First off, for those who missed it on Facebook and Twitter – Miracle of Sound is going monthly from now on. The reasons are that I was finding it too hard to consistently come up with fresh and interesting ideas in such a short timeframe. I admit I somewhat over-estimated the limits of my abilities when I decided on a fortnightly release schedule. Having four weeks between songs should make each one better – I’d rather do 12 amazing songs for you guys than 24 that didn’t get enough time to hit their full potential. Or to put it simply, quality over quantity.
This month’s two songs are about subject matter that could barely be any more different on the surface. One is a gargantuan, hype-filled box office smashing goliath, while the other is a little low budget gem that earned its rightful acclaim through word of mouth and its beautiful presentation and soundtrack. But at the core of both these stories is a lone, morally conflicted protagonist who is searching for some sense in a chaotic world by trying to right its wrongs. Hence they were both easy to draw inspiration from.
I’m just going to answer one question this month as it was a very interesting one with quite a long answer.
In composing, what usually comes to you first? Is it a melody, rhythm, or lyric/phrase snippet and how do you grow your composition from that seed? And since you’re composing on a deadline, how much does that impact your creative spark if at all?
My method of composing is, to use a very technical term: complete fucking chaos. I might come up with a verse or just a riff, start playing around with drum patterns, go and record some guitar parts, write the bridge, go away and hum melodies to myself during dinner (or in bed when I should be sleeping) until I find the right one. A lot of the composing happens in my head – I’m singing the melodies and imagining the chords and backing instruments underneath them. No two songs are written the same way apart from a rare few where I sit down with a guitar and a sheet of paper (“Legends of the Frost” and “Wasteland Soul” were both written this way).
The chorus is always, without fail, the most difficult melody and chord sequence to come up with as it is the part that you want people to go away singing. It is not easy to always come up with something that a) straddles a fine line between catchy and cheesy and b) is not too similar to other artists’ songs. I find the best choruses are the ones that just pop into your head one day, without having to actually write it. They just kind of happen. “Gordon Freeman Saved My Life” and “Shooter Guy” are two perfect examples of this “stroke of luck”-style song writing.
Lyrics take the longest for me to actually write; the instrumentation usually happens very quickly. I’ll usually go through many, many versions of each song, as poor Justin knows well – he gets sent anything between 2 and 10 versions, which is sometimes only half of what I have done. I am terrible at finishing songs – I’ll think it’s finally done, send it to him then go and make changes and tweaks to it again and again. I obsess over them like crazy and many nights are spent not sleeping due to the compulsion to get the song right. I literally can’t stop thinking about it until it’s done – something I guess a lot of gamers can relate to. I’m glad I have a creative outlet for this sometimes overly obsessive personality.
As for the deadline, yes, it affects creativity in a big way, hence why we switched it up to monthly from now on. I hope next month’s song shows what a difference it makes when I have time to try lots of ideas.
The Dark Knight Rises gets a lot of flak for its supposed plotholes (many of which aren’t actually plotholes but a lack of observational skills or memory in the viewer or Nolan working in metaphors, but that’s a whole other topic) but it was my favorite of the three movies simply because it was such an emotionally rewarding thrill ride. It all comes back to the thing I spoke about after the Mass Effect 3 extended cut. Some stories may have holes, parts that make no sense or flaws in the pacing and narrative, but as long as I feel emotionally rewarded by them, I can overlook those flaws (within reason of course – I’ll never forgive Michael Bay for the way he handled a certain Autobot’s death in Dark of the Moon).
I wanted to capture a little of the emotionally intense, bombastic feel of The Dark Knight Rises in “Rise” and what better way than to borrow (translation: rip off) the rigid, stabbing staccato string style from, well, every modern Batman movie and game. It just sounds so right for him – aggressive and angry but also quite elegant and graceful. The bells and big brass moments are in there too, referencing Hans Zimmer’s amazing scores.
Verse one deals with the League Of Shadows’ long history of “sacrificing the sprawl,” i.e., destroying the shining capitals of the world to make an example when they are deemed to have become too corrupt and debauched. The rest of the song is about Bruce motivating himself to overcome the various trials he encounters in the movie, which I won’t spoil here.
A few observant fans noticed that the middle section repeats the melody from “Mind Of The Bat.” Well spotted! I like to put little references like that in songs about the same subject matter, it ties them together (same way Joker’s song actually had “mind of this bat” in the lyrics). The Bane voice was easy enough to do, I just had to growl in a posh Shakespearean English accent and raise it up and down theatrically. I added a mild chorus effect to it to emulate his tortured breathing sound.
The final line of the song is a call back to Bruce’s father pulling him out of the bat filled hole – a moment that really shapes the whole trilogy in my eyes.
I was very nervous about this one, to be honest. I haven’t really proved myself when it comes to movie songs yet so it was great and very encouraging that it got such an overwhelmingly positive response.
Why don’t you get an original idea instead of ripping off stories from games and movies?
I’d link you to a few but you probably wouldn’t like them because they’re just ripping off my life.
Stellar song and can I just say Mr. Clouse you did a great job of the video.
I loved Justin’s video for this one, it was amazing. Every line fit the images but my favorite part for sure was how he ended it with Batman swooping into the camera, it really fit the final wallop of the music.
I did not enjoy that at all.
Don’t bother to tell us why or anything.
There was way too much reverb on the vocals.
This was said by a couple of people. However, there is no reverb on the vocals in this song. None. Zero. Keyboard critics need to research what they are talking about before letting their fingers make them look silly.
I thought Miracle Of Sound only made game songs.
And Metallica only make thrash metal.
The synths in this song sound too much like The New Black Gold.
Ah, the old “one of your songs sounds like another one” line. I love that one. I hope you never listen to a Green Day or Status Quo album, your ears might not be able to tell the difference between each tune.
I don’t get it … what is the point of this?
What is the point of any song?
It seems your compositions are magic as long as what you’re composing about means something to you.
I think you’re right. All my best songs are about stories or characters that I find moving or interesting.
Bastion was a fantastic game with great visuals and gameplay but it is probably most well known for its wonderful soundtrack. The moment I heard the first few bars of the hugely Bjork-influenced “Twisted Streets” and the spiralling, hypnotic melodies of “Bynn The Breaker” I was utterly hooked. This was magical music, firmly rooted in the eclectic, experimental trip-hop spirit of the mid 90s – a musical period that I love with all my heart. Massive Attack, Bjork, Portishead, and Radiohead all come to my mind when I hear these pieces.
So it was an absolute pleasure for me to make “Calamity,” a song that is just the kind of music I love to listen to, a love letter to the 90s. It was so easy and natural it barely felt like work to make it. The lyrics came easily too due to the game having such a beautifully bittersweet story and such lovable characters. I tried to use sounds that you would find in the game – a harp melody here, some acoustic guitar strumming there, some stabbing strings in the chorus, some 90s trip-hop beats and so on. The song is told from Rucks’ point of view as he tells the sad story to the Kid. “You can’t fix a broken heart in a couple of days” refers to Zulf and the Ura and the question of whether turning back time can fix all the hurt. The “turning back is bound to be, just another Calamity” is a reference to my choice at the end – to say any more would be a spoiler.
Again, this song got a great response, further solidifying the theory that I do better work about stories I care about.
The eastern sounding parts didn’t really fit the game.
Oh for fuck’s sake, not this again … what is it with peoples’ musical xenophobia in my songs, even when it’s completely in context?
I love Bastion‘s music, so when I say this is just as good that carries some weight.
Thank you. As a big fan myself I tried my best to do it justice.
I like how the first line is the same as the last one. Is that a reference to the ending?
It is a reference to the cyclical nature of the story, yes.
It was missing the Western feel of parts of the soundtrack.
That aspect of the soundtrack didn’t interest me as much as the rest.
It didn’t match the game’s musical style.
As I have said many times, it is not my job or intention to “match” the style of a game. I take elements, sounds or atmospheres I enjoy and fit them into my own style.
It’s not as good as “Build A Wall”.
Well, that comment wasn’t predictable at all.
The “Backtrack(…)Keep you on the right side” and “Cloudburst(…)Knuckles of your own hand” where too much of a shift in style and felt horribly out of place.
I grew up on music full of crazy curveballs like that. If that’s how you felt, god help you if you ever try listening to Bjork, Faith No More, Massive Attack, Bowie, Opeth, Tool etc.
Don’t forget folks, the Escapist Expo is almost upon us! I’ll be playing Saturday night, doing a Q&A with other contributors and doing a songwriting panel on the Sunday with Susan Arendt! I look forward to meeting you guys there and saying hi!