I've always wanted to push my VGM acapella recordings further, and nothing raises the bar higher than "Dancing Mad" from Final Fantasy 6. Famed Final Fantasy composer, Nobuo Uematsu was once asked what his inspiration for writing Dancing Mad was, and he said he "just kept on writing, and writing, and writing" or something to that effect. I guess I could say the same thing with this acapella recording.
Final Fantasy VI "Dancing Mad" Acapella
Performed by The String Player Gamer
Arranged by Diwa de Leon
Original music by Nobuo Uematsu
I so wanted to hear how Dancing Mad would sound as acapella. So I did a test recording of the first section, and kept recording, and recording... you know where this is going.
I stuck to the original version which is almost 18 minutes long. At first glance, recording 18 minutes of acapella is intimidating, but it was a matter of planning. I could already feel my vocal cords strain just by thinking about it.
After listening in detail, it's easy to identify 4 distinct sections lasting around 4 minutes each. Each section also loops twice or thrice. Thanks to today's digital music tools, I only needed to record one loop for each section, and, you guessed it, just copy paste each loop as necessary to splice them together. It may sound like using "cheat codes" for old fashioned recording artists out there, but then again, why should I overexert more effort when the result will be just the same?
Of course, I still had to record my best vocals as much as possible to the maximum level of my skills.
Section 1 0:00 - Difficulty level 3/5
Pretty straight forward with multiple tempos and moods. My high falsettos were pushed as high as possible which is why I also transposed my version a step lower than the original. The challenge for this section is actually the first few notes as it sets the tone of the entire piece. I picked up some floor tom rolls from the Black Mages version but aside from that, everything else is based on the original SNES version.
Section 2 4:30 - Difficulty level 3/5
The starting rhythmic quarter notes have a very diabolical atmosphere so I made sure that I captured that as well. The section is as straightforward as it goes except by the end when it changes to a mini fugue. That short fugue required some very precise running notes and a sense of subtlety. But that was only a taste of what was to come.
Section 3 8:11 - Difficulty level 5/5
The third section is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the entire piece. But it's also the most difficult to record. The entire section is in fugue form, a type of keyboard music common during the Baroque era.
Running notes for keyboards are almost effortless to pull off and is one of the characteristics of keyboard instruments such as the piano, organ and harpsichord. But to pull this off with voice requires a bit of vocal acrobatics, with lots of jumping note intervals.
It was definitely challenging but not impossible. And obviously this took the longest to record, requiring lots of retakes, endurance and patience. Being a trained classical musician with a degree in composition, I totally knew all about fugues; the structure, how they work and how the notes fit each other so I had a bit of an advantage.
Section 4 11:33 - Diffculty level 4/5
The climax of the piece begins with a slow, heavy build up of quartal chords, giving it a sound of discomfort and confusion.
Followed by the fast part, with a lot of varying time signature changes. The most challenging part of this is actually the drum and snare as it requires a lot of irregular counting with almost nothing to hold on to except the bass part. There is also a part with running quartal notes, this part, while effortless for a keyboard is almost impossible for a natural voice which I why I resorted to digital layering.
The final slow part was a bit more difficult to record than I expected because the long notes required me to save my breath a lot. And finally, that laugh cameo just had to make it!
And that's it. It was quite a musical journey for me but I learned a lot and I'm totally satisfied with the final outcome after a week's worth of recording.
TL;DR If you're lazy to read, bottomline is: The piece was hard, but I did my best and endured, and that I'm happy with the result.
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