Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Ocarina Of Time's audio re-imagined

It may seem strange to call the first N64 Zelda game overlooked, considering that Ocarina of Time still regularly tops BEST-GAME-EVER polls; it is after all a description that would probably be better applied to either the intense follow-up Majora's Mask or the Gamecube's Wind Waker, two games that were somewhat caught in the middle of what was a financially uncertain period for Nintendo. But certainly at the time, coming as it did two years after the seismic shift that was Super Mario 64, I felt that although there was little doubt about Ocarina of Time's achievement (and it remains a staggering achievement), it was as if we all expected Zelda to be great, almost taking for granted the genius on display; after all, Mario had done all the hard work in showing that games which had defined their genre in two dimensions could seamlessly make the transfer across to three. 

Zelda's innovations are smaller in comparison - the automatic jump, the battle system - but they're so well integrated that after a few minutes play they sink invisibly into the overall experience. After a while you forget that you're playing Zelda in 3D, simply because everything fits together at a level of perfection and intuition beyond, in my opinion, any game released before or since. Maybe that's why I feel Ocarina of Time is overlooked: it's almost too good, rendering a detailed analysis of what makes the game so special superfluous to the simple practice of just playing the damn thing.

I digress. The point I wanted to make is that Ocarina of Time is pretty special; it's one of those games that stays with you for a long time after the end credits have rolled. Some of those like myself, who remember being glued to their N64 during the December of 1998, have gone on to pay tribute to the game in some creative and frankly inspiring ways. By coincidence I came across two such projects, both focussed on Koji Kondo's music for the game, within the last few days: both are wildly divergent in approach, but similar in their love and respect for one of the great works of the nineties.

The first is ZREO, or Zelda Reorchestrated. Began in October 2004, ZREO's aim was to recreate the entire Ocarina of Time score as it would sound if played within "the warm halls and intimate expression of a live philharmonic". This didn't mean drafting in a real orchestra, but rather the usage of both high-end sequencer synthesizers and sound library-aided transformations to give all 82(!) tracks of the soundtrack a warm, symphonic texture. The difference is noticeable and compelling. The ZREO site gives far more information with regards to such issues as reverb and which particular sample libraries were used, but suffice to say that after five years of work (which also included the site having to close down once because of financial issues) it stands as a task quite epic in scale, dwarfing your average fan artwork or this here blog as a labour of love. It also draws attention to what a great piece of orchestration the original Kondo score is, full of character, nuance and charm. Incidentally some of the 2/3-second pieces, like Item Catch and, er, Small Item Catch, would make excellent interludes to the mix CD you decide to make for that cute geek-girl/boy.

The second is the work of one Team Teamwork, a self-described "beat maker from Windham, Maine, by way of Somerville, Massachusetts". A ten track record that marries beats to bleeps, in The Ocarina of Rhyme TT marries some of the more commercially notable and/or inventive hip-hop of the last decade to some of the best passages from the original Ocarina soundtrack. I'd call it a mash-up except the combinations are frequently so inspired and well edited that the two components often sound like they're meant to go together (Still Tippin', from 2004, even references "Nintendo" and "Gamecube"). Simultaneously nostalgic and innovative, the likes of Clipse's Virginia (using Lost Woods as a template), and Still D.R.E (which begins with the unmistakable sound of a Zelda treasure chest being opened, a sample that is then cut-up and looped for the rest of its three minutes), highlight why The Ocarina of Rhyme is that rare thing: an idea that escapes mere novelty status through an intelligence of execution and an expert understanding of the strengths of both aspects - listen to Jay-Z's controlled flow on No Hook and the woozy Zelda accompaniment Meeting the Owl, for another example. Music was of course integral to the central time-travel mechanic at the heart of Ocarina, but this even works as a standalone record of abstract, psychedelic hip-hop.

What also unites both ZREO and Team Teamwork, apart from a good taste in games and music, is their generosity: downloads of both their considerable efforts are FREE, though there are places on the sites linked below to donate some money. Enjoy!

Zelda Reorchestrated

Team Teamwork

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