Sound bytes: Composing music for video games

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The Los Angeles Times has a great story up today about composing music for video games, focusing on composer Garry Schyman as he composes snippets of music for the upcoming game Resistance: Retribution. Schyman cites the medium’s call for "strong musical statements" as an advantage over scoring films, which often emphasize ambient "background" music.

It’s a fascinating process someone should make a documentary about.

For the Resistance: Retribution soundtrack, Schyman hired a nine-piece brass ensemble and rented London Bridge Studio in Shoreline, Wash.
Within the same brick walls where Seattle grunge was defined in the
1990s by bands such as Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam,
Schyman conducted the horns, trombone, trumpets and tubas thundering through his score. The ground shook as it would with the weight of armies marching to battle.

The musicians never played more than a couple of minutes at a time, and they often paused after mere seconds. The music is recorded in snippets so it can be converted into digital fragments that can be mixed, blended and summoned to follow the events in the game.

To tie music to specific actions and plot twists, game developers create hundreds of triggers: Entering a room, opening a box, drawing a sword, confronting an enemy, losing a battle or solving a riddle can each prompt the appropriate melody.

It’s more than just turning tracks on and off. The music has to flow seamlessly to match the level of intensity within a game without being repetitive, annoying or jarring.

It’s interesting how our culture’s creative industries create career opportunities for kids who grow up with particular ways of thinking about the world. The idea of scoring short clips of music that will be massively "remixed" by programmers would probably bother a lot of veteran music composers, but for the younger generation it may make a lot more sense than more traditional models of composition.

You can read the full article here.

Photo by Sean Dreilinger, shared via Flickr.

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