So, at the beginning of this month (wow, that was longer ago than I thought), I was accepted through the little audition process as composer for Hammerfell. Almost immediately after that, I started working 16 hour days while still trying to keep my scoring gigs afloat and everything got a bit crazy, but I figured I owe you guys something, so I'm going to post both the sample "explore_day" track and the preliminary plan I submitted for the audition.
"explore_day" demo via SoundCloud
I hope this gives you folks some idea of what's on my mind, and will open the door to any thoughts, criticisms, or inspiration you might have. I may also post this somewhere in the Hammerfell development forums, if it seems like that's a better place for direction and feedback.
I will, however, continue to update this thread with music for review/discussion.
BEYOND SKYRIM: HAMMERFELL Preliminary Plan Style:
While certainly not an Elder Scroll's score, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 2 has some interesting and very applicable textures and harmonic devices. The rampant parallelism in the strings that Vaughan Williams is known for, I think, evokes a "Laurence of Arabia" feel that might be a useful (and less overt) source of inspiration for the sound of Hammerfell. You needn't listen to the entire thing (though it is wonderful music, of course), but the opening, and some moments between 15 - 20 minutes are deep wells of material. https://youtu.be/0rNDdaReUZU
There is a great deal to be learned from Austin Wintory's score to Journey. This ties somewhat into instrumentation, which I'll discuss in greater detail momentarily, but his choice of instruments and the way he used them works wonders in that games desert setting. https://youtu.be/M3hFN8UrBPw
Although the "problem" that score is solving and the flow of that game are very different from TES, I enjoy the way the audiovisual experience of Journey made me feel, and a large part of that came from the colors of a desert and the timbres of Austin's music.
There is also the matter of implementation. The explore_day demo track I write will be linear, of course, but if I do end up working with you folks, I'd like some more information on how you prefer to handle battle music and transitions and the like. Instrumentation:
I agree that Hammerfell should maintain its orchestral quality. Though I'd like to establish the score as a fully orchestral sound, particularly instrumental (that was a pun) components might be: a standard string section (Violins I & II, Violas, Cellos [and a solo cello, as mentioned above], and DoubleBasses), french horns, and flutes. I think there is a place for a choir, though a prominent choir is a bold statement that the political intricacies and vast sometimes vacant landscapes of Hammerfell might not be receptive to. Perhaps they could be used sparingly, to complement and enhance orchestral timbres, as they were used in Oblivion (in stark contrast to Skyrim).
While I do think some Middle Eastern and African textures (and I have a cornucopia of ethnic libraries) are necessary, I propose that they remain only that - textures. I'd like to use them to flavor the world and establish a firm sense of setting, but avoid cluttering the player's experience with cliches that don't serve the story.
Percussion, however, is an area where I think the setting can really shine through. Just as the sound of Skyim is in part the product of huge drums, I think the sound of Hammerfell could be more intricate, built from an assortment of smaller percussive devices and rhythmic motifs - an homage to African music. Timpani, Bass Drums, and Taikos have a place in a game like this, of course, but I'd like to at least experiment with smaller percussive tools. I'll include a more comprehensive list at the end of this document, after I've finished the demo piece and spent some time with the timbres.
On the subject of synths and synthetic sonorities, I believe there is a place for them (dungeons aside) as supplemental production tools. A score - even one explicitly designed to be an orchestral score - that must rely primarily on virtual instruments has to accommodate their shortcomings. One way to do this is through subtle synthetic enhancements. In most film, video game, and popular music, the objective is not hyper-realism, but rather a blend of tones and colors that creates what the audience expects to hear. To this effect, I think a synthetic sound in the background that doesn't jump out to a listener as "oh, that's a synth" is acceptable in this context. Skyrim, though also having a beautifully performed orchestral score, was very successful in this regard too.
Though all of these will not be present in the demo piece, the following is a rough list of my proposed instrumentation: Woodwinds:
Tuba Percussion (not in demo):
Chinese Tam Tam
Brake Drums Strings:
Violins I, II; Violas; Cellos; DoubleBass, all with divisi (using EastWest Hollywood Strings and LASS, with LASS being the smaller of a 2-way divisi split) Choir:
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass (doing primarily "oo" and "mm" vocalizations. I can use EastWest's "WordBuilder," to make the choir sing phrases, but the effect can be a bit overbearing, and unnecessary for how I think the choir should be used) Ethnic:
Solo Cello (not really ethnic, but it wouldn't be serving an "orchestral" function, per say)
Duduk (used subtly) African Percussion:
1 pad (designed in Absynth). Similar to something that might be heard in Skyrim Expression:
The music of Skyrim, for me, conveys the passionate hostility but breathtaking beauty of the northern landscape, and embodies the spirit of the Nords that environment had shaped. Particularly with "Frostfall," and a slew of "needs" mods, every moment in the game feels like a struggle to survive, and I die more frequently to the cold than I do to NPCs. Though Soule likely didn't write the music with these gameplay mechanics in mind, his soundtrack sets the perfect tone for that struggle and, as a player, it makes me want to brave even the harsher regions to keep writing my story and discovering new pieces of the world.
The question, I think, becomes: what sort of stories do players want to tell and be told in Hammerfell? Looking at some of the lore and proposed quests and landscapes, I think "emptiness" might be a crucial part of the experience. This is not to say a lack of content - hopefully, the world will be overflowing with detail - but rather, a desert loneliness, the feeling of looking to the horizon in all directions and not seeing another friendly soul.
Hammerfell also seems to be a place of harsh politics and callous business, and this lonely feeling might apply to the character as he or she navigates stories of intrigue and subterfuge. Oblivion was the most whimsical (I think) of the series. Skyrim was grounded and brutal, a grand story of short lives and civil war and racism and the potential destruction of all civilization. Hammerfell, maybe, should feel more personal - yet at the same time, impersonal. Instead of battling seemly insurmountable forces of nature, you're battling the forces of history and politics and the people on both sides who care for nothing, so long as they've made a profit when the dust settles. Explore_Day Demo Track:
The demo track exemplifies a few of the above elements, and shuns others. It is entirely orchestral, as I wanted to see what I could do with the idea of Hammerfell in the spirit of Jeremy Soule without employing any ethnic devices yet. The result is the linked track.