The following excerpt is taken from the upcoming university textbook, Composing Music for Games: The Art, Technology and Business of Video Game Scoring (Focal Press), authored by Chance Thomas.
(From Chapter 06 – Music Composition)
IMMERSION AND INSPIRATION
“I have been composing music for more than forty years. During that time my creative process has gone through a number of evolutionary stages. In 2005 I made a discovery which sent a seismic tremor through my craft. It happened during a particularly frustrating and fruitless block of time spent noodling at the keyboard, trying to come up with something cool for Peter Jackson’s King Kong. I had to create music for a Tyrannosaurus Rex bursting upon the scene and surprising the player’s character, chasing that character up a narrow ravine. Nothing I came up with sounded good to me. In frustration, I finally got up and left so I could clear my head.
At the time, my studio was situated in the forested Sierra foothills outside Yosemite National Park in central California. I had a second floor deck just outside the studio overlooking the forest, so I went out there to cool off. There was a gentle breeze blowing, which caused the tops of the trees to sway slowly back and forth. As I became lost in thought, I looked off in the distance and noticed two trees swaying in opposite directions, as the wind momentarily moved them apart.
I thought, “That’s exactly what it would look like if a T-Rex was forcing its way through those trees.”
I followed that train of thought and imagined a path of trees being pushed apart moving steadily in my direction.
“Yes,” I mused, “It would be just like that if a dinosaur was on the move and getting closer to me.”
Soon, I was imagining the growing thunder of footfalls on the forest floor. My heartbeat actually ticked up a notch.
I had completely given myself to the scenario. I imagined the crashing of branches coming ever nearer, the shaking of the ground nearly toppling me from my feet, and then finally, the trees just in front of me bursting apart with the thrust of the predator’s head, beady eyes drilling through me, the hot breath of its nostrils in my face. I could almost see the serrated inner edges of the beast’s off-color teeth. By this time, I was actually feeling panic. And that’s when it happened…”
“I started to hear music in my mind. Music that was a perfect fit for what I was feeling. I heard the pounding of tribal drums, the dynamic stabs of cimbasso and bass trombones with tremolos in the double bass and cello. I heard the cacophony of trumpets desperately climbing over each other and violins racing to a crescendo. The French horns snarled down a half-step with the woodwinds caught in a dissonant duel. This music reflected exactly what I was feeling!
I rushed back to the studio and began playing parts into my sequencing program. It was almost like lifting an arrangement from a CD – I would listen as the music played back in my mind, then play in the parts I was hearing. It was such a rush. When I finished transcribing, I only had the first thirty seconds of music or so. But honestly, that’s all I needed. Craft, instincts and experience could take over from there. I just needed the right start.
“From that day forward I have tried to approach each score much like a method actor. I imagine myself totally immersed in the scenario I am scoring, complete with all the sights, sounds, smells, excitement, adrenaline – whatever I can conjure up. The more vividly I can imagine the situation, the more likely the right emotions from my own heart will start to percolate. And the more intimately and powerfully I can experience the emotions of the scene, the more likely I’ll begin to hear fitting music in my mind. And that’s all I need to get rolling, just that initial gem of inspiration.”
Editor’s note: Chance’s original game score for Peter Jackson’s King Kong was honored with multiple game industry awards and nominations, including Music of the Year and Best Original Instrumental. You can hear the results of the track described above at this web link:
Click on the ACTION category and scroll down to the second track, “Attack and Pursuit”. Enjoy!
To learn more about Composing Music for Games, please visit this link:
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