New Curious Score Music
"There Was No One Else at the Reins"
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Recently in ATH I've been working on some scenes with a new Davoranjan character—a ranger who is captured by the Galans early on. More to the point I've been working with the Davoranjan mindset in the story—its flavor and tone. And so it happens to be that I've been working on a new Curious Score piece of late, too—music for another Davoranjan ranger, Grieve Black.
If you want to go straight to the music, here it is.
Davoranj is a kingdom in the remote northeast of the world, virtually cut off from the rest of Relance, and quite powerful and prosperous as a result. (Usually the opposite is true: Trade and travel make for strong economies, after all. Davoranj, as it happens, is an exception—but that's a story for another day.) I try and avoid stereotypes in my writing generally, but Davoranj presents a certain exception. In many ways it epitomizes our stereotype of the proud, honor-driven, militaristic medieval society. Swords, warriors, all that junk. I don't mind; it works just fine in the story.
Of course, within any society is a great deal of variety, and Davoranj is no exception. And, so, we come now to a new piece of music for Grieve.
This piece began as a melodic development in a guitar concerto that I've been working on. It came together very coherently, but had a one-dimensional, 16-bit RPG feel to it that didn't fit the concerto's structure at all, so I chopped it out and asked myself what or whom could take it.
That question was settled by the music itself: The main melody of the piece is only four bars, and in the process of trying to write a B-section addition, I stumbled onto some chord progressions that are strictly reserved for certain crucial pieces in the Score. I was at my wit's end: I studied many possible chord progression alternatives, and didn't like any of them. I wanted to keep the chords I had. Finally, taking another tack, I tried to develop a melody that was different enough that the chord progressions would sound distinct from their counterparts in the aforementioned crucial pieces.
I succeeded in my effort, but in so doing I gave a distinct pentatonic feeling to the music, reminiscent of RPG tunes for Japanese samurai (or their fictional approximations). It had sadness, honor, and an unrelenting drive to it, and it made me think of Grieve Black.
Grieve Black, for those not in the know, is a key figure in After The Hero. He begins in the story as a ranger who is unaffected by the Galan mindwashing of the Davoranjan people, and through absolutely no desire of his own rises to become the top leader of the Resistance, a militarized insurgency against the Galan Conquest. His story is one of weary persistence through endless misfortunes, and that's very much what this music feels like.
So I gave the music to him.
There had already been some Grieve Black music in my repertoire—most notably a piano theme from several years ago that was inspired by Saddam Hussein—but that music is lost on my old laptop. Meanwhile, this new theme doesn't sound like any of the old Grieve stuff. Instead, it sounds a lot like the new Davoranjan flavors coming out of my imagination in recent years, connected around the Hero's daughter, whose main theme also has a pentatonic, vaguely Asian quality (though I actually wrote it on a Native American flute).* This works for me; it helps me in my brainstorming to draw out some characteristics in Grieve—especially his tenacity and weariness—that I think deserve thematic emphasis, while minimizing some of the characteristics that aren't as central to the character but which the older Grieve music strongly evokes.
(* I'm not specifically going for "Asian" with Davoranj; rather, the particular scale that appears in some of my music just so happens to have been widely used in some traditional Asian music.)
Because this piece had its origin in a completely different piece of music—the guitar concerto—some vestiges from the concerto remain. Most obviously, it's a guitar piece (or technically a piece for two guitars). More significantly, however, the bassline for the first eighteen seconds or so is based on the concerto's central linking theme. That doesn't matter now, but when you eventually hear the concerto you will clearly think "Oh! It's the bassline intro from Grieve's music." But in fact it is the other way around! Another vestige is that the chord progressions in the C-section fall under Silence's musical umbrella. Both of these I would have removed, were they not so inextricably load-bearing.
Additionally, there are two deliberate thematic quotations of other music embedded throughout this piece: First and more prominently is the Second Relance Night Theme, the earthier and more poignant of the two Relancii night themes. If you know what to listen for you will find hints of it all over the place, but there is also a full-fledged literal quotation at 1'57" to 1'59". The appearance of the night theme in Grieve's music symbolizes his long personal struggle and necessary self-reliance.
Second, Galavar's Minor Theme is present throughout the piece as well, representing Grieve's chief antagonist. A literal quotation occurs at 0'19" to 0'20" (and elsewhere), and more broadly virtually every flattened note in the piece is an allusion to Galavar.
Meanwhile, the melodies of the A-section and B-section (and their variants in the middle of the piece), are completely original. The A-section melody (0'21" to 0'30") is truly special and is one of my most impressive original melodic creations in the last several years, being both catchy and surprisingly complex. The B-section (0'31" to 0'49"), as I mentioned, contains the chord progressions whose retention ultimately led the overlying melody to bring this piece into Grieve's fold. The C-section (0'49" to 1'04") is just there for variety and punctuation, and it leads to a false closing section, which in turn leads to a false opening section. (This was deliberate and would function as the loop point in order to create a seamless, endlessly-repeating RPG track.) Lastly, there is a D-section (from 1'21" to 1'50") as well, to make the A- and B-section variants which follow it stand out more starkly. The D-section is a development passage based on the A-section melody.
You know, this piece does such a good job of recreating RPG noble-warrior tropes that it almost sounds generic. I mean that in a good way: I bet you can picture this music in any number of games. If there actually were a 16-bit ATH RPG, and this was Grieve's theme, I think it would be iconic. (At the very least, it would stand out as a solid RPG theme from the 8/16-bit era.)
You'll find that this piece is more experimental than usual for me when it comes to chords and progressions. It's nothing special when you consider it against music in general, but for me it's quite an expansion of my usual thinking on chords.
The piece is written in D-sharp dorian—a relic of the concerto, which is also in D-sharp dorian, in addition to being transposed four steps down. Grieve's piece isn't transposed; it sounds better as written.
Here's an interesting piece of trivia on D-sharp dorian: All seven notes are sharps. I didn't plan on this; I didn't even know it until I got around to determining the key signature. When I discovered what I'd done, it made me smile. Usually, five or more accidentals in a key signature isn't done in music; such a piece would more commonly be rewritten (in my case as E-flat dorian). The reason I did it this way is twofold: Firstly, this is how I originally played the guitar concerto on the piano. I had just so happened to use D-sharp as the tonic, and the concerto just so happens to be in the dorian mode. (I later transposed it down four steps because it sounded better. I could have simply changed the key signature, but that would have entailed a whole lot of re-transcription work.) Secondly, it was more natural (heh) to write in D-sharp rather than E-flat because of all the flattened notes in the piece, which are actually just "de-sharped" notes. If I had written it in E-flat, I would have had to fill the piece with double flats. Despite their relative rarity I'm not averse to using double accidentals, but in this case it didn't make as much logical sense, because what I had in mind when I was playing on the piano was very much to de-sharp certain notes. All of this got carried over from the concerto to Grieve's piece.
Here's another piece of trivia: The piece you'll be listening to was a last-minute job. In order to distinguish it from the aforementioned concerto whence it sprang, I added full orchestration and considerable melodic and thematic development. However, that piece was simply not coming together—it was not cooperating with my efforts to actualize it—so, in order to meet today's deadline, I forked it about a week ago and reduced this version to its roots—the core melodic themes and the solo guitar(s). I anticipate that you will eventually get to hear the orchestral version, which has a lot more going on and doesn't sound nearly as RPG-like.
The soundfont I used is Chorium, from solmire.com. There's a lot of inaccuracy in how the guitar sounds with respect to strumming on a guitar versus hitting keys on a piano. In some cases I manually wrote strumming sounds into the score, and I also made liberal use of the sustain pedal (!), but for the most part I left things be, leading to a piano-like sound in some places.
Oh, the title. Because of its generic sound, it would be so easy to title this piece something like "The Path of Honor" or something like that, but for virtually the entire production length of the music, I had an extremely specific title that had absolutely nothing generic about it. In the end I changed it at the very last moment—even after writing this article!—to something that fits better with who Grieve Black is and what he's doing: "There Was No One Else at the Reins."
I hope you enjoy the music! Good or bad, let me know what you think.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!