Plugins, VSTs and Things

I thought I’d put together a list of the main programs and plugins I use to make music, accompanied by a brief comment/review! If there’s anyone out there looking to make their own music, I hope this list comes in handy. I’ll add to list in the future to include other things, but feel free to leave a comment if you’d like me to go into more detail about anything.

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DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) – FL Studio

Official Site

Basically, this is the program I use to make the backing tracks to all of my recordings (I then export the backing track and record my live performances into Audacity, a free program). I use the Fruity Edition, which is the cheapest version. It’s missing a few features, such as audio editing and the Soundfont Player (which you have to buy separately, unless you want to go with a free version), but it has enough features to do what it needs to do.

It also comes with a generous free trial – you can use everything for an unlimited period of time, but you can’t open up projects after you save them. Before I bought it, I actually would use the free trial and finish off all my backing tracks in a single go…

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Free VSTs

  • Old Music Box [DSK]

Official Site

As the name implies, this is an old music box. It has one job, and it does that job well, adding atmosphere to any track. It doesn’t have any of the bells and whistles you’d find in other plugins, but that makes it simple to use. I used it in Clockwork Mermaid, as well as in a couple of other tracks.

  • Redtron [Artifake Labs]

Official Site

This is a synthesised Mellotron, a type of old keyboardy type of instrument. It has a very distinctive sound. If you’ve listened to the Beatles, particularly Strawberry Fields Forever, you’d recognise its sound. It’s pretty easy to use, and it comes with a bunch of different sounds as well, including violins, flutes, (I think) a choir, and more. Like the above instrument, it’s quite atmospheric. I used it in Forgotten to add in a bit of spookiness…

  • Firebird [Tone2]

Official Site

Formerly a paid VST, the developers have made this one free since it’s now ‘vintage.’ It’s a type of synthesiser, but it has a bit of a different sound to regular synthesisers. It has a bunch of different customisation options, allowing you to create the type of sound that you really want to hear. I didn’t really end up using it much, but it could be the perfect VST for someone out there.

  • Asian DreamZ [DSK]

Official Site

This is by the same people who made the Old Music Box. As the name suggests, it includes a bunch of Asian instruments including the erhu(!). The sound quality is quite good for a free instrument, and it even has a few customisation options. I had a lot of fun using its percussion and erhu in Spellbound Stone.

  • Super Spook Keys [Simple-Media]

Official Site

This is a recreation of the theremin, an electronic instrument used a lot in sci-fi movies and TV shows. It’s quite cool, and has a lot of different customisation options, so it’s worth a look if you’d like to work on something futuristic. I haven’t used it much yet, but maybe I will someday…?

  • Nintendo VST [Matt Montag]

Official Site

I was out looking for a proper NES/chiptune VST the other week, and I stumbled across this one. It’s easy to use, and simulates the traditional triangle and square waves. You also get a rich range of customisation options. A recent experiment with it is I Can Be Your (Hero).

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Premium VSTs

  • Friedlander Violin and Blakus Cello [Embertone]

Official Site

These are some of my most favourite paid virtual instruments. Basically, the people at Embertone meticulously sampled 4 stringed instruments and put them together into 4 separate bundles. I only have 2 at the moment. The instruments themselves sound great when used as a regular solo instrument, but they absolutely shine when it comes to the extra effects like pizzicato and tremolo. They do a lot of the heavy lifting in my arrangements, and were the stars of my 4th album, Mastermind.They’re quite difficult to program, which is one of the reasons why I love the extra sounds so much, but it seems like they’re quite easy to use if you have a keyboard plugged in (which I don’t…)

The staff are really friendly, and they offer a generous education discount, too – just email them a copy of your student card. As a side note, their instruments require either the full version of Kontakt (quite pricey) or the free Kontakt Player. I think all of the strings can be used with the free Kontakt Player, so there’s nothing to worry about!

  • The Steinway Walnut Grand [Imperfect Samples]

Official Site

This is another heavy lifter in my collection. Unlike other virtual pianos, this one captures the rawness of the piano sound, rather than focusing on getting a pristine sound. I think that gives it a lot of charm, and I like it a lot! It comes with its own free player, but can also be used with the full version of Kontakt if I remember correctly. It has a lot of different settings, too, and changes completely depending on the velocity of the note. Kind of like a real piano…

My only complaint is that sometimes the sound gets a bit muffled and choppy if you have too many notes playing at the same time. Other than that, it’s a great virtual piano, especially if you’ve previously stuck with generic soundfont pianos like me. I used it a lot in Mastermind (the track, as well as the album), as well as in Barrier Breaker (the track).

  • AAS Session Bundle [Applied Acoustics Systems]

Official Site

I found out about this bundle when I was out looking for a proper virtual synthesiser. I actually had a look on RD’s website and saw that he uses it, so I decided to give it a go! This bundle includes three instruments: the Lounge Lizard electric piano, the Strum Session guitar, and (most importantly) the Ultra Analog Session synthesiser. They’re all really easy to use, and they give you a lot of different customisation options. I haven’t used them much yet, but that will all change when I release my next album…! They’re quite cheap, and you get a lot of value for your money.

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That’s all for now. I probably sound too positive, but I’m honestly really happy with my current range of virtual instruments, and haven’t really encountered any problems with any of them.

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Second Anniversary – My Top 10 Composers

And so, my blog has reached the ripe old age of 2 years. I had a pretty busy year offline, and managed to finish my final year of postgraduate study, which involved writing a really, really long minor thesis. As a result, I wasn’t able to translate as much as I wanted to, but I still got some stuff done. I also released more albums, including the first Len’en arrangement album, and there are more albums to come…!

Like last time, I want to take this opportunity to say thanks to all the people who have supported me throughout the last year. That includes everyone who has requested translations, commented on my posts/videos, downloaded my albums, and inspired me to do my best. There’s too many people to list fully here, but you know who you are! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Now, back to business – last year I wrote a list talking about my top 10 Touhou circles. I was thinking about how to follow on from that, and I decided to go for an unconventional list completely unrelated to Touhou. Since I am, after all, a music student at heart, I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite composers, along with one or two pieces by them. Most don’t fit under the label of ‘classical music,’ but under the broader category of ‘art music.’ There are a lot of hidden gems out there, so I want to try and share them around! Each has a little blurb talking about how I first encountered the composer/piece, and perhaps some interesting facts about the composer/piece. I’ve also attached videos, taken from a variety of different artists.

Like always, leave a comment if you like them or have your own favourite composer you’d like to share – I’m always on the lookout for more good music to listen to!

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10. Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

a) Arabesque no. 1, from Deux arabesques (1888-1891)

Performed by: Stephen Malinowski

I was first introduced to this piece in my final year of high school, during a music class. We were discussing the different ways in which you can write about how music affects you, and a guest teacher played this for us on the piano in a variety of different styles. I remember the majority of the class said that it made them think of the ocean, and fair enough, it has that sort of a feel to it. I thought about it and realised that this piece makes me think of an oasis. It’s as if someone’s travelling through a desert, seeking a mirage in the distance that they’ll never reach. It’s a bit of a dark interpretation…

b) La fille aux cheveux de lin [The Girl With the Flaxen Hair] (1910)

Performed by: Lang Lang

When I was studying music at university, a friend of mine chose this piece as one of their end-of-year recital pieces, so it has a special place in my heart. The first few notes of the melody, which if I recall correctly spell out a major 7th chord, are captivating, and they draw you right in. I feel like it has an innocent, almost childlike quality to it; I guess that’s appropriate, given the title.

The version I’ve got here is performed by Lang Lang, who’s basically a superstar in the piano world.

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9. Erik Satie (1866-1925)

a) Lent et douloureux from Gymnopédies (1888-)

Performed by: Daniel Varsano

This piece has an especially important place in my heart, since it formed the basis of my first mashup, which is really the source of everything I’m doing now. I don’t think that I’d be exaggerating if I said that this is Satie’s most popular work – you can find it in a whole lot of places, even in video games!

I found out the other day that I’ve been pronouncing the title incorrectly my whole life. It’s meant to be pronounced ‘gym-nop-eddy.’ I’ve been pronoincing it ‘gym-no-pea-d’ this whole time…

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8. Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

a) Étude Op. 10, No. 3 [‘Tristesse’] (1832)

Performed by: Valentina Lisitsa

I won’t lie – I was first introduced to the music of Chopin through a certain game called Eternal Sonata, released in 2007. The main character is Chopin, and it’s basically a JRPG with historical facts about Chopin thrown in there for good measure. I enjoyed the game, but it was Chopin’s music that really stood out.

The common name of this particular piece means ‘sadness,’ but I can sense a few moments of hope throughout. I almost feel like it’s more nostalgic that anything else – you’re looking back over the past, and that’s the reason why you’re sad.

[Writing this makes me realise that it’s been almost 10 years since I played Eternal Sonata. Perhaps I should go back and replay it…]

b) Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 [‘Heroic] (1842)

Performed by: Evgeny Kissin

I first heard this in Eternal Sonata, too. The name was given to it by Chopin’s lover, George Sand/Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, and it really lives up to it. It always makes me feel a little more inspired and motivated each time I listen to it. This piece is a polonaise, which is a Polish dance with its own distinctive rhythmic pattern. I’d love to arrange a Touhou theme in that style one day…! On an unrelated note, I’m also fond of Chopin because he was Polish, and I also have Polish ancestry (even though I can’t speak the language and haven’t been there before…).

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7. Percy Grainger (1882-1961)

a) Lincolnshire Posy – I. Lisbon (1937)

Performed by: The North Texas Wind Symphony

Unlike the other composers I have on this list, Grainger is Australian. I’ve been exposed to his music through playing it with the concert band I’m a member of. He wrote great music for concert bands! In particular, he likes to split the band up into brass and woodwinds, and make one get louder while the other gets softer. It’s quite unique. He also hated Italian terms, so most of his scores have English performance markings – it’s not odd to see stuff like ‘clingingly,’ and ‘to the fore’ written on your part.

This particular piece is the first movement of a series of folk songs that he arranged. A ‘posy’ is a bunch of wildflowers, which is an apt description for the work.

b) Irish Tune from County Derry (1911)

Performed by: The Dallas Wind Symphony

I played this piece with my concert band, too. Grainger wrote some really good music for concert band, and his main instrument was the saxophone. Like the other piece, this is based on a folk song – in this case, it’s ‘Danny Boy.’ Grainger was an early pioneer of music recording (bear in mind that he was alive over 100 years ago). He had a recording machine, and he liked to go around and record people singing folk songs into these little cylinders. He’d write them out, and apparently he’d write them out exactly as he heard them. So if someone coughed, he’d simulate that in the music. Likewise, if they sang out of time, the arrangement would also have weird time signatures. You don’t really see that in this one, though…

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6. Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

a) Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity, from ‘The Planets’ (1914)

Performed by: The Chicago Symphony Orchestra

I don’t remember how I first came across this, but I guess ‘The Planets’ is pretty well-known. ‘Mars’ in particular gets used in a lot of films and TV shows… Either way, I like Jupiter the most. Like the next piece, it has an adventurous feel to it, but it also feels noble. I guess that’s only appropriate, since Jupiter’s the largest planet in the solar system. I don’t think Holst ended up writing a movement for Pluto, and this was written before Pluto was demoted. Poor Pluto, always being left out of things…

b) St Paul’s Suite, I. Jig (1913)

Performed by: The City of London Sinfonia

I don’t have a sentimental story this time. I think I had to analyse this piece for an assignment at university, but I ended up really enjoying it. The first movement has such an adventurous spirit to it! I feel like I’m about to set off on a really important voyage!

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5. Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

a) Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (1862)

Performed by: André Laplante

This piece is an example of program music – it’s intended to describe a short section of ‘Faust’ by Nikolaus Lenau. He wrote a few different versions, but this piano arrangement sounds quite challenging. Well, Liszt was renowned for writing a lot of really hard music for the piano. He also played all of his works in public, and was quite the rock star – he was known for leaving behind a trail of broken pianos, and some of his fans fainted while they were watching him. Ironically enough, it was performers like Liszt who helped piano makers further refine the instrument, making it stronger and contributing to the pianos we use today.

b) Liebesträume (Dreams of Love) No. 3

Performed by: Daniel Barenboim

If you’re a fan of Pandora’s Tower, you’ll recognise this piece – it’s used as the game’s main musical theme. Unlike with Chopin, I discovered this piece before I played the game. I think it was played at a lecture or something like that…

Anyway, the melody is beautifully crafted. It’s nostalgic, poignant, full of melancholy at times… it has a bit of everything, really. It also demonstrates Liszt’s versatility when listened to alongside the above piece.

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4. Luciano Berio (1925-2003)

a) Sinfonia, Mvt. 3 (1968)

Performed by: The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Berio is one of the more recent composers on my list – he only died in 2003. Either way, his works are renowned for their experimental nature. He was particularly involved in electronic music, too. The piece I’ve chosen here is one that I heard at a lecture whilst studying music, and it defies all explanation. Movement 3 is my favourite. Basically, it’s a mishmash of (1968) pop culture references, references to well-known pieces, and random talking. Come on, how can you not love a piece in which the singers themselves are instructed to tell the orchestra to “keep going!”? I love the craftsmanship that went into this.

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3. Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

a) Symphony #5 (1937)

Performed by: The New York Philharmonic Orchestra

I was introduced to this work in my final year of high school – we had to talk about a small section of it as preparation for our final exam. Shostakovich ended up writing a lot of symphonies: last time I checked, he managed to write about 15 of them. This one stands out, probably because it was the first one I listened to, but it’s also really dramatic. The opening is probably one of the best openings to any piece of music I’ve ever heard.

This is the sort of piece you have to sit down and actively listen to. It’s quite the experience.

b) Piano Sonata #1 – 24 Preludes, #18 (1933)

Performed by: Evgeny Soifertis

This is only short, but it’s so charming! I had to arrange this for a small ensemble during my music studies, and it was a lot of fun. I managed to get quite a high mark on it, too! Shostakovich wrote a lot of music for piano, mainly preludes and fugues, so they’re worth looking into if you like piano music. Most of them are quite dark, but there are some lighter ones scattered in there, too.

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2. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

a) The Firebird – Infernal Dance of King Kastchei (1910)

Performed by: The Vienna Philharmonic

This ballet is basically the work that pushed Stravinsky into fame and fortune. It helped him transition from relative obscurity to a globally renowned superstar – perhaps the last composer to truly define an era. It also marked his first time collaborating with the Ballets Russes, a ballet company who would collaborate with him for later works including The Rite of Spring.

The movement I chose from this, as its name implies, is the theme of the ballet’s ‘bad guy.’ It certainly has that final boss feeling to it, and probably wouldn’t sound out of place in a modern video game. When he gets creative, Stravinsky does all sorts of weird things with time signatures, which is one of the things I like the most about his works. It’s particularly evident in the Rite of Spring, which I highly recommend, too!

If you’re interested in what this section looks like in the original ballet, feel free to check out this video (performed by the Kirov Ballet).

b) ‘Chinese March’ from ‘The Nightingale’ (1914)

Performed by: The Philharmonia Orchestra

This is a section from ‘The Nightingale,’ a lesser-known opera by Stravinsky. As a whole, the plot deals with themes such as nature vs. machinery. The titular nightingale is captured and made to sing for an imperial emperor, but it loses its position in favour of a mechanical bird. Humans aren’t the only ones losing their jobs because of machines…

This particular section was composed with the intention of making it as ‘Chinese’ as possible, a style of music called ‘chinoiserie.’ It ends up being a bit cliché as a result – like, come on, pentatonic scales can be used to refer to any country in that region, including Japan and Korea. Either way, I think it’s charming. The rest of the opera is quite nice, too – the ‘Song of the Nightingale’ is particularly haunting and beautiful.

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1. Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Putting together this list made me realise that most of my favourite composers belong to the Romantic period… This brings me to Sergei Rachmaninoff who, in my opinion, is the king of Romantic music.

a) Piano Concerto #2 (1901)

Performed by: Nobuyuki Tsujii, an amazing Japanese pianist, at the BBC Proms

I don’t have any words to express how much I love this piece, and how much it means to me. I first learned about it when I watched Nodame Cantabile in 2010, but since then I’ve tracked down a bunch of different recordings, played it during some significant points in my life, and it’s taken on a life of its own for me. I was actually lucky enough to hear a student at my university play this whole thing live during a recital preparation class. Their performance was so passionate they managed to break a string on the piano…

Anyway, for me, this piece is a prime example of the word ‘romance’ in all of its various meanings. It takes you on a journey. For some reason, I think of a desert whenever I listen to this. Like… you’re struggling on through a desert, and every now and then there are just these oases of musical goodness. I guess it’s a fitting piece to end this list – the first one reminded me of a desert, too. Maybe I just associate music with deserts and oases too much… >_>

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And that’s it for another list! If you read this far, thank you. Here’s to another year of translations and music! I wonder if I’ll make another list next year…

1st Anniversary – My Top 10 Circles

So… today marks exactly one year since I posted my first translation – a translation of Shinra-Bansho’s wonderful Doppel. In the time since then, I managed to basically spam translations, release two albums, and I’ve discovered a whole bunch of new circles/bands along the way. It’s been a wild ride! So, before I do anything else, I just want to say thanks to everyone who’s requested translations, or has commented on/liked the stuff that I’ve posted, both here and on Youtube. I really appreciate it! Thanks for making this an exciting and worthwhile year.

Anyway, I thought I’d make a list. I was particularly inspired by Shion’s list, so I thought I’d try and write one of my own! I’m doing things a bit differently, though – rather than choosing my top 15 arrangements, I decided to choose my top 10 circles, and choose my two favourite tracks from their entire discography [along with some special mentions, since it’s so hard to pick just two tracks]. My circle choices are probably really safe/obvious, so don’t judge me too harshly… (I might make another list focusing on more obscure circles, but I’ll leave that for another time). I’ve added Youtube links to subtitled videos where possible.

Of course, this list is all based on my own opinions. One of the things I love the most about the Touhou community is how many different types of arrangers and arrangements there are out there! Feel free to comment if you like the same circles/like different arrangements/think I’ve made a dreadful mistake/anything else.

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10. t=NODE/Secret Messenger

a) Four Seasons
From 四季 -春- Dream of Wonder [C78]

I combined the two circles since t=NODE kind of ‘became’ Secret Messenger (and my favourite t=NODE tracks are by Yuy anyway – but watch out for the surprise appearances of RD in early t=NODE albums!). Putting that aside, what I love about Yuy’s arrangements is how they’re all stories. You could almost call them ‘tone poems.’ This one in particular embodies a kaleidoscope of different emotions, starting off in nostalgia, moving to fear and anxiety, before calming down and finishing on a more hopeful note. It’s almost 9 minutes long, but I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a listen.

b) 永遠 || Eternity
From 夢空歌姫 ~ Fantasy of the princess wings [C82]

This one’s a Secret Messenger track, and a vocal arrangement to contrast with my #1 pick. I like this one because you can tell a lot of thought has gone into the arrangement. Yuy only uses a few instruments to accompany the vocals, but they all work together. The electronic beats/percussion in particular are very effective – you could say that about all of Yuy’s tracks, I guess. Writing this up reminded me that I wanted to translate this song…

Honourable mentions: Flagilis Justitia [another haunting Kagome Kagome arrangement to go with the one above], Memoria, Disaster, In the garden of phantasmagoria.

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9. monochrome-coat

a) LINK
From ID [C85]

Thunderclouds of Magical Power, along with Magical Storm, make up my two favourite themes from Double Dealing Character. And, of course, they’re criminally overlooked by arrangers… >_> Anyway, RAT1959 has a way of creating a lot of ‘space’ in his arrangements. I just imagine I’m flying through a snow-covered mountain range whilst listening to this arrangement. RAT1959 also gets IZNA in a way that few other arrangers do, except for maybe NSY and (more recently) Eiji Hijikata (土方 英司).

b) Rewrite
From 東方PARTYBOX [C88]

Another arrangement by RAT1959. I actually thought it was by Shrimp to start off with. Anyway, this arrangement has a lot of ‘space’ too. That’s especially appropriate, given that this track is an arrangement of ‘The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space.’ I guess only time will tell, but for now, this is definitely my favourite arrangement of that theme. I like the guitar work in this arrangement, especially the shredding (or whatever it is) that goes on before the verses. I also love the melody of the verses, even though it isn’t based on the original theme!

Honourable mentions: WhiteRequiem, ミステリートレインに乗って, Laninamivir, oblivion, 696, Daybreak Fantasy, カナシミカナタ, Needle Word.

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8. Hatsunetsumiko’s

a) クハシヤの廃園 || The Kasha’s Abandoned Garden
From Alkaloid [C85]

Yeah, I know everyone loves disco Hatsunetsumiko’s, and I love them too, but I still fondly remember the days when their arrangements were more subdued… Anyway, I love this one because it plays out like a sort of dark children’s song. It has a sort of ‘abandoned carnival’ feel to it. The vocals are also really effective – it feels like Chen-U crafts each syllable, which works with the lyrics to cement the song’s macabre atmosphere. It’s really effective!

b) Satellite Rendezvous
From Girls in the Mirror [C88]

I had trouble deciding which disco track I should put here, but I decided on this one – it’s not often that you find a Touhou vocal arrangement that doesn’t actually have lyrics. Vivienne scats the whole time, and it’s so fresh and lively!

Honourable mentions: Girls in the Mirror, drifter, DANCE with WOLVES, A Prayer, It’s You, Innocent World, Libertus, Origin of Love, Treasure, Drifter, C2U.

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7. Liz Triangle

a) World of Electrolytes
From laglange point [ARTS1]

Before this song came out, I was starving for good arrangements of ‘Blue Sea of 53 Minutes.’ But after listening to this one, I don’t think I need to listen to another one (okay, that’s not really true, since I like Butaotome’s version, too!). Anyway, the arrangement is typical of kaztora’s Liz Triangle style – lily-an’s vocals mixed with a backdrop of traditional and chiptune-style instruments. And azuki’s lyrics do what azuki’s lyrics do. I don’t think there’s a better trio in the entire Touhou community.

b) Line
From reunion [C81]

Reunion was actually my first Liz Triangle album, and this song was the song that made me fall in love with them. I had no idea what it was about until I translated it, but (again) azuki’s lyrics do what azuki’s lyrics do. You wouldn’t think that an arrangement of Futo’s theme using the bit at the start as the chorus would work, but kaztora makes it work. He makes it work really well.

Honourable mentions: L50, Immortal Philosophy, 地球儀の旅, refrain, Little Dreamer.

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6. Shibayan Records

a) Fall In The Dark
From Mágico Catástrofe [C83]

I think Mágico Catástrofe will always be my favourite Shibayan album, no matter what else he comes out with. The other vocal tracks from this album are so good, but Fall In the Dark stands out – partially because it’s an arrangement of ‘A Soul as Red as a Ground Cherry,’ and I always need more of them. The chorus is also really catchy! Sing after me: “One, two, three, time to fall into the dark!”

b) オズネイ・ハマンはもういらない || I Don’t Need Any Oznei Haman Anymore
From ムソウマテリアライズ [M3-28]

There are lots of awesome tracks from Shibayan’s noise period, but for some reason I really like this one. I only have a vague idea of what an Oznei Haman is, but if I ever eat one, you can bet that I’ll be singing this song in my head the whole time. Using food as a metaphor for love isn’t something you see all the time, but it makes this song really powerful – can it actually make you feel hungry by listening to it? Possibly.

Honourable mentions: Clockup Flowers, MyonMyonMyonMyonMyonMyon!, Desert Years, GAZE IT!, 荊の城, わたしはこねこ.

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5. Diao ye zong

a) 葬迎 || Burial Meeting
From 屠 (Hohuri) [C86]

Try as I might, I can’t quite pin down what I love so much about this song. It isn’t even an arrangement of a Touhou theme, unless you count the last part (where we get a few short sections of ‘Legend of Hourai’). Maybe it’s the build-up? The whole song flows organically, and I love how RD adds in different instruments (and takes them away) to effortlessly control the song’s tension and release. Merami oversteps her vocal range a little when she sings 人間遊びを始めよう at one of the song’s many climaxes, but I don’t even mind. It’s so visceral. And don’t get me started on the lyrics! I think RD just… ‘gets’ Merami. She sings for so many different circles, but I think he’s one of the only arrangers who uses her to her full potential.

b) 捧げられたイメェジ || With an Expression of Sacrifice
From 薦 (Susume) [C85]

I love Erik Satie’s Gymnoipedies. I never expected to see them mashed up with a Touhou theme that isn’t Nitori’s theme. But somehow, RD makes it work. Circus Reverie is definitely on my list of favourite tracks from ZUN’s music CDs… and of course nobody ever arranges it. I think RD’s made about three arrangements of this theme, but only the instrumental one uses the main ‘melody’ [the one with the octave leaps in the piano]. I think that’s a bit of a shame since it’s my favourite part of the theme, but oh well. As you’d expect from RD, the lyrics are powerful and… somewhat demented, I suppose? They really fit well with the ‘unhealing’ theme of Dolls of Pseudo Paradise. I’d like to make an unhealing arrangement of Circus Reverie one day, too…

Honourable mentions: The Anonymous, (I’m gonna eat you up!), はじまりのワイゲルト, Tied Corruption, Mad Party, Sanae, げんきになったときのうた, Lonely Monster in the Desolation #0, Lost Dream・Generations, she’s purity, ←ALIVE.

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4. Sally

a) Plaza Ashitaka Mondo + Soon
From Bachi [C85] and Less [C86]

I’m bending my rules a bit and putting two tracks here. So it’s kind of a top 3, rather than a top two… Anyway, I love both of these tracks dearly, and in my opinion they’re some of the best that Sally has produced. Ashitaka Mondo’s there because it’s just amazing. Listening to it is like looking into a future landscape full of hope. Or something like that. It’s one of the only arrangements of Pristine Beat that I really enjoy, and Ranko’s totally in her element here. Soon’s there because I think it demonstrates just how much IZNA’s grown as a vocalist. I didn’t like her much to begin with, but now I can’t imagine Sally without her.

b) plaza Blue age
From Sadomasochism [C81]

Toyosatomimi no Miko is my ‘mascot’ of sorts, so I had to put in at least one arrangement of her theme! It’s full of power, the lyrics are meaningful, and I love the little rapping bit in the middle (it’s kind of like a precursor to what we’d see later in Plaza roboscape). NSY makes the most of the melodic sparseness of the original theme. By the way, I like the original version better than the redone ‘Plaza blue Rage.’ I think the extra sound clarity somehow hurts the ambience of the track, and the rapping part in the middle is missing.

Honourable mentions: Basically everything else… And let’s not forget about Min. Everyone loves Min.

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3. Machikado-Mapoze

a) Дешантрапа
From 舞踏会のドスコナウォシチ [C83]

Fully instrumental circles are under-represented on my list, but Machikado-Mapoze is one of the best (which is why I was so unhappy when they disbanded earlier in the year…). Over the years, they released a bunch of wonderful classical arrangements – unlike some other orchestral circles, Machikado-Mapoze’s classical arrangements strictly follow the forms of their genres, which stretch from baroque suites to tangos to waltzes. There’s honestly something in there for everyone. Anyway, why do I like this arrangement so much? I think it’s the atmosphere. When I listen to it, I think of Renko x Merry on an old steam train, journeying through icy mountains. The flute effects are really cool (listen out for the train whistle!) and the harmonies are wonderful.

b) グリニッジ高空舞踏会場にて || When a Dance Party was Held in the Sky Over Greenwich, a.k.a. The Catcher in Greenwich
From The Catcher in Greenwich [2010] and けーね先生の音楽教室 [C85]

I love this one for pretty much the same reason as the first track. I’m not even that fond of the recorder, but it works so well as a member of a larger ensemble! When I listen to this one, I think of Renko x Merry riding on a larger, ricketier steam train, dancing in comically large pairs of shoes. This one has two versions – I like the second one slightly more because it features the clarinet…

Honourable mentions: La java de verdure, The Hagoromo Legend of Tango, Seija’s Reversal, Cannibalistic Tango, Cantata ‘Let’s go to School!’, Summer-Coloured Crystals, La critica, ‘Shadow in the Sun’ for Recorder Consort and Piano,

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2. Butaotome

a) うたかた || Transient
From 少女煉獄 第三巻 [C88]

A recent addition. But from the moment I heard this track in the crossfade, I knew it would become one of my favourites. It’s mainly because of the chanted section. It’s a wonderfully inventive arrangement moment from Comp, and Ranko’s lyrics fit in beautifully. It also references Mokou’s dialogue with the player in Imperishable Night, which itself is a reference to an older work of literature. Basically, it’s really well-thought out, and I love it for that.

b) 非科学的表裏一体 || An Unscientific Symbiosis
From ありきたりな脳髄よ、今宵の月と踊れ [C87]

This makes it in because of the timpani. I always find myself tapping my feet along with it… Anyway, it’s basically everything I’d want from an arrangement of ‘Boys and Girls of a Science Era’ – there’s so few of them out there. It’s more laid-back than your average Butaotome arrangement, which I suppose demonstrates just how versatile they are as a circle.

Honourable mentions: 私家版 百鬼夜行絵巻 (Privately Published Night Parade Scroll), 残された星 (The Star That Was Left Behind), サーカスのナイフ投げ (The Knife Thrower of the Circus, Alone), 逆転の世界 (Turnabout World), 巡る業 (Returning Karma), Y, ない。 (Nothing.), 真っ黒な雪 (Pitch Black Snow), 夢紀行 (Dream Travel Journal), 響縁 (Echoed Bonds).

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1. Shinra-Bansho

a) Good Bye RAISE
From その日私は空を見上げた [RTS12]

If you’ve been paying attention to my Shinra-Bansho translations, you probably already know that I have an unhealthy obsession with azuki’s lyrics. I just love how he throws scientific concepts, religion, fairytales, and basically everything else together and comes out with lyrics that get at the core of human existence. This track is no exception – it’s a wonderful arrangement of Rigid Paradise, dealing with themes of death, the afterlife, and rebirth. There’s one particular part that I love:

“Continuing on towards death is a sign of living.
My heart aches – it’s proof of my existence.”

The song could have ended on a tragic note, but it rises above that and ends full of hope.

b) 蛙楽 -パレード編- || The Cries of Frogs -Parade Version-
From Doppel [ARTS1]

It was a tough to choose between this one and anjir, but this won out by the smallest margin. To this day, I still have no idea what was going through kaztora’s mind when he wrote the lyrics to this song, and I guess that’s one of the things that attracts me to it so much. The arrangement’s a lot heavier than the original version sung by Merami – it’s kind of like looking at the mirror and seeing a demented face smiling back at you. Mie does such a great job at giving this arrangement character, demonstrating versatility rivaling that of Merami herself. Overall, it relishes in its weirdness, and I love it for that.

Honourable Mentions: Basically everything else, but especially anjir! I love anjir! Also, I didn’t include the musicals because that would be a bit unfair, but they’re excellent, too. My personal favourite is their most recent one, その日私は空を見上げた || On That Day, I Looked Up at the Sky.

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So, that’s the end of my list (yet another massive wall of text)! Here’s to another year of translation spam. If you read this far, thank you!