In part 1 of this 2 part series, the idea of combining
the mixing & composition processes were introduced… “Pre-meditated
Mixing” if you will. Many of the potential benefits were laid out
and even a few arguments on when it may not be practical. Furthermore,
a hypothetical Game Audio example was introduced and we went through my
thought process for the track BEFORE a single note was played.
This article is dedicated to explaining how the track was created, why
certain decisions were made, and reinforcing the idea that “Pre-meditated
Mixing” can be quite beneficial.
If you’ve yet to read the first Part of this article, please do
so HERE. If
you’ve yet to hear the track, please do so HERE
after reading a blurb about the track’s intentions below.
"If I was playing a fictitious/high-fantasy game as the great
explorer “Marco Polo” while he wondered through the borderlands
of Mongolia/Northern China on a foggy night… what would that sound
I answered this question in as much detail and to the best of my abilities
as possible before touching an instrument so that I would have a better
understanding of how to approach the track and accurately express that
which is most important. However, like many things in life, once I “jumped”
in it was easy to see which ideas worked great, others that needed slight
alterations, and in a few cases which ones needed to be removed or changed
completely. Even though I didn’t stick “true” to all
of my original thoughts, I believe the end product is better for it and
reaching that point would have been much more difficult if I didn’t
have a foundation to work from. With all of that said, lets break this
track down into “digestible” chunks. Form/Structure, Harmonic/Melodic
Material, Instrumentation/Orchestration, and last but certainly not least…
In the previous article, I had hinted that this example track would follow
a standard dynamic curve that could easily be found in many different
games. The only difference in this track, is that I had to accomplish
that within a few minutes, whereas if this were to be composed for an
actual game, each layer would be a few minutes long, loop-able, and have
different “cue-able” sections that interact with one another
based off of the player’s choices. With that said, I decided to
structure the piece into 3 main sections building to an overall peak:
Ambient/Mood, Exploration, & Action with a happy resolution at the
The Ambient/Mood section starts from the beginning of the track until
about :36 where there is a transition to the Exploration section. The
Exploration section starts around :36, but doesn’t technically end
until 1:28. However, between 1:11 – 1:28 there is added tension
and increased pace to suggest we’re about to discover something
BIG. This short passage can kind of be considered as an extended transition…
perhaps something that would be used during a structured game sequence
or within a cinematic.
This means that from 1:28 until around 1:46 we have the Action section.
This could be used for combat, intense platforming challenges, etc. Near
the very end I decided to end on a happy note to possibly suggest a resolution
to whatever action just took place. The ending you’ve heard says
“Congratulations, you lived through it!” however it could
easily resolve to something darker if the player failed in their quest
or perhaps died. As a side note, the track never changes tempo (in part
for “syncability” within an interactive music system), but
the intensity increases over time using many of the “tools”
I’ll discuss below.
II. Harmonic/Melodic Material
In all honesty I could talk about Harmony/Melody all day, but we’re
not here for a theory lesson. So, I’ll just quickly describe the
most important parts in this piece and why I think they accurately express
our overall intent.
Harmonically this piece develops over time as we transition between each
of the sections described above. Starting at the beginning of the track,
our focus is around “E.” Because there really isn’t
an identifiable “chord” happening during this Ambient section,
yet we focus on “E” I consider this section as a static build
on the Dominant. Melodically the most apparent thing in the Ambient section
is the female vocal part.
If the Ambient section is considered a Dominant Prolongation, this would
then imply that our tonic is “A” (specifically A Minor), which
is exactly where we resolve transitioning into the Exploration section.
It is at the beginning of this section that we hear fragments of Marco
Polo’s theme in the piano. Harmonically it hovers around A minor
until the second repetition of Marco’s theme when both the melody
and harmony adjusts to G minor (specifically 1:02).
During the passage we identified earlier as an “Extended
Transition” (1:11), the harmonic progression reaches it’s
entirety. Specifically it moves between: Am, CMaj.b5, D13, Gm, B+7b9 :
Marco’s Theme and our entire Harmonic progression repeats in the
Action section (although the parts are distributed differently). The only
change comes at the very end when we resolve to E Major. An Authentic
Cadence for the “B+7b9” and a resolution that sets us up for
a repeat back to the Dominant Prolongation in the Ambient section at the
beginning of the track.
If you’ve read through the previous article, then you’ll
have noticed that a few additional instruments were added in this track.
I did so for two main reasons...
The first being that the piece “called” for additional instruments
to enhance the emotion in the piece and the second being that I just bought
all of Impact Soundworks libraries
and wanted to test them out! (My hat is off to those guys for creating
some great sounding libraries at an affordable price).
The additional instrument choices I made were: Koto, Bass Koto, Ambient
Patch, Metallic Hits (All ISW!), Piano (NI), and a solo female vocalist
(Bulgarian from EWQL Voices of Passion).
I know some of the more clever composers out there right now are saying…
“But Hey, wait a minute Kole. The Koto is a Japanese Instrument
and Bulgarian vocals… What!?” So, if you’ll allow, let
me justify these choices.
Even though the Koto is a Japanese instrument, the Chinese have something
similar in the “Guzheng.” However, the other (and main reason)
for choosing this instrument was because I needed an “exotic”
replacement for the guitar. As you’ll hear in this piece, the nylon
guitar is sparse, but Koto is present in quite a few sections.
I chose the female Bulgarian vocals, because they helped intensify the
emotion in the piece ten fold. Sure, it’s not traditional Asian
Folk vocals or Italian Opera, but (to me) it kind of sounds like a possible
mix between the two… both evoking the spirit of Marco’s Italian
roots and the exotic flair of this new land in Northern China.
As I mentioned above, the guitar didn’t play as big of a role in
the piece as I had originally thought, so I needed the Koto. Likewise,
I introduced the piano as a replacement to represent Marco’s side.
IV. Mixing Choices
Last but certainly not least, lets go over some of the mixing decisions
that were used through the piece. To keep it organized, we’ll go
by sections again.
I felt that the mixing decisions in the Ambient layer were the most important,
as they set the mood for the game state and must create tension without
adding much movement. A gradual fade over all of the instruments at the
beginning is helpful when trying to introduce music without being overly
invasive (especially important in a game where so much focus is probably
being placed on other tasks). The Hulusi is gradually panned from left
to right to help create motion without directly adding any more notes.
As mentioned in the previous article, the overtone vocals have been equalized
so that the majority of the sound coming through is the overtone rather
than the fundamental. It was also very important that this beginning ambient
section felt like it was in a huge room to unconsciously impose the enormity
of the situation the gamer would currently be in.
At the beginning of the Exploration section, the Koto playing tremolo
is being panned from left to right a bit faster than the Hulusi originally
was. If you remember from the first article, this is a role I originally
assigned to the guitar, but decided that the Koto’s timbre would
fill better. When mixing the strings together, I decided that a more intimate
recording was necessary (as I wanted to hear the bowing better). So, I
chose to use & boost the “Close” mic positions for my
EWQL Orch. strings. This is most easily heard when the Cello/Double Bass
are playing the Melody together around 1:13.
In the Action section, the acoustic guitar’s presence is felt the
most (although it’s not the focus). It’s a simple arpeggiated
chord progression played in unison between the guitar, koto, and bass
koto. We had so much motion in the section before that I wanted to continue
(yet vary) that motion. Furthermore, the panning in this section allowed
the strings to play the melody/bass in their respective areas as the arpeggiated
line and female vocal fills sat comfortably in the middle.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the way I mixed the percussion in this
track as it applies to each section. I originally mentioned that I would
like to have a Taiko control the momentum of the piece, but quickly found
that a single Taiko recording was too small and didn’t capture the
essence of the piece. So, I created and mixed together other Taiko/drum
samples from different libraries to create a “Big Drum” Hybrid
sound. This included some of the metallic hits I mentioned earlier from
the ISW libraries.
This concludes part 2 and the entirety of “Mixing as Part of the
Composition Process.” I hope you’ve taken something away from
these articles and will try out “Pre-meditated Mixing” when
writing your music in the future. Remember to listen to the example I
composed (link located at the top of this article) and keep composing