Adapted from a conversation I had with a friend of mine.
Slide20xl: Hey, do you have time to listen to a couple of tracks?
A Comrade of mine, a fellow composer: I guess..
Slide20xl: Excellent. Alright, so let me set the stage for you. The year is roughly 2000. [Edit: 1999, to be exact] It’s Sonic’s 10th anniversary - and his first real debut into the third dimension.
Slide20xl: The game is Sonic Adventure - which will be heralded as a general success. It sets some major tropes for the future of the 3D series to come. It’s also a bit of an oddity. Players these days look back upon it as being “good for its time.”
Comrade: I played the game, John. Get to the point.
Slide20xl: (shhh). The level is Speed Highway. You remember it, I’m sure. The dark of a city forever trapped in the night - highways impossibly bent and stretched along the sides of buildings, through the air. Clear signs of construction that is, considering the landscape, entirely unfinished.
Comrade: Christ, John. Hurry up.
Slide20xl: And then there’s the music. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzBW9n313xw. It represents the “new Sonic” that this game establishes - and the new musical language that represents him. The rock infused sentiments. The guitars - which are never before seen, obviously, as the technology couldn’t allow it.
Slide20xl: Fast forward to 10 years later. It’s Sonic’s 20th anniversary.
Slide20xl: The hedgehog has been through some rough times. He’s had some less-than-stellar releases. He’s gone through no fewer than 3 attempts at “rebooting” his franchise. So, in a great bit of fanservice - in an attempt to assuage the rage of the Sonic-loving populace - Sega reintroduces “Classic” Sonic. The game: Sonic Generations. They put Classic Sonic side by side with “Modern” Sonic; The Sonic from the franchise’s first title and the post-Sega-Genesis, post Sega-Dreamcast “Modern” hedgehog revisit the adventures of Sonic’s past. And so, both “Sonics” return to Speed Highway.
Now, musically speaking, each Sonic has a “personality.” The guitars, remember, are a modern innovation - that free-flowing, exuberant style of rock. But before that, we have the sounds that are limited by the hardware - the sound of the Sega Genesis, the Game Gear. (Now, there were the greater musical capabilities of Sonic CD - but, barring the invention of Amy and Metal Sonic, the activities of that game didn’t have a serious impact on the series’ continuity).
So, there are two versions of each of the game’s levels; the side scrolling, 2D, Genesis-era “Classic” version - and the 3D, post Sonic-Unleashed, speed boosting, thrill-ride “Modern” version. The fun part, musically? All of the game’s music is remixed. The “classic” themes avoid the guitars and go so far as to actually sample old-school Genesis sound effects. (My mind is drawn immediately to a particular drum-sample that is used; a sample that repeats a rhythmic fragment that older gamers will recall from the title-screen music of the original Sonic the Hedgehog).
Comrade: Not to be a jerk, but, why..?
Slide20xl: (I’m getting there).
Now, Speed Highway is a very interesting musical track in Sonic Generations. For the “Modern” iteration of the track, we get something very close to the original. For the Classic version, we get… this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5f63vQ_eSg
Now, to each his own - but I had no idea that Sonic was into the Euroclub scene. Right? I mean - how does this relate to Classic Sonic? One has to wonder.
Comrade: No joke.
Slide20xl: We do have that sampled Genesis drum - an allusion that rhythmic fragment of old. We do avoid the guitars, forsaking them (though they do make a slight appearance in the track). I think the explanation has much to do with the spirit of this level - the spirit of the game. As “classic” as the classic levels are, we can’t avoid the facts - this is a “modern” game. On modern hardware. With modern graphics. Modern sound.
Even Classic Sonic has been updated - he’s fully modeled, fully animated, brought to life in full 3D.
So what does this dance music represent? It’s the spirit of the game. The spirit, hopefully, of nearly every game in existence.
The spirit of fun.
I think the composer was having a good time with this track, you know. It’s so contrary to all of your expectations. Even the way it begins plays with them. Note that there is no allusion, in the track’s introduction, to the the coming wave of dance music. You have no idea what’s going on until, ahem, the “drop.” (And let’s not forget that dancing itself is, hypothetically, fun).
And what else can we take from this? Times have changed. Even the old is effected by the new. Even Classic Sonic couldn’t keep these new forms of music from invading his personality. He’s embraced them.
Slide20xl: And, when you think about it - Classic Sonic is still staying true to his roots. The sounds used in this composition are incredibly electronic. Sound produced entirely by electronic hardware is exactly what that Genesis-era sound is about.
Comrade: I see.
Slide20xl: Yup. And the explanation for this explanation is “because.” I felt like sharing. :3
Comrade: Ah. Duly noted.