The String Arcade
The String Arcade is a recording of video game music, arranged for string quartet. This isn't an arbitrary (or novelty) collection of game music, but a well curated collection of music that works together thematically as a completed recording. We also hope to inspire young musicians with this recording by making a connection between video game music and 'classical' instruments such as violin, viola and cello. Inspiration for this recording also came from the soundtrack from Stranger Than Paradise, a soundtrack written for string quartet with an unique mood.
The String Arcade began as a Kickstarter campaign which was succesfully funded in Aug. 2013 and had a release date of February 11th, 2014. It is available on iTunes, Amazon Music, Spotify, Google Play, AppleMusic. Physical CDs are available through Bandcamp.
100% of the sales from this recording go to the Bay Area Music Project (BAMP - bayareamusicproject.org). BAMP is an after school, K-5 music program, based on the El Sistema music program of Venezuela and is a tuition-free program featuring strings, chorus and percussion.
The project was produced by composer Dren McDonald. He arranged 13 of the songs (4 of them his own compositions), mixed the recordings, oversaw the KS campaign and worked with the musicians during the sessions. 4 of the songs were arranged by Jason Poss (Sonic, Tron, Ecco and Galaga). Tim Lindeen was the remote recording engineer, bringing his gear to the Montclair Presbyterian Church and Alameda Elks Lodge Ballroom to record these sessions.
String Arcade Players:
Robin Reynolds - cello
Emily Onderdonk - Viola
Celia Harris - 2nd Violin
Alisa Rose - 1st Violin (except on Ecco, Sonic, Minecraft and Tron)
Philip Brezina - 1st Violin (only on Ecco, Sonic, Minecraft and Tron)
with special guests,
Videri String Quartet performing The Legend of Zelda
The songs on this recording span a few decades in video game history, from the stand-up arcade classics Galaga and TRON, to 8-bit games (Zelda), to 16 bit (Altered Beast, Sonic and Ecco) to 90's adventure games (Monkey Island, Outlaws), to more recent titles (Portal 2, FTL), indie titles (Minecraft, Scurvy Scallywags) and mobile/social titles (graBLOX, Pettington Park, Ravenshire Castle.)
Hearing the notes of Galaga churn out from the chipset in the arcade is a much different experience than hearing a musician play the same notes in the same sequence. This release hopes to present this music as music to be enjoyed outside of it's context. The arrangements are "loose" and in many instances, the original melody/harmony serve as merely a starting point. Pieces like "Outlaws" which started life as a spaghetti western guitar twang is transformed into a fun klezmer drama. The iconic theme from Plants Vs. Zombies becomes a humorous tango. Fast Than Light's spacey, atmospheric score takes on a new life as an emotional string story.
The mastering was completed masterfully by John Mayfield, at Mayfield Mastering, Nashville, TN
The artwork was all created by the very talented Eunjung June Kim.
Grasswalk (Plants vs. Zombies)
Echos of Ecco (Ecco the Dolphin)
Ferdinand Wanders Out For a Late Night Haircut (Pettington Park)
Engii (FTL - Faster Than Light)
Sonic 2 Scherzo (Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
Outlaws Title Theme (Outlaws)
Medicated Cow Walks the Cobbled Streets with Disgruntled Goat (Ravenshire Castle)
Scurvy Scallywags Theme (Scurvy Scallywags)
Scabb Cemetery/International House of Mojo (The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge)
Altered Beast Title Theme (Altered Beast)
Optimism For an Improvement in The John Situation
Turret Suite (Portal 2) Valve
Minecraft Title Theme (Minecraft)
Tron Arcade Medley (Tron Arcade)
Tango Down (graBLOX)
Dance of the Space Bugs (Galaga)
The Legend of Zelda (The Legend of Zelda - NES)
Pictures from The String Arcade CD Release Party
LINER NOTES FROM THE STRING ARCADE
by Simon Carless
It's odd how familiar melodies in surprising circumstances can make you grin. But it's less strange how to realize that beautifully arranged, spectacularly played music can transcend even its original medium and become something to be savored standalone. And thanks to the String Arcade Players, we get a soundtrack album to remember - one that soars around the history of video games and creates a cohesive whole from spectacularly diverse sources.
From the delicate pizzicato kicking off 'Sonic 2 Scherzo' to the almost Russian strut of 'Altered Beast Title Theme' to Portal 2's 'Turret Suite', you're taken on a veritable rollercoaster of genres, ages and styles of video game. Ironically, from limitations in the original hardware, the cello, viola and violins create their very own limitations of tone and melody - but the richness of songs like 'Dance Of The Space Bugs' (for Galaga) far outpaces the depth of those rudimentary arcade beeps and bleeps, creating something soulful and very real.
If you enjoy video games at all, then please join me in thanking the String Arcade Players, the Videri String Quartet (who perform the Zelda medley), and Dren McDonald for putting this whole wonderful project together and doing the majority of the arrangements (with 4 by Jason Poss!)
- Simon Carless (Video game historian, writer)
Philip Brezina Jason Poss Celia Harris Dren McDonald Emily Onderdonk Tim LIndeen Robin Reynolds
Celia Harris Robin Reynolds Alisa Rose Emily Onderdonk
Summer Issue, 2014:
"These classical video game arrangements are no gimmick!"
PopMatters Review 8/10
"Video game music isn’t meant to be a work unto itself, but to guide the player by setting the tone of a scene. Without the game to accompany the tunes, changes to the music have to be made so that they can stand on their own. The new pieces may or may not fit into their original contexts, but on their own, they make for quite a journey as the notes manipulate the listener’s emotions, and they are guided along an invisible track. This isn’t an exercise in nostalgia or recognition, but a journey into new territory."
Performance Today: radio show
Emily Reese discusses The String Arcade with Fred Child during the 2nd hour of this American Public Media radio show
Chico News and Review
"...an unforgettable tug on our 8- and 16-bit controllers by the iconic melodies of Link and Sonic. If that’s not art, then I don’t know what is.."
"It bounces from playful to peaceful to dramatic like a great platformer keeps your hands JUST the right amount sweaty."
SF Weekly String Arcade Show Preview
If You Like Video Games, You Should Go To This Event
SF Classical Voice
String Theory to Help Kids Learn Music? (article about The String Arcade and Alameda Music Project)
SF Classical Voice News
"String Arcade Dresses Up Game Music"
" Il risultato può essere descritto come una reincarnazione sonora, dove l’anima del tema arcade trasmigra in un nuovo corpo, più organico nella struttura e leggiadro nella forma.(The result can be described as a sound reincarnation , where the soul of the theme arcade migrates into a new body , more organic in structure and graceful in form) In Italian"
Nerds on The Rocks
"...great arcade/gaming tracks that are an absolute delight to listen to."
Stephen Smoliar/ examiner classical music critic
" I was particularly delighted with “Engi,” based on the FTL (Faster Than Light) game. This plays out over the steady back-and-forth “ticking” of a minor third (played pizzicato), which comes across almost as a techno parody of the Andante movement from Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken I/101 (“Clock”) symphony."
Empire State Gamer
"...McDonald and the string quartet bring a new, fresh interpretation to the songs which breathe some new life into the songs themselves, and by extension, add a new level of character to the overall presentation." 5/5
Empire State Gamer
"...McDonald and the string quartet bring a new, fresh interpretation to the songs which breathe some new life into the songs themselves, and by extension, add a new level of character to the overall presentation."
Interview w/ Dren, Italian website, interview is in both English and Italian
"De kracht achter de CD is niet eens dat deze uniek is, maar dat de uitvoering nagenoeg perfect is. (The power behind the CD is not even that it is unique, but the execution is nearly perfect.) Review in Dutch" 5/5
The Digital Fix Review
"If there were any more vindication that game music can sit aside film scores and – yes! – even the classical greats, the lovingly arranged melodies of The String Arcade are proof enough."
The Outer Haven: Review
"This is definitely without a doubt one of the best collections of video game music... something that one can only benefit by hearing it for themselves.
The Shelter (in Italian)
"La cosa interessante, al di là dell’onesta qualità di questi strumentisti, è proprio la maniera in cui i brani sono stati riconcepiti: da un bolero andante, a leggeri ritmi cavalcanti (che rimandano a una certa trilogia del Signore degli Anelli curata da Poss), a momenti di puro adagio che ricordano Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura."
SEGA Addicts: Review
"When listening, you have a clear idea each song is logically placed to be part of a greater work..."
The Gamers Lounge: podcast w/ Dren & Jason
"TITANFALL IS OK BUT THE STRING ARCADE IS BETTER"
Fanboy TV Interview w/ Dren
Game Skinny: Review
"it draws from an eclectic array of game choices... and the songs that you hear may also not sound exactly like how you remember them."
The Digital Fix: Review
"The String Arcade adds a contemporary immediacy to some of the most well-worn and embryonic themes"
Comic Bastards Review
Gamer's Intuition Review!
Technology Tell REVIEW
"It’s sneaky, and it’s a lot of fun."
ALL Games Review
"It begs to be listened to from beginning to end over and over."
The Gamer's Lounge REVIEW
IGN España: Review
RadioSEGA Interview with Dren & Jason
GAMES BEAT: Review
"I never thought that a song from Plants Vs. Zombies could be such an elegant experience!"
Royal Flush Magazine
"The magic of The String Arcade is that even with a lack of familiarity to the source of the work, you will find yourself enjoying the experience the string quartet creates for you."
VG Blogger: Review
"Fans of video game music should not miss out buying The String Arcade."
Indie News Now: Review
"A sophisticated answer to chiptunes"
Game Side Story
A mini review for each song...in French! "Un petit bijou."
"The String Arcade narra evolução dos jogos através dos instrumentos de corda"
Empire State Gamer
Sticky Trigger Review - 8.5/10!
Game Boyz REVIEW
"What's really amazing to me is that if you weren't a gamer, I don't think you'd have any idea that the album contained music from games."
ALL GAMES Interview w/ Dren podcast
Critical Gamer: REVIEW
FanBoy TV: Review (video)
Sensical Prattlings: Review of The String Arcade
Leviathyn: Video Game Music Plucks at Your Heart
Game Music Fans
String Arcade Featured on Classical Minnesota Public Radio's Top Score
ReviewFix Interview w/ Dren 1
ReviewFix Interview w/Dren 2
Game Fiends: Review!
The Issues Guy review "10/10 Simply Awesome!"
Mobot: String Arcade: Review
PushPlay Podcast review of The String Arcade
MediaMikes Interview w/ Dren
Retro Game Network
REVIEW: Examiner.com 5 STARS!
God is a Geek
Gaming Chronicles podcast: interview w/ Dren
App Freak Blog
Joystiq: Classic games get classier
Video Game People
OtakuDante Gaming Inferno
SF WEEKLY: Video Game Music Gets a String Quartet makeover