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  1. This weeks #TuneTuesday post has return to the World of Darkness and talk about the first and heavily underrated Vampire: The Masquerade videogame. The game is Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, the cue is Vienna Orsi (according to the filename, as the soundtrack was never officially released) and the composer is Kevin Manthei. 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 electronic sounds and gritty phat beats (there is even a rap when you explore certain parts of New York). Whilst in 12th Century Vienna, Christof and his party (known as a coterie in VtM terms) must speak to a Cainite by the name of Orsi. The player will hear this cue as you enter his home before you get to meet him, and you can instantly tell the sort of individual this Orsi is just from the music. Regal, remarkably pompous, and incredibly stately. It is a stereotypical classical string quartet arrangement (2 violins, viola & cello), basing all of its melodic ideas off the first few dotted rhythms, which is an arpeggiated E minor chord, which to me suggests that he has a lot of power, and may not be a good vampire (if such a phrase truly exists). The final chord of the cue, the Bsus4 7th serves to add to this I think, and possibly suggests Orsi’s religious ties. It could also just be an interesting and ‘proper’ chord to use to allow the cue to loop around. Whilst the sound itself is somewhat cheesy, given the string quartet sounds are General MIDI ‘sounds’, it still serves as an impressive cue to me because of it’s the ability to tell the listener everything they need to know about the character before meeting them. There is one final detail I wish to draw your attention to, which some of you may have noticed already. It may require you to wear some headphones to pay closer attention. With a decently trained ear, you will notice the cello is on the far left speaker, the viola closer to the centre of the stereo field, but slightly to the left, the 2nd violin mirroring the viola (right, but close to the centre), with the 1st violin on the far right. String quartets usually reverse the seating arrangments (cello far-right, viola centre, but near the right etc.). Is this a fault on the composer’s behalf? No, as the composer can do what he/she/they pleases, but that is not the case here. It was only up until the string quartets of Joseph Haydn (which is some 500 years after the game’s first time period) and beyond where quarters took that seating arrangement. The few string quartets that existed before Haydn took the seating arrangement you are currently listening too. Hopefully, you have learnt at least two new things today...
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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