Sunday, August 5, 2012

What the Heck ZUN [Part 1]

IHasAToaster once commented on my channel:
FlanGoY I know you only post when all of the moons of Pluto align with the Sun, but do you think i could perhaps make a little request of "The Centennial Festival for Magical Girls - Flandre's Stage theme. I love your work, I wish I had the patience to do the same with my clarinet, keep it up!

Apparently that's how frequent I upload now ;_;
Anyways, I set out to fulfill his request and started looking into the beloved classic Th06 Extra Stage theme.
Being an avid listener to Touhou music, I THOUGHT I was familiar with this old nostalgic piece... until I looked into some sheets composed by different pianists.
There were simply too many areas of discrepancies in the melody of the notes, whether some sheets were personal arrangements or simple (if that word even fits this piece) translations faithful to the original sound track.

And upon careful listening to The Centennial Festival for Magical Girls, I found out how awesomely inconsistent (not necessarily in a bad way) these notes are. It must be ZUN playing tricks on us. Either that, or he was very drunk and/or lazy as the track description says.

I personally don't think it's laziness though, since within the context of the piece as a whole, I guess they are consistent...

I'm no professional music theorist or composer- I just play them back. Despite my that, here's some of my analysis of this piece where I try to sort things out a bit, so that I may play it myself in peace. (Also, I'm basing this whole thing off of how I do things regarding playing touhou pieces on flute. You well know there aren't any legitimate flute sheets out there, so I take the piano-ones and take out bits and melodies from it...)

If you want to follow as I rabble on about this stuff, you can get my pack of these piano sheets here:

I will be using 4 sheets:
#1 by Koge Iza-yois which is a complete arrangement of the Extra Stage+Boss theme.
#2 by DMBN, an arrangement which seems like a faithful translation to the WAV version of the original.
#3 by an unkown author (I have a feeling it's DMBN though), but of a notably old date--meaning less correction.
#4 by Alioth, another personal arrangement of the WAV version.

Alioth's is written in flats, but still in the same key, so let's not get too confused with that.
#1,2, and 3 are all F# major.
#4 is Gb major, which is essentially the F# major.

-First Intro Part-
The song begins with some exotic scale progression tinkling down starting from D# (Eb).
Here's the very first potential discrepancy- the MIDI version does not have grace-notes (or fluff) while coming down the scale. On the other hand, the WAV does, and in fact, it's much more trinkl-y and crystal-like with the piano and echoes.
#1 and 3 adopts the simplified MIDI-style, whereas #2 and 4 adds the extra notes.
Unlike #4 which simply uses the easily-heard grace-notes, #3 also combines the distant tinkle's that can't be heard too well in the original WAV version, making the whole phrase overly full/rich. This also means accents must be added to the important notes for distinction, otherwise it'd get very mushy.

On the 5th measure, a synth enters and ends going flat at the end. This phrase can be clearly seen on #3.
#2 adds the flattening effect by using chromatics on the left hand harmony whereas #1 strays off into an original phrase and similarly tapers off.

On the 9th measure, things get rowdy as the percussion, bass (can't be heard in MIDI), background synth (ambience), and loud synth-y trumpets (just blasting chords, softer in MIDI) come in (the first scale tinkling down thing is still there, unmodified!).

  • The bass I'll skip since I can't play it on the flute anyways :P but in all seriousness, they seem consistent.
  • The synth chords can be seen on #3 again (yay for easy mode) and 2nd piano left hand on #2. The two phrases also match.
  • As seen on the right hand of 1st piano on #2, the new synth-ambience-like progression (almost inverse to the tinkling down part) is present. #2 does show what seems like a plausible translation, but that part is again, a background noise (both on MIDI and WAV). #2 makes it too clear-cut (it's a piano), so maybe it should at least have slur over the whole thing. What should be more dominant is the continuation of the scale phrase from the beginning (right hand 2nd piano #2). #1 and 4 keeps this.

Now let's get to the real deal (lol).
-Transition 1-
Lovely game-like newage/oriental touhou classic progression is here. (Measure 17. Numbers get a little off now, Koge's #1 being 1 measure behind (16) because it went in a bit early on the previous part, DMBN's #2 on 13 due to repeat signs (but essentially still 17) )

In order, it's #1,2,3,4.
Let's look at the differences.
At first glance, #1,2,3 start the same, whereas #4 starts low (the first note). As for which one reflects the original among these (the middle D# or the low D#), you can't really say one... In both the MIDI and WAV, the main melody before this is played by a different instrument. Because this phrase is played by a completely different instrument (in WAV, something like a string/synth) with no real relative pitch value to compare with it, it's unjust to say #4 is right or wrong. But of course, it's probably more correct to say #1,2,3 is closer to the original (just going by the ear).
That's just something minor though. Let's look at the next issue.

If you look at the progression by the first and last note pairs of each measures, 
#1: D#~F# ->( up )  G#~C# ->(down) G~Bb ->(up) C
#2: D#~F# ->( up )  G#~C# ->(down) G~Bb ->(up) C
#3: D#~F# ->(down) F~G# ->(down) G~Bb ->(up) C
#4: D#~F# ->( up )  G#~F  ->( up )  G~Bb ->(up) C
['up's and 'down's as in pitch rose/fell, and #4 changed to sharps for easy read]

If you hear these separately (and depend on your previous knowledge of how the original goes... meaning don't go back to open the original and carefully listen to it!), you'll have no clue what's right or wrong, since they all sound right!
The correct answer (correct as in faithful to the original) is #1 and #2 (in fact those 2 are the EXACT same!)
As you can see, #4 constantly brings the phrases up and up, making it seem like its reaching a grander climax. This can certainly make the music more grand, but it actually is not what the original does.
#3 constantly brings it down, so it's even less exciting than the original. In fact, the 2nd measure of this phrase  turn out to be the harmony part of the original (compare with #1 and 2), and not the main melody.

So pitch wise, Koge and DMBN got it matched to ZUN's.
Boo for the unkown dude and Alioth for getting it wrong! (I know, Alioth's is an original arrangement).

Yeah, but about that....
It turns out none of these are completely correct. :v
In music, there's pitch. Then there's also rhythm.
If you look careeefully, #1,2,3 all share the same rhythm.... but wait, #4 is a bit different.
First, take out the slur, since that's purely subjective.
(D#. D#,F,F# and D# (D#),F,F# can be the same, it's like not tonguing the second D#, and doesn't detract the piece from anything. I will say the original does have the emphasis on the second D#, so strictly speaking, you shouldn't slur it).

But even if you take out the slur for #4, the rhythm of the first measure is still different from the rest. It's more syncopated (the first three being a triplet-like syncopation). If you sing it along, #4 sounds less natural and 1,2,3 might sound better. But if you now listen to the original carefully... yup, it's #4. Really, when you sing along to the song without knowing it, it's much more natural to sing in the rhythm of #1,2, and 3. The authors of those sheet probably didn't notice that either, but ZUN actually put in this really un-matching and unnatural little twist (like a hiccup) to the rhythm there. The rest of the measure goes back to the familar triplet-like rhythm of [one-and-a-half, one-and-a-half, one].
He says, " If you listen closely, there are many strange rhythms in this song", and usually we think the funky beat and everything in the background with off-beat harmonies are what he means, but this might be one example most people failed to notice.

So the correct way to play this phrase is with the notes of #1 and 2, but the first measure with a rhythm of #4 without the slurs.

OK, on to the last measure of this thing. Here's one of the majestic rift runs. Obviously the easy mode (#3) doesn't have anything on it.
#4 has the most practical (in terms of play-ability) one, with simple 16th notes going down a chromatic scale. So that's 16 notes in that rift. Listen to the original--there's DEFINITELY way more than 16 notes. If you need the easy way out though, I think this will do. Again, it's hard to discern if it's right or wrong from the original (you need to concentrate hard to notice that there's more than 16 notes in that rift listening to the original, and even then, it's only a gut feeling), but this doesn't seem to reach the low notes you hear in the original either.

#1 kicks it up a notch and has 23-notes. Pretty uneven. That's really unlikely unless someone really puts it in there for that sole purpose of making it weird (which actually might fit the premise of this piece). It also starts on a non-C (which is what we end with from the previous part). The scale itself is also very exotic and might not match the piece too much. Of course, it doesn't matter how "right on" a run has to be if it's this fast in such a piece, but it still sounds there may be more notes than 23 of them in the original. [This is purely a guess, at this point, I have no idea]

#2 has 32nd notes. This one's probably the right one. Hey, it's chromatic too. Sometimes I just wanna take the simpler ones.... lol (note, the rift does sound a bit un-chromatic at the end though, either because it's a synth or maybe it is really not chromatic, which then MIGHT put #1 above #2 for being more correct)

Well, I might continue this later, but as you can see, this song is pretty intense ._.
If I get too lazy and don't post a continuation of this long thing, don't be disappointed D:

Anyways, signing off~

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