Welcome back to our two-part exploration of the role of tension and intensity in a musical score, and the techniques that can best and most effectively accentuate our audience’s nervous excitement. If you haven’t read Part One yet, please read that article first, and then come back for the continuation of our discussion.
In Part One we explored how popular narrative genres such as horror benefit from a tense musical score, and we studied effective techniques for horror music composition as a model for musical tension-building in any narrative genre. We learned about some techniques from the world of sound design that can add intensity and emotional pressure to our music. We listened to a couple of musical examples that I composed as a member of the music team for Homefront: The Revolution (pictured right). We also consulted the opinions of some top experts in the field to better understand how amplifying tension can make any story feel like a more awesome, satisfying experience. Now, let’s move on to the more musical meat-and-bones of the topic: the actual harmonic textures and chord structures of our compositions.
Tension has always served a crucial role in music composition and performance. My next two blog articles will focus on how music works to shape tension and intensity in a dramatic presentation such as a video game.
During these blogs, we’ll be consulting with lots of top experts on the subject, and I’ll be sharing my experiences in regards to the tension-filled music that I composed as a member of the music team of Homefront: The Revolution – an open world, triple-A first person shooter game that was just released by Deep Silver/Dambuster Studios. Along the way we’ll check out some excerpts from music tracks I composed (in my music production studio, pictured right) for Homefront: The Revolution, and we’ll talk about multiple techniques to build tension in a piece of music, with the goal of inciting the most emotional intensity possible in our audience. With that in mind, let’s start things off with a great quote from philosopher Henry David Thoreau:
“The fibers of all things have their tension and are strained like the strings of an instrument.”
Thoreau not only saw the connection between music and tension, but also made a good point about the stresses and strains in our lives – we all possess our own inner emotional pressure. The more fervently we pursue our goals and struggles, the higher the tension grows. Taken to the extreme, it can feel as though our insides are wound up as taut as clockworks. As game composers, our job has always been to induce players to care about what’s happening in the game, and that includes inciting and escalating the nervous anxiety associated with an awesome investment of emotion and empathy. So let’s explore the best ways we can make players feel the tension!
I was pleased to give a talk about composing music for games at the 2016 Game Developers Conference (pictured left). GDC took place this past March in San Francisco – it was an honor to be a part of the audio track again this year, which offered a wealth of awesome educational sessions for game audio practitioners. So much fun to see the other talks and learn about what’s new and exciting in the field of game audio! In this blog, I want to share some info that I thought was really interesting from two talks that pertained to the audio production side of game development: composer Laura Karpman’s talk about “Composing Virtually, Sounding Real” and audio director Garry Taylor’s talk on “Audio Mastering for Interactive Entertainment.” Both sessions had some very good info for video game composers who may be looking to improve the quality of their recordings. Along the way, I’ll also be sharing a few of my own personal viewpoints on these music production topics, and I’ll include some examples from one of my own projects, the Ultimate Trailers album for West One Music, to illustrate ideas that we’ll be discussing. So let’s get started!