The Harpsichord at Club 33

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This is a story about one of the best days of my life. I’ll put it up there with the arrival of Joby, my wedding, the Panic trip to Hawaii, and playing Super Mario 64.

We worked with the gang at Pacific Helm on a rare and interesting side project, and as weird payment for their time, we took them (and our collective friends) on a trip to Disneyland, one of my favorite places on the planet.

Thanks to the one-of-a-kind Louie Mantia and a mysterious benefactor, our crew wound up at Club 33.

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Club 33, if you don’t know, is the “secret” restaurant at Disneyland, discreetly tucked away in New Orleans Square, requiring paid membership (and long waiting list) to enter, and offering very fancy and delicious food (as well as the only booze in the park). It has a beautiful balcony that overlooks New Orleans square. It was wonderful and relaxing, a total oasis in a whirlwind of a place.

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Then we spotted the harpsichord.

You have to understand that I hate playing music in front of people. I’m still traumatized by a moment in Japan, where there was a piano and a room full of business associates chanting my name to play something. I froze in terror. I couldn’t do it. It’s one of those memories that spark an involuntary lemon-sucking face when it springs into my mind.

But 2013 is all about change, if you hadn’t heard. And Disney music is a huge part of my life, especially the theme park music. And the guys came back with some news: “We asked. You can play the harpsichord.”

I’d always wanted to go to Club 33.

I’d always wanted to play a harpsichord.

I’d always wanted to play Disney music in Disneyland.

So yeah I had to make this happen.

My playing isn’t great, and I’m obviously insanely nervous, and I tried to avoid looking up to see if anyone was paying attention, but with the support of nice people, I did it:

It felt like my whole life had led to this wonky ragtime rendition of Grim Grinning Ghosts. I could literally not have been happier.

(There’s more. A bonus duet of Baroque Hoedown (“Main Street Electrical Parade”) with Adam Lisagor? Icing on the already delicious cake. And naturally I couldn’t resist a little bit of Pirates, perfect for the harpsichord.)

Once the buzz wore off, I hit Wikipedia:

A harpsichord which was rumored to have been an antique was in fact custom-built for Lillian Disney specifically for use in Club 33. The underside of the lid features a Renaissance-style art piece that was hand-painted by Disney artists. Elton John and Paul McCartney have each played this harpsichord.

That’s it. Close up shop. We’re done here. Life, you can be pretty great.

(Photos and Video from champions Louie Mantia and Patrick Gibson.)

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Small World

When I was 15, my family took a trip to the UK. I was pretty obsessed with the country since my two favorite things in the world — my Commodore 64, and later my Amiga — were actually celebrated there. I would buy import British computer magazines (at Rich’s Cigar, still do) and pore over them infinitely at the dinner table.

One of my favorite things to do on my Amiga was write music in trackers, a unique, note-by-note way to write tunes that was half-music, half-programming.

When in England, I requested a stop: the offices of CU Amiga magazine. We showed up and rang the buzzer and someone thoughtfully let us in and we sat around a table and talked — 15-year-old me, my Dad (thanks Dad), and the magazine’s technical editor, Mat Broomfield. Eventually, I pulled out a disk with one of my Amiga songs I’d written, just to share. 

Mat surprised me: “Hey, how about we make this the tune of the month, and put it on the next cover disk!”. I was thrilled. And nervous. (The song was unfinished.)

They mentioned something about a free subscription to the magazine (it never showed), and I never saw the actual issue itself (importing was spotty), so I assumed it just never came together, and eventually forgot about it.

Until last year. It all came flooding back. Did I dream this? I nervously Googled.

There it was, thanks to the internet: the September ’91 issue coverdisk.

I quickly found and bought a DVD of every issue of CU Amiga. It really happened:

Then, Cut to Yesterday

Rob Beschizza, out of Boing Boing, read my post about The Incident music:

 

To summarize: not only did the magazine actually publish my dumb song, but a 13-year-old Rob Beschizza remixed it, and as internet pals we had no idea until yesterday that we shared this connection.

You’re pretty cool, universe.

(For the curious, here’s the song on SoundCloud, and the original modI’m warning you: it’s not good. The middle portion is wholesale ripped off from the TurboGrafx game Ys, and I have no idea why it goes all Russian at the end, I think I got bored. But, it’s now a piece of personal history.)

Finally, Consider This Postscript

Steven Frank, co-founder of Panic, and I met because I was looking for the ProTracker software used to write this Amiga music, and he had a copy. Were it not for Amiga mod music, Panic would not exist.

The Incident: The Music

A while back I was graciously asked by my friends Neven and Matt to do the music for their retro-styled, totally droptacular iOS game, The Incident. Me and music have a strange relationship — I love writing songs but don’t typically like for anybody to hear them. But it’d always been a dream to do game music, so I shushed my brain and did my best.

To match the 8-bit visuals, I returned to my roots: I plopped out a Bootcamp partition with Windows XP, installed a copy of Famitracker — a music app that emulates the original Nintendo sound chip — and started typing (yep, qwerty) some songs in classic “tracker” format, just like my Amiga days.

It was nerdy-cool to think that this music could actually be compiled and played on an original Nintendo if someone so desired. In other words, there’s no post-production trickery here — I stuck to the limitations of the format, which means two Square wave channels, one Triangle channel, one Noise channel, and an extra channel that could kind of play PCM samples. (I also “cheated” on a few tracks by enabling the little-used Konami VRC6 sound chip to get two bonus square channels.)

For anyone who enjoyed The Incident, or just enjoys bleepy-blippy things, I’m pleased to finally provide the soundtrack!

1. Title Screen

Mysterious!

2. Main Theme

This entire song materialized, fully formed, in my head during a jog to work, so thanks to whatever makes that happen. I’d describe this as “urgent noir”. (Bonus for the curious: my goofy voice memo in the office trying to save the idea.)

3. Game Over

It takes death to tango. (Here’s the piano sketch.)

4. Pause

This is somehow, for me, the most enduring of all of these tracks…

…as I love playing this on the piano where I weirdly turn into a kind of 60’s dance number. I recorded this for Shaun Inman for some reason:

5. Tweet Sheet

Later, when Neven and Matt added the ability to Tweet your score, I added the Twitter Song. (There were actually lyrics to this at one point?)

6. The End

By far the trickiest track because it required movie-like scoring to picture, under very difficult technical restraints — i.e., hitting “Play” in Quicktime then desperately trying to mark transition points on the fly in Famitracker. If you’ve ever seen the ending to The Incident, though, I think this music helped seal the mysterious deal.

7. Endless Mode

Later, these guys added an “Endless” mode where players go for a high score rather than beating levels. This meant another theme, a little more stressful.

8. Endless Freak-Out (w/vocals)

Now here’s an easter-egg that virtually no-one has heard, until now.

I had the idea that, if the user was doing really well at the endless mode, in the zone and about to nail a high score, it would be my duty to try to throw them off of their game.

My idea? The 8-bit music suddenly gets a little piano. And the piano suddenly gets some goofy vocals. And out of the blue, the game starts singing you a weird kind of piano rock opera track, existentially discussing your gaming performance. And this, hopefully, freaks you out and makes you die.

Hear for yourself:

Matt scrambled the file so that this song couldn’t easily be ripped from the bundle. As far as I know, only a single player of The Incident experienced this trick!

That single e-mail was exactly what we were hoping for:

“Hi!  I was just playing The Incident and got a new high score of 299 metres in Endless Nightfall! (I’m sunrun on Game Center) I have a strange question: I’m *sure* that while I was playing I heard a weird song with singing or something. I had the sound down low at the time and didn’t think to pause the game so I could turn it up to hear it better. Am I out of my mind, or is there a hidden song in the game?! It seemed to then revert back to the normal music. If I’m right, is it possible to hear it somehow? What are the circumstances under which it plays? And if I’m wrong and there isn’t a hidden song, maybe it means I’ve been playing this game way too much!? -Lance.”

Mission accomplished.

9. Main Theme (Swing Version, Unused)

A failed experiment with hilarious white-noise jazz hi-hats.

10. Bonus: El Incidente y El Tema del Amor

An amazing acoustic guitar cover from Pete Bosack, I love this so much.

11. Bonus: Fallin’ Up (Look Out for Love)

An equally incredible buddy cop cover from the ever-talented Adam Lisagor.

Download It All!

I’ve put together all of this music, my voice memos, and even my Famitracker source files, into this convenient zip. Download here:

And enjoy!