VGM Monday – Knowing the Score, Pt.1

My love for music – the geeky kind – started back in 2001 when my very first movie score landed in my hands. If I recall correctly, I think that first one was Howard Shore’s score for The Fellowship of the Ring. That CD changed music for me and I don’t think any words could thank Mr Shore enough for that.

While I’m more of a TV show/Film music lover, the majority of my iTunes library made up of soundtrack music, recent years have proven that video game music can be just as intense and, for me, enthralling to listen to. I regret to announce, for all you haters out there, that the very first piece of music that really caught my eye was some of the themes used in CoD: Modern Warfare 2 (the single player, of course). I was surprised beyond all recognition when, upon digging a little deeper in search for this music, that the original score for this AAA was produced by none other than Hans Zimmer (if you don’t know who that is, either tune in next time or GTFO).

As an avid film score collector, this revelation opened up my eyes to the changing shades of the video game industry, and it wasn’t too long before I started to realise just how much effort was being put into the music behind these amazing games. What I found so difficult to understand, at first anyway, was that huge name composers from across the industry  were getting involved in the video game world.

And thus, after a bit of digging around, I thought I’d introduce you all to a few of my all time favourite composers, all of whom have taken the past decade to jump into video game composing. I was more than a little impressed with what I found.

(Note: Due to my ability to ramble, I’m breaking this down into two or three articles, over which I’ll cover three composers.)

Bear McCreary

The majority of people who’ve ever attempted a conversation with me about music would have heard this legendary name, and I have no regrets in spamming the man out there – he truly deserves it. Most likely one of the most prominant up and coming composers of the film and TV industry, Bear has been around for a good decade now and is only climbing higher by the day.

Battlestar Galactica

Bear McCreary’s career started with the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica

His career began with the Syfy remake of Battlestar Galactica (watch it!) in which, at least for me, he brought to a TV drama something I had never witnessed before –  a full orchestra. Not only does the Bear utilise such a complete ensemble when producing his tunes (which are amazing), he is also known for really thinking (and living) outside the box when it comes to choosing his instruments. Shining through in the later seasons of Battlestar, Bear would be bringing pieces to the show that would include Irish flutes, Indian sitars and, Scottish bagpipes and oriental instruments such as the duduk (a Chinese flute). I for one had never heard such a crazy, yet totally cohesive ensemble on screen. I was hooked instantly. In fact, the man’s music was such a monumental addition to the TV show that, by the end of it’s four amazing seasons, Bear’s music had become part of the plot and overall conclusion of the series. No spoilers, but I have to say “DAMN!: (srs, watch it!).

Bear McCreary

What a handsome guy!

More recent work for Bear has included Human Target (for which he was nominated for an Emmy) and the current running series of The Walking Dead (which his music has really hit home on during this most recent season). He is also currently working on the upcoming Syfy MMO slash TV show Defiance, which I can only assume the music for will be nothing but majestic.

His first work on a video game came in 2010 with the Capcom title Dark Void – unfortunately, I have little to note about this one as I never got to listen to the music, nor play the game. I know that it was a challenge for him, given the way the music had to flow through the game, though I’ll reserve any serious comments for the future.

Bear’s main piece of work in the video game industry came more recently with the 2011 release of Socom 4: US Navy SEALs. As this one was a PS3 only release, I never had the opportunity to play the game. However, as a sign of just how high the quality of McCreary’s work is, I’ve listened intently to his original score of this title nonetheless. And boy was I impressed.

SOCOM 4, the latest installment in the third person tactical shooter series, is set in Malaysia. This alone was enough to get me excited, and my high hopes were adequately satisfied. With Bear’s history in utilising oriental instruments in his scores, SOCOM 4 was right up his alley – and he pulled it off brilliantly.

SOCOM 4 Main Title

SOCOM 4 Orchestra

Bears SOCOM 4 orchestra.

Again, as I haven’t played the game, I can’t comment too much on the story or the way the music blends in with the single player action. From listening, though, and hearing what others have had to say about how the score operates in the game, it certainly seems quite fitting and adequately paced.

As with most of his music, and with the majority of composers and video game scores in general, Bear works tirelessly with themes in his music. You know, that little cue of music you hear every time you’re at X location, or meet Y character? Once these themes are in place, altering them and experimenting with them is the next step, and my experience has shown that Bear is a master of this process.

I think the main reason I love this music, especially as a muse for my writing and the like, is how personal and ‘full’ it is. Bear (and the other composers I hope to talk about in the future) aren’t just composing some background fluff to ensure the player doesn’t get bored – they’re telling the story with their instruments, conveying the emotions and setting the scenes as they are there before you. I don’t think any other aspect of storytelling can do that the way music and sound can.

The monumental piece, filled with raw drama and adrenaline, is definitely the closing piece of the SOCOM 4 score titled The Pursuit on Vengeance – I don’t even have legitimate words to describe a track like this. One of Bear’s finest pieces of musical drama, in my opinion, and one that encompasses everything that he is – the intensity, the varying instruments, the fast pace and the unexpected twists. All I can say is that you should treat yourself to a listen (you’ll hear that main theme in there, like I mentioned, but also so much more – THOSE DRUMS! THAT ESCALATION!).

The Pursuit of Vengeance

Hopefully you enjoyed this little change of pace and you’ll tune in next time for Part II of my run down on composers – featured then: Metal Gear Solid and Hans Zimmer.

Have you played SOCOM 4 or Dark Void? What do you think about more dramatic, orchestral music like this?

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