You made it to the cloud level of that NES platforming game you’re playing. It’s a fun mid-game level and not too hard, but the wind does blow you around.
DJ Tent Mode’s Windy new track drops now!
You can download an mp3 of “Stratus Clouds” here.
You can download an NSF of “Stratus Clouds” here.
The NSF is a ROM that will execute on NES hardware, in an NES emulator, or in an NES music player. I like to use GaMBi on my phone.
The Windy Prompt
I wanted to accomplish two things: make a light and breezy tune and try out this Lydian scale I learned about on 8-bit Music Theory’s channel (which I love). “So we’re all on the same the Lydian mode is a major scale with a raised 4th. This sharped fourth scale degree is the characteristic note of the mode.” It’s allegedly the brightest of the modes! Look, I’ve said this before, I’m not super good at the music theory and I just kind of hammer at it in my songs as a way to try new things. So that’s what I did. I treated it like a key.
Windchimes and Cymbals
I started by setting up some new instruments in DefleMask. I wanted to have a windchime timbre in the instrumentation. I’ve talked previously about how DefleMask and the NES lets you define “volume macros” which let you shape the attack, decay, and sustain (but not really the release) of notes, so it’s a simplified ADSR macro. My NES windchimes have a precipitous decay and no sustain.
I think the piece would be interesting in an FM synth context where I could define some instruments that sounded much more complex and they could have some ring down and overlap on the channel without re-triggering the channel every new note which is what the NES does. Ultimately, I’m OK with how the texture of the piece works together with the sustained lead and the very staccato chimes.
The last few months I’ve been using PCM drums for added oomph, but not every NES game or composer used them and I didn’t think that this piece needed the bass that is really helped out by the PCM. I defined a few different noise channel envelopes for cymbals that have different decays and use them as a “swishy” brush on a snare or a light cymbal crash. I think the cymbals and snare work well, but the kick drum noise sounds a bit crunchier than I’d prefer. I ultimately deemphasized the kick drum in the tune anyway because it’s not supposed to be heavy driving piece. It’s supposed to be “Breezy” just like its working title.
The Breezy Melody
The first thing I actually composed was the plucked 16th note background texture. I did that intentionally first so I could shoehorn that F♯ into the piece. So I wrote a few 5 note scales and tried to base the rest of the piece around it. And in general, if I saw an F, I hit that ♯!
I found that 16th notes were too busy, and also too shrill. I actually started two octaves up from where I ended up leaving the windchimes. When I went to write the melody, I cut out every other note. This also made it quieter since your ears aren’t listening to all the changes in the chime channel.
The windchimes also become a bit dissonant at times which is only partially intentional and partially where I’m at skill wise. Having them sound staccato cuts down on the dissonance and doesn’t necessarily add to the key of the song.
The “bouncy” intro came pretty easily, but I had a hard time with the main section of the piece. Something that I’m starting to notice about how my pieces sound vs. some of the classic hits on the NES is that they have less chords, and chords well, they sound good! I have a style or habit that I lean into by using the 2nd channels to arpeggiate some of the key and also to help divide the beat of the piece. This piece ends up sounding almost like a Master System game to me.
The bridge at the end is the part of the piece that works the best and that I’m the most proud of. Again, I think it’s because it has interesting chords that are formed by the two square channels.
If I was to continue developing the ideas in Stratus Clouds, I think I’d make the main “A” verse portion of the piece have more of a chord progression and a bit more complexity. But it’s November 28th and this thing needs to ship so I can write the December song!