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synthetic-orchestra-originals-volume-1-review

Synthetic Orchestra: “Originals Volume 1″ (Review)

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So I recently discovered a handy-dandy new label that specializes in getting indie and/or fanmade arrangements of VGM licensed and legally distributed: Joypad Records. They’ve published the music of violinist Lindsey Stirling (see: Skyrim Theme, iTunes) and they’re working with many other musicians to legally release more awesome fantastic VGM arrangements.

One artist in partnership with Joypad is Blake Robinson, who is better known as the one-man crew behind the Synthetic Orchestra. If you check out his covers, they are a variety of vanilla transcription and totally redone arrangements for a variety of classic VGM themes, put to a synth orchestra that’s mighty close to life-like (listen to it through your speakers from a distance while talking to someone else, and you’ll think it’s the real thing: only a close listen on headphones reveals otherwise).

I’ve been listening to Blake’s covers for awhile now, but what really impressed me is that he also has some fantastic original compositions. These compositions, compiled on a simply-titled “Originals Volume 1,” are the subject of the following review. Join me after the jump to learn more!

Synthetic … TRACKLIST! (I get so excited, you should hear how I announce tracklists in my head…)

01 Adventures in your sleep
02 The Mystical Man’s Magical Hat
03 Destructive Nature
04 Sea of Storms
05 At night we get out and play
06 Floating Away
07 What do robots dream?
08 Welcome to the Kingdom
09 Boogie Man’s Reprise
10 Battleaxe
11 A detective’s work is never done
12 Engage Hyperdrive
13 Orchestral Blips
14 The L.G. Detective Agency
15 Cat vs Mouse
16 50ft Machines

Every budding artist needs their own demo reel. But what if your demo reel just covered the whole gamut of music one *might* need for media score, you must be sittin’ pretty.

“Adventures in your sleep” and “The Mystical Man’s Magical Hat” open as a sort of Elfman-esque tribute, with interesting instrumental choices (bari sax, anyone?). Then we get some straight epic music scoring in “Destructive Nature” and “Sea of Storms” — the former being more refined, the latter more adventurous, but both featuring fantastic choral synth. And here, four tracks in, we haven’t even hit 10 minutes. You can cover a lot in a small amount of time. In “Sea of Storms” alone, which is only 75 seconds, there’s that “Pirates of the Caribbean”-style melodic and rhythmic pattern, but by the end it resolves in slow, haunting movements.

But this album isn’t all pure, clean orchestra. “What do robots dream?” has this industrial, crunchy percussion against a swell of strings, and then a melodic pattern forms out of some extremely strange and effect-laden synth.

“Welcome to the Kingdom” is perfectly provincial. It would fit equally well in Fable, Trine, or even “Harry Potter” (in an outdoor, daytime scene, first being introduced to Hogwarts perhaps). It’s a brilliant little track.

But the most brilliant track of all is the shortest. “The L.G. Detective Agency” is a 15 second jingle, but it sounds like something straight out of Gust Sound Team’s Atelier series, especially the past few games (the “Arland” trilogy). I wish Blake would go back and expand upon the theme for this Detective Agency, because it’s just perfect.

The album ends on “50ft Machines,” which opens with a spoken-word clip from the infamous “War of the Worlds” hoax broadcast, describing the heat ray. The track itself is a funky, dance-friendly track with some minor key and dimished chords. There’s even some turntable action. Totally different from much of the rest of the album, speaking to Blake’s ability to diversify.

If or when volume 2 comes along, I’d love more (and longer) works in the style of L.G. Detective Agency and 50ft Machines, just to see what more Blake is capable of not just arranging, but composing. An album like this is a weird release for someone trying to market their talents as an arranger of classic themes. But then, many an artist got their start doing these doujin arrangements and then moving on to originals (zircon and many others in the OCR community can tell you that story). So we’ll see what happens.

How about you, dear reader? Do you prefer Blake’s original tunes, or his cover work? Or do you equally like (or dislike) his whole repertoire? Give us some feedback!

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