Video Game Tribute Album 'The String Arcade' Now Available as Digital Download and CD

For those of you who thought video game music and string quartets would definitely go together, this new album from Dren McDonald and Jason Poss is for you.

For fans of classic video game tracks and string quartets alike comes brand new, completely crowdfunded, tribute album, The String Arcade

Rearranged and reimagined for string quartet by composers Dren McDonald (Ghost Recon Commander, Ravenwood Fair) and Jason Poss (The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King), the album is a carefully curated collection of 17 different game music tracks. It can be found for digital download on Loudr, iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp for $9.99, or as a physical CD for $11.99 plus free streaming from Bandcamp and two additional tracks that were previously only available to Kickstarter backers.

All profits from the album will be donated to the Alameda Music Project, a tuition-free afterschool program that provides intensive classical music instruction to underserved children in grades K-5.

The String Arcade is not your typical collection of classic tracks - far from a Greatest Hits, it draws from an eclectic array of game choices...  and the songs that you hear may also not sound exactly like how you remember them.

"Some tracks use a "collage" approach, slicing up and combining various themes from within a game into one piece of music while staying true to the original melody and harmony. Others are more loosely interpreted and embellished to showcase the quartet performers' strengths. The result is an introspective listening experience that stands on its own regardless of the listener's familiarity with the source material."

"I've never understood why someone would cover a song by playing it exactly like the original artist played it." -- composer, Dren McDonald

According to McDonald, the choice was certainly a conscious one.

A great deal of thought went into choosing the music that would work as an experience from top to bottom. McDonald in fact suggests that "[a]s a point of reference, The String Arcade will probably appeal to people who enjoyed the soundtracks from games like Swords & Sworcery, Dear Esther, or FEZ.

(see Video Game Tribute Album: An Interview with The String Arcade Composer Dren McDonald)

The full tracklist is as follows:

  • Grasswalk (Plants vs. Zombies)
  • Echos of Ecco (Ecco the Dolphin)
  • Ferdinand Wanders Out For a Late Night Haircut (Pettington Park)
  • Engii (FTL – Faster Than Light)
  • Sonic 2 Scherzo (Sonic the Hedgehog 2)
  • Outlaws Title Theme (Outlaws)
  • Medicated Cow Walks the Cobbled Streets with Disgruntled Goat (Ravenshire Castle)
  • Scurvy Scallywags Theme (Scurvy Scallywags)
  • Scabb Cemetery/International House of Mojo (The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge)
  • Altered Beast Title Theme (Altered Beast) *
  • Optimism For an Improvement in The John Situation
  • Turret Suite (Portal 2) Valve
  • Minecraft Title Theme (Minecraft)
  • Tron Arcade Medley (Tron Arcade) *
  • Tango Down (graBLOX)
  • Dance of the Space Bugs (Galaga)
  • The Legend of Zelda (The Legend of Zelda – NES)

( * available on for Kickstarter backers or as tracks on the physical CD only)

And how is the music? 

I was graciously provided a review copy of the album, including the two bonus tracks, and I was able to give this album a good listen before (and while) I wrote this article.

For the record, I am far from a music critic, and my first listen was overlaid with the excitable voices on Mumble calling out plays in FFXIV interspersed with deep-seated discussions about the latest BF4 patch. 

Even someone as nekulturny as I realized all too quickly that this was doing a terrible disservice to the music. I went through it again, this time with a pair of good headphones and a comparable silence around me.

So passed a little under an hour of thorough enjoyment. It is not a perfect album - there are sections where the melody is carried solely on a single instrument and it begins to feel thin and thready, like a soloist warbling the high notes she can barely reach. But these moments are few and far in between, and for the most part, the music is charming, well-structured, varied, and swiftly paced. Most of these tracks average at about the 3-minute mark, leaving the listener just enough time to appreciate without getting bored. 

Structured rather like a rolling grassland, the album drives you through a series of ups and downs, exploding right from the beginning with the reimagined "Grasswalk," a lively tango with the subtle sounds of zombies moaning in the background before slowing down into strong, atmospheric tracks like "Echoes of Ecco" and "Engii."

The pace quickly picks up to reach a climax with the spirited "Altered Beast theme," before slowing down once again with soothingly melodic tracks like "Minecraft Theme 1" and the eerily sweet "Turret Suite" which features the quiet sound of turret voices piping up in the background. 

From there, the transition moves flawlessly back into an even more frenetic pace, starting almost right at the halfway mark of the "Tron Arcade Medley," and not stopping until the end of the penultimate track, "Dance of the Space Bugs."

Even for the most prolific gamer, the last track will drive home the point that any piece of music, even one as iconic as the Legend of Zelda theme, can be so beautifully reimagined that it can transition from a slow, somber, dungeon-crawler piece into the triumphant hero melody we've learned to love... and all within two and a half minutes.

For those of us who enjoy watching our favorite form of entertainment evolve into an art form, I certainly recommend The String Arcade experience.

All of The String Arcade's original arrangements were performed by local Bay Area musicians and a special appearance by the Boston-based Videri String Quartet. You can check out a sample of their work with a free download of the first track, "Grasswalk" from Plants vs. Zombies. 

Or if you wish to support the charity and simply buy the album, you can find it on:

Happy listening! 

Featured Columnist

Avid PC gamer and long-time console lover. I enjoy sneaking, stealing everything not nailed down, and shooting zombies in the face. I'm also a cat.

Published Aug. 19th 2015

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