Music Review: The String Arcade

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Music has a connective property that can bring two disparate groups together with a common love. In the case of The String Arcade, classical string quartet and video game themes are brought together in a fantastic collection of music.

Originally funded as a Kickstarter project, The String Arcade is a new album that plays with tracks and themes of popular games, from those played on retro arcade cabinets to modern and indie titles. While we don’t regularly review music albums, seeing that The String Arcade focuses squarely on video games, who are we to say no? I was that nerd in school who would walk around with my Walkman cassette player listening to Vivaldi and pantomiming the movements of the symphony conductor. I grew up first loving classical music and eventually came to love modern pop and rock. Mixing classical instruments with video game music is a total win in my book.

Looking over the track list of the album I was excited to see some games I was familiar with, and equally eager to get the chance to listen to music from games I hadn’t played. Grasswalk was one of the first tracks to immediately pique my interest as the iconic theme from Popcap’s whimsical tower defense game, Plants vs. Zombies. There is a slight lumbering approach to the way the bow crosses the strings on the cello which completely encapsulates the off kilter humor of the game. The staccato plucking of strings is perfectly in tune with the sun-power currency that drops during a level. Even the quartet sighing a zombie moan during the track is a nice touch.

I never played Ecco the Dolphin, but the simple fact that the quartet manages to evoke the chirp of a dolphin is pure music-making magic. The track Echos of Ecco is haunting and lovely, and at the same time a bounding adventure that brings a smile to my face. Rhythmic pacing and chirps paint a vivid picture of a dolphin swimming sleekly through the water.

Dance of the Space Bugs immediately grabbed me as well, starting off slow before hitting with a solid punch to the gut of nostalgia as the opening arcade theme is strummed in a joyous melody. The Galaga track doesn’t stop there either, rather the quartet perfectly emulates the hurried rush felt as wave after wave of enemies flood the screen while playing the game. The track is capped by the shrill twirl of the enemy capturing a ship.

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Another classic retro revisit is the Tron Arcade Medley. Mixing a bit of the opening themes from the arcade cabinet (which borrows from Wendy Carlos’ original movie soundtrack) with moments of combat and confrontation with the MCP, this track is another high point.

Lastly, one of my absolute favorites in this album is composer Dren McDonald’s take on Minecraft’s title theme. Minecraft is a game that you get out of it whatever you put into it. Often I find myself toiling away breaking ever deeper into the world only to suddenly realize that part of the reason I have played for so long without even thinking is because of the monotone drone of the simplistic music. McDonald brings a fascinating liveliness to the theme with a slight upbeat tempo that embellishes the music in a way that makes me want to start playing every time I hear the track.

Of course, these are just a few of my personal highlights from the album. Fans of Zelda, Altered Beast and Sonic the Hedgehog will get a chance to listen to wonderful interpretations of music from those games as well. Also appearing on the The String Arcade are variations on tracks from FTL, Scurvy Scallywags, Secret of Monkey Island 2, Portal 2, Pettington Park, Outlaws, Ravenshire Castle, and graBLOX. The songs from Tron Arcade and Altered Beast are bonus tracks you will only get on the physical CD album.

Fans of video game music should not miss out buying The String Arcade. The best thing about this album is that you can tell that everyone involved had an absolute blast composing and performing the music. As a bonus to getting a full complement of gorgeous and fun music, all sales of the album will go toward the Alameda Music Project, a K-5 after school music program offering free instruction to young music students. Clearly this is an album of love.

The String Arcade is available starting today as a digital download for $9.99, as well as a physical CD album for $11.99. The digital version can be purchased from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Loudr. Hit up BandCamp if you would like to purchase the CD version.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.