New Arrangement: "Lamakan Desert" from Golden Sun (2001)
"Ew... My clothes are drenched in sweat! This is gross!" ... says Mia as we listen to an orchestral arrangement of this sweltering desert heat theme from Golden Sun.
You can find links for the recording, sheet music and more over here!
If you are one of my Patrons, you can now find the MIDI, XML and SIB files I created for this arrangement now available to download from your Patreon Google Drive folder!
"Appearing in all 3 deserts of the series, how does Sakuraba achieve a hot, desert-y sound?
To start, we are using an octatonic scale (a scale of 8 notes; E-F-G#-A-Bb-B-C-D) based on a Phrygian dominant / Hijaz scale on E (with the extra 8th note being the Bb). Right off the bat, that's your fast track to oriental sounding music thanks to the augmented 2nd interval (F-G#; essentially a minor 3rd). Nearly the entire track simmers around this scale.
In the original, Sakuraba uses a plucked instrument, bass guitar and drums, followed later by strings and a sizzling synthesizer. To complement this ensemble (and the desert aesthetic), I decided to use melodic instruments primarily from India (Sarod, Tanpura), but also supporting East Asian instruments to enhance the oriental feel (Dizi, Taikos). The harpsichord also assists in adding a sizzling timbre to the melody.
Further, I expanded the percussion - a pivotal aspect of Sakuraba's original. Not only do we now have Taikos, but also bright, shimmering chains as well as percussive techniques in the strings (col legno - striking the strings with the wood of the bow; and snap pizzicato - aggressively plucking the string so it snaps back against the wood).
Harmonically, we remain close to our opening E Phrygian Dominant scale (+Bb) throughout, shifting briefly to A minor a few times - the subdominant (chord IV; 0:15 & 0:48).
At 0:35, we get a fascinating disruption to the meter as the groupings suddenly depart from regular 4-beats per measure. Instead, we get a division of 3 + 5 beats, still adding up to the regular 4-beats per measure (3+5=8, 8/2=4), but temporarily displacing it. The use of parallel 4ths here also alludes to the oriental aesthetic through its pentatonic connotations. Due to these 4ths, we also get a surprising F# chromatic note (outside of our Phrygian dominant scale).
Due to the importance of these parallel 4ths, I scattered more of them throughout the track via the strings and harpsichord (0:08, 0:14, etc.). They also make a grand return in the final phrase (1:14); the bass instruments are given parallel 4th material, surprisingly, with the dominant note of the chord at the bottom (e.g. in scale on E, B would be our dominant - the 5th note - so these 4ths are stacked B to E, creating the 4th interval with the dominant at the bottom). This low use of parallel 4ths evokes an almost ritualistic daunting sound - perhaps due to low droning 4ths/5ths often found in ancient religious chanting.
In the final phrase, where Sakuraba used a sizzling synthesizer, I decided to use a solo violin (probably an unusual decision). Why not use a brass instrument; perhaps a trumpet? The problem is that the material of the final 2 measures contains rapid 32nd notes. Originally, this material stretched over 3 octaves from E to B, so finding an appropriate instrument to fit that range was tricky (and a trumpet wouldn't quite fit comfortably). Thus, I chose a solo violin with great agility, while also re-pitching the material to be playable in its range and also retaining a shining scratchy timbre to better suit the desert aesthetic.