out RIGHT NOW as should everyone who is reading this forum :))))

^ What this person said.
It's been said before but I'll say it again: This Was A Triumph! :razz:
It's hard to overstate my satisfaction with this track. One thing I highly appreciate about this track is they manage to incorporate the Latin radio version heard only in game, which I can't find anywhere else. Still this is an amazing piece of work that belongs in everyone's music collection.
Mtlbro
on 2009-06-09 00:12:49
Holy CRAP going to check this out RIGHT NOW as should everyone who is reading this forum :))))

Thanks for doing what you do guys !!

Love those lyrics lol
KyleJCrb
on 2009-05-27 04:04:48
For those interested, a new version of this track just went up on GSO's site, recorded from the live show they had a few weeks ago. It has some improvements those who didn't really enjoy the original version will probably be more happy with.
http://www.gamersymphony.org/media/audio/concert/spr09/10%20Still%20Alive.mp3
Martin Penwald
on 2009-05-26 16:16:01
At first, the not-quite-great performance and/or recording turned me off, but I gave the remix another chance, and it quickly grew on me. It's a live performance, so some things can and should be forgiven, and it actually adds some nice touches to the remix, like the quiet laughter at e.g. 0:58 and the applause in the end.
Also, I like the singer's voice, and the choir is a nice addition.
Ryo242
on 2009-05-13 23:36:48
I liked this. It had a nice tone and felt like a performance of the song that wasn't too bad.
Nekofrog
on 2009-05-12 20:48:20
MechaFone;545693 wrote: I haven't heard the original,

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU go listen to the original now
MechaFone
on 2009-05-12 20:29:15
I haven't heard the original, but this is making me want to. This is some really great stuff! Awesome effort.
Just listened to the original song. Great contrast in song style, I thoroughly enjoy this, especially the singer's voice. Great job!
Black Mage
on 2009-05-12 09:57:54
I don't know...I'm just not feeling this one nearly as much as I enjoyed the original. My primary critique is the pacing. When I listen to this it's like I want to keep walking forward, but all of a sudden something forces me to stop moving mid-step, with my foot hanging in the air, before I'm allowed to finish taking my step. If that makes any sense.
:?
LuigiFan
on 2009-05-09 03:15:54
Ooof...I like this, but I don't. Trust me, I can understand the issues with recording a large group and such as I'm in several of them, but there were just waaay too many to make this recording submission worthy. My recommendation would have been to re-record it after cleaning it up - sure it's less significant because then djp and Liontamer wouldn't have been there, but overall it would've been the better thing to do. The tuning errors and such are just too distracting for me to enjoy this fully.
X-W@rrior
on 2009-05-08 18:13:41
It's a great song with a good tune and a very well done arrangement. Sadly the performance of the orchestra could be improved a lot. I have played in a big band several years so I know that it is very hard and needs really a lot of work to get and keep sounding good - especially if you only meet occasionaly.
I'm looking forward to hear clean submissions from the gamer symphony orchestra - as i said: Song and arrangement are great :)
Vitor Machado
on 2009-05-08 17:40:16
I have to agree it sounds "wrong" several times, the instrumentation and the voice.
But it's cool nonetheless, and this song is just awesome. :wink: