Happy March to everyone in the ChipWINation! For this month’s Stokin’ the Forge, I have the sublime pleasure of reviewing Hon’in Myo Audio’s recently released album, ‘Traveler’.
‘Traveler’ is easily one of the most atmospherically engrossing works of art I have experienced since I began writing for Chiptunes=WIN. If you consider yourself anything of a music lover, just head on over to Honin Myo Audio’s bandcamp page and enjoy it.
Hon’in Myo Audio (a.k.a. Tom Miller) dedicated the album to his mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, taking the title from one of Ikeda’s many poems, ‘Springing From the Earth‘. As he did with his previous album ‘Tale of the Rat King‘, Mr. Miller used the VRC6 soundchip and Famitracker to build the album. As said in his own Bandcamp description, the goal Tom set for himself for this album was to make as many musical textures as he could, and to layer those textures into complex arrangements that produced an orchestral sound harnessing the flavor from the music of games of old.Picking four tracks to look at in depth from this release was a difficult task, as even the forty-five second long track ‘Prologue’ has stimulating depth to it. These tracks are my favorites, and I encourage you to pick their own in the aftermath.
Within the first sixty seconds of ‘To Start Is Easy’, Tom deftly demonstrates his rich musical competence. The theme is extremely well done, invoking memories of the openings of classic games such as the original Final Fantasy. The instruments built for the track are so warm and full that it is shocking that they’re coming from just the 2A03 and VRC6 chips. That amazing insturmentation is enhanced even further by how it’s blended, layered and paced. Altogether, it is a splendid illustration of the “orchestral construction” Mr. Miller was striving for.
That illustration is fleshed out gorgeously as the second half of the track introduces
a delicious Middle Eastern flavor to the mix, subtly reminiscent of
the music found in Chapter 4 of Dragon Quest 4. This movement introduces the right amount of tension and energy into the mix to have the music really sink into your memory before elegantly fading into silence.
‘Traveler’ continuesthe skillful demonstration by providing a wide range of themes that use hints of a classic game soundtrack to build into something that I would expect to hear when attending a professionally produced piece of musical theater.
While its first few notes are dreamy, floating in hopefully, the slightly trailing flutes set a pensive tone. As drums and trumpets join in, and their energy increases, a palpable tension builds in the track. That tension solidifies at 1:45
as the trumpets come to the forefront, sounding as if they’re heralding confrontation. As a whole the theme here becomes standoffish, as if the two lead actors are staring one another down, teeth gritted and lips curled, waiting for the other to make the first move.
The showdown resolves with an atypical softness at 2:15. As satisfying as explosive resolution is to the ear, the downright diplomatic outcome found here is a very pleasant surprise. With the track drawing down to near-silence, that initial bubbling dreaminess returns hopefully. The tension attempts to re-assert itself briefly, but is driven off as the trumpets return with their drive and hope.
‘Turbulence’, while short, is a quality example of sound being able to paint a complex scene. The focus on the lower end of the scale immediately sets a tense mood. The play between the smooth drawn out sounds in the background and the sharp attacking instruments in the foreground convey a sense of determination in the face of danger. At 30 seconds in, a series of potent sounds that echo away in silence add a storm to the picture. The following brief reintroduction of Middle Eastern themes takes us someplace familiar, perhaps a revisit of an earlier location in a story.
As the track hints ever so slightly at looping, it bends the balance back toward classic game soundtracks. It invokes a warm wave of nostalgia, as I would enjoy romping through a few levels of a Metroidvania adventure with music of this caliber in the background.
‘On The Way To Wherever’, available as a bonus track, is the combined work of Mr. Miller and one Fredrik Häthén. It breaks away from the rest of the album as a purely orchestral track, but serves as a gorgeous endcap to the listening experience.
It immediately wakes the ears right back up with its triumphant combination of strings and horns. From there, with a soft cymbal crash, the theme turns reminiscent. Warm violins and nostalgic harps come together to build music that would fit nicely along a credit roll that fades to black.
In closing, I can only reiterate what a wonderful work of art ‘Traveler’ is. If any of the above tracks gave your listening bones a friendly tickle, pop on over to Bandcamp and enjoy the rest of the album. If you think its even half as good as I do, I highly encourage you to either buy a copy or support his Patreon so Mr. Miller can keep creating the good stuff.
Now get out there, spread the love, and make some chip!