FM Sound Module Maniax
By Dan Liss Saturday, 1 Dec 2007

Released on June 17, 2006, FM Sound Module Maniax is a compilation album by 14 video game composers of music created solely with FM (frequency modulation) synth. Although FM synth is essentially extinct for conventional use today, from when it was invented in 1983 it was the standard and primary sound module used for music in Arcade and Sega Genesis games. Its sound is also highly respectable and desired by synth-using composers for its distinct characteristics.

The album begins with an opening track by Motoi Sakuraba. This song features a nice 5/8 groove, along with a driving bass track, typical of Sakuraba’s style. There’s a very nice combination of dynamics in the mix of this song, with the distant lead synths and other ambience more in the background, and the more aggressive bass and drums in the forefront. As it comes to a close, the ambience sums it up nicely.

Liquid Soup by Shinji Hosoe shows the album contains variety, in a more smooth jazz fusion form. The song starts out building to the main melody, with a smooth background and energetic bass line. Everything in the mix contributes to a great mood, which makes the song seem suitable as background music for driving through city lights. This is truly FM synth at it finest, as Hosoe displays in this excellent track.

The change of tracks on this album show great dynamic in the styles, as Nobuyoshi Sano’s “tulip” contrasts the smooth fusion “Liquid Soup” with an ethereal tone. With a lead such as the bell in this song, it’s given a very nice airy mood which contrasts the epic feel of the past songs. The layering of synths used, in combination with minimal instrumentation in this track makes it a pleasant listen, and a nice break from the aggressive nature of much of the album.

“Feeling Melodic” has a pleasant tone, with simple “rounded” synths. Its sound is reminiscent of Katamari Damacy. At almost five minutes long, it’s enjoyable listen throughout, yet gets a little repetitive at moments. The next track by Kenji Ito, “Lazy Night”, carries a similar tone with its simplicity, but has a great lead melody played by a synth sounding like Mega Man. Surprisingly, this is the third song in a row on the album that is 4 minutes, 55 seconds. Coincidence?

The Absolute Primitive by Yoko Shimomura begins with a motif as its basis for the song’s melody, while the backing tracks build up to more intensity. Shimomura’s style definitely shines in this song, with her excellent use of chord changes and layering of instruments to give this a very full sound. An interlude, which appears around 2:25, transitions the song well into its final section.

Next up is “L.s.” by Michiko Naruke, which starts out with a driving beat and a nice harmonized arpeggio. The composition on this song is very well done, as the beat flows with the bass and with the varied use of synth, it comes out sounding fantastic. From its smooth beat and sliding lead, the song has a bridge and takes a short change in pace with very funky chord changes and percussion. The keyboard solo transitions well with the different familiar sections, which makes this song one of the strongest composed on the album.

As stated before, the songs tend to take drastic changes in style, as is shown in “eastshire” by Yasuhisa Watanabe. There’s a strong progressive sense in this song, with the jazzy chords and time changes later on around 1:40. Strongly contrasting this dark progressive tone, the next song “ozone” has a repeating beat and sounds especially happy. The use of sound effects in “ozone” is also a nice touch.

Motoaki Furukawa’s “Over the Rainbow” is a slower song on the album, and is a pleasant listen. The record scratching sound effect used is interesting, and seemingly fits the song. A nice melody and pleasant background synth, topped off by a well executed solo at the end leaves the listener satisfied as it fades out.

Probably the only arguably downer on the album is triple VOPM by Tu Miyaku. The percussion was enjoyable for many sections in the song, but melodically the song was lacking. Much of the leads have a ‘whiny’ feel. Also the longest track on the album, its repetition and subtle build-ups don’t justify its lengthy near nine-minute listen.

With a change in pace, Takayuki Aihara’s “Metamorphose” uses well written percussion mixed with bass to create a funky song with nice dreamy leads. As with a lot of other songs on the album, this track has a really full sound with the many layers of synth. Having a generally jazz fusion tone, the song goes through a variety of changes, which deem this a fitting and enjoyable song.

Also a great use of layers and ambient synth, “everlasting”, by Kohta Takahashi is an outstanding song on the album, which builds up from a slow pace to added drums at around two minutes. The chord changes and use of repeating sections, together with the icy melody and bells make this an exceptionally beautiful song.

To bring the album to a close with the grand finale, no other than the great Yuzo Koshiro could do justice for the task. This epic song begins with an organ intro, and once things kick in, the organs harmonize perfectly to make the song truly rock, along with the drums which sound almost too good for FM synth. Every lead which appears is amazingly crafted in sync with the changes of the song. One could write on and on about the epic nature of this track, but just be assured that it’s one of the most enjoyable listens on the album.

For any fan of video game music, this album is simply a must-listen. The composers are comprised of ones who’ve done music for games such as Star Ocean, Wild Arms, Legend of Mana, Shenmue, Actraiser, and many other legends. An album like this which brings together several of the most prominent composers in video game music is too important to pass up, and I would urge anyone into melodic music to find this album and listen to it. Definitely a classic.


4 Responses to “FM Sound Module Maniax”

  1. Andrew Raub Says:

    This sounds pretty rad. I love jazzed up FM synth. It sounds like Michael Jackson music.

  2. Zach Patterson Says:

    this definitely sounds like a must-listen. i’ll have to get ahold of this at some point.

  3. atchley Says:

    yeah this album is a classic.

  4. atchley Says:

    especially the first track.

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