In a cool article for Ask Audio Magazine, G. W. Childs IV suggested 5 Unusual Things Every Sound Designer Should Try. These tactics were designed to shake the cobwebs off the creative process of sound designers, opening minds to new possibilities (including binaural recording techniques, plug-ins for randomizing audio content, adding reverb to dry audio sources by playing back the recordings in actual reverberant spaces, etc.)
In the spirit of that article, I’m going to offer 4 Unusual Things for a Game Composer to Try. If you’re a game composer, you can play with some of these techniques. I’m not going to say that you should, but if it sounds like fun, then go for it.
Use Sound Design Musically
One of the most energizing ways to get inspired is to use the actual aural building blocks of your game’s environment in a musical way. For instance, in the Speed Racer video game I incorporated lots of sound effects associated with the sport of racing into the music, including doppler effects that were worked into musical transitions, tire screeches mapped to the keyboard to accentuate their natural pitches so that they could be used harmonically, and crowd cheers worked into the rhythm section. These elements helped my music feel more connected to the game, and kept me invigorated as I worked.
Get Sneaky with your Genres
Lately, the genre mashup has become very popular, in which two disparate musical styles are layered together in order to produce a novel effect. Mashups can help keep a composer inspired, but even better — why not sneak that second genre into your track? There’s no reason for us to be overt about it, and hiding a second genre within the first can give a composer a sense of wicked enjoyment. For instance, while creating music for such bright and airy projects as Shrek the Third and SimAnimals, I worked in subtle avante garde orchestral approaches that included unusual meters and dissonance. The influences weren’t particularly overt, but they kept the composition process fresh and interesting for me and helped the music feel more unique.
Turn Tracks on their Heads
Some years back, I was involved in a project (which I will not name) that required me to take a large portion of music I had previously composed in one style and completely rework it into another style altogether. This was a thoroughly drastic change, from a light-hearted approach to a dour and heavy-handed instrumental treatment. The essential core elements of the track (meter, melody, tempo) had to remain the same, however. It was a challenging puzzle to solve, but it also opened me up to creative possibilities I wouldn’t have conceived any other way. In that spirit, if at any time we’re feeling creatively blocked while working on a track, maybe it might be fun to turn the track on its head — change its essential personality — while maintaining its skeletal structure.
Don’t Forget Your Old Gear
As our careers progress, we’re likely to build up a large assortment of high-tech equipment and state-of-the-art software tools. After a while, we become accustomed to our workflow with these tools, and there ceases to be any novelty to the creative process. At these times, it can be fun to drag out the old gear and put it to use. Not only can the vintage stuff add some needed retro zest to our sound palettes, but it can also reignite those creative juices by reminding us of the days when we were starting out and filled with starry-eyed yearning.
So that’s it — 4 Unusual Things for a Game Composer to Try. If any of it sounds like it might be helpful, then please give it a whirl! And let me know in the comments if you have any other unusual strategies for getting the creative juices flowing.