This is not screenwriting or TV writing related, however it does involve two creative young men: My son Will Myers and his friend from college Sebastian Urrea. Will is a rising second year Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago working toward a degree in music composition. Sebastian is currently enjoying his youth by traveling around the world. Over the last year or so, Will and Sebastian have been recording an album of their own arrangements of video game music, Sebastian on piano, Will on Viola. They call themselves Frog & Cid and the album is named “Boss Chamber Music”.
To give you an idea of what the music is about, here is “Battle! vs. Gym Leader” from Pokemon Red and Blue:
To learn more about the project, I sent off some questions to these fine young fellows. Here are their responses:
Q: What was the inspiration to take on “Boss Chamber Music”?
Will: One of our first points of bonding in our freshman year of college was over video game music, so it felt like a natural progression that we would start collaborating on a project like this eventually. We started writing some arrangements for fun back in 2012, and then in the summer of 2014 one of our friends was getting married and asked us to perform some video game arrangements at the wedding, which kicked our process into higher gear. Because we felt better about our arranging abilities than our playing, we had originally planned on writing a bunch of arrangements and getting the rights to distribute the sheet music, but it turns out those rights are hard to get, so we pivoted to recording an album.
Q: Why the name “Frog & Cid”?
Will: A bunch of the music we cover is from JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games) like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, so we knew we wanted a name that reflected that. Cid is a recurring name in the Final Fantasy series, always referring to a different character (Biggs and Wedge are two other such recurring names, for any Star Wars fans out there), and Frog is both a status effect in a few Final Fantasy games and a character in Chrono Trigger. We thought a frog would look good playing viola on our album cover, so I became Frog and Sebastian became Cid.
Q: How did you go about choosing these specific selections for your debut album?
Sebastian: Some of the arrangements we carried over from what we had worked on in college and already had all or most of completed. Some were just ideas that came to us that we really liked, like the combination of City of Rabanastre and Ding Dong Dell. Once we decided on the title, we put some effort into creating a bit of a theme for the album, namely a lot of boss battle music. We wanted to include those, and weave in some other tracks with different feels to break it up. We focused on the experience of the album as a whole, thinking about how each track flowed into the next.
At the same time, we also considered all of the games that we liked, and tried to include some variety with series and composers, not just all the same. The balance does skew toward Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, mostly because we found a lot of tracks in those games that we really liked and felt worked. We are making a stronger effort with our planning now of our next album to include more variety. And unfortunately some of our efforts at creating a flow were spoiled by licensing problems, which caused us to have to remove two tracks we had recorded from the final release. But overall we’re quite happy with how the final album sounds.
The Song List from “Boss Chamber Music” by Frog & Cid
1. Millennial Fair / Another Termina (From “Chrono Trigger” and “Chrono Cross”)
2. Force Your Way (From “Final Fantasy VIII”)
3. A Place I’ll Return To Someday (From “Final Fantasy IX”)
4. Song Of Healing / Lost Woods (From “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”)
5. Hollow Bastion / Scherzo di Notte (From “Kingdom Hearts”)
6. Corridor Of Time (From “Chrono Trigger”)
7. Clash On The Big Bridge (From “Final Fantasy V”)
8. Frog & Cid (From “Final Fantasy VII” and “Chrono Trigger”)
9. Royal Capital Of Rabanastre / Ding Dong Dell (From “Final Fantasy XII” and “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch”)
10. Battle Vs Gym Leader (From “Pokemon Red & Blue”)
11. Dragon Roost Island (From “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker”)
12. Toberu Mono (From “The Last Story”)
13. J-E-N-O-V-A (From “Final Fantasy VII”)
14. Fight With Seymour (From “Final Fantasy X”)
15. Memories Of Green / Grasslands Of Time / Chrono Trigger (From “Chrono Trigger” and “Chrono Cross”)
16. Dearly Beloved (From “Kingdom Hearts II”)
Q: How much of a ‘thing’ — recording arrangements of video game music — is this in the gaming community?
Sebastian: In general, remixing and rearranging tracks is hugely popular in the video game music community. There’s an entire website, OCRemix, devoted to fan remixes of video game music tracks, and there are lots of albums of video game music covers available on Loudr. There’s a number of big musicians who are well-known on the scene too, and sometimes there are big collaborations between them.
A lot of the covers that are out there are rock and electronic covers. There aren’t quite as many that use acoustic instruments, and for all of them, some are great, some less so. Part of our goal was to fill a niche that is a bit small in this scene; detailed arrangements that can be performed live, and that bring out the great detail and character in the music that we love.
Q: I’ve heard there are symphonic performances of video game music. Is that true and if so, how does that speak to the importance of the music to the game-playing experience?
Sebastian: Yes! There are a lot of symphonic performances of video game music, primarily the music from Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and The Legend of Zelda. There have also been some Nintendo concerts, some concerts of mixed music (Play! and the Greatest Video Game Music concert CDs come to mind), and I have heard that a new Kingdom Hearts concerts series may be starting soon.
I think music is really important to the experience of playing a game. It’s similar to film in a lot of ways in how the music can really set the mood and draw you into the setting. That’s part of what we love about video game music; it has such a power to evoke places, characters, and feelings.
I think what happens is that gamers really get into a game, and part of that is really getting to know the music and tying it to the positive experience that you have playing a game. People really get to love this music, and so it’s fantastic to see it get thoughtful treatment in an orchestral setting, and lots of fun to go and hear it played live. I’ve been to several concerts, and it’s so exciting to be in the audience with all of these other people who love the music too and share that experience with them.
Will: Yeah, symphonic arrangements of video game music are very much a thing. The two of us actually went to a Final Fantasy orchestra concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall and it was without a doubt the most excited I’ve ever seen an audience there (and it was completely full). People showed up in costume, sang along, cheered — it was a hell of an atmosphere. There’s an awful lot of hand-wringing in orchestral circles about how to capture that enthusiasm for their other concerts and about what role video game music might play in that, which is a complex issue, but from our perspective we just take it as a signal that there’s an enthusiastic audience for instrumental arrangements of video game music.
As for the importance of music to the experience of playing video games, I think it’s pivotal. The way music is used in games has changed over the years, but one thing that’s remained relatively constant from the earliest Zelda games to Journey is the need to evoke a particular setting or mood in a way that’s not overbearing, because there’s no telling how long a player might spend in any given area. If the music were too over-the-top you run the risk of players getting sick of it. I guess there’s a degree of subtlety to game music that people sometimes don’t give it credit for.
Q: Who is your favorite video game music composer?
Sebastian: It’s a really difficult question, because in my mind they are all so different. Each one has a unique style, and there are different elements of those styles that really draw me for different reasons. I genuinely can’t make a comparison.
I will say that lately I have been on a Masashi Hamauzu kick. I love his rich and detailed piano writing, and the ambience that he creates with a lot of his music really resonates with me right now. It would be tricky to do them justice in a different format, but I’d love to try to arrange some of his tracks in the future.
Will: Yeah, this is a tough one. Nobuo Uematsu (best known for the Final Fantasy series) was my first love in the world of video game music, and I still adore his music. Other JRPG composers like Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger) and Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts) are up there for me, as well. But I have to say, Austin Wintory’s score to Journey is so singularly brilliant that I have to at least mention him in this conversation as well.
Q: How did you two go about working out arrangements for each selection and what was that process like?
Will: We typically would choose one of us to be the point person on each track, and that person would at least start the track after we discussed initial ideas for how to approach the arrangement. The other person would be involved in ways ranging from only changing tiny details at the end to taking over the track halfway through. So it was a pretty fluid process. I can’t really recall instances where we got contentious about musical decisions — whenever one of us felt strongly about a moment musically we’d at least give other ideas a shot and often found ourselves in agreement one way or the other at that point. We have similar sensibilities with different strengths and weaknesses, and I think that led to a strong and varied album.
Sebastian: We go back and forth on the arrangements based on the idea, how it’s going, and how specifically each of us has a vision for that track. Some tracks are a joint effort which each of us contributing more or less equally by passing the arrangement back and forth, like Millennial Fair / Another Termina. Some are mostly one person with some input from the other, like Clash on the Big Bridge. Will had a specific vision for that track, and he did almost all of the arranging for it. I offered some feedback along the way and wrote a couple of bars.
Logistically, we love Dropbox. We can keep all of our scores in there and easily pass them to each other in our shared folder. We’ve managed to continue collaborating well like this even living far apart.
Q: How about the recording process? What was that like and how long did it take?
Sebastian: The recording process was difficult. For a couple of different reasons, we decided to use a software piano instead of a real one. It took about 4 months to get all of the piano recorded, and about 4 months to record all of the viola. We had fairly limited resources available to us for this go around, and we also had to work around work and school, so it took longer. Then the mixing and mastering process took about 9 months total, again due to time constraints and complications.
Recording the piano part was labor intensive but not too difficult. I had flexibility to control how it sounded thanks to using the software piano but that also meant that I had to control how picky I was being and avoid making it sound “too perfect”. It was difficult to get the actual sound of the software piano just right in order to blend it in with the viola also. I will let Will speak about what recording the viola was like.
Will: It really was intense. First of all, we’d never done anything like this before. The album is pretty long, too, so it took quite a few sessions to do record all the tracks. And let’s just say we didn’t take it easy with our arrangements. We honestly didn’t think too much about the technical challenges during the arranging process — we just wanted to do really cool, interesting arrangements. And then when I got in the recording studio and had to play the run at the beginning of Clash on the Big Bridge or play way up in the stratosphere for Chrono Trigger, Sebastian and I would just have these moments where we’d look at each other and think “Wow, we were dumb.” I think we’re both thrilled with how it turned out, and I don’t think we should have toned it down, but when you’re in the middle of playing a blistering passage 15, 20, 50 times to get it right, you start to resent your past self just a little. As the process went on, I got less prideful about it all, too. I was initially really resistant to suggestions that we could do some really targeted splicing or pitch correct a single note here and there, but at the point that I realized that I’d played the note right dozens of times and just missed it the one time I nailed the rest of the take, I didn’t feel quite so bad about letting our awesome recording engineer Peter Atkinson splice in a note from another take or something like that.
I will say that the funniest part of the whole recording process was where we did most of it. We were obviously looking to do this all affordably, so we recorded the viola in a professor’s office draped in moving blankets that we wedged between ceiling panels and held down with our shoes. We had to be super careful opening the door to get in and out of the room so that we didn’t dislodge the blanket near the door because it was a huge pain to get back in place. It’s a make-shift recording studio that we don’t plan on replicating in the future, but it certainly is a worth a good laugh or two looking back on it.
Frog & Cid’s recording ‘studio’ for “Boss Chamber Music”
Q: “Boss Chamber Music” got a terrific review at GameMusic4All.com in which the reviewer concludes, “There is definitely something for RPG fans new and old in this collection, so be sure to grab the album.” After all the work you’ve put in on this project, how are you feeling about it?
Will: It obviously is a great feeling to get a good review. We’ve been working on this project in some way or another since 2012, so to finally release something out into the world and hear from people who have enjoyed it is an incredible feeling.
Sebastian: We’re very excited that it’s finally out in the world! We put so much time and effort into it, and it’s so gratifying to have a finished product. We hope that people enjoy it. The whole experience has been a lot of fun, and we want to keep on writing new arrangements.
Q: Finally do you have any plans for future Frog & Cid video game music albums?
Will: We do have plans for future albums! We’re kicking around some ideas for a second Frog & Cid album, but we’re also considering some solo piano arrangements that we can release more frequently in the interim. If anyone is interested in keeping tabs on us as we move forward, check out our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/frogandcid/) and our Twitter account (https://twitter.com/Frog_and_Cid)!
For the last 20 years, I’ve listened to both of my sons playing video games in and around the house, so many of these tunes are familiar to me, and I think what Will and Sebastian have done is great. You can check out the entire album — and hopefully buy it! — at these various sites:
It’s also available on iTunes.
Folks, I’d appreciate if you could spread the word to all your gamer friends and connections about the debut album from Frog & Cid, “Boss Chamber Music”!