September 21, 2021

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[Podcast] Ep.35 - Video Game Music Vol. 2

Back by popular request (of my brothers), ISoS returns with another episode on the making of video game music! In volume two, Tyler, Ryan and I discuss how music shapes the way we play games, how composers answer the chaotic element of the player, and "Fallout: New Vegas'" disc jockeys of the apocalypse. Streaming everywhere you get podcasts. Don't forget to leave us a review on Apple Podcasts!

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On This Episode

"How music shapes the way we play video games" by Kellen Beck for Mashable (2021)

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In Tyler's article selection for this episode, Kellen Beck strings together interviews with composers from classic video games scores such as Grant Kirkhope of "GoldenEye007" and "Donkey Kong 64," Winifred Phillips of "Assasin's Creed: Liberations" and "Speed Racer," Gareth Coker of "Ori and Blind Forrest" and "Minecraft," and Lena Raine of "Celeste" and "Minecraft." Each interview serves to build one piece at a time, a complete picture of the skills and variety it takes to carefully compose a malleable piece of music for a classic game.

One of my favorite perspectives from the conversation is how video game music not only has to fit the feeling of the section of the game it scores but becomes a storytelling element of its own. In the Dark Souls games, the silence of the quiet and lonely world is directed contrasted by the massive symphonic compositions that underline the massive and varied boss fights. But this music isn't just there to add to the excitement of the challenge. The music often communicates both the excitement and the tragedy of the boss' backstory. As the player character, you're not just there to slay a pack of digital code before moving on to the next stage of the game. You're there to put a fallen knight or once selfless king out of their never-ending torment. The music must grasp this duality and becomes one of the most impactful story-telling mechanics of the presentation.

"The Double-Edged Nature of Video Game Music" by Sideways on YouTube (Dec. 19, 2017)

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This video, brought to the podcast by Ryan, takes many of the concepts of composing for games and expands them to an existential level. The first problem faced by any video game music composer is that they can't make you press play. They can't control the inputs made by the player, and yet they have to seamlessly blend those elements into the soundscapes they craft.

Sideways' excellent video dives back into a history of music with chaotic elements. Known as "aleatoric music" he explains that it's been a goal of classical composers as far back as Mozart. The analogy describes how Mozart took a deck of playing cards and wrote a measure of music on the back of each card. So every time the deck was shuffled, the piece would be arranged and played in an entirely different and unique way. Because composers of video game music are essentially dealing with even more variables in how the player behaves in the game, their compositions have become the perfect extension of this concept of aleatoric music and the player actually takes on the role of the conductor.

"Soundscapes of the End" by In The Lobby on Medium (Aug. 3, 2021)

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This excellent essay about the soundtrack of "Fallout: New Vegas" uses subtle personal essay components to place the reader within the perspective of the writer in a similar way that video games place the player subtly in their world. In the world of Fallout, the nuclear apocalypse has flash-frozen the world in the destruction of an optimistic 1950s sci-fi America. Somehow, amid the destruction of nearly everything else, the optimism of the decade has survived in the dusty 12" records spinning into the silence of the nuclear wasteland, only interrupted by the occasional ringing of gun fire in the distance.

By contextualizing the music down to the actual disk jockeys selecting the tracks amid the apocalypse, we really begin to understand the importance that music plays. The texture of "Fallout: New Vegas" is a nuclear wild west, and old folk-country about six-shooters and Johnny Guitar often play offbeat to the blasting of a laser rifle or explosions of malfunctioning robots. It's almost as if Fallout's answer to the problem of aleatoric music is to embrace the chaos. If you can't make everything perfect, make it absurb.


Thanks for reading, listening, clicking and washing your hands! Got feedback on the episode? Have your own thoughts on the content? Want to share some of your writing? Hit me up! Find me on Twitter @HooplaHill or use the "Contact Me" option on my homepage to reach out to me.


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