In the year 20XX… Classical music has made a resurgence in the form of 8bit Mega Man-style stage themes!
Lol. Hi everyone, my name’s Chris, one of the three musicians belonging to the Chips ’N Cellos music group. After three and a half years of FamiTracker grinding, I recently completed a “fake” NES Mega Man OST that contains chiptune arrangements of famous classical music pieces. We’ve called it Compose Man, and it’s downloadable for free on our Bandcamp profile. Here’s a brief history and some insights about the project and how it all came together. Enjoy!
Where’d This Crazy Idea Come From?
There were a few distinct inspirations behind Compose Man.
I need to start with the obvious: I’m a huge Mega Man fan and have always wanted to create my own Mega Man-style tunes. When we were kids, my brother Steve (another Chips ‘N Cellos member) and I used to record OG Mega Man OSTs on cassette tape, play back the songs for inspiration, then try to “write” our own using natural instruments, otherwise known as vocal cords! I’m also so fond of all the original Mega Man music that’s been posted on YouTube by other fans of the franchise over the years. I couldn’t wait to contribute to the scene myself. Aside from offering up original music though, I wanted to challenge myself to remix existing classical and pop music that I always thought would sound interesting in Mega Man-style.
My wife Jess (the third member of Chips ‘N Cellos) is a classically-trained cellist, so focusing on classical music remixes was a priority for our group out of the gate. The original plan for Compose Man was to strive for even MORE uniqueness and mesh together 8bit melodies with live cello harmonies. We started experimenting with this combo by first remixing Greensleeves, but I ended up over-indexing on publishing chips-only versions and ended up just running with that format. We’d still like to one day add in cello arrangements to all the classical pieces we completed 2A03 versions of.
After remixing a handful of pieces, it dawned on me that we could organize an entire collection of 8bit classical themes that would resemble an NES Mega Man OST. For example, it was hard to choose just one Beethoven or Mozart piece to cover, so our solution was to remix multiple pieces as “fortress” stage themes! Once Beethoven and Mozart “Man” were locked into the plan, the rest of the project took shape.
Staying committed to finishing a project like Compose Man was also a great way for me to learn FamiTracker, a program I had yearned to master for a long time! When I first started writing 8bit music, I realized I needed time to study existing files, gain knowledge of how instruments worked in tandem with one another, and improve my ability to use effects. Remixing classical music in Mega Man-style–i.e. examining sheet music or piano tutorials and crafting 8bit versions frame by frame using FamiTracker’s tool set–proved to be fantastic practice. Finishing Compose Man was important from a creative perspective, but I also had a lot of parallel motivation to push my command of the software as far as it could go!
Did You Have Collaborators?
Cosmic Gem (via Threxx, TSSF, etc.) provided an initial Famitracker instrument pack for me, and I partnered with Valo and TacticalBacon for the majority of the project’s artwork and sprites. Clint Edwards, a friend and fellow composer, aided us on the cello arrangements for the few chip + cello remixes we were able to complete. Jess of course provided the live cello performances, while I handled the FamiTracking. My brother Steve provided many stamps of approval on final arrangements. A big thank you to all of these fine humans for the contributions they made to this project!
Talk About that Artwork
What Mega Man tribute would be complete without original Robot Master artwork?! Again, I was inspired by the many Mega Man fan games and fan art produced over the years. If they could create unique characters for their projects, perhaps I could develop futuristic robot versions of composers to add a little extra flair to the project.
TacticalBacon designed the first Master (Henry VIII Man) for us in early 2019, but his availability was limited and I wanted to seek out another artist to handle the bulk of the designs. Enter: Valo. I think he’s one of the best Inafune-style illustrators out there today, and he was up for the challenge of designing the full suite of characters for Compose Man.
Together, he and I would collaborate on a robot composer’s initial concept. For some, like Rossini Man (the William Tell Overture always conjures up imagery of speed for me) and Bologne Man (he was a composer AND a real-life fencer), I would make a pitch and he would take that idea to the finish line. For others, he would reference a composer’s headshot painting and skillfully bring a 20XX version to life. Valo did an amazing job, and this project wouldn’t be the same without his illustrations. He also outdid himself on the incredible album cover!
How Did You Track the Project?
I stuck with 0CC FamiTracker and Cosmic Gem’s instrument pack. As mentioned, I referenced classical piano sheet music to aid the conversion process. When no sheet music was available, YouTube’s playback speed tool was my best friend (see: Mendelssohn Woman’s piece).
I aimed to convert the best, most notable portions of classical compositions (usually within the Allegros) into one-minute Mega Man-style loops. Tracking an entire 40-minute symphony would be really badass, but let’s face it, it would take forever and I’m not immortal! I found that the most memorable portions of the pieces I chose were 1-3 minutes long anyway, so they fit into the Mega Man-style mold nicely.
Choosing tempos wasn’t difficult– this is Mega Man-style rock and roll, baby! Regarding time signature, I did take the creative liberty to convert portions of classical pieces that weren’t already in a 4/4 rock beat to fit the mold (again, see Mendelssohn Woman). Some of the arrangements required some note “shaving” to sound smooth in a 4/4 structure. For example, the verses of de Senneville’s Marriage D’Amour were condensed a bit. Bologne’s No. 9 Op. 8 Concerto had a couple moments in the Allegro that I elected to remove. The end result needed to SOUND like Mega Man music (even if it was originally written in the 1700’s).
How Did You Choose the Composers?
Beyond Beethoven and Mozart’s pieces, I wanted to track a collection of music that contained recognizable movements and lesser-known compositions. I also simply wanted to remix pieces that I have always loved, like Satie’s Gymnopedie, Coates’ By the Sleepy Lagoon, and Jenkins’ Palladio. In fact, the opening Satie Man motif–inspired of course by Wily 1 from Mega Man 2–was one of the first bits of music I EVER tracked in FamiTracker. The slow, brooding piano of the original sounded so fresh and exciting in a ballsy rock format. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to Mega Man-ize it so much more.
Will This “OST” Be Featured in a Game One Day?
We would love to see and hear this music featured in a fan game one day. Anyone know of a Mega Man-style programmer who’s looking for a new project to develop? We have the sprites, level ideas and story in mind. Let’s do this!
What’s Next for Chips ’N Cellos?
When we started publishing music on YouTube, I had hoped to connect with a few of the Mega Man style composers whom I have come to admire over the years. As luck would have it, many of them now hang out with us in the ABoC Discord server.
If all goes well, I’m looking forward to collaborating with them on future projects, one of which being Compose Man 2. We’ll also continue to write game tracks for KishSquard’s Mega Man Arena brawler game. Original chip + cello music is also on the way.
Beyond that, we’re always willing to collaborate with other artists on new music at any time. We’re here to love music and share in its infinite inspiration. Won’t you join us?
Feel free to keep up with us on YouTube, Twitter, Soundcloud, or Discord. Drop into our Discord and say hello every once in a while. We’d love to meet you and listen to your work.
Discord Permalink: https://discord.gg/kUa7Prc
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and listen to our music. Take care, and see you online!