Top Score is a podcast From Classical MPR where I speak with composers about their experiences writing for video games. Spreading the love for game music, one episode at a time. Episodes on iTunes and www.classicalmpr.org/topscore
Reblogged from nprmusic
Friday is your last day to apply for the fall semester! We’re looking for folks to intern for All Songs Considered, help us film and edit videos, and produce stories for the site. Oh, and you also get to work with me — All Songs intern, summer 2006, btw — so that’s incentive enough, right? —Lars
Composer Austin Wintory seized an opportunity to write a type of music he’d never written before for his newest project. The game Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine is a game where you get to sneak around a lot. You try to avoid guards and thwart security systems as you move from one place to the next.
All the while, the player is accompanied by a sound ripped right out of the pages, if you will, of silent film.
Austin wanted the score to have a sense of spontaneity to it, as if someone is sitting in the room accompanying you on a piano while you play.
There’s a sloppiness and urgency to his music, and it does end up feeling like I have my own private piano band playing along.
The sound of the piano is interesting; a friend of Austin’s bought an old upright off of Craigslist. Austin liked the sound of it so much, he brought over a mic one day and sampled each note so he could sequence it into his computer.
But throughout the score, he tinkers with the piano such that by the end of the game, it sounds entirely different.
After he finished the score for Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine, Austin came up with an experiment of sorts.
Since his score was mostly piano, he decided to ask other musicians to listen to the Monaco soundtrack and do a cover of a piece.
Tried to post this yesterday but Tumblr was broken. Apologies.
This special episode of Learning to Listen commemorates the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.
Let’s start with a little context, first though. In the early part of the 20th century, popular classical composers included Edward Elgar, Maurice Ravel, Gustav Mahler and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
So when audience members of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris heard the bizarre opening to The Rite of Spring, they didn’t know what to think.
Those opening sounds come from a bassoon - but we almost never hear a bassoon play so high. It made the bassoon sound like a different instrument all together.
In fact, in the first several moments, we hear nothing but woodwinds. Weird ones. Like that high bassoon, the English horn, the E-flat clarinet, the alto flute, and bass clarinet which is the lowest playing clarinet. These instruments rarely, if ever, had their moment in the spotlight before Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
So when do we hear the strings? Well, the strings kind of sneak in, almost imperceptibly, but their first true statement comes at the beginning of the second movement (at 3:31 in the video).
The Rite of Spring is a highly organized piece, even though it might sound a bit chaotic at times. It’s not organized in the same way that someone like Johann Sebastian Bach or even Johannes Brahms wrote. Stravinsky used something called “pitch class sets" to organize much of The Rite of Spring.
This type of musical construction, using pitch class sets, was a relatively new way to compose music in the beginnings of the 20th century. So new that the method for analyzing music written this way wasn’t really codified until some 20 years after the premiere of The Rite of Spring.
All of that to say, the harmonies of the music in The Rite of Spring itself would’ve put off audience members, independent of whatever instruments Stravinsky chose to use. Stravinsky used a sophisticated process to organize the melodies and harmonies in his piece.
If you’d like to learn more about the construction of The Rite of Spring from the standpoint of music theory, look into a book called The Harmonic Organization of The Rite of Spring, written by professor Allen Forte.
Another alarming aspect of The Rite of Spring is the aggressive percussion. Again, Stravinsky gave important parts to either unknown percussion instruments, or percussion instruments that more often play a supporting role in an orchestra. One of the lesser known is a wooden Latin-American instrument called the Guiro, which makes scraping and tapping noises.
Percussion like the bass drum got more attention from Stravinsky, as well as the timpani and the “tam tam”. The tam tam is colloquially referred to as a “gong”.
For the audio in the accompanying audio podcast, I used the seminal recording from Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, a reissue from the 1958 recording that Stravinsky liked.
Other music samples include:
Edward Elgar: The Wand of Youth, Bryden Thomson, Ulster Orchestra. Chandos 8318
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe, Charles Munch, Paris Orchestra. EMI 69957
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 5, Daniel Barenboim, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Teldec 23328
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3, Lang Lang, Yuri Temirkanov, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc 80582
Composer Lennie Moore on Top Score from Classical MPR
There are plenty of games on the market simulating droves of different military wars. Each of those games has a soundtrack, too.
Many of those soundtracks focus on the intensity of war, as well as the idiosyncratic sounds of war-time music. Sounds such as military drums (lots of snare drums), heavy brass and even electric guitar at times.
Composer Lennie Moore eschewed those choices for his new music to Red Orchestra 2: Rising Storm, encouraged by developer Tripwire to explore the styles of American composers Aaron Copland and Charles Ives.
The result is unbelievably pleasing to the ear. Just about the only “expected” nuance is a trumpet solo. But rather than hire a trumpet player with a polished orchestral sound, Lennie called up friend Tim Larkin for a little bit grittier of a tone.
The first game Lennie ever scored was Outcast. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus recorded that score, one of the first game soundtracks to use a live orchestra.
Hear Lennie talk about Red Orchestra 2: Rising Storm and Outcast on the new episode of Top Score, also available on iTunes.
This is an incredible visual interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Part One), courtesy of composer and inventor Stephen Malinowski. Certainly one of the most influential pieces of music from the 20th century, you’ll never hear it the same again after you see this.
Check out Stephen’s YouTube channel for all kinds of other pieces he’s realized.
The new episode of Top Score from Classical Minnesota Public Radio features an interview with BioShock Infinite composer Garry Schyman.
BioShock Infinite takes place in 1912, in an American city in the sky.
Yes, in the sky.
Quite a change from the previous two BioShock games, which were in the underwater city named “Rapture.” The city of Columbia, however, has sunshine. And clearly, the sky.
Composer Garry Schyman and Creative Director of Irrational Games, Ken Levine, knew the score needed to sound different.
Garry accomplished the changes by using a much smaller ensemble — basically, a small string section and some percussion.
The year 1912 was an interesting time in American classical music, most notably because there wasn’t much yet. Many American composers of the time still sounded quite European, although Charles Ives certainly stood out.
Garry considered Ives’s influence, but rather turned to other American icons in Stephen Foster (think “Camptown Races” or “Oh Susanna!” or “Swanee River”), and American folk music in general.
He asked the string players to keep a “fiddle” sound in mind (fiddlers tend to play with less vibrato than traditional classical violinists), and to occasionally play aggressively.
Or just buy the soundtrack. I encourage it!!