But there was a time, back when I had my first bona fide Elder Scrolls obsession, when the theme sounded a little bit gentler, and little bit more ethereal, and a little bit more beautiful.
The rest of the soundtrack to Morrowind is still probably my favorite of all of the Elder Scrolls games; which I guess is another way of saying I like it better than Oblivion or Skyrim, since I didn't play Daggerfall and I don't remember the music to Arena.
The soundtracks to Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim were all composed by Jeremy Soule, so it's fun to listen to them as entries in the opus of a single composer. Since, you know, they actually are that.
Where the Skyrim soundtrack conjures austere mountains and windswept tundra with F Horn clarion calls, trumpet solos and choirs, Morrowind was lighter and more playful, with themes centered around pizzicato strings and english horn melodies. If Skyrim's score was crafted from stone and wind, Morrowind's was woven of wicker and light.
Let's take a tour of some of the best tracks from Morrowind, and try not to die from nostalgia.
Dear god. It's like I'm playing the game all over again. I love to hear how many of Soule's harmonies are echoed in his work on Skyrim.
Another track that plays during exploration, this one, again, had just a touch more personality than the Oblivion soundtrack, especially in how some of the solos operate.
I love this track because it plays almost like an orchestra tuning up before a performance, so it's perfect that it's named "Silt Sunrise." It sounds like a rising sun, building and growing and churning.
Well, I could probably just list these all day, couldn't I? Few orchestral game soundtracks have worked their way into my brain in the way that this one has. Listening back to them with fresh ears, I can hear why.
On Today's Kotaku Mix Tape, we're listening to some of the classics of the golden age of LucasArts. This features the work of composers Clint Bajakian, Michael Land & Peter McConnell, who together scored an entire generation of amazing games.
This list isn't complete—Consider it a first course.
Afterlife - Unnamed Track
The Secret of Monkey Island (SE) - Ghost Ship Shuffle
The Dig - Underwater Cavern
Outlaws - The Ballad of Dr. Death
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis - Lava Room (Arranged Ver.)
Full Throttle - Chitlins, Whisky and Skirt
Sam and Max Hit the Road - Pleasantly Understated Credit Sequence
Day of the Tentacle - Orchestral Version by FILMHarmonic Orchestra Prague
Check out the above track from his album One More Once, which features a big band that was so sick… it was one of the hottest collections of New York cats and Latin all-stars I've ever heard. Seriously, listen to that track.
That's the one and only Paquito D'Rivera on the alto sax solo. The ridiculously burning alto sax solo, I should say.
Here are a few more tracks from the album:
Man, "Why Not!" is the sort of super cheesy name that only really super burning jazz musicians can get away with. I love this track, partly for the great solo from Camilo, but partly for the the shout chorus that plays after the solos (at 4:35). Check out John Faddis on the lead trumpet. Good gravy.
A slow burn that builds to an insane climax—Michel's montuno piano-playing is unlike anyone else in the business, and he can deliver a groove so hard. They do some fun things with bass trombone in here as well. Stay through to the end. What a grind this tune has!
This is the first track from the record, a groovy blues with a nice tenor solo from Ralph Bowen. I actually transcribed this solo back in college… I still remember some of his turnaround licks all these years later. Go ahead, Ralph.
Do yourself a favor and pick up the whole album. Put that sucker on and try to sit still.
In a very cool article at The Atlantic, scientists Geoffrey Miller and Gary Marcus have a conversation about the origins of music, whether or not we have a music gene, and why humans began playing music in the first place.
Marcus believes that music is what he calls "cultural technology." That is to say, it's something that humans have created on their own rather than something that evolved genetically (which is what Miller thinks.)
Here's marcus on why that may be:
The oldest known musical artifacts are some bone flutes that are only 35,000 years old, a blink in an evolutionary time. And although kids are drawn to music early, they still prefer language when given a choice, and it takes years before children learn something as basic as the fact that minor chords are sad. Of course, music is universal now, but so are mobile phones, and we know that mobile phones aren't evolved adaptations. When we think about music, it's important to remember that an awful lot of features that we take for granted in Western music-like harmony and 12-bar blues structure, to say nothing of pianos or synthesizers, simply didn't exist 1,000 years ago.
Miller responds by pointing out that while instruments may be 35,000 years old, musical performance may be a lot older. He puts forth Darwin's argument that music evolved as a means with which to attract sexual partners, calling it "the theory to beat."
Darwin argued that music evolved mainly by sexual selection through mate choice-and that we're uncomfortable acknowledging that fact. He wrote back in 1871 that, "The impassioned orator, bard, or musician, when with his varied tones and cadences he excites the strongest emotions in his hearers, little suspects that he uses the same means by which his half-human ancestors long ago aroused each other's ardent passions, during their courtship and rivalry." He knew that music didn't need to have a "survival value" for the individual or the group; it could spread through purely reproductive benefits. He suggested that the more musically talented proto-humans attracted more sexual partners, or higher-quality sexual partners, than their less-musical rivals. We see sexual selection for music in many other species-insect song, frog song, bird song, whale song, and gibbon song-so I think that's a reasonable default theory for how humans evolved music. It's the theory to beat.
Well, playing music does help meet girls, it's true.
After that, the two begin to discuss other cultural artifacts, including video games. When Miller points out that kids are more passionate about music than they are about other cultural inventions like chess and algebra, Marcus responds by pointing out that lots of kids are indeed passionate about chess, and also about more recent "versions" of chess like, hey! Video games.
In support of the notion that music is at least in part due to Darwinian evolution, Miller makes the (possibly not intended to be as funny as it is) observation that "Music isn't just compelling to the listener; musical performance is also romantically attractive in a way that playing video games isn't."
Ha! Playing a real guitar solo is a bit more romantically attractive than playing Guitar Hero. Also true.
In addition to contributing to this article, Gary Marcus is the author of "Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning," a book about how we learn music. In the book, he talks about how he didn't learn guitar from a teacher or a music institute, but rather from the video game Guitar Hero:
From a New York Times Profile:
What finally pushed him wasn't seeing Springsteen in concert or listening to the "Goldberg" Variations. It was a video game, Guitar Hero, that rewards players who can press the correct buttons in time with recorded music. He was terrible at first, but through sheer repetition he improved just enough to think that maybe rhythm could be learned after all. But real guitars, he was frustrated to learn, weren't designed by computer engineers.
Compared to his Guitar Hero controller his Yamaha felt heavy and awkward. The musical scale isn't perfectly linear. (Quick: what's another name for C flat?) And the guitar has the same notes at different frets along different strings. "That's something the brain doesn't want to deal with," he said. "There's no one-to-one relationship on where the notes are. You have all these memory traces that interfere with one another."
Very cool! So when Marcus says in The Atlantic, "I think of talented musicians as being like Steve Jobs: grand cultural engineers who design entertainment technology that appeals to brains that evolved for millions of years before the technology was developed," you know where he's coming from.
It's a very cool discussion, and while of course the two scientists don't arrive at a single conclusion, they raise a lot of interesting questions about music, evolution, and the brain.
One of the coolest things that Marcus reminds people of is that playing music lights up a lot of different parts of the brain... and the same thing happens when we play video games.
Say! That sounds in line with something I've been saying for a long time now.
Did Humans Invent Music? [The Atlantic]
Here are some of the questions I got; feel free to send in more for next week! The easiest ones for me to answer are the ones that flat-out just ask a question in one or two sentences. But of course, your digressions are also welcome.
Let's get to it!
Byrn Stuff writes:
Do you think hip hop could find a place in game soundtracks outside of sports and crime games? I love the genre, but I feel like it's pigeonholed into games of a certain type.
I'd love to see more hip hop in games, and think it could certainly find home outside of the games its usually found in these days. Since "hip hop" is such a broad categorization, there is absolutely no reason that the kinds of beats, sounds and vocals associated with it can't be featured in more games.
One game I recently played that had a clearly hip-hop-influenced soundtrack was Beat Sneak Bandit. I guess you could call that a "crime game," heh, but I don't think that's what you're talking about.
Also, some of the (fairly odd and arguably cheesy) rap on JRPGs like Persona 3 (featuring the MC Lotus Juice) and The World Ends With You feature hip-hop that helps the games feel distinctive and hip.
So, in short: yes! I would love to see more good, interesting hip-hop in games. The main reason is that not every game fits with a soundtrack like that, but the ones that do are the ones that make a big point of being different and cool. So, I'd love to see more games like that.
Aspiring musician/YouTuber Mega Josh writes:
I know people like me often partner with Machinima and IGN, but what are the disadvantages/advantages? What's the difference in income between someone "independent" and someone partnered with either if they make youtube partner? Can someone make partner doing covers? Any other advice?
Well, for starters: I've never worked with IGN or Machinima on their YouTube channels, so I can't really speak to how those programs work specifically. My advice is more broad, but hopefully still useful.
In general, I'm wary of signing up for partnerships like the ones you're talking about. They can be perfectly okay as promotional assistants, and ostensibly a good way to get your music in front of people, but when it comes down to it, I'm not certain that they provide anything that you can't just do on your own. More importantly, they give you something that is easy for them to give—some visibility, a place in their community—and in return, they take something that is potentially incredibly valuable—the rights to your work.
The real power of the web is that you don't have to rely on someone like that, which usually involves giving them rights to your content and/or control over how you distribute it. The best thing you could do is to be an active part of communities like those ones (as well as NeoGAF, and OCremix, Reddit, etc). Use message boards and forums to network with the creative people you'll need to work with—editors, video folks, etc—and then just go get it done for yourself.
However, if you decide you want to sign up for a program like the ones you mention, more power to you. The only thing I would suggest is that you read (REALLY READ) the agreements you sign before you sign them.
It's hard to really pore over those documents, and you'll probably have already made up your mind to go through with it, which makes it harder. But find the sections on rights and ownership of work, and read them carefully. Make sure you understand what you're seeing. Have someone else, maybe a family member or lawyer friend, look over it and tell you what they're seeing. Take it very seriously. As a general rule, I find it's best to approach every creative endeavor as though you're going to become incredibly successful—it's not just a healthy way to push yourself, it will also encourage you to make smart business decisions from the beginning. And it's positive thinking!
Read everything, know who will have the rights to your work, and the moment someone asks you to give up those rights, have a very serious conversation with yourself about what you're giving up, and what you're giving it up for.
I was wondering if you could do a post on the Elder Scrolls soundtracks. Since Morrowind I've like fallen in love with the music but Skyrim has been a bit disappointing. The soundtrack (as well as the game) seems to lack the same depth as the last games unfortunately. The only memorable song is the theme song but it doesn't instill the same epic feelings Morrowind did.
But your point about Morrowind's soundtrack is well-taken. In fact, I will write about it this very day. Check back in a little bit.
DocSeuss writes in to ask about procedural music and "burnout" on a game's soundtrack:
Long games often replay music, which means people might risk being burned out. Having forgettable, non-attention-getting ambient music, or using some sort of procedural music, seems to be a way to counter music burnout. Are there other ways to avoid creating music burnout? What are the possible negatives of using, say, procedural music?
This is a super-interesting topic for me—how the fact that we hear and then re-hear video game music over and over distinctly shapes the way we react to it.
I definitely think that one of the reasons that older video game music sticks with us to the amazing degree that it does is due to the fact that we listened to the same short tunes, with their simple, hooky melodies, over and over and over again. While Koji Kondo's original theme for Super Mario Bros. is a great little melody, a significant percentage of that tune's lasting appeal lies in the fact that we simply heard it over and over, and in the process came to associate that melody incredibly strongly with the game.
Very few film scores, for example, achieve that kind of ubiquity—only the Star Wars soundtrack really comes close, in terms of how often it's been heard and how closely it's tied with its main experience.
There's a longer article in this, to be certain, as it's something I've thought about quite a bit, but to answer your question about procedural music: There are pros and cons to the approach, but I think that it can yield some really interesting stuff.
It requires a different sort of compositional approach to write music that can shift and change depending on the whims of a computer system—when it's done right as in, say, Red Dead Redemption, Flower or Botanicula, it can present a fascinating new way to write and experience music. When it's lazy, it can fall into the same traps as any other type of music—it can feel repetitive and boring.
Writing music that can hold up in a 100+ hour game is no small feat—I've gotten sick of the music in just about every open-world game I've played, from Skyrim to Minecraft. Even procedural music, I'd think, probably can't hold up to that kind of playtime. And if it's going to, I'd say that "less is more" is always the smart approach.
Dan Mesa writes:
Best Mega Man soundtrack: Go!
Oh, man. This is super hard, at least in part because I haven't played every Mega Man game. But I have listened to pretty much all of the music, and while it's perhaps the "safe" choice, I have to go with Mega Man 2.
It is probably the most anthemic of all the classic 8-bit melodies, at least for me—does it get any better than this stuff? It's almost like they're kidding, it's so triumphant.
That said, I do dig the music for Mega Man X which is good enough to give rise to amazing remix projects like this.
Which brings us to our last question…
What do you think about OC Remix?
That is an easy one: I think that OC Remix is flippin' awesome. (here's a link to them, if you don't know them.) I'm amazed that a group of people can work so tirelessly to put together remix collections like the one above, and think that working with them is a fantastic way for people who are interested in getting into video game music to try something out.
When writing music, it can be a really good idea to "ghostwrite" by taking someone else's song, using their introduction like it's your own, and then going in your own direction. While you obviously can't publish or sell that stuff, doing a remix is very much in the same vein—by learning and rearranging a classic tune, you get to get inside of it and learn how it works.
Plus, the community there is really cool, and lots of great, successful composers check out and contribute to their remixes. So, yes: OC Remix= cool in my book.
And, since we're sharing a track that someone sent in, here's one submitted by Qemyst, in keeping with our quest for better hip-hop in the video game scene. Here's Qemyst:
Deltron 3030 was a concept album between Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, scratching/turntables by Kid Koala and production by Dan the Automator. The WHOLE album is sort of a story told by Del, who uses an alter ego known as Deltron Zero. This song "3030" is a masterpiece of nerdy awesomeness, as far as I am concerned. Not only that, it's just awesome on a truly epic scale.
So that wraps up our first Melodic Mailbag! Thanks to everyone who sent in questions and emails. If you've got a question for next week, send them to me at email@example.com and put "melodic" in the subject line, and I'll answer them next week. And remember: suggestions are valued, but questions will be more likely to get published in the Mailbag!
I love the Tabla— the Indian hand-drums that involve a technique more complicated than anything I could hope to master (they have their own language, for god's sake), but which sound utterly unlike any other kind of drum.
Many a great chase-sequence and action scene has been accompanied by their staccato beats, and so it seems like it'd only be a matter of time before a video game featured the instrument more prominently.
Enter Barabariball, a game by Noah Sasso that Evan Narcisse tells me will be on display at the upcoming NYU No Quarter Exhibition. Dig the trailer, and enjoy the tabla, as played by Kanai Dutta.
I want that music to play in my everyday life. Why can't my every accomplishment be accompanied by victorious fanfare? I don't know. I think I'm going to start carrying around a little set of speakers with me, and have gaming's best victory anthems underscore my everyday accomplishments.
Here is a list of the themes I'd want to play, and when. (Do listen to them, for full effect):
I want this music to play every time I reach inbox zero.
I want this music to play every time I switch from sweatpants to real pants.
I want this music to play every time I walk into the building where I used to have a job I didn't like.
I want this music to play every time I close the printer door after installing a new ink cartridge.
I want this music to play every time I ride my bike down the hill in front of my apartment.
I want this music to play every time I peruse the wine section at the grocery store.
I want this music to play every time I successfully snag a cab from the other six people standing in front of the bar.
I want this music to play every time I get a notification that the girl I like has commented on one of my Facebook posts.
I want this music to play every time I look out my window in the morning and see that it is actually not foggy today in San Francisco.
I want this music to play every time I walk into a room carrying a just-delivered pizza.
Interesting. According to a report on Bloomberg, originating from the South Korean media, MMO publisher Nexon is interested in a takeover of Electronic Arts.
While details were thin, the Bloomberg report did mention EA's shares jumped 6% on the news.
Nexon is the publisher of games like Maple Story.
Neither Nexon nor EA is willing to comment on what both companies call "rumor and speculation".
• In the picture above, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, widely expected to be taken second when the NFL Draft kicks off in 90 minutes, enjoys a game of Halo 4 at a Microsoft-sponsored VIP event in New York yesterday.
• Operation Sports has noticed that Madden NFL 13 is offering a bunch of pre-order bonus content tied to the game's "Connected Careers" mode that no one can or will talk about yet. From GameStop, a preorder gets you Barry Sanders and John Madden himself to use in the game's career mode. Preordering through Amazon gets you Joe Gibbs and Lawrence Taylor, adversaries from the knock-down drag-out NFC East of the 1980s. [Operation Sports]
• Madden NFL 13 will have a new broadcast team and presentation. You can get a look at Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth, plus the game's new replay angles, developed in consultation with NFL Films, thanks to Pasta Padre's compilation of video highlights from the recent webcast of new features.