Have you ever found yourself humming a tune from a video game you can’t put down?  Have you ever played a video game just to hear its soundtrack?  You’re not alone, my friend.  Video game music is one of the newest art forms to the world of media.  While film soundtracks win Oscars and Grammys, video game soundtracks are beginning to earn an acclaim all their own.

A passion for the creativity behind video game music has led a large community of musicians to come together to appreciate this music with the highest form of respect– the remix.  The OverClocked ReMix community takes the full history of video game music, from Atari to PS3, and reshapes it of their own inspiration.  What is this phenomenon of fan-based video game remixing?  What is OverClocked ReMix?  We sat down with the artists behind the OCremix craze to hear about it in their own words…

What is OverClocked ReMix?

David W. Lloyd (djpretzel): Well, we’ve got our standard blurb on our website, but basically, we’re a community of video game music fans who express our appreciation by remixing/arranging classic and modern game music and making those mixes available freely.

Larry Oji (Liontamer): Part and parcel with that basic goal is that we encourage creative interpretation of the original game music into any and all genres and styles. Everything submitted to the site is peer reviewed for creativity and quality, so we pride ourselves as a great source of free music for anyone, gamers and casual music fans alike.

How long has the OC ReMix website been online?

djpretzel: We started off in early December of 1999, so almost 9 years.  Which is like… 81 years old in “Internet years.”

What got you involved in creating video game soundtrack remixes?

djpretzel: I always loved VGM, even way back with the Colecovision and C64.  When our family got a Sega Master System, though, that’s when I started actually tape recording the music and playing it back and what not.  In 1999, I was involved in the emulation scene, doing a comic strip about it, and decided to branch out and also do video game mixes, plus post other people’s mixes.  It was a great way to learn about music & improve my skills while at the same time contributing/interacting with the emulation/retrogaming scene.  Since then, it’s taken on a life of its own, but the site’s roots are in the emulation community and my own desire to make music.

What do video game remixes mean to you?

djpretzel: They mean a way to channel and express my creativity, nostalgia, love & respect for video games and video game music, and desire to challenge myself and others.  It’s a really unique form, one that we’ve clarified and cultivated by revising our standards and implementing a judges panel.  Sometimes people think we take things too seriously, which I’m sure we’re guilty of from time to time, but honestly, that’s part of our whole point – video game music DESERVES to be taken seriously, and just throwing up Bubble Bobble music with drum loops sloppily added on top wouldn’t convey that respect.

Larry Oji: Nostalgia is definitely one thing, but I’ve heard so many great OC ReMixes from games I’ve never played, so nostalgia isn’t the only thing. There’s just a bunch of great video game music out there with great hooks from games I’ve never played. And the ReMixing community comes through with skilled, creative takes on those themes in a variety of genres. Game remixes not only educate fans on the strength and flexibility of game music compositions, they open people’s minds to genres they may not normally listen to. As a snapshot, the 25 most recent mixes on our front page include rock, electronica, orchestral, metal, jazz, trip-hop, ambient, hip-hop, and waltz. There’s even a mix in the style of a funeral dirge. And even though our front page constantly evolves with new mixes, that snapshot represents the variety the community offers.

You recently worked on the soundtrack for Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (which, by the way, offers 1080p high def resolution!) – how did you approach working on a project for such a legendary franchise?

djpretzel: One step at a time… after we got over the initial head rush of being involved with an actual Street Fighter game, we worked with Capcom to break the task down into components.  They looked at Blood on the Asphalt, a Street Fighter II album OCR released, as well as individual mixes on OCR, and basically picked tracks they thought would work.  It was then a matter of contacting original artists and getting them to make edits (and alternate, higher tempo versions) as needed for in-game usage.  There were a few blanks that needed to be filled in, where Capcom didn’t think any existing material was appropriate, and in those cases we did stuff from scratch. AE and Prozax put together a kicking alternate cut of the Ken theme for the title screen and menus, and AE actually did several other tracks as well.  José the Bronx Rican did all but two of the character endings, which was a lot of work.  A few other artists, including myself, fellow soundtrack director Shael Riley and assistant director Malcos, chipped in with stuff, too.  In the end, when you put it all together, it shaped into a diverse but cohesive remixed SF2 soundtrack that I think folks will dig

At ocremix.org, has soundtrack remixing opened up doors for original game music production careers?

Larry Oji: Hopefully the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix soundtrack will open the door to the careers of everyone who contributed to it. As the other assistant soundtrack director for HD Remix, I really couldn’t think of anything better than working on game music soundtracks day in, day out with the talent we have. I maintain an industry recognition page on OCR with information on ReMixers who’ve done professional game work, and look forward to that growing even further. Several of our staff, past and present, have gotten into game music on a professional level specifically thanks to OC ReMix sparking their interest in game music and encouraging them to become better musicians. Dain Olsen (a.k.a. Beatdrop) won a 2007 contest to earn a spot on Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA 2 with his original track “Until Forever,” which was also used for DDR Universe 2. Now, DDR Universe 3 is on the horizon and he’ll be creating new material for that, so his relationship with Konami is continuing nicely. Jillian Goldin (a.k.a pixietricks) is an amazing musician and vocalist, and, last year, her vocals were featured in 2K Games’ Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword. Meanwhile, current staff Jimmy Hinson (a.k.a. Big Giant Circles) and Andrew Aversa (a.k.a. zircon) both have some potential game soundtrack stuff in the works that everyone involved hopes will come through, so keep an eye on those guys as well.

What are your own personal favorite remixes that you’ve created?

djpretzel: There’s some part of me that always feels that my latest ReMix is my best; I think it’s just because it’s freshest in my mind, and I’m glad to finally be finished with it, as lately they’ve been taking a long time to complete.  My most recent mix is a waltz arrangement from Doom II entitled “Red Waltz“; it took quite awhile to get the lead cello part just right. That being said, my “Short Skirts” Tifa piece from Final Fantasy VII: Voices of the Lifestream and my Sonic the Hedgehog “Love Hurts” funk arrangement are two pieces I’m proud of; I still listen to them and come up empty in terms of things that I’d change after the fact, which is rare!

Larry Oji: I don’t make music, but I’ve somehow weaseled my way into 2 OC ReMixes so far. [laughs] I’ve got a vocal cameo in a Donkey Kong Country remix by my friend Jesse Taub (a.k.a. Vigilante). It’s called “Funky Monkey Love,” and it’s as goofy as it sounds. Check that out from our free album Kong in Concert, along with Jesse’s Valentine’s Day version on ocremix.org. On the more serious side, I also contributed some minor arrangement ideas and a spoken word section for a great Final Fantasy VII tribute mix by friends Big Giant Circles and zircon. That’s called “Adrenalyne Kyck” from our Voices of the Lifestream album, and my part quotes the game’s director referencing the most pivotal moment in that game, so check it out!

What are some of your favorite remixes from the OverClocked ReMix community?

djpretzel: Harmony’s “Dragon Song” from Secret of Mana is an absolute masterpiece; Star Salzman’s “Pillar of Salt” Xenogears mix and Disco Dan’s “Triforce Majeure” Zelda 3 mix are equally resplendent.  Those are three tracks that most folks can agree on, but honestly, there’s dozens more like them, and hundreds that while perhaps not as universally acclaimed will speak to different listeners more.  I’m big on musical diversity, and I feel like OCR does an excellent job in that arena.

Larry Oji: The funny thing is that Dave’s examples mirror a bit of what game titles and franchises are the most popular in our community, but he’s right about the community’s music offering diversity on many levels. As far as my personal favorites, it’s gets murky once I go past a top 2, but I have about 60 OC ReMixes so far that are in my absolute upper echelon. My two favorites are both from under-remixed soundtracks. Hazama’s “Reminiscence (Deep Sleep)” from Suikoden II is a haunting piano piece that sounds like it’s being played underwater, while ktriton & Christian Pacaud’s “Static Wonderland” from Tsugunai is some of the best, most eclectic jazz arrangement that I’ve ever heard on the site. I encourage anyone to check out our free torrents, grab everything we have in a few clicks and find your favorites. With more than 100 hours’ worth of music posted so far, there’s plenty of opportunity to find hundreds of great tracks.

What technology do you use to produce your remixes?

djpretzel: Well, it’s important to note that different artists on OCR compose/produce differently.  Some play live instruments solo or in a band, some enter everything by mouse into a computer, note by note, and some (like myself) sorta do a combination – we play keyboards (musical, not QWERTY) to record parts into a computer, and then layer those parts, instrument by instrument, to form a complete composition.  The core piece of software involved is called a “sequencer,” which allows for recording, editing, and playback of musical information in MIDI format.  Modern sequencers also allow recorded audio – say, vocals, for instance – to be added in and synchronized, in addition to supporting effects and other audio editing capabilities.  These more advanced sequencers that also support audio, effects, and a variety of plugins are called Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs.  There are a lot of DAW software packages out there, but some of the most popular are FruityLoops Studio, Cubase, Sonar, Reason, Pro Tools, and Live.  They range pretty widely in terms of features and cost, but all of them will let you produce professional music.  I myself have been using Cubase for a long time and find it very intuitive, but FL Studio has a huge following on OCR due to its lower cost, and Reason is a great starter package because it’s also relatively inexpensive and comes with a lot of sounds and effects built in.  We let community members specify what instruments/software they use in their forum profiles, and you can see who uses what and get some valuable tips as well at http://www.ocremix.org/remixing/.

Aside from that, what gadgets/technology can you not live without?

djpretzel: My fiancée got me hooked on Gmail and Google Docs, and they’ve become invaluable tools in staying connected and organized and collaborating on projects with site staff.  I’ve recently fallen in love with my PSP as I’ve been traveling more, and find Crush to be one of the best puzzle games ever created; it reminds me of playing Chip’s Challenge on the Lynx way back when, only better.  I do software development both for work and as a hobby, and am a huge fan of VMWare for virtualization and Eclipse for Java/PHP/XSLT/etc. coding.  I’ve finally upgraded my phone to an LG Voyager and started using that as my primary portable MP3 player, and that’s worked out well for long commutes into DC.  Finally, it’s not exactly “can’t live without” territory, but I just recently bought my first handheld recorder (a Zoom H2 – very handy) and my first camcorder (Canon Vixia HF100), and have been playing around with those a bit.  I like gadgets & gear, but I always feel like I want to research thoroughly before actually buying something, so these latest purchases were a long time coming.

Larry Oji: I live on the net, pretty immersed in what we’re doing with OC ReMix, so I’m a huge fan of web analytics software and blog search engines. Google Analytics and BlogPulse are my two favorite resources on the interweb. I always want to keep tabs on what people are saying about our community’s music, thank fans for spreading the word and being supportive and also step in if I see any misconceptions about our site. The latter doesn’t happen too often, but whenever I see someone say OCR is mainly a “techno” music site, I’m on it. I’ll never live without my Sega Dreamcast either. I don’t even have time to play much on it, but I’m never giving it away! That’s the retro gamer in me.

Last, in your opinion, what is the best video game soundtrack of all time?

Larry Oji: [Laughs] You can’t do that! There are more than 8,000 original game soundtracks out there, and that’s just the ones that have been formally released. As much as I love Tim Follin, Yack Watanabe, Koji Kondo and David Wise, and even though the whole Street Fighter II series had amazing stage themes, I’m gonna go with Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for Streets of Rage. Masato Nakamura’s Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack was a great example of what the Genesis’s Yamaha YM2612 sound chip was capable of when people first started working with it. But Streets of Rage did Sonic one better with the Caribbean influenced material Koshiro came up with. That soundtrack in particular sounded like nothing else I’d encountered in games.

djpretzel: I can only pick one??  I’m going to be predictable and say Chrono Trigger – at the moment.  Ask me tomorrow, though, and it’ll be something else – there’s tons of great music out there, you just need to listen with an open mind!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Larry and djpreztel.  GearCravers, if you’re a musically inclined lover of video game music, you’ll find the OCremix.org community will give you a warm welcome.  If you’re just a fan of good music, you’ll enjoy the remix albums put together by the talented community at OverClocked Remix.  Thanks for reading!

Update– be sure to check out the Soul Calibur IV giveaway available to GearCrave and OCremix members!