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  1. You probably haven’t been counting, but this week marks the 100th edition of my weekly #TuneTuesday, so I wanted to do something a little bit different and talk about one of my own compositions, something I try to avoid doing so it doesn’t look like I’m arrogant. In any case, this weeks #TuneTuesday is one of my more personal compositions. It is ‘Cigarette Smoke (Reprise)’ from Lore By Night, a Vampire: The Masquerade Podcast. In case the above title didn’t give it away, Lore By Night is a podcast about the tabletop RPG game, Vampire: The Masquerade, where players assume the role of vampires in a modern night setting. They must fight their foes, the ongoing vampire politics, and the constant fight with their own humanity and The Beast, this ravenous nature within them that just wants to sleep, feed and kill everything around them. It is harrowing stuff, and there is no real game quite like it. Each cue found in the soundtrack was my attempt at presenting the sound of the World of Darkness (the universe in which VtM exists) in a different light, whilst making sure the music wasn’t too involved to distract from the narration of the VtM metaplot and lore in the podcast. Those who have played ‘Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines’, or watched the World of Darkness Documentary on Amazon Prime would know that the ‘established’ sound for the World of Darkness is edgy goth rock, which does a splendid job at covering the aforementioned conflicts. I believed, and still do believe, that there are many ways of exploring that inner conflict with oneself, which is why a lot the vast majority of music found within the podcast is either jazz or orchestral, which I (perhaps biasedly) believe are much more effective mood setters than goth rock of the late 90s/early 00s. There are exceptions to this of course, which leads me onto Cigarette Smoke, which I describe as a soft middle of the road rock track with acoustic guitar and jazz harmonies (you can listen to the original here). I had two main thought processes when I first imagined Cigarette Smoke. I imagine vampires to incredibly miserable, perhaps depressed, creatures. It must not be easy for vampires to totally cut off from their former lives as humans, fighting each night just to survive. I imagine that friendships/alliance are formed between vampires on this concept/understanding alone and they meet in bars, smoking and drinking their collective clusterfucks into oblivion. This piece reflects this inner-struggle with oneself, reflected by the three chords in the ‘verse’ sections; Bm9, Fm#9/B (or B69omit3rd), Bm9 and F#mM7, which is a real spicy chord that many people will hate. It sounds like I am constantly playing a mistake, but I assure you it is a very deliberate choice. The tune was always very much intended to have this orchestration, but I wanted to test the waters with its structure, as I do with everything I write. Before I notate things onto the score (which the Lore By Night ost is remarkably assent of, for I played most of the instruments on the soundtrack (minus the orchestra and choir samples obviously)), I take myself to the piano and just play. I make note of anything I like and dislike, as I can attempt to bastardise such rejects at a later date. Cigarette Smoke (Reprise) was never is a 5:32sec one-take, improvised take me playing with ideas on the piano, with no editing of the sort (which is why bits of it sound out of time to the trained ear, but I like to think of it as being free). It was never supposed to be included on the album. It uses the same harmonies as the original, but with a slight change to Em7 here in the chorus to G6 in the main version. I mentioned earlier I had two thought processes. The second is fare more personal struggle with myself. Without going into specifics, I was in an emotionally and mentally dark place when the piece was fully conceived, and I feel that comes across with the spicy jazz chords and the aggressive bridge section in the main version of the cue. I wouldn't be able to recreate this piece again, not with the same level of energy and passion I used to create it. Even though the mix is questionable and the elitist within me hates myself for publishing it to the world, I much prefer this more raw rendition, in addition to the out of time piano reprise. This is why this one the personal pieces I have composed to date.
  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 week's #TuneTuesday is from #VampireTheMasqueradeBloodlines, that PC game I keep coming back to. The cue is Downtown Theme composed by Ric Schaffer. In case you're not aware, Bloodlines is based off World of Darkness' LARP (live-action roleplaying (game)) 'Vampire: The Masquerade' and has you play as one of 7 vampiric clans, each with their own quirks and powers (note: VtM has 13 clans...for the most part). Once you are embraced in Bloodlines, you are pretty much a puppet to a Sebastian LaCroix, who is the leader of a vampiric group called the Camarilla, who are enemies with a slightly freer group, the Anarchs. I could go on more about the story, but I do not want to spoil more than I already have done. I may have made the rivalry sound very simplistic and uninteresting, but that is not the case at all. VtM (and by extension, VtMB) is, and always has been, a game of politics, as these two factions (and the more primal Sabbat), have their own beliefs and systems as to why they are the better than the others and why their way is the best way. To be very crude, the Camarilla is basically 'fuck you, peasants, bow down and kiss the knee', the Anarchs is 'fuck da police' and the Sabbat is 'fuck everyone'. So where does this cue play into this? VtMB has you, the player, explore 4 different hub zones in a really small version of LA; Santa Monica, Chinatown, Hollywood and Downtown, each one with their own theme that plays on a loop as you explore each hub. Whilst VtMB does have its own theme, which is basically a rip off of 'Angel' by Massive Attack, I think Downtown Theme reflects the gritty politics found in the game (the Camarilla and Anarchs have a strong footing here) much more. It's dark brooding F minor riff is the darker reality of a modern vampire stalking the streets on modern bystanders, not some Count Dracula 'I hath come to suck'th the blood', luring innocents into their lair. And with almost every American able to carry around guns easily, no Kindred is safe...
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