BloomingLate

Soundtrack Analysis: what is going on in Ikaruga (Gamecube)?

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Looking back on some of the games I used to play and their soundtracks, there is one game that stands out as being different. I am referring to Ikaruga, which I think was a Dreamcast original later ported to GameCube. It was a vertical scrolling shooter with some simple mechanics but high difficulty level. It only has a handful of stages, maybe 5. The difficulty and shortness of the game and the (negative) memories I have of my life situation around the time when I played it make it rank not so high on my favorite or nostalgia list. Nevertheless, the soundtrack has a few memorable tunes in it. Rather than looping, most if not all of the tracks are as long as it takes to get to the boss of each stage. The boss theme is a variation of the stage theme. Different parts of the track go well with the specific part in the stage that the player is, providing tension and release at the right moment.

Like I said, there is something different about the music, but I'm not quite sure what it is. Some of the instruments used make me cringe, but I don't think that's it. I suspect it has to do with time signatures and not easily identifiable rhythms. I would like to invite you to do some analysis with me on one or two of these tracks and see if we can figure out if anything special is going on in terms of composition and music theory and all that. I am interested in doing a remix / sound update on these, but right now it is hard to find an anchor point by which to start analyzing and breaking it down. The percussion in particular throws me off.

Maybe we can start with the first track:

The opening is a little cringe-worthy in my opinion, but the transition is pretty cool and I like the melody. Here is a breakdown in terms of sections:

00:00 - 00:22 - Intro and transition
00:23 - 00:54 - Section A
00:54 - 01:07 - Section B
01:07 - 01:19 - Section C (or is this still part of B?)
01:19 - 01:43 - Section A or variation thereof
01:43 - 02:09 - Outro (end of stage before boss)

What can you say about the time signature? Does it change throughout? What rhythm(s) can we establish (what beats are emphasized?) I suspect the BPM is actually relatively low, but it feels fast because of 16th notes.

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Okay, I've spent some time tackling this beast and learned a couple of things by now:

  1. When you don't know what you're doing, you're going to waste a lot of time.
  2. Section A: Assuming the tempo is 152 bpm, and the time signature is 16/8, this section consists of 10 measures.
  3. Section A: The timpani beat seems to have a hit on each of the following 8th notes: the 1st, 4th, the 5th or 6th has 3 hits in the space of one hit, the 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th an finally the 15th and 16th.
  4. Section A: The melody begins on the 15th of the previous measure and has 4 phrases.
  5. Intro: The low bass sound could be used to determine measures, but it is still a bit of a pain for me to figure out what the time signature is.
  6. Section A: There is a steady snare pattern that is hard to discern with all the other stuff going on. There is also a fast, arpeggiated pattern that is hard to discern because of its chaotic movement.
  7. I have a love/hate thing going on with the Orchestra Hit. It is such a lame and at the same time cool sound. Who on earth came up with that thing? :D

I guess 16/8 doesn't make much sense of a time signature. If I take half of that, it would go well with what I think are the measures in other parts. So 8/8 which just boils down to 4/4 when you think about it.

The underlying  harmony is pretty odd. It is hard for me to replicate it on the piano.

On 8/4/2019 at 10:38 PM, JohnStacy said:

I am a formally trained musician. Went through public school band from 6th grade through high school, got 3 undergrad degrees in music (education, horn performance, and classical composition), and am almost finished with a master's degree (classical and jazz composition). I finished my undergrad with 214 credit hours and am currently 23/31 hours through the master's degree. I am a professional performer (classical and jazz), and a high school band director, but have taught theory and private lessons and classes on guitar, bass and piano. I have performed in almost every genre that uses live performances, on many different instruments.

John, you better get in here with your massive credentials and help me out :P What do you make of the harmony in Section A? And what about the voicing? Is that fifths I hear in the trumpet sounding thingies?

Edited by BloomingLate
Corrected mistaken figures

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I think you're way overthinking it. The song is in a basic 4/4, same tempo (somewhere 145-150 BPM) the whole way through. It's not really do anything special either, just some syncopation.

The "melody beings on the 15th of the previous measure" is just called a pickup note. I would be stunned if you told me you've never heard a melody do that before.

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35 minutes ago, PRYZM said:

I think you're way overthinking it. The song is in a basic 4/4, same tempo (somewhere 145-150 BPM) the whole way through. It's not really do anything special either, just some syncopation.

The "melody beings on the 15th of the previous measure" is just called a pickup note. I would be stunned if you told me you've never heard a melody do that before.

Okay, we'll I'm not that familiar with syncopation yet, so that may explain my initial difficulty with it. I tried playing some parts on the piano and recording the MIDI, but unless you got the right tempo and time signature up, that doesn't help all too much. I honestly couldn't figure out how to count beats during the intro.

I am familiar with pickup notes, only I didn't know you called them pickup notes (in English) :) Sometimes I'll know a term in Dutch but not English, and some times it is the other way around.

So what do you think of this next track then? Is it as straight forward as the first one?

 

Edited by BloomingLate

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On 8/12/2019 at 8:00 AM, PRYZM said:

I think you're way overthinking it. The song is in a basic 4/4, same tempo (somewhere 145-150 BPM) the whole way through. It's not really do anything special either, just some syncopation.

The "melody beings on the 15th of the previous measure" is just called a pickup note. I would be stunned if you told me you've never heard a melody do that before.

I got punked a few times by pickup notes when trying to remix stuff.  The more you know...

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On 8/12/2019 at 11:35 AM, BloomingLate said:

Okay, we'll I'm not that familiar with syncopation yet, so that may explain my initial difficulty with it. I tried playing some parts on the piano and recording the MIDI, but unless you got the right tempo and time signature up, that doesn't help all too much. I honestly couldn't figure out how to count beats during the intro.

I am familiar with pickup notes, only I didn't know you called them pickup notes (in English) :) Sometimes I'll know a term in Dutch but not English, and some times it is the other way around.

So what do you think of this next track then? Is it as straight forward as the first one?

 

Pretty much, I can't hear anything it does the first track doesn't already cover. The tempo and time signature are the same throughout, standard 4/4, and the syncopations used here are the same as the other track.

You should become familiar with syncopation because I don't see another way to help you wrap your head around what's happening in the rhythms. In other words, you're not going to get really far at all analyzing Ikaruga, or most interesting music for that matter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncopation

https://www.dropbox.com/s/b3i23bwa021nlhy/2019-08-14_10-00-26.mp4?dl=0

I've recorded a crude video showing the basic thing happening in the Ikaruga tracks. My right hand is just playing basic 8th notes in 4/4. The left hand plays the 1st 8th note and the 4th 8th note.

If you draw it out it looks like this:



image.png.77d342a2a56d994dbdee86dde5f386b8.png

 

The top is the 4 beats in 4/4. The middle is the eight 8th notes I was playing. The bottom is the main driving beat that happens in the song, showing up on the down of beat 1 and the up of beat 2. Or in other words, right on the first beat, and halfway between the second and third beat.

Edited by PRYZM

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On 8/14/2019 at 3:50 PM, PRYZM said:

Pretty much, I can't hear anything it does the first track doesn't already cover. The tempo and time signature are the same throughout, standard 4/4, and the syncopations used here are the same as the other track.

You should become familiar with syncopation because I don't see another way to help you wrap your head around what's happening in the rhythms. In other words, you're not going to get really far at all analyzing Ikaruga, or most interesting music for that matter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncopation

I just looked for some sheet music on the web for the first track and one of the results reveals that the intro is actually in 3/4 time, which I suspected. What I didn't say in my initial post but also suspected was that there was probably going to be a lot of anti-metric figures in there too. These and combinations of (8th+16th) and 16th notes are what tend to throw me off.

I think understand the concept of syncopation, and your video example I would be able to discern. However, just now listening to the second track again I just find myself overwhelmed by the amount of sounds that seem to go in all directions. It requires quite some concentration or the ability to filter out sounds in order to home in on the pattern. Its a good thing people with autism (like me) specialize in concentration and being able to filter out sounds... oh wait... :P

So what I'm curious about is how you approached the count. Maybe you're so experienced it just instantly jumped out at you, but for me, I found different ways of attempting to count the intro and I ended up getting stuck. I suspected 6/8 at one point, which is comparable to 3/4, but I still couldn't find clear anchor points to latch onto. All I had to go by was the bass, which at once I tried counting as one bar per tone change, or an extended quarter note.
The sheet-music that I found actually writes them as regular quarter notes. How accurate it is I don't know. One other file seemed to be completely off in its timing of everything.

So there you go :) Simple and straightforward for some; not so simple and straightforward for others.

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see if you can add a simple 4 to the floor beat in your mind (untz untz untz untz) to whatever you're hearing. it just takes some listening practice, and i can see why it's not so easy to figure out for you here, it's also the sounds and arrangement apart from the syncopated rhythms. everything is a bit blurry and eclectic. but if you can make it groove to an imaginary dance beat in your head, it's probably 4/4.

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