Many of you probably read Ian’s post about how “it always comes back to Castlevania II: Simons Quest” some months ago. If you haven’t, here’s a link! Ian talks about the influence of the music from that game on him. As you know by now, I’m his twin brother so you can bet I had the same experience!
The piece we chose to record for this project comes from the end of the game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Unbeknownst to the Bassett Bros. as children, there are three different endings of the game. Which ending you get depends on how well you did the time it took for you to beat the game. When Ian and I finally beat this insanely tough game as children, we got the mid-level ending, where Simon saved the day but succumbed to his wounds after the battle with Dracula. Combined with the Requiem music, I always thought that this was THE ending of the game. A story where the hero sacrifices everything for the sake of humanity - while this haunting baroque inspired piece plays in the background. I always imagined Simon kneeling by Dracula’s grave and falling over when the music came to an end. High drama, if you ask me!
Arranging the piece
Way back in 2008 or so, I arranged Requiem for 3 classical guitars, but I never played it with anyone. I basically transcribed each of the midi tracks and used the notation program Finale to make the music readable for guitar.
Fast forward to 2021, I read Ian’s post and thought that the Music Joynt boyz should give this a shot! I originally thought we could try an acoustic version with Russ playing steel string guitar while the Bassett Bros. played their nylon stringed classical guitars. When Russ visited San Diego a few months back, we gave the song a read through - actually…like 40 read throughs (see the blooper videos we posted) - and I dug how the piece sounded on electric guitars, so we collectively decided to go with that arrangement instead of the acoustic version.
Each of us recorded separately in our own studios and Russ engineered the final product. We decided just to record at 50 bpm rather than making a tempo map or drum track beforehand to record to. I used my new Nueral DSP Soldano plug-in for guitar distortion and recorded directly into pro-tools. The guitar I used was the Matt Heafy signature I modified with Fishman Fluence Modern Pickups (in the top pickup position) to get the creamy distortion I was looking for. My unbalanced 1/4” out standard guitar cable was plugged into the Apogee Element, a FireWire interface that allows me to record directly onto my mac. This is in contrast to mic’ing an amplifier then feeding it through a mixer; a technique that many traditional recordings might use.
Russ was at the helm for all of the editing and mixing again for this project. He used Fruity Loops as his main DAW. That’s a different DAW than what I record in (Pro-Tools) so I had to bounce an .AIFF file of my finished guitar track and he uploaded it to his working Fruity Loops project. Ian did the same for his guitar track. Russ used a combination of plug-ins and reverbs to refine the relatively dry tracks we sent him. (Our guitars had distortion only).
Not using a tempo map or drum track proved to make for a tricky mixing/editing experience for Russ. You see, apparently not all metronomes are created equal. Also, when you play “pretty” in time, and your partners play “pretty” in time, the slight inconsistencies add up to larger ones if you didn’t play “off-time” in the same manner! Once Russ did some skillful editing to match us up more correctly, it was on to figuring out what sounds to add the mix to make this project unique.
Reverb: the guitars needed to sound a little bit wet and atmospheric to get the cathedral type sound I wanted for the requiem style setting. At first I added some reverb (using Altiverb plug-ins) but Russ suggested I send him a dry track so he could mix the reverbs to be consistent. This is always a good idea!
MIDI: Russ had the great idea of mixing his guitar part, which essentially provided the harmonic grounding, with a midi harpsichord sound. When combined with his actually guitar playing, the midi harpsichord created a new blended sounding instrument that sounds weirdly electronic and acoustic at the same time!
We all collectively also thought that we wanted to make a nod to the original 8-bit video game origins of the music. To keep that vibe we used the punchy 8-bit sounds of the drums, rather than using a plug in for studio drums like we did for the Punch-out theme.
Finishing the Audio
One of the toughest parts of mixing is deciding what parts should be the the most prominent and which parts are more textural. Ian had the main melody, so he jazzed up the guitar style ala Marty Friedman so the line would be most recognizable. I played my part more simply so it wouldn’t step on what he was doing. We pumped Ian’s guitar part highest in the mix, and mixed my part just below his, since the second guitar provides interesting counterpoint to the main melody. Russ’s guitar (Guitar 3) was definitely driving the harmony, so it was mixed lower but thickened up with the harpsichord tone as I mentioned earlier. Overall I think the mix turned out pretty good!
In keeping with the somber, formal theme of a funeral requiem, we decided to dress a bit more formally and shoot our videos in black and white. This is easily accomplished with my camera of choice: My iPhone 12!
Once Ian got all the videos collected, he yanked some graphics from the game and cut the video to the audio track using Adobe premiere. We all thought that this video should be less kinetic and energetic than the Punch Out video, given the subject matter and overall vibe, so the editing style is pretty minimalistic.
The End…or is it?
I hope you all enjoy our take on the Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Requiem. It was awesome to revisit this arrangement after so many years. I really dig how it turned out, which makes me still want to see how this would fare classical/acoustic guitars!! Who knows - Maybe you’ll get an alternate version the future? As long as Dracula returns from the dead to plague humanity with his evil, we will continue to…uh…play music!