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zircon

OCRA-0040 - Final Fantasy VI: Balance and Ruin

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I still plan on remarking on some of the other pieces, but I wanted to remark on something while it's fresh in my mind. Dancing Mad is one of my favorite FF6 tracks, and I definitely see where you were going with it, Sixto and zircon, and it's cool, but...am I the only one who feels like there's an underlying malice in the original track that's sort of missing in "Demon, Fiend, and Goddess"? To me, the underlying malice is a huge part of the original track.

I can see how you guys wanted to put some of your own flavor on it, and I can dig that, I guess I'll put it diplomatically and say it's not a choice I would've thought to make. Now, take this with a grain of salt given:

-Dancing Mad might be, in terms of a single piece, my favorite game track ever (though as an entire soundtrack, FF6 is second to Chrono Trigger) so I probably had impossible to meet expectations coming in.

-I haven't given that particular piece multiple listens yet, and it's quite possible it will grow on me on repeat listens.

-Based on the backer updates I kind of surmise that possibly zircon and Sixto had to scramble a little as the original person who was tasked with Dancing Mad wasn't keeping up with deadlines, and if this is the case, I can't imagine how tricky it was to pick up the slack.

-Like I said, it IS a cool take, and it's quality work.

I suppose I only bring this up out of curiosity to see if I'm the only one who feels that way. Certainly not trying to start any conflict; the album as a whole is incredible and well beyond anything I could've imagined and I'm still SUPER hyped to get my physical copy and utilize it proudly. I just was interested in maybe starting some dialogue. =)

My first guess is that Zircon and Sixto wanted to thematically differentiate their take on Dancing Mad from some existing standout efforts, given Prince of Darkness covered a lot of the chaos with "Prancing Dad," and Derek Oren and Jeremy Robson still have an ongoing multi-year epic-in-progress with Cantata for Dancing (well, it's still ongoing as far as I know...I might kill myself if they permanently cancel it).

EDIT: Nevermind, Zircon beat me to it with a firsthand answer, but at least I guessed right. :)

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I have never played FF6 or any FF for that matter, so I can't really tell if the "remix" part is done well (I suppose it is). All I can tell is that this is some genuinely outstanding great awesome music!

Then you should play FF6 right now and get your mind blown twice.

'Now is the Winter' is one of my favourites, because this is how Narshe would sound like in a modern FF6 remake.

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Dancing Mad was not a track dropped for time reasons, even though it was one of the last ~10 or so completed. I chose the style I did (classic progressive rock) because I feel that other artists have remixed Dancing Mad to perfection in a more straightforward epic style with metal & orchestral elements. For example, the Black Mages' version, Prince of Darkness' 'Prancing Dad', and virt's original take on it, to name a few. I saw little sense in repeating the excellent work those artists have done, and instead chose to look at Uematsu's own inspirations; namely, bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, etc.

Here are a few examples that inspired me. These may have been among the very same songs that influenced Uematsu himself when writing the original track. Just listen to parts of Tarkus and you'll hear what I mean!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TACC1z7hcA

Regarding a change in tone, or the lack of 'malice', I think that may simply be the way we chose to cut down on the repetition + length of the original. Rather than sticking very closely to the long, dirge-like, baroque-inspired sections with heavy church organ and long solos, I sought to condense things into a shorter piece that had a higher average energy level. Again, other artists have done the full 12+ minute version very well and while I could have gone for that approach, I just don't think it would have been adding anything new or musically interesting to the world of game remixes.

I worked hard to create an interpretation of the original that switched up the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies in a way that I believe Mr. Uematsu would respect, given the type of source material that heavily influenced this arrangement; not to mention the cameos of "I Like to Live in America" and "Fanfare for the Common Man", two staples of ELP :-) It appeals to the prog rock aspect of the original track over the heavily baroque and slower portions, and though I knew from the start that some people would miss those sections, I would definitely do it again the same way if given the chance.

Either way, I appreciate you listening to this piece and the rest of the album!

Wow, a personal response,

Well, I totally get it man, and I appreciate that you created your own thing. I wasn't expecting everything to be my cup of tea or the way I would do it cause obviously I wasn't the one doing it! lol

I still enjoy the track, it just didn't go where I would have, but your totally right with "Prancing Dad" and some of those other mixes being almost perfect and very difficult to distance the sound from to be original. What you came up with still rocks my socks off, but I suppose I just like a little more "cut me into pieces and spread me out over the yard" kind of shredding when it comes to my evil mastermind final boss themes! lol

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Thanks for the reply, zircon. So lengthy, too! I can definitely see what you were going for, and definitely appreciate the execution. We'll see if I gain an additional appreciation for it on repeat listens, because I'm positive those are in the future.

I also really like "On The Run". Feels almost like an 80's pop hit, in a good way. Idle City Street is also stunning.

One thing I can say generally is I'd never have thought I could love an album with metal, flamenco, D&B, and orchestral, also borderline Vaudevillian jams coexisting as much as I love this one. Stunning work, all.

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I'm gonna have to disagree on the Sixto/zircon Dancing Mad collab. It's probably one of the stronger tracks I've heard so far, and it's a VERY welcome departure from the more bombastic, orchestral, and deliberately-paced arrangements I've heard a dozen times before. I would have to say that going the ELP/Deep Purple/Genesis route is very refreshing, and something I'm sure Nobuo would love.

Of course, this could all just be my prog bias showing through... But dammit, prog is awesome and OCR needs more of it.

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When I heard Demon, Fiend & Goddess, you know what popped in my head?

Boston.

If you guys had gone full Boston with that track, it would have been hilariously epic, in a fresh way. It's a solid entry, just underwhelming against all the epicness that precedes it. At least this time.

Anywho, I'll have a full review of my own on it's way, I've had a chance to listen to everything now at least twice. Fantastic work from all comers.

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When I heard Demon, Fiend & Goddess, you know what popped in my head?

Boston.

If you guys had gone full Boston with that track, it would have been hilariously epic, in a fresh way. It's a solid entry, just underwhelming against all the epicness that precedes it. At least this time.

Anywho, I'll have a full review of my own on it's way, I've had a chance to listen to everything now at least twice. Fantastic work from all comers.

HAHA yeah! sounds like "Smokin' off their self-titled album...very good point!

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This thread has been enthusiastic and positive for the most part, so I hope I'm not out of line posting some constructive criticism.

If there's any real problem with Balance and Ruin, it's a shortcoming shared by most OC ReMix albums: It suffers from a lack of overall creative direction and vision. Taken individually, the vast majority of pieces are gorgeous and eminently replayable, and I think this album has produced the most "five star" tracks yet...but taken together, I can't help but think the overall structure is somewhat disorganized and aimless.

Ideally, a definitive reenvisioning of the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack would weave each piece into the fabric of a thematically cohesive greater whole. Instead, each piece stands alone here as a musically separate work, and the album as a whole fails to transcend the sum of its parts, however excellent they may be. Balance and Ruin is a comprehensive collection of great remixes from the same game soundtrack, but they include such an eclectic and disparate mixture of styles that they don't constitute a coherent album, let alone a definitive reenvisioning of the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack.

Don't get me wrong: The realm of coherence allows for plenty of variety, contrast, and stylistic dissonance, but it requires these elements to be meaningfully and thematically choreographed. There's a lot in Balance and Ruin that happens to work together well, but overall it more closely resembles a patchwork quilt than a singular masterpiece. Each remixer was apparently free to independently remix each source track for arbitrary styles and genres. I understand this was probably a conscious choice, and there are advantages to this approach: It allows all of the artists to do what they do best, and it helps ensure there's something here for everyone. There's something to be said for that, but regular OC ReMix postings already serve that purpose well, and the prevailing disadvantage of adopting the same ethos for albums is that it inevitably fails to make the most of the format: Each song/piece is ultimately compartmentalized, much like randomly assembled Final Fantasy VI OC ReMixes would be. Aside from their release date, source game, and community of authors, what do these pieces really share in common? More specifically, what do they share musically? How do they take advantage of the album format, aside from giving a deserving game soundtrack a deluge of simultaneous (and comprehensive) high-quality coverage?

"On the Run (The Returners)" is a great example of this incoherence, and I'm not singling it out here because it's "bad" in any sense. I'm actually singling it out because it's among my favorite "misfit" tracks, and I won't be tempted to criticize its individual quality in the slightest: It was awesomely creative, and I would have been thrilled to see it on the OC ReMix front page with a gushing write-up from DJP. However, I didn't listen to it as an individual remix. I listened to it as part of OC ReMix's definitive Final Fantasy VI remix project, and I kept thinking, "As cool as this is, does a piece from Final Fantasy VI: The 1980's Movie Soundtrack really belong here? Is there anything that musically ties it to the rest of the album?" Granted, the stylistically experimental "Smoke and Clouds (Locke)" had already dispelled any illusions I had about the album's consistency, and there are so many other pieces that don't fit with the tone of the original soundtrack or with each other that it's pretty much impossible to judge what belongs and what doesn't...but that's kind of the point. If pretty much any individual Final Fantasy VI ReMix would belong stylistically and thematically, can you really call it an album, or is it more of a compilation? It seems like a lot of project directors are consciously choosing the latter, but isn't a lot of potential lost in that choice? Since OC ReMixes already take the form of a massive compilation, wouldn't albums with a more unified thematic approach add the most to the site?

I don't like writing criticism at all, because I know that everyone involved in this project poured their heart and soul into it and made outstanding music. More than a few of the tracks in Balance and Ruin are masterpieces in their own right, and I have too many favorites to reasonably list.* When it comes down to it, I'll probably be listening to tracks from Balance and Remix for as long as I live. Moreover, enough of them do work well together that I hesitate writing this critique. Still, I can't help but wonder what further greatness this album and so many others could have achieved with stronger and more specific high level creative/thematic direction. Chrono Symphonic, Random Encounter, Humans + Gears, Blood on the Asphalt, SSFIITHDR, Threshold of a Dream, and a few others rose above compilations to "fully conceptualized album" status. These albums proved it can be done with even such a diverse mix of artists, but some of the most highly anticipated projects with the richest source material continue to stumble in this area. I would love to see future albums overcome this limitation and rise to new heights by fully embracing their format and expanding upon the successes of more cohesive albums. Zelda Reorchestrated's Twilight Symphony recently set the bar for me in this area, and even though it's a challenge to coordinate so many artists, I was hoping Balance and Ruin would floor me again and set a new standard across the board. As it stands, I love the tracks individually, and many of them DO floor me...but I'm still left longing for what a fully conceptualized and definitive Final Fantasy VI OC ReMix album could have been.

I haven't done anything here to earn anyone's respect, and I don't have any known musical talent anyway, so I'm in no position to command influence, nor should I be. Still, I'm hoping this critique might provoke some thought from people invested in OC ReMix about how future album projects might benefit from a more unified approach that takes advantage of the album format in ways that regular OC ReMixes cannot. Either way...thank you everyone for putting so much work into such great music!

*I will however single out one for special praise: I never fully appreciated the Fanatics' Tower source tune, but Argle's "The Endless Stair (Fanatics)" remix is so deliciously creepy that I'll never look at the source the same way again. That, and I can never get enough of Oren/Robson collaborations...or enough of...actually, I'm going to stop before I reference more than half the album.

Edited by Mini-Me

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Yeah, the Dancing Mad on this album is a great rendition, one of my favourite tracks on it. Zircon and Sixto did a great job. Aside from the obvious top tracks like virts and bustatunez' I gotta say that XPRTNovice has blown me away, incredible musicianship and a great ear for arranging. Well done.

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(coherence, etc.)

You politely brought up some interesting points -- it's not out of line.

I think bringing such coherence to a project of this scope would have taken an inhuman level of coordination. And at the end of the day, with the monetary support this project received and the expectations that come with that support, the diversity of approaches might go a long way in helping everyone find a little something that they really enjoy.

While I think, In general, there is something to be said for focus -- both in the length of the album and the styles involved (and I say this as someone who remixed a source on the album that had a couple other remixes already) -- ultimately, I think the scope and variety of this project is a unique and valuable event for the community.

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I finally finished the album! Some comments of other songs:

"Flava de Chocobo" has to be the best Chocobo rendition ever. It's like what would happen if Jamiroquai covered the Chocobo theme.

"Gestahlian Sonata" is a pretty piano piece. It lacks some of the evilness from the source (even if it has some evil moments), but it's a nice change of pace from the rest of the album.

I was surprised by the lack of Brandon in this album (especially after Random Encounter) and I totally didn't see "Mogstradamus" coming. Quite an unique blend of styles and sounds here, nicely done!

"Evisceration" is brutal! Almost painful to listen to (in a good way, I just didn't know how to word my feelings :-P).

"Blackjack's Breakup Bossa" is neat. Unexpected style and nice instruments!

"A Glimmer of Hope" is beautiful, just like the source theme. One of my favourites.

"The Endless Stair" has a Metroid-ish feel. Nice remix of a source I never cared about.

"Demon, Fiend & Goddess" is very cool. I can understand some people not enjoying the direction that much, but I think it's an amazing song. Organ here is a VST?

"Ending Suite" is pretty. I don't really remember the actual ending theme, but the progression between the main themes is very natural.

Loved the album! Hope I ever get to participate in one :)

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I am pretty sure my friends are all mad at how much I can't stop talking about this album. I almost started tearing up at work at the nostalgia and the appreciation for such a fine piece of work. Not sure how yall will top this one.

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Mini-Me: Thanks for your thoughtful critique of the album, I'm glad you took the time to listen and write. It deserves an equally thoughtful answer, so here we go.

We thought very hard for *months* about how we wanted to approach this album. Many ideas were considered and we weighed the value of each carefully. Ultimately, the concept we came up with was this: arrange the entire soundtrack sticking closely to the mood and feel of each original track, at the same time respecting the diversity of musical styles in each source and representing them with equal diversity. We felt this was the best possible way to pay tribute to Uematsu's work while simultaneously creating works with their own value as standalone pieces, as opposed to just arrangements.

While music is certainly subjective and one can't argue about taste, I think it is indisputable that the original Final Fantasy VI soundtrack *was* incredibly diverse. You had techno (the chocobo theme), ragtime (Spinach Rag), funky blues (Johnny C. Bad), dramatic orchestral (Terra), rock/metal (battle theme), epic baroque prog rock (Dancing Mad), atmospheric jazz (Mines of Narshe), industrial (Devil's Lab)... etc. The cohesiveness of the original soundtrack came not from the musical styles of each track, which were VERY different, but the compositional sensibilities of Mr. Uematsu and the production style used. I believe that if he were to arrange the soundtrack himself, he would likely use as diverse an array of instruments as we did, not being restricted to the miniscule sample memory (and timbral palette) of an SNES cart.

One way in which the album is cohesive is the unifying musical direction from McVaffe and myself. We didn't just ask people to make remixes; we suggested ReMixers for individual sources, we evaluated works in progress and offered suggestions, we turned down pieces that didn't fit, I personally provided mixing or mastering for dozens of tracks, we connected ReMixers and performers together to get live instrumentation and great collaborations, etc. Having folks like XPRTNovice, Laura, and Jeff Ball on multiple tracks definitely ties things together. I think compared to even the very respectable library of ReMixes on OCR, the bar for quality here is absolutely insane and (I believe) the best of any album we've ever done.

Final Fantasy VI is not a soundtrack that lends itself to the kind of approach taken by some of the projects you mentioned. For example, Chrono Trigger's soundtrack is shorter, and Chrono Symphonic is VERY short indeed (relative to B&R!) Also, and this is with all due respect to the musicians who were working with lower-quality samples and no budget at the time, the orchestral renditions were lacking somewhat in realism and they don't hold up so well. I believe tracks like "Terra's Resolve" and "Prologue" on the other hand are absolutely stunning and reflect what modern tools, amazing orchestrators, and an actual budget with live musicians can do.

Furthermore, would you really WANT to hear Final Fantasy VI in a single style? I can't imagine enjoying 50-60+ tracks in a single style like orchestral, or urban (like Blood on the Asphalt). It would not do justice to the original pieces. A style that works well for Spinach Rag simply will not work well for the Battle theme. Instrumentation for Terra will very likely translate poorly for Gogo, which have totally different moods and styles. It would be tiring to listen to and far less diverse than the original soundtrack. To use Random Encounter as another example, that's a great album but it is also *short*. I really don't think 70 tracks of FF6 rock and metal would have been appropriate or as interesting as what we did.

I don't agree that any style would have belonged on this project and indeed, much direction went in to making sure the styles used were appropriate. For example, to me, "Smoke and Clouds" instantly summons nostalgia for my time spent playing the game as a kid, and does a great job of capturing the adventurous, drifting life of Locke, but also his melancholic and even tragic past. We auditioned multiple takes on Locke's theme and we felt this particular one was ideal. We went through this sort of process for a number of other tracks as well.

When you say this isn't fully conceptualized and not 'definitive', let me ask you this; if we were to have made an album of all metal, all orchestral, or all jazz remixes, how could that have been the 'definitive' take on Final Fantasy VI (if anything could be called that?) I know I must sound like a broken record, but thinking about how diverse the original soundtrack is, could we really say that doing every track (or large chunks of tracks) in a very limited and restricting style is 'definitive'? I don't disagree with you that this approach makes sense for SOME soundtracks - particularly shorter ones, or those with a fairly homogenuous style to begin with - but of all games, FFVI least deserves that sort of treatment for a full album project. (That being said, I'd be all for a <20 track project in a specific style!)

I really believe that Balance & Ruin DOES set a new standard for all remix albums to come. I believe there isn't a single weak track. Everything is an easy YES on OCR if not direct-post quality, with many of the tracks on an extremely high level of production polish and arrangement creativity. Like I mentioned earlier, we also have the widest array of live instruments here than on anything we've done previously, and a spectacular variety of collaborations the likes of which simply haven't been seen or attempted. There simply isn't a thing I would do differently and I'm sure McVaffe would agree.

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*I will however single out one for special praise: I never fully appreciated the Fanatics' Tower source tune, but Argle's "The Endless Stair (Fanatics)" remix is so deliciously creepy that I'll never look at the source the same way again.

Hah, thanks! I know it's probably towards the bottom of the list of tracks people are anticipating, but I hope it still piques the interest of folks.

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Oh god, if Balance and Ruin was only one cohesive concept album, I never would have made it! Who wants to listen to 5 hours of weird clarinet arrangements? They would have told me "You're DIFFERENT and that makes you BAD." and it would have been grade school all over again :puppyeyes:

I think I get what Mini-Me is saying, even though I disagree for an album of this length. But, that's precisely one of the reasons that I very rarely flip on Humans+Gears. I looooooovvveee Xenogears. It's seriously my favorite game ever. But I'm not real big into the style of music that was chosen for that album, so I almost never listen to it with the exception of Vampire Hunter Dan's track. The VGM community is a niche already; making a sub-niche of X style of music - especially with an album this large, appealing to so many people - would have been a mistake, in my humble opinion.

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To me a cohesive album would stick closely to the implied genres of all the tracks, not be a single genre. For some of the source tracks the genre is fairly obvious, others not so much. That said to me there can be as much interest in hearing a track done 180 degrees from the source. Obviously though different people have different expectations.

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This album is FANTASTIC, there is not one single track that I didn't liked. Virt's opera is ... PHENOMENAL to say the least...

Thanks for your hard works.. this is an album that I'll play years to comes that for sure !!!

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Just want to say that in the early planning stages of this project, the OC ReMix staff had some really extensive discussions about what kind of approach to take. There was a lot of back and forth about doing a more conceptually focused album or just taking the VotL approach and doing a smorgasbord. For what it's worth my arguments were a lot more in line with Mini-Me's (I also had some really heady concepts worked out that I might try on my own in the future), but in the end I'm glad that zircon and McV went with such a large and varied approach. Something for everyone.

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I honestly don't understand how one can listen to Balance and Ruin and think it lacks coherence. No offense to you personally, Mini-Me.

In my mind, an album should capture the original mood of each individual track, as well as the mood of the entire game. This album does that perfectly if you ask me. Listening to this album immediately brings me back to all the times I've played FF6. I feel like I'm back in those moments, playing the game again.

In my personal opinion, it seems a bit close-minded to think that having a single musical style is the only way to make a coherent album. Take a look at the original soundtrack, it was comprised of many different musical styles (as zircon mentioned), as is Balance and Ruin. I think a single, unifying style would not have done justice to the original soundtrack.

In the end, I think an album should be about capturing the emotions one feels when playing the game, or listens to the soundtrack. I feel Balance and Ruin does a wonderful job of capturing those emotions. In fact, I think most OCR albums manage this quite well.

Of course, on one is right or wrong here, we all have different tastes and expectations. Just my thoughts.

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Just hit Xarnax/Calum's bossa nova track. Big stupid grin on my face, mostly because this is the kind of music I grew up hearing as a kid at family events 'n stuff. :nicework:

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zircon, thanks for your thoughtful and extended response! I'm going to expand on some of my earlier comments, since we seem to agree on more than I let on earlier. I'll bold my core argument so it's not lost in the sea of exposition.

On the level of individual tracks, I totally agree with you that Balance and Ruin sets a new standard: The quality control was excellent, and you and McVaffe both deserve a great deal of credit for that. Thank you also for elaborating on the things you and McVaffe did to unify the album. I mentioned before that a lot does "happens to work together well," and it seems that was less an accident and more the result of careful work than I realized.

On the subject of diversity, I want to come out right away and agree with one of your major points: Final Fantasy VI had a long soundtrack including a diverse mixture of styles, so no one style would have been appropriate for all of the tracks. Trying to fit "Terra" and "Devil's Lab" into the same genre and instrumentation for instance would probably be a train wreck. :wink: If you had tried to shoehorn all of Final Fantasy VI into a singular orchestral style, metal style, electronic style, etc., the result would be largely inferior to what Balance and Ruin actually is.

I'll agree that the entirety of Final Fantasy VI shouldn't be forced into a single genre, but I think it's important to precisely define why that's the case: Is it simply because an album composed in a singular style would be boring, or is it because some styles are simply less naturally suited to specific source tracks than others? One of the premises of OC ReMix is that video game music is versatile, and the same source tune can be remixed into a broad variety of styles. This has been achieved countless times with countless tracks. Taking Locke for example, you have "Demake Some Money," "Locke's Theme for Brass Quintet," and "Smoke and Clouds." Theoretically, this same concept can be extended to create a death metal or orchestral or trance remix of every chiptune ever. By extension, that implies you could pick any arbitrary genre and make the entire Final Fantasy VI album conform to it...but we both know it wouldn't feel natural.

Why is that? Why can't "Terra" and "Devil's Lab" be successfully remixed in the same style in the same album? Is techno/electronica/metal/industrial simply more definitive and naturally suited to "Devil's Lab" than orchestral? Is orchestral simply more definitive and naturally suited to Terra than techno/electronica? If either of those are the case, what does that say about e.g. Cyan? Is ethnic/orchestra better suited to him than dance club techno viking ("Dark Blue Substance (Cyan)"), or are they equally definitive? (I understand that particular track was a bonus track, but the point I mean to make is a general one.) What about Locke?

My position is that the premise of OC ReMix is correct to a degree: These source tunes are quite versatile, and practically any style can squeeze new insights from a source tune...but they're not all equivalently accessible or definitive. Some styles are more naturally suited to certain tracks than others. Other styles might be equally valid, but they might have to dig deeper to gain subtler insights, and these won't always be readily accessible if the style is a drastic departure from the source material.

Writing everything in the same genre is one approach to consistency, but I agree it wouldn't be the best for Final Fantasy VI. What if you combined "Orchestra Terra" with "All-Flute Orchestra Devil's Lab" in the same "all orchestral" Final Fantasy VI album? The genre would be consistent, and both tracks would provide valid insights at the individual remix level...but the two pieces would be at two totally different levels of accessibility. Terra would capture the tone and feel of the original piece, and it might be plausibly definitive, yet Devil's Lab would be an avant-garde interpretation aimed at gleaning new and subtle insights from the source material that more obvious genre choices drown out.

For that reason, I'll agree with you that the comparisons to Chrono Symphonic, Random Encounter, and Blood on the Asphalt are not very helpful: The Final Fantasy VI soundtrack is simply too diverse to be effectively captured by a single style without sacrificing something more important. Instead, I think a better measure of creative consistency would be whether the album adheres to clearly defined interpretive and thematic goals that apply to the album as a whole. If the genres and styles differ, does the contrast follow some clearly defined set of interpretive "rules" that apply to the whole album consistently, or do some tracks follow their own rules entirely? Otherwise, is the album meant to capture the tone and feel of the original pieces? Is it meant to showcase avant-garde interpretations of the source tunes that showcase those characteristics in a completely new and mind-bending way? Is it an arbitrary mixture of the two?

While Chrono Symphonic et al make for poor comparisons to Balance and Ruin, I do think the approach taken with Humans + Gears might have served as a model for a successful "tapestry:" The idea with Humans + Gears seemed to be to more heavily use natural instruments for the more human elements of the soundtrack and more heavily use electronic/synthetic sounds for the mechanical elements. The rules were also bent a bit at times, such as choosing the electronic style for "Dazil, City of Burning Sand," but they served as a guiding focus for the project, and they kept it strongly cohesive.

The approach taken with Humans + Gears was risky of course, and its divisiveness was probably more coarse-grained: As XPRTNovice noted, it didn't work for everyone, and it was bound to essentially alienate anyone who didn't like the style(s) picked for the album. However, I think Humans + Gears epitomized the strengths of the album format by sharing a comprehensive artistic vision of the Xenogears soundtrack that simply couldn't be done in standalone OC ReMix format. I don't exactly mean to say that Balance and Ruin could have been replicated by standard OC ReMixes: It couldn't, and your comments about your process make that more clear. It adds a lot to the site, so what I'm really asking is just, "Could it have added more?"

I mentioned in my earlier post, "The realm of coherence allows for plenty of variety, contrast, and stylistic dissonance, but it requires these elements to be meaningfully and thematically choreographed," and I think Humans + Gears achieved this by essentially choreographing two distinct aesthetics. Balance and Ruin was certainly more challenging, because it covered a much larger soundtrack more comprehensively, but - from the convenient standpoint of not having to do it myself - I think the same concept could be extended from two aesthetics to four, five, six, or however many were appropriate for such a diverse soundtrack.

The point of a "fully conceptualized" Final Fantasy VI album would not be to eliminate stylistic contrast or force the soundtrack into a single genre, but to choreograph the contrast in a categorically structured and purposeful manner at a high level. There are a lot of "one-off" styles in the Final Fantasy VI OST, and "Spinach Rag" is a good example, but as you said, Uematsu's compositional sensibilities and production style maintained coherence throughout the soundtrack anyway. There's no way to fit "Spinach Rag" into the same narrow style as almost any other track, but that gap might be bridged by using a similar broad class of instruments and/or compositional techniques (e.g. "natural instruments") across the broad array of "playful" tracks. Similarly, imperial/Magitek-related themes might have their own style, Kefka-related themes might have theirs, battle themes might have theirs, situational epic/danger tracks might have their own, and character themes might be composed in a similar class of styles as well. Pieces that draw from multiple categories could be composed in a mixed or juxtaposed back-and-forth or textured style that ties the overall aesthetic together. There are probably an infinite number of ways to do a sensible breakdown, but I think the strength of the album format is that it presents the opportunity to do so meaningfully with an overall thematic intent.

When I refer to character themes sharing a style, I don't mean it in a narrow sense either: Just because orchestral might naturally fit Terra doesn't mean "spaghetti western" is inappropriate for Shadow; spaghetti western is perfect for Shadow! It closely fits the tone and style of the original soundtrack, and it loosely fits the broad aesthetic used for most of the rest of the character themes in Balance and Ruin. You achieved respectable coherence in most areas most of the time...but some of the exceptions are so stark they're jarring, and that tended to "sharpen" a lot of smaller discrepancies in my listening.

I'm glad you went into detail about the decision process "Smoke and Clouds (Locke)," because that was in my opinion the character theme that matched the others the least. (If we're including the bonus disc, "Dark Blue Substance (Cyan)" might top it.) Considering the track in isolation, I'd agree that it was intelligently constructed, and from a certain clever point of view it does capture Locke's adventurous and tragic qualities. Judging by the front page writeup, it seems a lot of thought went into every aspect of this...and yet it captures Locke and communicates the intent of his theme in a far more abstract and experimental manner than any of the other character themes, even Strago's. ("Aggressive Blue Magic (Strago)" was another track I thought was awesome but out of step with the rest of the character themes. To its credit though, it had a similar aesthetic to "Illusionary (Another World of Beasts)," which I tend to associate with Strago and Thamasa for story reasons.) "Smoke and Clouds (Locke)" is unabashedly avant-garde, completely unlike any other track on the album stylistically (especially the other character themes), and a departure from the source as well. Basically, it seems to follow its own unique rules of construction rather than any apparent album-level interpretive rules. This makes it perfect for OC ReMix, but like a number of other tracks following their own rules, it strongly contributes to what I'd consider the "patchwork quilt" feel of Balance and Ruin, as opposed to the "tapestry" design of Humans + Gears. I respect that you consider it an ideal fit for the album, but at the same time, its musical ties to the rest of the album are subtle enough that I have trouble recognizing them. (I suppose that's not surprising given I'm not musically educated, but still. :wink:)

To summarize, I agree that a Final Fantasy VI album shouldn't be composed in a singular style, and I don't mean to argue against a purposeful variety. Instead, I'm more concerned about the album format being weakened when individual tracks follow their own unique rules of composition/structure/instrumentation/etc. unlike any other album tracks (or the source), or when their similarities to other tracks don't follow any obvious structural or thematic pattern. Ultimately, I think the album format might benefit from more clearly defined compositional/interpretive rules on a categorical level, like expanding the concept of contrasting aesthetics used for Humans + Gears.

Phew. Thanks again for your response! :)

P.S. XPRTNovice, I'm definitely not referring to the clarinet here; I think it worked out great, actually. :nicework:

Edited by Mini-Me

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I for one appreciate albums with a more diverse set of genres/styles. It keeps the album (especially long ones like this) interesting for longer, even if it sacrifices the existence of a coherent theme. HOWEVER, Smaller albums work very well with a coherent theme (I.E. your traditional concept album). I wouldn't however want to listen to 80 tracks of the same style on an album of this proportion.

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Oh god, if Balance and Ruin was only one cohesive concept album, I never would have made it! Who wants to listen to 5 hours of weird clarinet arrangements? They would have told me "You're DIFFERENT and that makes you BAD." and it would have been grade school all over again :puppyeyes:

I agree. Collaboration involves different approaches and variety is what keeps something of this scope from being a tiring listening experience. Not only would I have missed the chance to be writing or recording for this project if there was Univision, I likely would not have heard most of these artists or given their respective genres a chance. The spice of life isn't always what we would choose first, but I'm glad to venture out of my typical listening habits with this album. It really is outstanding; so many facets are what make it shine.

Forrest

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I'm only on the third track and I'm in awe. I knew from the beginning that this album would be worth the wait. There aren't enough words to describe how awesome this album is. A big thanks to everyone involved.

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I disagree with the concept of mega 5 disc albums in general. The quality always suffers and this is no exception. The level of quality music here is an OCR first for sure, but for my tastes there's still too much filler. It would have been much more cohesive if restricted to a single disc and given a bit more musical direction, but for that to work there would have needed to be a concept or some form of structure to choose which songs are chosen etc etc.

In the end it comes down to the scope, and for an album of this size there's no other way to do it than how B&R did it. The ONLY thing I'd change about this would be the mixing. You can't have a cohesive album if you have a different person mixing every song, the volume levels are all over the place and some songs are just painful to listen to.

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