Music Notes: Stream (Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse)

This week’s composition selection is “Stream” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. The soundtrack’s composition is attributed to Yukie Morimoto, Jun Funahashi, and primarily to Hidenori Maezawa who will be the named composer in this study. In addition to visual and gameplay changes, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse‘s soundtrack changed from its Famicom to its Nintendo Entertainment System version. While the Famicom had access to the Konami VRCVI sound chip, the NES was only capable of five channels of audio and only three that could reasonably produce melody. The Famicom version will be the version analyzed in this study.

“Stream” is a simple upbeat track with three distinct sections that compliment each other well. Without the sweeping sustained string notes of orchestration to hide behind and without many tools to create a sense of musical space, “Stream” – clocking in at under forty seconds before repeating – is a good example of the techniques most chiptune music uses to stay interesting and utilizes quick melodies and bouncing bass along with driving percussion to keep the ear alive.

“Stream” begins with a short descending figure with quick low almost indiscernible bass. The melody repeats itself a little higher once before entering the brighter ascending second section. The bass picks up into a far more discernible plucky figure to match the liveliness of the main melody which should be considered the melodic focus of the work. Its quick, rising, and repeating notes are foreshadowed in the inverse in the first intro segment and recalled in the final and comparatively thoughtful third section which could be thought of as performing the function of a bridge if compared to modern music. This bridge section performs the only chords in the work and uses them to highlight the slower and more deliberate notes of its melody. The bass continues its rhythmic and stylistic motif from the second section but pulls back into sparser entries and making use of octive intervals to reflect the change in the melody’s focus.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

While the track does not last long and the melodic figures are short and frequently repeated even within themselves, there is still an impressive amount of thematic cohesion within “Stream”. In addition to the work centering around the middle section, the stylistic choices of the running ascending and descending melodies reflect that of a rapidly flowing stream, the subject of the music itself. Maezawa also makes prudent use of rhythm to make the repetition and length of “Stream” feel less obvious.

Please use the comment thread below to add your own thoughts about “Stream” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Is this track successful for you, or do you ultimately just find it repetitive? Do you still find it effective when arranged for another instrument? And, what other pieces would you like to see examined? Your suggestions may eventually be featured in an upcoming column!

3 comments

  1. One of the neat things about this piece is how much is crammed into what is, as you note, a mere 40-second long loop! Three distinct sections AND a bridge, and yet it somehow manages to avoid wearing on one’s patience. I know we kick him a lot (and deservedly so), but ask yourself what a Motoi Sakuraba piece would be like if written under those constraints. This is the kind of thing that Uematsu and Kondo cut their teeth on, and it made them better composers as a result.

    Another reason that I picked this piece is because most of our readers will have played the NES version rather than the Famicom release, so they will be familiar with the NES soundtrack to CV3. And that’s a good soundtrack, to be sure, even despite the limitations of the NES sound hardware. But the Famicom version is something really special by the standards of the day, and every track from it is something of a revelation. I still struggle comparing the CV3 (Famicom) soundtrack to the FFVII (PS1) soundtrack for which is my personal ‘favourite’. Suffice to say they both pushed the boundaries of game soundtracks at the time, and this week’s selection is a rather underappreciated selection from the CV3 soundtrack.

    One more thing I’ll add is that the pieces we’ve had featured here so far all do a marvelous job of capturing the ‘feel’ of the setting in which they are employed. For obvious reasons I have “Cave” from Blue Dragon in my head, which is another piece that perfectly suits the context of its use. When it comes to video game music, I would say that this is the most important quality after compositional quality itself. Perfectly situating a piece can somehow infuse it with a quality that it might not otherwise possess, although it is not perhaps possible for it to raise a truly mundane composition to a level of greatness (sorry, Motoi!).

  2. I tried earnestly to find a way to look at the score for this – either on standard staff scoring or in something resembling its original tracker state – but came up short. I think this piece (from my very short time with it) is far from a master work, but an excellent study on how to think about melodic development and how to appreciate the intentional cohesion of musical ideas, especially with limited resources.

    I admittedly only spent part of an afternoon looking for a way to study this piece visually, but usually I can turn up more than what I did. Either way, I was grateful to be introduced to something entirely new to me.

  3. @Caspius – Also, thank you! For all I enjoy and appreciate about the original Blue Dragon, I have never listened to “Cave” on its own like this. I won’t study it next, but it’s just made a firm bid to be examined in one way or another now.

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