In the previous installments of this series, we discussed the importance of repeating musical themes, using the variation technique and fragmentation to support different gameplay types. So now, let’s explore what happens when musical themes are employed within more complex interactive music systems.
In the last article, we took a look at how thematic material was employed in subtle ways within two of my video game projects – Assassin’s Creed Liberation and Homefront: The Revolution. We considered how repetition can reinforce the significance of musical themes, particularly when they are associated with specific narrative ideas, and we talked about how repetition can work to make musical themes memorable and meaningful. But we all know that repetition can get stale if we don’t approach it creatively. So that brings us now to the topic of variation – how to keep themes feeling fresh.
In the last article, we discussed the concept of the “hook” as it relates to thematic composition, and we explored how an awesome hook can function best from within a main theme track. In our discussion, we used both a famous example from the Star Wars franchise, as well as the main theme from one of my own recently-released game projects – The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes. Both examples included a fairly dynamic foreground melody, which made it a great example for our discussion of the role of the hook in thematic construction. So let’s now consider what happens when we eschew such an attention-drawing melodic element and instead take a more subtle approach.
Glad you’re here! I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m the author of the book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. Recently my publisher The MIT Press requested that I host a question and answer session on Reddit’s famous Ask Me Anything forum, to share my knowledge about game music and spread the word about my book on that topic. I’d be answering questions from a community consisting of thousands of gamers, developers and aspiring composers. It sounded like fun, so last Thursday and Friday I logged onto Reddit and answered as many questions as I possibly could. It was an awesome experience! Over the course of those two days, my Reddit AMA went viral. It ascended to the Reddit front page, receiving 14.8 thousand upvotes and garnering Reddit’s gold and platinum awards. My AMA has now become one of the most engaged and popular Reddit gaming AMAs ever hosted on the Ask-Me-Anything subreddit. I’m so grateful to the Reddit community for their amazing support and enthusiasm!! During the course of those two days, the community posed some wonderful questions, and I thought it would be great to gather together some of those questions and answers that might interest us here. Below you’ll find a discussion focused on the art and craft of game music composition. The discussion covered the gamut of subjects, from elementary to expert, and I’ve arranged the discussion below under topic headings for the sake of convenience. I hope you enjoy this excerpted Q&A from my Reddit Ask-Me-Anything! If you’d like to read the entire AMA (which also includes lots of discussion of my past video game music projects), you’ll find the whole Reddit AMA here.
As game composers, we need a little inspiration now and then. This blog will share some fun thoughts and ideas that have the potential to stir our creative juices, or just help us to think about game music in a different way. First, we’ll get a perspective on what the classical symphony performance has in common with the act of playing a video game. Then, we’ll learn about a method of turning a video game into a musical instrument for performance art. And finally, we’ll hear about a sonic toy that lets us trigger game sounds and music as a spontaneous aural performance to accompany roleplay gaming. I hope these ideas will get us thinking about the relationship between game music and live performance. At the very least, some of these ideas may tickle our creative fancy, so let’s get started!
Andrew Norman’s Play (Boston Modern Orchestra Project)
First, let’s consider the viewpoint of acclaimed symphonic composer Andrew Norman (pictured left), who is currently nominated for a Grammy in the category of “Best Contemporary Classical Composition” for his symphonic work entitled Play. The nominated recording was performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, as conducted by Gil Rose. As a composer, Andrew Norman is no stranger to accolades, having previously achieved the finalists list for the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2012 for his string trio The Companion Guide to Rome. What’s most fascinating about his symphony Play, aside from its bold and experimental approach to musical composition, is the philosophy with which it was created. As it turns out, video games played a key role.
Since the game audio community is abuzz with popular excitement about the impending arrival of virtual reality systems, I’ve been periodically writing blogs that gather together top news about developments in the field of audio and music for VR. In this blog we’ll be looking at some resources that discuss issues relating to artistry and workflow in audio for VR:
We’ll explore an interesting post-mortem article about music for the VR game Land’s End.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the 3DCeption Spatial Workstation.
We’ll be checking out the Oculus Spatializer Plugin for DAWs.
Here, you see me trying out the Samsung Gear VR, as it was demonstrated on the show floor at the Audio Engineering Society Convention in 2015.
Todd Baker is best known for his audio design work on the whimsical Tearaway games, and his work as a member of the music composition team for the awesome LittleBigPlanet series. His work on Land’s End for Ustwo Games affords him an insightful perspective on audio for virtual reality. “In VR, people are more attuned to what sounds and feels right in the environment, and therefore can be equally distracted by what doesn’t,” writes Baker. In the effort to avoid distraction, Baker opted for subtlety in regards to the game’s musical score. Each cue began with a gentle fade-in, attracting little notice at first so as to blend with the game’s overall soundscape in a natural way.
Happy Holidays, everyone! 2015 has been a really memorable year for me, and a successful one for my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. Writing this book not only allowed me to express my excitement about game music, but also opened up my world to a huge community of game music enthusiasts that I’m now proud to call friends.
I’ve been delighted to meet so many people who have read my book – from aspiring composers, to scholars and educators, to game audio pros. It’s been tremendously gratifying!
I’d like to spend this blog recapping the events of 2015 as they related to my book, and I’ll also be sharing some book-related resources and tutorials that I created in 2015 (in case you missed them). Happy Holidays, everyone, and thank you so much for your tremendous support this year!
I was very proud to speak at three events during the Audio Engineering Society convention last week! My hour-long presentation last Sunday was entitled “Interactive Music of the LittleBigPlanet Franchise: Dissecting a Complex, Multi-Component System.”
In addition, I spoke as a panelist during a game audio panel presentation on Saturday, and I also participated on Saturday as a game audio mentor in the awesome AES Speed Mentoring session, sponsored by the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services. Attendees got a chance to ask loads of terrific questions of the assembled professional mentors, and it was great fun to answer game audio questions during the mentoring session!
The LittleBigPlanet franchise is 7 years old today! On October 28th, 2008, the very first LittleBigPlanet game was published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. In the seven years since that auspicious day, players have explored the whimsical world of LittleBigPlanet in countless awesome adventures. I’m very proud to have been a part of the music team for this famous franchise. So, to celebrate the game franchise’s seventh birthday, let’s go for a tour through the history of LittleBigPlanet!