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  1. I was overwhelmed by family affairs last week, so I was unable to do #TuneTuesday last week. So, I thought I would make up for it by talking about a cue that has many different versions found within the game its prequel. The cue is ‘The Song of The Ancients’ from NieR & NieR: Automata, composed by Keiichi Okabe and vocals by Emi Evans. It is difficult to talk about either game with revealing massive spoilers to either game, so I will avoid the plot, making this little blog post smaller. What I will mention is that both NieR games have a huge array of interesting eclectic characters, two of which being the android twins Devola & Popola, two of the most important characters in the series, who serve slightly different purposes in both games. Canonically, it is Devola that is singing the song, which is why when you search for the song on YouTube, you will find lots of artwork with the two characters. The version that I included above comes from NieR: Automata, and is not heard all the frequently in-game, neither does the two characters it is associated with, which makes sense to me for narrative versions. I love all the arrangements of the cue, but this one (and ‘Fate’ from NieR) is my favourite, for I believe the arrangement is the most interesting. What is often overlooked with the soundtrack is how small the ensemble is. Most orchestral soundtracks have large strings, brass and wind sections, with about 40 players, 21 one of those players being string players (violins, violas, cellos/celli and basses). NieR: Automata has 13. This isn’t a financial decision, but an artistic one, for SQUARE ENIX (the publishers), has a shite tonne of money to go around, with a huge chunk of their games having a full-on orchestra. A point that I’ve mentioned before is that you can have more punch our of a smaller ensemble, which works wonders here, as most of the cues in both NieR games that use strings are short, detached (or Stacatto, to use the correct terminology) ideas that add excitement and tense to what’s going on screen. The battle cues are often percussion-driven anyway, so a larger ensemble could potentially muddy/dampen the feel. As for the language the song is performed in, I believe it is a made-up language, smashing together German, French and Japanese to form the in game’s Chaos Language, which is only ever heard in the game’s songs. It is an interesting choice for sure, one that I’d love to see in future games in the series. It is this approach to songwriting that has made vocalist Emi Evans particularly well known within the gaming community.
  2. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from a videogame that I don’t think gets enough love. The game is Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, and the cue is ‘Modern Day Christof’s Theme’ and it is either composed by Kevin Manthei, Chris Collins, Greg Forsberg or Rob Ross (I have found various sources disagreeing with each other constantly, including the game’s credits). Most people who have taken an interest in reading this blog post are likely to be a little confused. The only Vampire: The Masquerade game you are probably aware of is Bloodlines, and its soon-to-be-released sequel. That cult classic was not the first attempt someone made at turning the popular tabletop roleplaying game into a videogame. That credit goes to Redemption, which is actually the first videogame adapted from a game found within the World of Darkness, the universe that Vampire: The Masquerade exists, along with Werewolf: The Apocolypse and Wraith: The Oblivion. But I digress. In this game, you play as the noble French crusader Christof Romuald, a once-proud, religious church knight who is embraced by a vampire of clan (essentially the breed) Brujah, pulled into the politics and squabbling of the Kindred, the in-game word for vampires (they also use Cainite, FYI). Whilst coming to terms with his new condition, questioning his understanding on life and faith allying himself with other Cainites, his anchor to humanity the nun Anezka, a human with a pure soul who loves him even after his transformation, is kidnapped by members of clan Tzimisce (pronounced Zi-me-zee) for plot-related reasons. Christof then makes it his goal in unlife to save her and thrawt the plans of the Tzimisce. Whilst not being a perfect game by any means, one of the things that makes this game very interesting is no only its faithfulness to the lore of VtM (for the most part), but its change in settings. The game occurs in two time periods: 12th century Prague and Vienna, and late-20th century London and New York City, each one having fantastic attention to detail in the voice acting and change in music (for a game released in 2000 on PC may I add). The Dark Ages setting has great orchestral work and great period music in the almost pointless explorable pubs, whilst the Modern Nights setting has more electonic sounds and gritty phat beats (there is even a rap when you explore certain parts of New York). The exception to this is with the second rendition of Christof’s theme, which returns to the orchestral style in my favourite key, B minor, with a strong dramatic melody with the French Horn, accented with toms and tubular bells and strings, before being replaced by a slightly more simplistic chromatic distorted electric guitar idea, acting as a clever transition between the Dark Ages sound, to the grunge sound of 2000, which has since become the Vampire: The Masquerade sound. Whilst I say this is the second rendition (as the title would imply), that cue plays during the game’s opening cinematic and doesn’t really feel like a character theme to me. This weeks cue does, reflecting the strong willpower of Christof to carry on, and the saddness of his condition. He did not ask to be embraced, he did not want to be one of the damned, a scion of the night. He has these powers, this undeniable thirst, but not wanting to become a monster, he does not want to succumb to the beast and lose control. He wants to do what’s right, which is why on so many occasions Christof tries to detach himself totally from Anezka, so he or his vampire brethren do not harm her. What I have just described is the ethos of Vampire: The Masquerade, which is why I admire it, and this game, as much as I do, for this is an element that Bloodlines doesn’t deliver as strong in my mind, simply because with that game, you create your own character, which becomes an extension of you. With Redemption, you are ‘forced’ to see the world through Christof’s eyes, to feel with his heart, and this theme captures that character perfectly, even if all the samples in that sound terrible because this is 2000, only 20yrs after MIDI was invented.
  3. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite games that has one of the most ingenious soundtracks. It is ‘The End of The Battle’ from Shadow of The Colossus, composed by Kow Otani. In the game, you play as a boy/teen/young man called Wander (I believe that is the correct spelling) who travels to The Forbidden Land with his horse Agro to dick about with the god Dormin’s ancient magic so he can bring a girl back to life. It is never explained whether this girl is his girlfriend, girl-friend or sister, but it is rather obvious that it is someone he cares for deeply. In order to resurrect the girl, Wander must kill the 16 Colossi, thus beginning the adventure. Many open-world games like this would populate their world with life and music galore that would make The Forbidden Land a truly scary and terrifying place. Not here though. The only life you will see is the odd lizard and eagle. After the game’s introduction, you won’t hear any music until you fight the first Colossus, which creates an incredibly desolate feeling, making you feel that you really are in a sparse Forbidden Land. When you encounter the massive colossi, the music here is what you would expect, involving grandeur brass, blasting out at you, hyping you up for the fight, as you finally realise that you have to scale the bastard to kill it. The levels are the bosses. If like me, you are a heartless bastard, you will have no real problem killing the colossi because you are on a quest to save a girl! Previous video games have taught you to treat all enemies like this. It is a back bad creature after all, why should I care whether it should die? This is a common video game law; if it moves, it must die! Once you deliver the final stab, the cue will stop, and you expect a grand fanfare, applauding your victory! You may even want the infamous Koji Kondo Chord progression (Chords I-bVI-bVIII) that is famous in pretty much all of the Final Fantasy victory fanfares. But with Shadow of The Colossus, you get this cue, which is essentially a requiem, which is a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead. The music is melancholy in tone and yet is somehow bittersweet. It is clear to me that it was designed to make you pause and think. Most of the colossi, most notably the first one (my personal favourite) do not attack you unless provoked. In fact, most of them don’t attack you at all. The music tells here tells you that you are a bit of prick and it is Game Over for the colossi. This cue becomes more powerful in its meaning as the game progresses. The rest of the soundtrack music becomes more discordant, meaning that it uses more unpleasant harmonies and it becomes more difficult to listen to. Wander’s appearance changes and you slowly begin to realise that you are no hero in this game, you are a cold-blooded killer. But that's ok, you tell yourself because you are trying to bring some girl back from the dead and the life of one already dead girl is more valuable than the life of 16 large, peaceful creatures. There is very little dialogue in Shadow of The Colossus and most of its story is told through your actions and the developing music. Not only is it an incredibly beautiful soundtrack in its own right, but Shadow of The Colossus is also what is called a ‘symphonic poem’, music that tells a story or sets a scene. This is why I love the music from Shadow of The Colossus.
  4. This weeks #TuneTuesday has me return to one of my favourite games and soundtracks. It is ‘Revised Shibuya -another-’ from CHAOS;CHILD composed by Takeshi Abo. I have mentioned this relatively unknown title before but to give a brief summary, Chaos;Child is the fourth main entry in the Science Adventure series (the same series the famous 'Steins;Gate' comes from) and a thematic sequel to Chaos;Head. As such, the plot is incredibly involved and rather confusing at times. In it, you take the role of Takuru Miyashiro, the president of his school's newspaper club, who investigates the "Return of The New Generation Madness" serial murder case that has been taking place in Shibuya. During the course of the game, he experiences delusions where the player gets the option to choose if Takuru should experience a positive or negative delusion or neither. These choices affect the plot's direction, causing it to branch off from the main narrative into different routes. That is, once you've played the game through for the first time, as you only have access to the common route (the canon route if you would). Chaos;Child is a murder mystery thriller, so death is commonplace within the narrative. Various members of the cast are thrown into mortal danger constantly, so one would expect the many cues to be creepy ambiences and/or horrifying assault on your eardrums. And you would be right with this, as there are many cases of both of those. My recent mentioning of this game was one of those such cues, ‘Peak Level’, which I described as ‘a broken Trance/Dubstep with some weird tribal vocals going on’ that usually accompanies the game’s horrific murder scenes or/and when shit hits the fan. As important as it is to have a horror game with scary music, what makes all good horror standout is the mastery over pacing. If you were to have scare after scare after scare, constantly, for however long your story is, then it wouldn’t be that scary. Your player (or reader in this case) would become climatised to it, and you never want someone to become climatised with scary things. It’s not good on the psyche. There are two ways you could address this. You can take the usual Western approach and just up the scares, but then end making the billionth SAW film. Whilst this is necessary, what is often needed are some calmer moments, so the player/reader can digest what has just happened and be lured into a false sense of security, and have time for some character development. ‘CHAOS;CHILD’ has pacing like no other, and has lots of fantastic music to depict all sorts of moods. As the title would imply, this is a variant on Revised Shibuya, which is much calmer and is often played when the characters, most of which are high school students and best of friends are trying to enjoy their lives, running the newspaper club, having meals, or going out shopping with each other in the bustling shopping district of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. You actually hear this version of the cue more than the other one, and more than any other cue in the game for that fact, and it never feels boring or repetitive. This also is to do with it’s pacing, and how the various instruments build and add to the starting piano part. There are also some creative use of chromaticism, which are notes and chords that are not usually found within the home key which in this case is the happy key of C major, the does a wonderful job at pulling you into the social life of the cast, making the world and those who live within feel alive and genuine. It is not an interactive score by any means, but it delivers on the emotion with amazing prowess.
  5. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite games, one that I only discovered last year. It is the Chinatown Theme from Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, composed by Rik Schaffer. I have talked about VtMB before, in addition to the tabletop RPG, it comes from. So much so, I made a conscious effort not to mention it at all, because I know I can (and have) gone into large massive tangents about its expansive lore and metaplot that barely anyone who follows me on social media is interested in. That being said, one has to provide some context for the process of this post. Set in modern-day/night LA, you are some random schmuck who gets laid in your apartment by a vampire, who can be one of 7 different clans/breed of vampire, depending on the sort you wish to play as. Members of the Camarilla, which is sort of the vampire government, comes in, stakes you both (resulting in paralysis, not death in VtM lore) and take you both to court. The Prince, the ruler of LA’s Santa Monica, decides to have your sire killed, before sending you on a suicide mission to prove yourself in Kindred (the VtM word for vampire, along with Cainite) society. The game has you traverse between 4 uniquely hub worlds, Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, and of course, Chinatown, which is one of my favourite hub worlds and cues in the game. Chinatown is the last hub world you can explore too, which is both the most disappointing and interesting. VtMB went through what many call ‘a development cycle from hell’ and was released unfinished, due to legal reasons with the publisher. This is evident in many of the games’ glitches bugs and exploits, and a lot of the quests in the game’s latter half. Chinatown as a hub world feels considerably rushed when compared to the other three. Whilst this is interesting in of itself, the context of its existence and the current politics is especially interesting to me. The developers of the game, the now-defunct Troika Games, did a fantastic job at explaining and including the lore found within White Wolf Publishing (the original creators and publishers of the VtM tabletop RPG) World of Darkness universe. By the time you reach Chinatown, you should have a good enough grasp about how vampires in this game works, how they feed, behave, and the politics that runs rampant throughout their lives. The game introduces a curveball at Chinatown with the inclusion of the Kuei-Jin, which are described as ‘Kindred of The East’, vampires from China. You speak to one, to find there is about more to them that, as they do not feed on blood, but the soul. They don’t turn to ash in sunlight but just rot, which is certainly a unique twist on vampre legend of old. I go into detail about the game’s setting because the music does a fantastic job at creating the musical impression that you are in a strange place. The other three hubs share a similar sound, which is a Westernised chilled rock or/and lounge jazz sound. Chintatown Theme is not strictly Asian in its sound, but it is not the same sound as the other three. This F minor vamp is mysteriously ominous. You were protected by the Camarilla and the Anarch in the other three hubs. The Kuei-Jin has nothing to do with the rest of vampire society, and you have to be your best behaviour, as the Kuei-Jin and Kindred do not get on. At all.
  6. The first #TuneTuesday of the year/decade is from #Pokemon X&Y. The cue is 'The Pokemon League', composed by Shota Kageyama. We all know Pokemon, right? You are 11-year-old trainer, kicked out of your home to collect all the Pokemon, fill up your Pokedex, defeat the 8 Gym Leaders, take on the Elite Four and defeat the Champion, replacing them. Alongside all of this, there is some narrative where you to stop a group of nasties who steal Pokemon and cause mischief. Since Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, the antagonistic organisation has wanted to use the power of an ancient Legendary Pokemon to take over the world. This isn't the case with Pokemon X&Y, for Team Flare wish to use the power of the main legendary Pokemon (which varies depending on which game you play) to destroy the world, because they believe that there is too much violence in the world and just want to end it old with a 1000-year-old super cannon. Strange flex I know, but one can't but sympathise with Team Flare's leader, Lysandre a little bit. X&Y is also interesting because it introduces a peculiar ancient pride in its lore, that seems to extend beyond its reach of the Kalos region, the continent where the games are set, which is reflected in its narrative, world design and the music. And there isn't a finer example of that with the Pokemon League cue, with the staccato strings playing a perfect fourth apart, which is both ominous and regal sounding, complimented by sustain trombones and horns. It is certainly a sound one would not immediately associate with Pokemon. It works perfectly in game, as you leave the Victory Road, ascend the stairs leading you to the League itself, which is best described as a huge palace that had a baby with a cathedral. It is an incredible site to behold, and it is such a shame that GAME FREAK never made a Pokemon Z, that would have been an extension of X&Y. They were far more keen with Sun & Moon, which I did not enjoy so much.
  7. Introduction 27th March 2018, I claimed Tuesdays as a day I would celebrate pieces of music that resonate deeply within my heart for one reason or another. These Tuesdays would be Christened #TuneTuesday, with the goal of not only showing my appreciation and love for music but to encourage conversation and debate amongst anyone who followed me on social media. The name of the hashtag comes from my love of alliterative titles, which is evident by at least one cue from a project I’ve worked on. ‘Scorching Scrimmage’ from Hartacon Tactics, ‘Recover & Regain’ from Two Point Hospital and ‘Cainite Congregation’ from the Lore By Night Podcast are three such examples. The final #TuneTuesday of 2019 coincidentally falls on the last day of 2019, which got me thinking a lot about the last ten years of my life. In the Summer of 2009, I would decide to study and be examed on music, something that I had previously wanted to remain ‘a nice hobby’. Shameful I know, but I knew not the radical impact it would have on my life. Since the first music lesson someday in September 2009, I found my purpose in life, which is to partake a career in music. A year later, I decided I would compose. I didn’t know at the time how I would make a living doing this, but I was determined to do it somehow. It took ten years of hard work, patience and dedication, but I finally made it. I am a professional composer and I find it incredibly exciting to be a part of the gaming industry, learning and developing compositional techniques and trade secrets within the gaming industry. Certain pieces of music, both in and out of video games, had a huge impact on my compositional sound throughout the last ten years and I wish to do a special #TuneTuesday post dedicated to those pieces of music and the geniuses that wrote them, some I am honoured to call my colleges. They won’t be in any particular order unless I state otherwise. I have spoken about some of these pieces before, so I am probably going to be revisiting old ground here but I’m sure you won’t mind... One little disclaimer before I fully dive into this thread, one that I wish I didn’t have to make but will mention anyway. One of my defining musical influences during my mid-teens was the cue ‘The Street of Whiterun’ from Skyrim. I will not discuss this soundtrack, the cue or its composer for obvious reasons that have soured my previous love for the game and its soundtrack. 1. Nascence (Austin Wintory) I might as well do the most difficult part of this blog-esque post first, as it will probably be here where I will go blind through my own tears as I regurgitate one’s memories concerning this game and these cues. That, and I’m sure some of you are fed up of me entering fanboying Austin Wintory yet again. It was during the later part of my GCSEs, early A-Levels (2011-2012), I decided that I wanted to be a composer and I was fairly certain that I wanted to compose for video games. I never really have been a huge film or TV fan, and I have always idolised video games. That was what I wanted to do. The biggest doubt I had over this was not the struggle that all freelance artists fall into at some point or another (which I was unaware of at sweet sixteen), but whether my more ‘serious’ classical/romantic style would fit into the mould of video game music. I don’t say this with any level of elitism/arrogance. Many orchestral game scores up until the 2010s had a very typical ‘Epic Game Sound’ that would simply loop around until certain trigger points within the game’s engine were met. This is neither good nor bad on its own. I love a good melody and sweeping romantic/impressionistic harmony but did not know how these colours would fit into a game without getting in the way. Alongside this doubt of ‘am I doing the right thing with my life?’, I was beginning to suffer badly from depression and my self-esteem and courage were beginning to nosedive at an alarming rate for a variety of reasons I shan't go into. Wanting to develop my sound further, I took to YouTube and searched ‘Best Video Game Scores’ which led me to a WatchMojo video going through their top 10 Video Game Composers. He was number four on their list because his music for Journey was the first video game ost to be nominated for a GRAMMY. I knew I had to give this game a go and see what the fuss was about. The first thing you hear when you hover on the game icon on the PS3/4 icon is the cue 'Nascence' and I truly overwhelmed with emotion and, at the time, though it was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I had heard, and it wasn't even 2mins long! You never hear this cue in its entirety in the game, only short fragments. Journey and the entirety of its soundtrack is inspiring, both on a musical and technical level as the cues are cleverly implemented within the game engine. After playing Journey and wiping away many an emotional tear, I knew that I wanted to do what Austin did. Not to copy his sound or make another Journey, but I heard music with rich colours and unique textures that came and went depending on where and what I was doing on the map. It is a sound that could only exist in that game. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to contribute sounds to whatever world I was helping to build so that music wasn’t just an afterthought to be slapped on at the last minute. All of Austin’s scores have this quality. None of his scores sounds like another one and I am a huge fan of such diversity. With diversity comes greater appreciation and understanding. With appreciation and understanding of the wilder world, comes a greater knowledge and respect for those around you. I don't have many male heroes in my life, but Austin Wintory is definitely one of them. The music of Austin Wintory will always have a special place in my heart because of discovering him on a Top 10 video (soz). I am ever so grateful to have been blessed by so many wonderful soundtracks composed by him since and many wonderful games that he has worked on. I wouldn’t have had the courage to write music for Two Point Hospital whilst juggling with a dissertation. In short, thank you for the music. 2. The Show Must Go On (Queen) My final year of studying my GCSEs (2011-2012) proved to be an important time, for that was when I decided to become a composer, as previously mentioned. Despite this, one was destined to perform an ensemble piece. In less pompous, academic terms, I had to form a band. All the other music students formed their own bands, leaving me and my friend P. by ourselves. With help from the guitar and bass teacher on bass and vocals and a Year 9 pupil named T, we had a band-I mean, ensemble. Learning to play an instrument through sheet music is one of the most important skills I ever learnt as a musician, for one can physically see how piece unfolds and how it is structured and arranged. Studying Queen’s swansong is particularly fascinating because of such exotic harmonies and key changes (Bm-C#min for the verse and choruses and F major in the bridge because fuck any sense of normality!). One type of harmony that is used throughout the piece is what is known as the suspended harmony, otherwise known as the sus chord, which is a form of suspension. A basic chord is made up 3 notes, the root, (note 1 of scale) mediant (note 3) and dominant (note 5). The mediant can either be major or minor, which are semitone/half-step apart. If you use the 2nd note (the supertonic) or 4th note (the subdominant) you form a sus 2 or sus 4 chord. They are very simple chords but are effective at creating beautiful tension without throwing tonality out of the window. The one that got me the most is the Dsus4 chord to D major at the end of the bridge, creating an almost religious sense of home. I don’t think enough composers use suspensions. They are incredibly effective harmonic and melodic devices. It was also with this song that I discovered I was both a perfectionist and procrastinator (both have been demolished now) because I spent a good hour dicking about with a keyboard to get the right synth string/pad tone to make it as similar to the original as possible. I learnt what ADSR meant that day. I think it is because of that assessment that I spend at least an hour acquiring the exact synth tone now. 3. Insane Family (Olivier Deriviere) Similarly to Journey, the score to 2018s Vampyr is rather interactive and manages to capture the dark and gritty atmosphere of this intriguing game. Whilst not as technical as Journey (few games are), this particular cue can enhance different emotions depending on your actions in the game. In Vampyr, you play as a Dr Jonathen Reid, who has returned to post-WW1 London to carry on doctoring and visit his ill mother, only to have been embraced and is now a (particularly strong) vampire. This is a game with a morality system. You can get to know the civilians and increase the value of their blood, which acts as this game's EXP. Doing so will make you stronger and life easier for you, but doing this makes the surrounding districts worse off and people start dying. You can get through the game without sucking any civilians dry, but the game becomes much more difficult as a result, and you may have to kill that guy trying to turn his life around. It is a brilliantly frustrating balancing act that is much more fun than I just described. My issue with morality systems, in general, is that the game either forces to be either cunt or saint, with somewhere in the middle being all that boring. There is rarely any real consequences either until the end game. Vampyr is a tad different (cue context/spoilers): Towards the end of the game's first act, you have to locate some other vampire who has been killing people off willy-nilly, and you chase them to a graveyard. This vampire is your presumed dead sister, Mary Reid, who you accidentally turned into a vampire. She, of course, is not all too pleased to see you and has bought your mother along, who has become Mary's brainless puppet. A cutscene plays, which can go in one of two ways. If you haven't killed any/few civilians, Jonathan is incredibly sympathetic, begging Mary not to kill their mother out of spite, assuring her that he can find a cure for vampirism, willing to save them both. She reluctantly listens and sends mother home. If you have been sucking off people left right and centre, Jonathan is incredibly angry and hostile with her. She is with him also, because she knows how merciless you have been. She kills your mother, angering Jonathan further. Regardless of your morality, you have to fight Mary, which is where today's cue enters. Now whilst the cue during the cutscene (titled; 'The Funerals') is far more interactive, as you won't hear certain elements depending on your actions and the boss music is broken down into different segments, which come and go, depending on how low Mary's health is. It fairly simple and rather typical for video game music interactivity. 'Insane Family' is far more interesting to me for the following reasons. Other than being incredibly dramatic (which is amazing, considering it is just one cello some percussion, and thunder samples(?)) but depending on how you have played the game (shown in the previous cutscene), one can interpret the emotional delivery of this cue, on an emotional level differently. If you have been a morally good vampire, this can be the anger coming from Mary, with the pitiful sorrow of Jonathan riding underneath, not wanting to end his sister. If you have been a morally bad vampire than this is just pure hatred for his Mary, wanting to eliminate his once-beloved sister who has clearly gone mad (from Jonathan's perspective). Whilst the interactivity/implementation of music in video games is incredibly important to me, what has (and always will) exceed that is the need to imply certain emotional responses in the player. Games are no different from films in that regard. To create a cue that has two different responses depending on the outcome requires a huge amount of thought and understanding in composition, and love the music for Vampyr because there is simply nothing else like it. You may not like it's extensive dialogue trees and the inability to run for long periods of time without the game crashing, but I can guarantee you will feel that you are in a dark, gritty TV drama about vampires. 4. La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) (Claude Debussy) My school was an all-boys school, which also had its own sixth form, which was where I studied my A-Levels. One of the selling points for the school was its smaller classes, which meant that A-Level classes had no more than 5 pupils at a time. In the case of music, there was two. The other pupil left at the end of the first year, leaving me having one-on-one lessons with my music teacher, and I would love every music lesson that year. It was during this second year of my A-Levels (2013-2014) that my teacher went full-throttle with the music theory, which I have always loved because I am incredibly weird. I still have the old exercise book written by Ann Rice that was helpful during one’s dissertation. Anyway, a lot of the music theory taught by my teacher and this exercise book was what is considered the true classical approach to composition, which I found pretty odd (and by Classical, I mean the Classical period of music, not all orchestral music that is coined classical). One of these practices was not constantly using consecutive fourths and fifth intervals, be it in motion or to form a chord/two-part harmony. If that doesn’t mean much to you, think of any rock song by The Who, Green Day or Nirvana. You have heard this open sound before, many, MANY times. One lunchtime, the GCSE and A level music students were made to attend a lunchtime music concert. Someone from a nearby college was entering a competition and used us as a practice audience. He played a handful of pieces by Liszt, Chopin and Mozart, all of which were masterfully performed and interpreted. The opening piece was The Sunken Cathedral by Debussy, who was a huge rule-breaker in 19th Century France. The piece is filled with these huge consecutive fourths and fifths and excessive pedalling on the piano, often the sustained one being held for most of the piece, creating this wash of sound that transported me to places I had never been before. In addition to this, I just fell in love with the constant extensions heard in the chords, which essentially means Debussy just added notes on top of your basic chords, usually in clusters to create a brilliantly warm sound. I can remember going to my music teacher after the concert and telling him about how much I loved this piece and Debussy’s use of harmony in that piece. During the following lesson, we discussed the piece in great detail, tearing apart and putting back together again. When I was allowed to compose a piece of music for an assessment that wouldn’t penalise me for following Classical tradition, I adopted harmonic cluster chords and extended close harmonies, both are things I practice to this day. 5. & 6. Riverman & Introduction (Nick Drake) When I went to college (2014-2016), I studied Music Tech, to further my music production skills to improve the quality of my orchestral mock-ups and recordings. Despite it being a Music Tech course, it focused a lot on performance and songwriting/craft. I had lots of experience with the former at school and the sixth form, but not the latter. I learnt a lot during those two years about that though. During my second and final year, I felt more confident than I ever had done before. My guitar playing improved, as did my songwriting. That being said, none of them is mainstream radio material. They were good though...or so I was told. One afternoon, I auditioned to play in a college gig that would take place during an opening evening. One of the three songs caught the eye of one of my lecturers, for it reminded him of a Nick Drake song. At the time, that meant very little to me, so I wasn’t sure that it was a compliment or an insult. So when I naturally investigated this further, I searched for Nick Drake on the YouTubes and found Riverman, which is in 5/4 time that couldn’t decide whether it was in C major or C minor with this incredibly chilling string arrangement, with Nick Drake’s vocals that could easily be a sax line. I love it! Nick Drake would become my favourite guitarists and one of my favourite songwriters. His lyrics were incredibly poetic and fuckin’ miserable that toyed with death and insecurities with unique chord voices and string tunings unique only to Nick Drake. I quickly saw what that lecturer saw in that song of mine. As I do with most pieces of music I love, I have a habit of studying other works that they did, which led me to ‘Introduction’, one of the few instrumental tunes of his, and one of many string arrangments done by the great Robert Kirby. Lyrical and simply subline, with legato lines that soar like songbirds. It is quite easy for anyone to over saturate one’s orchestrations with notes and movement where it is not needed. Less is often more, and any writer/arranger for strings should study Robert Kirby’s works. 7. The Lark Ascending (Ralph Vaughn Williams) On the topic of brilliantly British writing, I return to one of my favourite pieces of classical music, a piece I discovered whilst transition from college to university. It is a tone poem set the actual poem of the same name with a solo violin and chamber orchestra accompaniment. The observant ear will notice that the strings will have mutes on the strings, not to interfere with the delicate virtuosic pentatonic/folky melody (the harmonies are also rather simple). Likewise, and solos from the horns, clarinets, flute etc. are all literal solos. Nothing interferes with the melody, which is just as useful composition advice, as it is on a music production level. As is the case with many of the pieces on this list, The Lark Ascending tells a story through music and create many stirring emotions in the process. It is an important principle I stand by when composing. 8. Literally any Pokemon Game Score… (Various, mainly Junichi Masuda & Jo Ichinose) I have always been heavily passionate about the Pokemon games and their accompanying scores, even though I have rarely talked about them on my social media pages. I should make an effort to address throughout 2020. But I digress. I think I have always been influenced by the game design and music of the Pokemon games. I learnt I loved RPGs (and by extension, JRPGs) with simple battle mechanics strengthened by strong narratives. The Pokemon games have played their part in my love for catchy melodies and interesting nonfunctional harmonies that I try and incorporate into my works as I deem appropriate. 9. The entire Oneknowing Album (Lena Raine) I first heard of Lena Raine in a similar fashion that so many others did, which was through the critically acclaimed game ‘Celeste’. I haven’t gotten round to playing the game or listening to the soundtrack in full, as I have a rule of thumb that I won’t listen to a soundtrack before experiencing the accompanying media, to minimise spoilers. I will admit that I have heard snippets of it through social media. Of course I have. There has been no avoiding it, as both the music and the game have been very popular. ‘Celeste’ is one of many games this decade that tackles difficult mental wellbeing. In particular, anxiety is a focus of the game, in addition to overcoming all the odds that life throws at you. It saved a few of my friend’s lives, something I am grateful for. I said this to Lena when I briefly spoke to her at the 2019 BAFTA Game Awards, thanking her on their behalf. She seemed pleasantly surprised that her music had that effect on these people. What makes the music of Lena Raine stand out to me is how unique her sounds are. I say ‘sounds’, for Lena has a wonderful take on synthesis and production that you just don’t hear anywhere else. And there is no better place to experience such wonderful electronic soundscapes than with her latest album (as of 2019), Oneknowing, which is the most refreshing albums I have heard in years. So many contemporary artists follow similar production techniques and harmonic progressions that have become stale and boring to my ears. With Oneknowing, you are never quite sure what to hear when you listen to this album and I love that. One moment you are in a New Age bed of dreams, before being teased with a mini-D&B backbeat that pulls the rug beneath your feet, with strangely hypnotising lullabies that could fit nicely into the ‘NieR’ franchise. In case you’re curious, my favourite track on the album is Momodani. 10. GIANT (IMERUAT) I have been in awe with this piece and its music video with the same level of intrigue and childish wonder since the first time I watched it on YouTube. It was one of the more influential YouTube algorithm recommendations of my life. IMERUAT is a duo consisting of composer Masashi Hamauzu and singer Mina Sakai. Masashi Hamauzu is most famous for composing the soundtrack to FINAL FANTASY XIII, which is one of my most favourite games in the franchise (don’t at me) in addition to one of my favourite soundtracks. Mina, whilst most famous for being the face of IMERUAT, she was also a vocalist on the FFXIII score (‘Sulyya Springs’, ‘Will to Fight’, and ‘Gapra Whitewood’). The arrangement of this is deceptively complex as the sections hop back from 5/8 time to 6/8 time, meaning an additional quaver (or eighth-note to you Yanks) is added, which is just enough for the piece to remain interesting on a rhythmic level. That is not to say the harmonic content and melodies aren’t interesting. I think it is a beautiful violin melody that has clearly been double-tracked (you can hear a slight chorus effect, implying the same violinist played the same part twice) to create a richer and stronger sound. What is also deceptive is the harmonies found in this piece. The syncopated piano chords could easily be found in any jazz standard. Jazz is hidden behind many of Masahi Hamauzu’s works, usually with close voicings (ie, the notes are close together, not spread out) which create a warm texture, like a hug. Then there is the dance that accompanies the piece, which is incredibly captivating. Music and dance have gone hand in hand with each other for literally thousands of years, so it is only natural for us to seek pleasure out of the relationship between song and dance. This especially so because I find it so unprecedented. I long for the day to have a piece of music of mine set to dance or write a piece of music to be set to dance. Coda There are hundreds of pieces that have played a huge part in my compositional style, so to name just ten(ish) examples across a 10 year period is painstakingly difficult, so I will leave some honourable mentions for to explore at your leisure, in no particular order of preference. Some are albums, whilst some are specific pieces of music. The soundtracks for Silent Hill 1-4 by Akira Yamaoka 'The River Cam' by Eric Whitacre The soundtrack to the Kharon's Crypt by Tony Manfredonia when that releases (I had the pleasure of hearing snippets of it whilst it was being worked on, as my friend Tony would ask for my help concerning production (things like EQ, compression, etc.)). Any score done by Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman & Erich Wolfgang Korngold Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim The Music from Riverdance by Bill Whelan Wicked by Stephen Schwartz 'The Light We Cast' from Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture by Jessica Curry The first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, performed by Jacqueline du Pré The soundtrack to Shadow of The Colossos by Kow Otani 'Music' by John Miles Nick Drakes albums. All of them! Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of The Worlds (Original cast recording and New Generation cast) The soundtracks to Dark Souls & Tales of Berseria by Motoi Sakuraba The Bloodborne soundtrack, composed by various fantastic composers. The soundtrack to CHAOS;CHILD by Takeshi Abo Oxygene by Jean Michel-Jare 'Fire on High' from Face the Music by Electric Light Orchestra The soundtrack for The Last Guardian by Takeshi Furukawa Requiem for My Mother by Rebbeca Dale Literally, everything done by Kate Bush, Earth, Wind & Fire, Motown, CHIC & Shoji Meguro and the rest of the ATLUS Sound Team.
  8. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from the recent(ish) remake of one of my favourite games. It is the Acid Jazz remix of YO from Catherine Fullbody, composed by Shoji Meguro, with rap and sung melody by L-VOKAL & Meitsuki respectively. For a quick summary, you play as the hopeless Vincent Brookes, who is pressured into marriage by his long-time girlfriend, Katherine, who is portrayed as strong, stern and remarkably cold at times. Vincent, after one drink too many at The Stray Sheep, he finds himself momentarily intoxicated by alcohol and Catherine, who is best described as the opposite of Katherine; young(er), childish, busty and remarkably blonde, resulting Vincent taking her back home with him. Thus begins a tragically hilarious love triangle, as the game presents to you the idea of you being able to choose your waifu, Catherine, or Katherine as you respond to text messages from both of them at night as you wander around the bar, talking to the other punters (or patrons, to you Yanks out there) and choosing how to respond to them as well, which affects a morality meter unlike any other. I am usually opposed to such methods in games, as you either have to be a cunt or saint to reap the maximum benefits. But without saying too much and ruining the ending, this plays slightly differently in Catherine. And to further complicate Vincent's love life (and the number of waifus to choose from), Fullbody adds another girl, Qatherine, (or, Rin) who Vincent runs into (literally), saving her from some stalker, giving her a place to sleep, and a job at The Stray Sheep, playing the piano. What I have just described is one portion of the narrative, which is the beloved social aspect of many of ATLUS' games. The game proper is a weirdly difficult puzzle game, where Vincent and the souls of other indecisive men (who all appear as sheep to each other) must climb various towers, by pushing blocks about, forming their own climbable paths. On a related note, Catherine (and Fullbody) doesn't shy away from its mature content. That's not to say there is anything pornographic, but do prepare something to say if a member of your family walks to find a naked Catherine straddling Vincent. As for the tune itself, it is a remix of the original theme, titled YO. Unlike that one, it is not a slightly expanded Acid Jazz remix a semitone lower (Bm-Bbm), with a new sung verse, sexy sax, seductive flute and a proper phat bass line. I won't lie, but this is an incredibly sexy arrangement, one that has matured nicely, like an old wine. It immediately lets you know that you are going on a ride like no other. What I think is most odd is the fact it is a rap song in a romantic horror Japanese game. It's very interesting, to say the least, but I think a lot of ATLUS' choices for Catherine could be described as such.
  9. This weeks #TuneTuesday is long overdue, as I deem it to be one of the most influential pieces of game music and I should have talked about it ages ago. It is One-Winged Angel, from Final Fantasy VII, composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu. To give a VERY brief overview of the plot, for those who have not played this 1997 gem for whatever reason, the story follows Cloud Strife, a mercenary who joins an eco-terrorist organization to stop a world-controlling corporation from using the planet's life essence as an energy source. Events send Cloud and his allies in pursuit of Sephiroth, a superhuman intent on destroying their planet. During the journey, Cloud builds close friendships with his party members, including Aerith Gainsborough, who holds the secret to saving their world. FFVII introduced quite a few firsts for the series. It was the first in the series to use full-motion video and 3D computer graphics, which featured 3D character models superimposed over 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Although the gameplay systems remained mostly unchanged from previous entries, it introduced more widespread science fiction elements and a more realistic presentation. The game had a staff of over 100, with a combined development and marketing budget of around $80 million, which was one of the largest budgets for a game at the time. FFVII is arguably one of the most influential and important games in the industry, as many open-world and (J)RPGs can be take right back to this game as its source. The game also has some of the most famous plot twists and narrative in gaming, which I'm certain most gamers are aware of, even if they haven't played FFVII. 'But what about this EPIC theme?' I hear you ask. Don't worry, I'm getting onto that! Like the plot twists, I am certain that every gamer knows that this is the theme during the final fight with Sepiroth, in his final form and it is very different to everything else in the soundtrack and pretty much every piece of gaming music up until that point. Uematsu has often stated that this piece of music takes inspiration from Igor Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring', which is a famous atonal ballet that caused riots in the streets of Paris upon it's premiere. Like the 'Rite of Spring', 'One-Winged Angel' presented a new way of composing video game music, combining modern classical music motifs (or chopped-up fragments, as he calls it) with rock and roll music from the late 60s to early 70s to make an orchestral track with a "destructive impact", to use his words. It also used a live choir, something that hadn't been done in any game (to my knowledge) up until that point. Imagine the look on SQUARE's face when Uematsu presented that idea, knowing how limited the PlayStation's hardware was! The PlayStation had 24 audio channels. Eight were reserved for sound effects, leaving sixteen available for the music. To be terribly crude for a moment, many game soundtracks before (and a little bit afterwards) could be described as 'plinky-tinky' noises. Game music had a very unique sound, with the 90s using the most basic of MIDI samples to produce sounds that sort-of resemble instruments, or create weird new ones with synthesisers. To an extent, a lot of music in FFVII falls under this category. But what makes a lot of this soundtrack different in its sound was the process that it was written. Uematsu's approach to composing the game's music was to treat it like a film score and write music that reflected the mood of the scenes, rather than trying to make strong melodies as that approach would come across too strong when placed alongside the game's new 3D visuals. It is this sort of mindset that I think all composers in media should aspire for. Not to get caught up in all of the Fmod or Wwise tools and toys to make the music as interactive as possible, as I think that just alienates players and flexes your ego. Nor should you get caught up in maximising templates and buying every sample library Spitfire, NI or any other company spits out. The music in any piece of media, be it game, film or TV should enhance, suggest and support whatever emotion is being portrayed in the visuals and narrative, not to get in its way.
  10. I have decided to celebrate Spooktober by choosing #TuneTuesday tunes that are either spooky or paints-shitting terrifying. To kick the scarefest off, this weeks #TuneTuesday is 'Black Fairy' from Silent Hill 2, composed by Akira Yamaoka. Set some undetermined time after the events of the original Silent Hill, you take control of Jaaaaaaaaaames Sunderland, who returns to the eponymous town after receiving a letter from his wife, Mary, to come to their 'special place'. It's a fairly normal premise, but what makes it odd is that Mary is dead and has been for 3 years. Regardless, James sets out to the monster-ridden town that is enveloped in a strange for. From this opening, the astute player will work out that James isn't ok, and neither are the few people he encounters on his journey. I'll say no more on the matter, as I will enter massive spoiler territory. That being said, this cue is played during the final boss and is a perfect culmination of the game's themes and ideas. James finds out that <<INSERT SPOILER>> and his whole world begins to crumble. The strange, almost atonal synth pad just pulsates, not really going anywhere creating this incredibly uncomfortable tension for the player. Yet somehow, there is something about it that makes you want to listen to it over and over. Like much of the game's soundtrack, 'Black Fairy' has a strange dreamlike quality, or more appropriately, one befitting an awful nightmare. I highly recommend lovers of horror games and game soundtracks to listen to experience Silent Hill 2 and it's trippy ambiences, for it is arguably one of the best horror games to exist, with one of the most unusually pleasing soundtracks.
  11. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite JRPGs. It is 'The Way of The Embodied Dragon' from Tales of Berseria, composed by Motoi Sakuraba Tales of Berseria is the most recent entry of the Tales and acts as a prequel to Tales of Zestiria, some 1000 years prior. The Tales games take the usual anime adventure, happy-clappy setting of a group of varied and talented friends off to vanquish some great evil. Berseria is not so jolly. Velvet Crowe and her younger brother Laphicet are saved by her brother-in-law Artorius when a Scarlet Night occured, causing daemons to attack their village. Seven years later, Velvet takes care of her sickly brother with Artorius. The Scarlet Night returns, with the entire village succumbing to the Daemonblight: when Velvet finds Artorius, sacrificing her brother as part of a ritual, known as the "Advent". Artorius attempts to use her for the Advent as well, but she fights back and the Daemonblight possesses her arm, mutating it and turning her into a Daemon called a "Therion", with the ability to absorb Daemons. In a rage, she slaughters the nearby Daemons before passing out. She awakes in a prison for Daemons on the island Titania, swearing to kill Artorius and avenge her brother's murder. Velvet does encounter others who wish to stop Artorious and his newly founded Church, but for different reasons. Every character in the party is incredibly selfish, acting in their own accord, using the others for their own benefit.It is not until the very end of the game's narrative that they acquaintances. It is where this cue sneaks in. This cue plays during the final area, where Velvet and co. are off for that final showdown with Artorious, ending his tyrannical rule. I can't reveal why the cue is named as such without spoilers, but as the dragon and the dungeon itself, it is quite the epic cue. The cue begins in G minor, but doesn't really stay there for very long as it leaps and stabs its way into other keys totally detached from the starting key. The constantly shifting harmony creates a lot of tension, which is added to the excitement the player climbing higher and higher through this last dungeon to fight the final boss after a good 60hrs of compelling narrative and frantic fights. I don't usually make comments about samples, but I feel that it's required here to note that whilst I would have loved have heard more live instruments in this cue (and the rest of the soundtrack), there is a certain 'punch' that has been achieved that I don't think one could have replicated with a live string section and drums. I could be wrong in that assumption, but if there are any live performances of it out there, chuck it my way and prove me wrong!
  12. This weeks #TuneTuesday comes from the visual novel I have just finished playing/reading/experiencing. It is 'Visible Essence' from 'Chaos;Child' composed by Takeshi Abo Chaos;Child is the fourth main entry in the Science Adventure series (the same series the famous 'Steins;Gate' comes from) and a thematic sequel to Chaos;Head. As such, the plot is incredibly involved and rather confusing at times. In it, you take the role of Takuru Miyashiro, the president of his school's newspaper club, who investigates the "Return of the New Generation Madness" serial murder case that has been taking place in Shibuya. During the course of the game, he experiences delusions where the player gets the option to choose if Takuru should experience a positive or negative delusion or neither. These choices affect the plot's direction, causing it to branch off from the main narrative into different routes. That is, once you've played the game through for the first time, as you only have access to the common route (the canon route if you would). Chaos;Child is a murder mystery thriller, so many of the cues are varying degrees of creepy and frightening, depending on what is going on at a certain moment in the story. With Japanese high school students as the protagonists, there are some lighter relief moments where some of the cues are more upbeat and pleasant, as well as some appropriately sad ones for certain moments. It is not a terribly interactive soundtrack, but music in media should always enhance the emotions on screen first before you throw all the clever Wwise toys at it. The cues never feel repetitive or monotonous, which is why this soundtrack is just fantastic. Then you have today's cue, which is very different from what the player is used to hearing in the game. I personally get Jean-Michel Jarre vibes from it, probably because it sounds very similar to one of the Oxygene tracks that's in G minor. Visible Essence plays towards the end of the visual novel, in association with a certain group of characters (who are nameless here for spoiler reasons) and certain climatic plot revelations that are true 'mind-blown' moments. The cue represents these people perfectly. They are frightening, extremely intelligent and have this strange brewing power that is never truly explained. That is all I'm going to say on the cue, for I fear I have said too much already. Go play Chaos;Child, for it is one of the best narrative experiences I have encountered in a game. It's sound design and voice acting is top-notch as well. I have very little to fault this game on, which is incredibly rare to find a piece of media this good.
  13. This week's #TuneTuesday comes from one of my favourite PS3 games and is quite possibly one of the most underrated games on the previous generation. It is the theme from 'The Darkness', composed by Gustaf Grefberg. But first, some context as to how I discovered this game that is loosely based on the comic of the same name. I didn't use the internet that much during school. All the games I would ever hear about either came up in playground conversation, adverts, magazine reviews, or that one program on Bravo that I would watch, before both the show and program were discontinued. It was only during the end of teens that I began to use YouTube as a source of game news and reviews, which was how I discovered 'The Darkness' during my first year at college. This was through a Watch Mojo Top 10 list on the most violent video games, the game's sequel being on that list. The game (and the comics it is based on) follows Jackie Estacado, a former hit-man in The Mafia, was targeted for assassination on the eve of his 21st birthday by the don of the New York mafia, "Uncle" Paulie Franchetti, following a failed task to retrieve money for the latter. While hiding in a cemetery bathroom, The Darkness, an ancient force that has inhabited his family for several generations, awakens within Jackie, becoming the possessor of unholy demonic abilities that feed off the dark. As for the music for the game, you explore a fictionalised New York, with no UI/HUD to help you. You explore different districts, each one has their own sinister ambient 'pad' that plays. Like ogres, each district cue has layers that are mixed in and out depending on what is happening on the screen. One version is an ambient one when there are no enemies around. The other is a stealth one, which has more tension, as there are enemies present that you are either sneaking around or hiding from. The third is a combat version, where you are fighting enemies, and there are metal guitars and drums in your face as your popping caps like a badass and ripping people's heads off with these weird Darkness snakeheads. In game audio, this technique is known as 'Vertical Layering', as they are literally stacking on top of each other. The theme itself has never heard isn't entirely in the game (believe me, I've checked!) but you hear the loud chorus at various points, usually during climactic moments with The Darkness, who is voiced by fucking Mike Patton of Faith No More! I believe there is no piece of music for a film, game etc. more important then it's the main theme, as the sets the tone of what to expect when enjoying this piece of media. Much of the theme is very dark, borderline the Satanic (which makes it a brilliant tool for scaring of Jehovah's Witness) with brilliantly unpredictable harmony that just somehow works, almost in a tonal sense. There is a slightly faster section towards the large climatic chorus, which I suppose represents the rush and excitement of being an indestructible daemonic force, decapitating Mafia gunman, and sending Gatlin-gun-wielding gremlins to fuck shit up further. If you do own a PS3 still, I would recommend you playing this game and its sequel. That being said, despite being incredibly more violent and faster than it's predecessor, it does not have the same sinister tone and you may be a tad disappointed with the ending like I was.
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