Brian LaGuardia - Composer/Conductor/Arranger

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Star Trek 50th Anniversary Suite

One of the things that has been on my bucket list since I was a small child was hearing a proper suite from Star Trek: The Motion Picture live in concert. Yes, the slow, boring one from 1979. And sure, it is a pretty slow-burn movie…but that glacial pacing is what allowed Jerry Goldsmith to construct a truly epic, powerful score. As I think I’ve stated before on this blog, this is one of my favorite film scores of all time, and it was one of the few Trek scores that was nominated for an Academy Award. And I got my wish last month. I arranged 22 minutes of music from this masterpiece.

Written for an orchestra of Mahlerian proportions, the session at 20th Century Fox called for ten keyboard players (2 grand pianos, a full acoustic organ and SEVEN synth players), six horns, four trumpets and trombones, two tubas, timpani plus SIX percussionists…in all, over 100 musicians. In addition, Goldsmith turned to works like Vaughan Williams’ Arctic Symphony for harmonic ideas, giving the phrase “glacial pacing” a whole new meaning. The result: a score with unimaginable power, mystery and majesty. Needless to say, I had a lot of reducing to do, and a lot of orchestration challenges ahead of me.

Once I had the legal clearance to arrange, not only did I set to work deciding which excerpts to include (as run time was a factor, as was the technical ability of the orchestra, which was just shy of professional level and only had three weeks to pull a very difficult program together), I also started digging into the making of the film and found some fascinating tidbits! For those who were unable to attend, I thought I’d compile a list of excerpts from the performance (this is all the Arapahoe Philharmonic playing my arrangement, not the album!), as well as some background on the orchestration, making of the film and even what each soundbyte depicts during the film.

Engage!

***

The whole arrangement starts off not as you would expect. Rather than the “Star Trek” horn call everyone has known since the original show from the 60’s, I started with the “Leaving Drydock” cue from The Motion Picture. This is mainly because it is a fantastic slow buildup to the main theme, building anticipation for the imminent launch of the Enterprise. Only the contrabassoon, bass trombone and very low piano provide a dramatic bass sustain while cellos, basses and bassoons introduce us to the first musical idea from TMP and then trade back and forth between the violins and Oboes: the Starfleet Ostinato.

The primary role of this ostinato is not just to provide backing for the eventual appearance of the main theme, but also to illustrate Starfleet Officers scurrying about, making sure systems run at optimum efficiency. It is meant to represent the people of the Enterprise, rather than the ship itself. That honor is generally reserved for the main theme.

Finally, the first hint of the main theme shows itself in the horns, while the timpani thunders on with the Starfleet Ostinato in what was I’m sure a very fun solo. Then, after one more dip in dynamic, Kirk gives the order to launch the Enterprise. The full theme shows itself in all its glory as the magnificent starship leaves drydock behind!

After a grand sendoff with the main Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek theme, with the Starfleet Ostinato providing counterpoint, we glide into one of the lovelier variations of the theme, depicting Kirk’s first glimpse of the refitted Enterprise…a sort of hushed awe with the melody carried now only by the sweet cellos in their high register, violins and violas providing harmony with fingered tremolo and flutes and clarinets providing the barest gusts of accent here and there. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the scenes that Jerry had to entirely re-score because the FILMMAKERS thought it needed a theme! Can you imagine a director nowadays turning to a composer and saying “eh, it needs a theme!”?

I even threw in the challenging mixed-meter variation of the main theme, which also chronicles Kirk and Scotty’s starship-gazing scene. To my delight, the orchestra stepped up to the plate and kept up with the challenging section – not to mention our principle clarinet who pulled off a very difficult solo in a very high register!

Next, I decided to add the Klingon Attack cue.  There is something irresistible about it, I think largely because it captures the race so well. It is bellicose and proud (because of the use of 5ths, making it sound like a royal call to battle), but also is orchestrated in a way that has restraint to it – like a predator waiting to strike. Note that all the woodwinds are playing in unison here – even the Bassoons, which is a register as high for them as the opening Rite of Spring solo! Also, the clicking you hear are not Castanets, as you might have guessed, but Angklungs – a percussion instrument from Indonesia. We couldn’t get our hands on any for the concert, so I had to provide the synth patch for that and play the part myself!

Now, the real challenge of this arrangement was figuring out how to replicate the Blaster Beam sound. For those of you who don’t know what this crazy instrument is, it’s essentially a 15+ foot lap steel guitar. When you bang on it and scrape things along in portamento style, it sounds very…scifi. Here’s one of the creators of the beam to expound and pound.

Pretty cool, right? But how the hell was I suppose to replicate that sound on the concert stage? I happened to be at a concert when I was very young where the Klingon Attack was being performed, and I remember that they got some Synth guy to make a sound, but it was weaksauce. It didn’t have the same impact. And the orchestration was written to basically give the Beam a solo with no accompaniment. So how was I to avoid that pitfall?

My solution was manyfold. First, I had the harp make this racket that you only get when you instruct the Harpist to push one of their pedals exactly between two half-steps, thus allowing the strings to rattle against the pins. It sounds kinda like this:

But in the big Blaster Beam spots, I added Timpani rolls with pedaling, as well as a healthy dose of Omnisphere Synths that were a good deal heftier than the ones I heard many years ago in that concert hall. Have a listen and judge for yourself.

Now the Beam, one of the many ways V’Ger is represented musically, was actually recorded separately from the orchestra…and it just so happens that there is a track with nothing but Beam effects on the 3-Disc special edition of the Motion Picture Soundtrack. So I borrowed a few seconds of it and played it back at the right moment, where it would have been too difficult to have acoustic instruments try and duplicate the effect. Following the Beam solo is just a cacophony of aleatory, depicting the energy bolts that V’Ger throws at ships to disintegrate them.

This seguays straight into one of the more clever (if I do say so myself) transitions of the suite: in the Klingon Attack cue, it ends on a dramatic tutti statement of the V’Ger chords. But later on, there is a similar dramatic statement of the V’Ger chords, only infused with hints of Ilia’s Theme, who at that point is absorbed by V’Ger and used as a vessel to communicate with the humans. It was even in the right key! So, what better way to transition into Ilia’s Theme?

Then of course comes Ilia’s Theme, arguably one of the best romantic movie themes ever written. Just take a listen. Jerry was second to none when it came to romance, which is why he loved scoring Star Trek so much: it’s a very romantic vision of the future. And before you claim sexism, this theme is not meant to represent a soft female object of desire, it’s actually a love theme for her and Commander Decker.

From here, I go straight into Spock Walk, one of the more exciting, terrifying and memorable cues from the film depicting Spock’s decision to climb into a thruster suit and leave the safety of the Enterprise. It’s very, very fast, and has some technically demanding things for the orchestra, but I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out. And it also shows the genius of Goldsmith…the whole thing is just the V’Ger chord progression over and over – just two chords! That’s it! But it’s orchestrated in such a way that you don’t even realize it.’

Now, Jerry Goldsmith was very good at something else besides thematic writing, orchestration, playing to the picture, etc etc…experimenting with new sounds. There is a wide range of percussion in this score, and I already mentioned that six dedicated percussionists were needed on the Fox Stage. In this cue, we made use of things like…

Water Chimes

Waterphone (horror movie staple)

And there’s even a Slit Drum solo, lending a mystical quality to the imagery before Spock as he traverse’s V’Ger’s entire journey that it has catalogued and is now parading in front of the Vulcan.

Finally, Spock arrives at a representation of Ilia, with her new sensor. Accompanied by this revelation is a Brass Chorale announcing Ilia’s Theme. He senses some special meaning connected to the sensor and tries to mind-meld with it. But it proves to be far too much for his poor Vulcan brain to handle, and he is overwhelmed. Accompanying this is a cue fit for a horror film, with forceful quarter notes on mallet percussion, piano and WWs, scurrying, frantic strings and powerful horn rips. This marks the climax of the arrangement, which segues seamlessly into the moment that V’Ger ascends into a higher plane after melding with a human and leaves the Enterprise and Earth in peace after the threat of extinction. One of my favorite moments of relief in any film score.

Finally, we get into the march that everyone knows so well, but with one last little detour: the theme from First Contact. I had to include this as well because in spite of the brilliance of the Motion Picture soundtrack, Goldsmith’s most perfect encapsulation of the optimism for humanity is this theme.

Finally, after I have completely overblown my welcome, we arrive at a recap of the theme, this time with the Trombones in the lead!

And here is another portion of the arrangement where I got to flex my creative muscles a little. I didn’t like the ending that most of the Goldsmith marches had, so I created my own to close out this 22-minute monstrosity, inspired largely by Horner admittedly but nonetheless it came of brilliantly!

Now you have a better idea of why I love this score so much. It was frankly a miracle that it turned out so thematically cohesive, as Jerry was working on huge swaths of film that simply read “missing special FX shot” and had to use his imagination…and also was forced to re-write half the material at least once. He himself admitted it was the hardest go he had ever had on a film, but was worth it.

I was so thrilled with how this turned out that it gave me the confidence I needed to start creating my own works for full orchestra. It was essentially a second masters with a specific focus on orchestration. After all, there are few better teachers than Goldsmith…Stravinsky maybe, or Respighi. I am also forever grateful to the people of the Arapahoe Philharmonic for allowing me the change to arrange SO MUCH material for their pops concert!

In even better news, I have gotten interest from professional orchestras for some of this material, and I am working through Tresona music to make sure at least some of this will be available for purchase. Once it is, you will definitely be able to access it through this website!

Many more things both on the horizon and behind me…I just haven’t had a chance to write about it. Look for more posts soon! In the meantime, live long and prosper.

Top 10 Underrated Film Scores

by Brian 0 Comments

Recently, I stumbled upon this video:

While I absolutely agree with some of these, there are others that left me scratching my head…especially when it comes to a score seriously elevating an otherwise mediocre film – but even without that category, there are some scores that toil away in obscurity and/or somehow got snubbed at the Oscars. So once more taking it upon myself to do nerdy rankings, here’s my own personal list.

1: Hook, John Williams

Very glad this one made it into the video, but I’d put it at #1 for two reasons. One, even though it may not be anywhere near as popular as Star Wars or Superman, or as Oscar-winning as Jaws, it is very much his finest work. There are dozens of character themes here, all deftly woven together in a brilliant tapestry of orchestral brilliance. This is straight-up Wagnerian scoring, but without the long-windedness. Glorious. In fact, I’d rate this as my favorite film score period. More about this one here.

Two? Well, forget about two. One is all you need.

2: Star Trek: The Motion Picture / Alien, Jerry Goldsmith

The Motion Picture is my second favorite film score of all time. Yes, I know it was nominated for Best Original Score and therefore may not be strictly as underrated as some of these, but I include it only because it lost the Oscar to “A Little Romance.” This and the Chariots of Fire win are among the most unforgivable sins the Academy has committed in my book. In fact, Goldsmith was frequently undervalued next to John Williams when he was every bit the giant’s equal.

Every last moment of this sore is orchestration genius. Right from the beginning, we notice that the methodical, 2001-esque pacing doesn’t feel nearly as slow as it should, because the music is so damn awesome. The bellicose Klingons are represented by menacing muted brass, alongside snappy Anklungs. As a counterpoint, the entity they are encountering, the cloud, also has a musical representation: the Blaster Beam.

Then there’s also one of the greatest adventure marches in cinematic history that, by Jerry’s own admission, was one of his biggest creative hurdles. Just take a look at how it elevates the launch of the Enterprise to one of the most riveting, exciting moments in Trek history:

There was also plenty of strange aleatoric effects and involved percussion that Jerry loved experimenting with, which lent itself perfectly to the alien feel of the entity.

Alien was in that same year, which didn’t even get nominated. You can chalk that up to the ridiculous shenanigans that went on in the music editing room explained here, but it nonetheless deserved a nod every bit as much as Motion Picture…it’s kind of incredible that he wrote two of his best scores in the same damn year.

3: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, James Newton Howard

I also agree with this one. I really don’t understand why this movie didn’t do so well. Disney took a risk, and I applaud big budget studios taking risks. Moreover, I thought it was largely a successful one. Perhaps a bit silly at times, it is nonetheless a rousing action adventure film with stunning animation, great voice casting and a first-rate score. Check out the main theme here at 2:26:

4: Rescuers Down Under / Silverado /Young Sherlock Holmes, Bruce Braughton

A lot of you probably know Bruce Braughton’s work even if you don’t know the name or the fellow. He is a respected and amazing composer, and I have had the privilege of briefly studying under him. He’s the most mild-mannered guy you’d ever want to meet.

Now, if he’s a respected composer, why is his stuff on the list? Because only his score to Silverado was nominated, and lost to John Barry’s score to “Out of Africa.” All three of these scores, I felt, were more dynamic, complex and ultimately fulfilling. Especially Silverado, which goes toe-to-toe with the likes of Magnificent Seven and How the West was Won and doesn’t blink.

And hell, for that matter, why did Barry win for Out of Africa, but didn’t even get nominated for scores like Thunderball?

5: On Golden Pond, Dave Grusin / Dragonslayer, Alex North / The Wrath of Kahn, James Horner / Tron, Wendy Carlos

Why four in one? Because all of these are better than what actually won: Chariots of Fire. Maybe it’s personal taste, but even though I love Vangelis’ score to Blade Runner and in general have nothing against the synth-ey aesthetic (I LOVE Alan Silvestri’s synth score to Romancing the Stone!), I thought it was completely wrong for the feel of that movie and just wasn’t anywhere near his best work…certainly not oscar-worthy.

Let’s start with On Golden Pond – one of the most gorgeous film scores ever written…soft and intimate, it also manages to avoid the repetitive minimalism that permeates Philip Glass scores like “The Hours.”

Then there’s Dragonslayer, written by another giant in the film score world, Alex North. This one’s a little avant-garde given his MO, but nonetheless effective.

Then there’s Wrath of Kahn, which didn’t even get nominated. That’s preposterous, because it’s easily Horner’s best work. He often repeats himself, and does so in this score, too. But what sets it apart from his others (and Chariots) are scenes like this, where the desperate tragedy of Spock’s death is contrasted with the sunrise of a new world…death in the shadow of new life. It has a desperate beauty and inevitability to it that’s just stunning. And the two themes here really are beautiful and some of his most original.

And even if you want to stay in synth territory, there was a score that was FAR better deserving than Chariots: Tron. Wendy Carlos managed to combine her trademark synth sound with really fantastic orchestral chops into a masterpiece:

This one is also a perfect microcosm of the evolution of film music in recent years: the new Tron WAS nominated for a score, but was nowhere near as good musically (it did well at building mood and staying out of the way, but was increadibly repetitive and uninteresting musically).

6: The Mission, Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone is another fellow that got snubbed a lot at the Oscars until recently, with his score to Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” But honestly, there are a couple of his scores that were better than that one that didn’t earn a win, and this is one of them. Just listen to this gorgeous melody.

7: Anatomy of a Murder, Duke Ellington

This one didn’t even get nominated. I guess John Williams is the only one allowed to write an ass-kicking jazz score for a film and get a nod?

8: North by Northwest, Bernard Hermann

Really any Bernard Hermann score that isn’t Taxi driver is worthy of much more praise. He never even got nominated for his best work on the classic Alfred Hitchcock scores, my favorite being the demonic tango theme from North by Northwest:

Also be sure to check out the masterpieces of innovation and craft that are the OSTs to Vertigo and Psycho.

9: Back to the Future, Alan Silvestri

While this may now be a cult classic and on everyone’s top-ten list, it was never even nominated for an Oscar, and Silvestri himself, a towering figure in the A-List composer world, has never won. To me, his entire career is underrated as a result.

10: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Shirley Walker

Another name that all too often ends up overshadowed by others equally deserving, Walker consistently wrote stunning, world-class music for a ton of animated Batman adventures like this one.

11: Punch Drunk Love

Now, just to convince you that I’m not totally down on minimalism, I’ll throw in a bonus. There are plenty of scores that truly pull minimalism off well, even if they’re not necessarily fun to listen to by themselves. This is my favorite example. Not a melody in sight, but my god, it so flawlessly contributes to the constant sense of tension you feel as you endlessly hope the film’s protagonist, Barry Egan, doesn’t snap and end up doing something he regrets (with early scenes making it clear how vicious his fits of rage can be). The score just simmers along with this constant stress, only crescendoing in scenes like this. Warning: lots of cussing.

People always ask why I haven’t seen Waterboy or Little Nikki. I proudly reply “well, I love Punch Drunk Love.”

There you have it. What do you think of my list?

2014 Oscars

by Brian

I recently had a chance to catch up on this past year’s films, so naturally I watched the five films that were nominated for best original score. It has indeed been my experience that Oscars and Emmys don’t always necessarily go to those who deserve it. Was this year one of those times? Well, it was so close that I can’t really fault the decision one way or the other. All of these scores deserved each others’ company, so I can imagine how difficult it must have been to choose.

So, I’ll do a little analysis and review for each of them!

Philomena

I enjoyed this score a great deal more than most of Desplat’s previous endeavors. This is mainly because the score’s catchy main theme is brilliantly just an arrangement of fair ground music during that pivotal moment in the protagonist’s life when she decides to go against the church’s wishes and explore her sexuality with a handsome young man.

fairground

As the movie is about her as an old woman trying to find the child that resulted from that night, it is a perfect thematic and emotional microcosm. She ends up being separated from him early in his life because the group of nuns she was staying with sold the child off to American parents both because they needed money and because they believed it was proper penance for Philomena succumbing to pleasures of the flesh. They then did their best to hide parent from child. So catholic guilt, thoughts of her son (the search for him, memories of him being taken away)…all buried within this deceptively simple little waltz:

Fairground Carousel

Philomena Main Theme

Her

Let me start by saying that while I thought all of these scores were pretty equal, this was actually my favorite of these movies. Yes, I know, take away my man card. It is basically a love story. But there are so many things going for this movie that most “chick flicks” don’t have (if you even want to call it a “chick flick”). One of them is truly real characters that shatter those incessant gender stereotypes. The male protagonist has just as many feminine characteristics as he does masculine ones, and so does Samantha, the OS.  In fact, the writer/director poked fun at the stereotypes he deliberately avoided in the form of video games and media the characters are exposed to. He was completely unashamed to present his male lead as someone with substance and nuance.

theo

Similarly, the character arc of Samantha is not only profound…it’s also very much what gives this movie a philosophical and sci-fi element to compliment the drama. And what surprised me most of all was that I didn’t have to work hard at suspending my disbelief. I found myself instead caught up in such questions as “wow, are we really heading in that direction collectively as humans? Or is that just AI? Would a sentient AI really be that different from a sufficiently advanced human? Would we be able to love 628 people simultaneously in a few thousand years?” The core romance of the film had no issues reaching me emotionally…but these questions on top of the core elements made this easily one of the best movies last year had to offer.

So…enough babbling about the movie itself. The score was of course perfect for the tone and scope of the movie. It was on the minimalist side and indeed pretty simple, but nowhere near as vacuous or irritatingly repetitive as scores that like can sometimes become. Two of the pieces were actually composed by Samantha within the story, which perfectly capture the moments that she was writing them for.

In addition to the many solo piano works in here, I’d say the rest of the material was reserved for particularly intense or poignant scenes, such as when Theodore and Samantha make love for the first time. Note how this cue not only captures the erotic nature of the scene, but also how ethereal and transcendent the experience is for the two characters:

Some Other Place

As you can see, there’s a little bit of synth thrown in here, but not much. In contrast, when Theodore starts to realize that Samantha and her definition of love is evolving too quickly for him to handle, we get a much more distorted cue:

Milk & Honey

In spite of how this may seem depressing, the movie actually ends on a very “zen” note. It is of course obvious that Samantha has the hugest arc, but Theodore comes a long way, too. He goes from completely broken by his divorce to deeply in love, and then finally healed and even evolved by these events. Some of Samantha’s insanely rapid growth rubbed off on him. His final action is to write a letter to his ex wife, basically trying to make amends for all of the anger and bitterness there has been between them and to assure her that she is still a part of him. It goes hand-in-hand with the movie’s themes of evolution and universal love.

Dammit, there I go again talking about the movie and not the score. I guess it was just something that affected me very deeply, and it’s the last thing I expected. And certainly the score was a part of that. Props to Arcade Fire.

Gravity

This is the one that took home the Oscar. And while I can see why the decision was made (as well as the quality of the score), I also don’t believe that it said anything as unique or new as people are claiming. A lot of these techniques were pioneered by the Industrial Music scene decades ago. Perhaps within a film medium it is novel, but I don’t have quite the obscure film knowledge to make that claim. And indeed, there are a couple of things in the OST (not necessarily in the score) that really started to get old (the sudden silence was super effective and awesome the first time…by the fourth time, I got actively annoyed with the composer).

However I must say that the use of distortion, synth and other artificial sound techniques serviced the film quite well. For example, in this particular cue, the protagonist is sent hurdling through space due to high-speed debris ripping her ship apart and severing her connection with it. It does indeed capture the terror one might feel of being caught in a perpetual tumble away from Earth.

Debris

And of course, I give it kudos for not sounding too cheesy or fake (as synth-heavy scores are prone to do), but it just didn’t give me quite the emotional connection that either Philomena or Her did. Part of that might simply have been that after a certain point, my suspension of disbelief took more of a pounding than the numerous satellites and space stations in the movie (a bit harsh, but everything works out a little too conveniently for the plot). Though to be fair, it’s an exceptionally difficult balance to find in a movie like this: realism vs drama.

Ahhhh, and I can’t forget the shot in the beginning where the characters are admiring the view. What a gorgeous musical moment.

GRAVITY

Above Earth

Saving Mr. Banks

As someone who grew up with Marry Poppins, I was very much looking forward to this movie. It did not disappoint and ended up exceeding my expectations. The score, while it was basically just more Thomas Newman, did hit all of the right beats. And of course, fittingly, there was plenty of material taken from Marry Poppins. However, I would have liked to see the relationship between Marry Poppins material and original score material mesh a little more. The thing I really noticed was that old and new music were almost entirely kept separate. It was either piano source music or an arrangement of a Poppins song,

Let’s Go Fly A Kite

or totally new and original thematic/melodic material by Newman.

Walking Bus

I mean, this movie would not have been made if it weren’t for Marry Poppins…so why not develop and do interesting things with the building blocks of that music – you know, akin to Brahms’ Variation on a Theme by Hayden? Though perhaps he tried this and it ended up not servicing the film properly. And don’t get me wrong: the contrast works pretty well as there is some darkness and more nuance to this film than there is in Marry Poppins numbers. But a little bit of thematic blending would have been so cool, because it would have allowed music nerds like myself to catch those building blocks within the context of the drama and score. This is hardly a major fault of the score, though. Just something on my personal wish list.

In any case, it’s another good score Newman can add to his list (let’s be honest: Skyfall should have won last year. Poor Newman).

The Book Thief

This was a very surprising entry for John Williams. All of his scores have been intensely lyrical, thickly orchestrated and pretty unabashedly romantic or at least majestic. And this story certainly had the makings for another one of those scores: a WWII story about a family of Germans who take in a Jewish boy and attempt to hide him. But what do we end up with? A more restrained, minimalist approach akin to all of these other entries. And what surprised me the most was that it was great! He may be used to writing grand, sweeping scores, but he has a natural talent for the gentler touch as well. True, some projects were leaning in that direction (Memoirs of a Geisha, for example), but this is the only one of his scores I would consider truly minimalist.

thief

Ilsa’s Library

I’m glad I had the opportunity to catch up on these, and I look forward to more amazing movie scores this year!

The Banner Saga

by Brian

Austin Wintory is one of those rare composers that, rather than trying to be as prolific as possible, takes his time and crafts the scores to the point at which they become masterpieces. So months, even more than a year go by and you’ll only get one score from him…but that score will be stunning. This is how I want to be.

At any rate, The Banner Saga is just the latest example of this. In his own words:

THE BANNER SAGA was my first real experience with Kickstarter, and there is something very different about being “hired” by 20,042 backers instead of a single team. The sense of responsibility with this score felt hugely magnified by that. So I hope I have delivered something worthy because not one day passed in the year and a half of work that I didn’t think about that trust.

The first track on the OST, named “We Will Not Be Forgotten”, is the leitmotif of the whole show arranged for brass choir. It is chilling in its power, but also (as the composer states himself) contains an air of vulnerability. Some of my favorite tracks (aside from that one) are Cut with a Keen-Edge Sword, Walls No Man has Seen (when all of the story lines finally converge at the mighty Varl city of Einertoft, this cue is coupled with a pretty impressive reveal shot of the city), weary the Weight of the Sun, Long Past the Last Sigh, Of Our Bones the Hills (climactic final boss fight cue, with a particularly sad moment thrown in) and We are all Guests upon the Land. Many of those have the leitmotif sprinkled in (or arranged in full force). You’ll also notice a second recurring musical idea first heard (I believe) in the beginning of Cut with a Keen-Edged Sword. It is basically just a minor triad (played melodically) with a 4th at the end. Having played the game myself, I actually can’t be sure what this other theme represents. Perhaps it is the mystery breadcrumb theme Wintory talks about in the video below?

This score is a very interesting one, and not just because the noticeable absence of string sections. A little more than half of the album is devoted to either gorgeous, dynamic wind ensemble pieces or a combination of that and hearty solo instruments (largely fiddle). The other half is essentially just a series of nordic folk songs for each “godstone” the player comes across (which, interestingly, were determined by the heftiest backers in the kickstarter campaign). These folk songs are solo voice, usually with a smattering of other instruments as sparse accompaniment (most notably the Bukkehorn). Not only do these little folk tunes add variety to an already dynamic and expressive score…they are also sung in Icelandic, which lends a certain authenticity to the sound. Of course, the meaning of the songs were painstakingly developed as well, with the composer researching viking and Norse mythology for inspiration and a few of his colleagues helping out with the translation.

I also love the other aspects of the game. It’s not visually flashy and hyper-realistic at the expense of other elements. It simply contains a good story, good characters, mechanics that help you shape the narrative…a lot of things that are missing from big commercial games. I’ve noticed that these kickstarter-backed indie games that have been coming out lately (Bastion is another example of this) have been amazing in quality in all the right ways, especially score.

There’s plenty more to rave about here, but I don’t think I can do better than to offer you a link to the bandcamp page for the score, as well as a particularly fantastic interview with the man himself. That’s the thing about composers these days…they are really good at nerding out about their own work, so I have less room to do it without being redundant. 😛 So I’ll just say that this guy is another in what I hope becomes a long line of young, grade-A media composers for the next fifty years. I can’t wait for his next project!

Update 3/16: Look at this! I figured out the chord progression for the leitmotif and posted on Austin Wintory’s Facebook wall. He replied almost immediately with a beautiful response. What a class act! 🙂

Austin Wintory’s Facebook Page