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Taking It All The Way Down To The Root: Tree Of Knowledge (Review)

May 4, 2011 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook Taking It All The Way Down To The Root: Tree Of Knowledge (Review)on Twitter

To make an arrangement is not an easy feat. The challenges of not only doing the source justice with the proper amount of recognizable motifs and cues, but also showcase your own sound and originality puts the pressures on the artist’s talent and tools and turns the extra critical eye on things from the listeners. But what is even harder is to create a tribute to tip the hat to a whole genre, creating a sound and melodic landscape that sounds appropriate and true that is made with the free nature and uninhibited imagination of the composer. That is exactly what surasshu and coda set out to do with their new co-produced Eroge tribute album; Tree Of Knowledge.

And yes, I can make any article title sound dirty.

Find out if the album bears fruit after the jump!

Eroge games are in the West virtually an unknown commodity, shrouded in misconceptions and ridicule from the mainstream gamers and often fought by minor watchdog groups. In the US particularly, the game genre of eroge, bishoujo or dating sim, whatever one might call it, has struggled to find an acceptance from gamers due to the perception of adult games as low rent and smut, partly due to the American game industry producing terrible FMV based porn games which failed to impress even the loneliest of sailors with their grainy grannies. The truth is however, that the majority of the best selling Eroge games in Japan do not emphasize on purely erotic imagery, but rather they were used to tell deep storylines to elicit emotions from the players. This was done trough creative writing and detailed illustrations, eventually collecting the games under the term “visual novels.” Perhaps most important to the entire package was the music. More so than any other game genre, in Eroge and visual novels the music was composed directly relating to on screen actions and with a much more visceral tone to help bring forth the intended emotions and feelings connected to the scenes on screen, and gave composers a grueling task of now creating a dynamic soundtrack that was to not only flow properly within itself, but also showcase songs of all intended human emotions, happiness, grief, lust, reminiscence and so on. Visual novels has been the proving ground for many of today’s greatest composers, most famously Ryu Umemoto, arguably the greatest Eroge composer of all time.

Chiptune artists surasshu and coda, who are both very well known for individual works, have decided to get together to create a tribute for this untapped market of possibilities by creating a tribute album that aims to sound like a real soundtrack as if it was a game to be released in the 90s on the Japanese home computer system PC-98, which was an extremely popular system for these kinds of games. The tools they used were Mod Plug, VOPM and Chibitracker in order to create the authentic sound of the PC-98, famous for its warm FM synth sounds. The compositions were split into a healthy mix of individually and co-composed material, with surasshu’s own works often sounding a bit more lighthearted than coda’s darker sound.

Merely composing music with the same sound is not enough to create an authentic tribute, and this is where the duo’s brilliance starts to show. For their music, they have created a faux Eroge game with scenes, characters and motivations. On their website there is even a slideshow feature which will load the appropriate background and character along with the music sample intended specifically for it. This has allowed them to compose for “scenes,” giving the music a rich texture with clear direction and a distinct sound to each song. Appropriately the album goes through a whole range of emotional soundscapes, setting the tone for all the settings that would have been in the game had it been a real one. This well executed concept leads to one of the most interesting chiptune albums in quite some time, aiming at proper melody and emulation of a genre, rather than technical mastery and pushing hardware limits.

The music is very reminiscent of the works of Umemoto, especially the 2 works Eve Burst Error and YU-NO, with the latter being an admitted inspiration by the composers themselves on the website. Tracks such as “Opening: Ancient Tree” showcases some great compositional skills, with a mysterious calm lead in, before kicking into a harder hitting rock melody with wonderful arpeggios and progressive bass along with some intense drum sounds. The perfect intro track, creating a feeling of unease and mystery at the same time as it has a captivating melody which makes the listener gravitate towards it like it would in a real game. Other tracks such as “First Day of School” and “My Schedule” feature more a backdrop style, having more of a young and free spirited attitude in them, while characters themes are more geared towards showcasing personality, “Mariko” having a fast paced and playful pop tune to go along with her bratty personality, while “Chie” has a warmer and more carefree feeling to it with some awesome bass samples throughout. No Eroge soundtrack would be complete with a song dedicated to the dance of the excited horse, and “Making Love” hits all the right spots. You might not be able to tell, but thanks to that track, I am not currently typing with my fingers. Just sayin’. Many of the songs feature a sort of build up and crescendo, leading to sort of a musical climax. Whether or not this is intentional, it is very fitting considering its inspiration.

Ironically, even though the album is not a real soundtrack per se, it acts as the perfect lead in to the genre with a consistent authentic flow, showcasing everything that is so great about Eroge game music while having a light enough background, not to mention that it is without any potentially “offensive” content which allows everyone to enjoy it. Not only in music is the project well thought out, but also the artwork and “in game screenshots” are all done with the utmost respect and consideration, having the 16 color palette and character illustration style which was found in most of the games on the PC-98 market. The artwork was done by Diana Jakobsson and Jordan Chewning. The digital release comes with the artwork in PNG format, while the CD features a fully decorated case and CD. By purchasing the CD, you also get the digital version for immediate download.

It’s a $10 dollar album with a $1,000 dollar sound, with surasshu and coda not only creating a tribute that is worthy of the talents of Ryu Umemoto, but comes closely to being as good as his works. It goes all the way back to the roots, and manages to find its place perfectly along with the soundtracks of the era that has sadly passed by. For fans of PC-98 sound, the album is a must have. For potential newcomers, it is the perfect gateway into the vast land of Eroge music.

Get it on: BandCamp

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