I finished the first part of “Hotel Gomaden” from the Hackers game in the Shin Megami Tensei series. (The second part is, to my surprise, actually a slowed-down cover of Johann Bach’s “2-Part Invention #13”.) Before that, I managed to transcribe “Backstreets” from Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django.
The reason behind these transcriptions was because, not only did I like those songs a lot despite their spooky feelings, but those songs also happened to fit the mood of my game Reckless Abandon. I wanted to make my own song inspired by those two songs, which means that I need a lot of control in what song comes in the game. The result was a lot of time in and a lot of breaks from the Record MakerMatic in WarioWare: D.I.Y.
In terms of mood, “Backstreets” is mostly melancholic, though with a spooky undertone. In fact, the song implies a long-lost land from your past but is just not “there” anymore, whether that be because our lost land is in ruins or is just gone. Meanwhile, Hotel Gomaden has a feeling of “Welcome to my haunted land!”, that haunted feeling being front and center. This time, the implication is that you are entering the front room of someone’s haunted building. However, both songs end up being inviting: “Backstreets” has stimulates your curiosity on what was that long-lost land; “Hotel Gomaden” stimulates your curiosity on what is the rest of the haunted building. (Strangely, the cover of “2-Part Invention #13” sounds to be purposefully made a sequel to “Hotel Gomaden,” sounding far more inviting while keeping the haunted mood and its instruments in the background. Hearing this after “Hotel Gomaden” implies that you moved farther in the imaginary haunted building.)
Speaking of instruments, analyzing these songs gave me, a newbie in music, taught me that instruments matter. Before my analysis, I thought that the functions of instruments were interchangeable. I suspect that they still are in a sense; otherwise, covers would not have their current flexibility. However, “Backstreets” would not have its long-lost melancholy if the harmonica was not there, while the organ gives “Hotel Gomaden” its haunted introduction. Both use a “haunted chorus” in providing that spooky backup that the songs and settings have.
In terms of structure, both of these songs have an “aided simplicity”. “Backstreets” plays mostly one instrument at a time while either of two rhythms play in the background. While a stringed instrument plays a looping, “quick-stepping” rhythm in the background, the harmonica plays first, then the chorus. After that, the chorus turns into a sparser backup role while one string instrument plays, then another before not playing any “main” instrument at all, leaving the backup chorus and the rhythm. The ending shifts focus to the rhythm; a lone harmonica melody plays while a new brass/chiptune rhythm gets more involved with the melody. The rhythm switches to a different chiptune instrument before going back to the brass/chiptune. Despite these supplements, there is only one main “instrument spot” where several actual instruments take turns.
“Hotel Gomaden” shifts this structure somewhat: the rhythm is actually one organ playing a note, another organ playing 2 notes, both alternating their parts in a single, regular tempo. The notes themselves do vary throughout the song, though the notes of one instrument do not stray far from the notes of the other instrument. The instruments take a backup role, that is, reverse of a normal song when the instruments are at front while the rhythm is at the back. After the rhythm establishes itself alone, a drum roll ends in a type of clap that introduces a sparse violin. After a cymbal note, another drum roll that starts and ends with a clap cuts the violin at the end, letting the rhythm re-establish itself. A slightly denser chorus takes advantage of the “cleaned up soundscape” after this. The climax breaks the conventions that the song has in both the front rhythm and the back instruments. More specifically, the first organ adds 2 premature notes during the climax while the rhythm fades out at the end of the song. Meanwhile, the chorus stops in the middle of the climax, letting the violin gets some notes before the chorus returns. Despite this pattern-breaking, everything, even the drum rolls, follow the mentronomic rhythm, albeit in varying levels of strictness.
The rhythms themselves have a special property: they imply steps. “Backstreets” has a quick tiptoe; “Hotel Gomaden” is more a march or a creep.
On the note ranges, they seem to differ per instrument in “Backstreets”. The harmonica has a general falling slope from the high notes to around the middle-high ones. When taking the main roles, the female chorus does the middle notes while the male chorus is around the low part. When taking the backup role, the female chorus goes to the middle-high range while the first stringed instrument plays high notes. The second stringed instrument, meanwhile, cycles a rising slope from an already borderline high range. Upon returning, the harmonica starts at the high range before gradually getting lower while playing around with slope directions before preferring downward slopes. The backup brass/chiptune start high, but go through a longer falling slope, straighten up a little, rise a little, go silent, then go back to their falling slope. During that pause, another instrument does a series of falling slopes, though the series shifts the pitch of the slope a bit every time the instrument plays a slope. In contrast, the instruments at “Hotel Gomaden” tend to stay at the mid-high range without any real slopes.
They both have a feeling of you being alone. “Backstreets” has that lone harmonica. “Hotel Gomaden” has a couple of organs that set a mood but sound from “nowhere”. All of the other instruments in both songs merely reinforce these main, “lonely” instruments or otherwise the “stepping” feeling.
A song in aided simplicity where one (or two) instrument plays at a time, other instruments (including a chorus) sparsely supplement the main instrument(s), all following a stepping rhythm and tending to stay within the high and mid-high notes… outright implying an actual place of spooky invitation… the only problem is translating that chorus into Pico-8 instruments.