A new year has begun and with it another MAGFest down in National Harbor, Maryland. This was my second year attending the annual Music and Game Festival. There’s always a ton of things to do, from attending panels to rocking out at the concerts. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover from the trip and gather my thoughts, it’s time for a recap of some of what I experienced at MAGFest 12.
Most of the panels I attended were focused on music. The first of these was the “Write Your Own Nintendo Music,” hosted by Brendan “Inverse Phase” Becker. His talk focused on the tools that he uses for creating 8-bit/chiptune tracks for his music projects. He explained the methods in which music on the Gameboy and Nintendo Entertainment System was generated and what the musical and technological limitations for each were. Since this year’s MAGFest was Zelda themed, he included a demonstration of 8-bit music writing by reconstructing the “Dungeon Theme” from The Legend of Zelda.
Brenden “Inverse Phase” Becker
Two of the other music panels that I attended were hosted by game composer Tommy Tallarico. He’s probably best known for his soundtracks for Earthworm Jim and his work as the head of Video Games Live. The first panel “Video Games Live: Behind the Scenes” focused on his work with the orchestra program that he tours with around the world. Tallarico spent a majority of the time telling the audience stories about his experiences performing videogame music and revealed some of his upcoming arrangements for the orchestra. Two in particular that caught my eye were arrangements of music from Nier and Shadow of the Colossus. The second panel “Creating Audio for the 8 & 16-bit Generation” featured Tallarico talking about his experiences with writing music for the Game Boy, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. He also told some stories about working on the Earthworm Jim games and the process of getting the soundtracks onto both the Genesis and SNES. It was interesting to hear how he was able to find ways to get high quality sounds and music into the games, despite the technological and time limitations that he had to deal with. Both of these panels were informative and entertaining.
Of course one of the big draws of MAGFest is the concerts. This year I ended up attending quite a few performances. The first of these was the new experiment known as the MAGProm. Many people came to the event wearing suits and prom gowns, to dance to the music of two very different bands. The first of these was Love Cannon, a group that specializes in bluegrass covers of 80s tunes. Their covers that evening included “Africa” by Toto, “Take On Me” by A-ha, and the “Main Theme” from Beverly Hills Cop. While it’s not what you would expect for a videogame music festival, it was a well performed set that everyone seemed to enjoy. Even though I’m not a huge bluegrass fan, I found myself dancing along with everyone else to the classic 80s hits. I don’t know where MAGFest found these guys, but I hope they bring Love Canon back for future events. The following act for MAGProm was The OneUps to play their jazz/rock covers of videogame music. Pieces in their line-up included music from Super Mario Kart, Battletoads, and Tetris. The performance drew just as big of a crowd as Love Canon, and it was nice to get some game tunes in the mix for this first annual MAGProm. The MAGProm was overall a huge success and hopefully this experiment will become a permanent feature of MAGFest.
Love Cannon at MAGFest 12
One of the other acts that I managed to catch was Danimal Cannon, who entertained us with his one-man performance on electric guitar, while being accompanied by his own set of chip-music. Later that day I attended the Super Guitar Brothers concert. This guitar duo was one of my favorite groups at this year’s festival. In keeping with the Zelda theme this year, the Super Guitar Brothers treated the audience to a medley of themes from Ocarina of Time. Pieces included the “Title Theme,” “Kaepora Gaebora’s Theme,” “Hyrule Main Theme,” and of course “Gerudo Valley.”
Super Guitar Brothers
The final two concerts I saw this year where very different both in terms of style and material. The first of these was the Triforce Quartet, who performed on Stage 2 this year. As Brenna already covered in her recap, there were a good number of medleys from popular game series, such as Zelda and Mario. I especially enjoyed their Zelda medley, which included some of my favorite music from Skyward Sword. It was nice to see a classical music group performing at MAGFest and to see the room filled to capacity, with more people still trying to get in. The quartet has proved immensely popular, so hopefully next year they can get a spot on the bigger Main Stage venue.
Last but not least was Machinae Supremacy for their first MAGFest performance and their first US performance. For this concert they stuck to their own original music, rather than performing music from any of the game soundtracks they have worked on. I’m sure there was a good reason for this, but it would have been nice to hear some game tunes, given the venue. A few people including myself noticed some sound issues at this concert. For whatever reason, the bass levels in the mix were really high, which rendered most of the synthesizer elements inaudible. A real shame, considering that it’s one of the key elements to the band’s sound. Despite this, everyone seemed to enjoy the concert. Hopefully next time they will be able to throw some more videogame pieces into the performance roster and get some better sound balance for their audio mix.
Machinae Supremacy performs their first US concert
What I experienced at MAGFest was only a fraction what was available at the event. There were tons of things at MAGFest that I didn’t get to check out, but what I did see was excellent and it was a ton of fun. For those of you that missed out, a handful of the panels and concerts were recorded and have been uploaded to Youtube, so be sure to seek those out. From what I’ve heard, the organizers at MAGFest are looking at trying to get every concert and panel recorded when they hold the festival again next year. That will give more people the chance to check out the crazy fun that MAGFest provides. If you have any favorite moments from MAGFest 12, feel free to let us know in the comments section.Tags: Bluegrass, Chiptune, Danimal Cannon, Features, Game Music, Inverse Phase, Love Canon, Machinae Supremacy, MAGFest, MAGFest 12, Super Guitar Bros, The OneUps, Tommy Tallarico, Triforce Quartet, Videogames