CD Review

The String Arcade: Enrich your Gaming Experience

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The String Arcade: Enrich your Gaming Experience

Cover_ArtFree Track Sample
(“Grasswalk” – Plants vs Zombies)

Music is a vital part of our lives. Regardless if you consider yourself a music lover or not, I can guarantee that nearly everyone has at least one or two songs that they hold near and dear to their heart. Music entertains us but it also enlightens us. A stroke of a bow or a few strums on a guitar can tell you more about an individual’s deepest thoughts and emotions than any words can. Even if you are not musically inclined, the songs you share with others reveal more about you than you may realize. The tone of the song alongside the lyrics that accompany it provide outlets for hidden feelings or help preserve a memory that replays the second the first note is heard.

Just as many people find comfort in music, others find comfort in video games. The mythical worlds provide an escape from crushing reality just as practicing a scoring provides a healthy distraction. Or it can be an uplifting hobby that fills one with joy and an easy way to relax after a busy day at work. No matter the reason you are drawn to music or to games there is no doubt that both hobbies often go hand-in-hand. Very rarely wil

l you ever find a gamer who does not praise the soundtrack that accompanies their quests. More times than none the energetic tracks fuel the passion of the moment that causes that natural high just as you slay the final boss or escape from the impossible suicide mission.

A lot of gamers own the original soundtracks that have rightful places amongst the rest of their music collection and discussions revolving around the music unit gamers no matter what platform they have sworn allegiance to. There are dozens of orchestras and bands dedicated to specific game series that may even add a genre twist to the traditional score. Of course, we cannot forgot to mention the hundreds of fan covers that are sprinkled all over the internet where you can find almost any game song replayed on any instrument.

The String Arcade
The String Arcade – Lorrie Murray

Amongst the wide variety of styles of music, orchestrated soundtracks remain my

favorite due to their great sense of scale. You cannot argue with the epic feeling that stirs within you when a massive blend of strings, percussions, woodwinds, and brasses  play the main theme of your favorite game. The love of sympathies led me to pick up the cello a few years ago. As a result, I hold a special place in my heart of string instruments which is why I am ecstatic to share a new video game string quartet with you all.

The String Arcade is a new quartet with a mission. Consisting of a cellist, violist, and two violinists, the Kickstart project was led by award-winning composer Dren McDonald (Ghost Recon: Commander and Ravenwood Fair) with assistant from Jason Poss (Lord of the Rings trilogy). The purpose of the project was to not regurgitate the scores with different instruments, but to weave a collection of melodies that thematically flowed together as a single piece. Some tracks are original compositions of McDonald’s while others are revised interpretations of classic pieces to fit the overall tone of the album without sacrificing the harmony or straying from the original melodies.

What makes The String Arcade so unique is the selection of songs included in the album. Fifteen tracks span over nearly four decades of gaming history and unintentionally showcase what was popular for that specific decade.  When looking at the track list, we have homages to the 8-bit and 16-bit era with renditions of Galaga, Ecco the Dolphin, and The Legend of Zelda themes. The 90s are represented with adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge and the birth of first-person shooters like Outlaws. Then we have popular 2000 hits like Minecraft and Portal 2 before having a collection of iOS based mobile game like Plants vs Zombies or indie games like Faster than Light. Of course, the tracks do not follow a timeline but I thought it was very interesting to see so many games from a few unexpected places make it to the track list.

The inclusion of iOS and indie games really intrigued me. While a lot of McDonald’s works have been for mobile games, I found the quartet’s versions to be extremely flattering for titles that most hardcore gamers would consider to be too casual to enjoy. There has been plenty of heated arguments over forums and social media sites about how causal games are ruining the game industry for one reason or another. So hearing gorgeous renditions of these titles paired up with beloved classics really makes you look at things differently. The quality is indistinguishable between the two and goes to show that AAA titles and indie games can co-exist in beautiful matrimony in the gaming world.

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. When writing this review, I listened to the album two ways. The first time I listened to the original song and its corresponding track on the album for comparison purposes. By listening to each piece individually, I was able to establish a general idea of the alterations McDonald made. A few songs matched the melody almost perfectly while others seemed to be more of a mesh of different tunes from the game combined into one song. After going through each track one by one, I listened to The String Arcade that way it is meant to be listened to: as a whole.

From start to finish, the conversion from one track to the other was seamless. I could pick out the pieces I knew from my own familiarity of certain tunes, but I could not specify when one song ended and another began. There is a lot of balance in album. The tone fluctuates between catchy, fast-beat melodies to slower, more drawn out pieces that portray a wide variety of emotions. There is certainly an underline purpose behind the way the songs are combined together. It is almost as if the album wants to take you on an adventure much like these games do.

The String Arcadr - Barret J. Butterfield
The String Arcadr – Barret J. Butterfield

I particularly found “Echoes of Ecco” to be haunting; the way the strings kept a sorrowful tone painted a picture of a lone creature wandering the wide blue in search of companionship with a hint of depression lingering. Then the notes gradually pick up speed almost as if the creature finally has a sense of direction and is determined to reach his goal which is pretty much the whole story of Ecco in a nut shell. “Engii” from Faster than Light had a great sense of wonder to it. The notes drifted in and out of tempo which – to me – emulated exploration and finding discoveries. Occasionally it increased into a chirper sound because you found something good before shifting into an ominous tone as you pass a hostile enemy or space station that had fallen victim to slavers. Then it loops itself back into the same tempo it had beforehand as if you are continuing on your journey.

Gamers and music lovers alike will enjoy The String Arcade. Gamers will appreciate the sense of respect The String Arcade pays to some of their favorite titles while musicians will adore the amazing talent of the quartet. The String Arcade performers have terrific chemistry that will truly move you. If the high praise I have given this album is not enough to make you want it, perhaps the second part of their mission will. Even though this was crowd-funded project, none of the musicians, McDonald, or Poss are looking for a profit. All proceeds are being donated to the Alameda Music Project – a tuition free after school program that provides classical music instruction to unfortunate children grades K-5. A mission I highly respect, especially as someone who had interest in music at a young age but did not get an opportunity to embrace that love until much later in life. I certainly recommend that everyone check out The String Arcade which is available either digitally or physically today.

How to Buy

BandCamp (Physical CD)