In my last post I detailed the compositional process I took to compose “Curtis’ Theme”. In this post I will break down the musical elements of the opening dungeon, The Tangle.
First let’s listen:
The Tangle was composed in a very peculiar way. Unlike every other piece written for this project, this piece was composed exclusively in Logic. What this means is that it never existed in sheet music form and was played into Logic via my midi keyboard. This is an unusual method for me, but I wanted to experiment with the process to see if it would generate new creative energy.
Before we begin, I should explain what The Tangle is. The Tangle is a massive growth of vines, plants and foliage that is threatening the village of Adam. The villagers do not know why it is growing. However in the last months it has gotten worse and is threatening the way of life for the village. The game opens with our main heroes exploring The Tangle for an answer to this problem.
The first thing I composed for this piece is the bass line. This was actually written during a ten-hour car ride from D.C. to Nashville. My wife took the wheel for a stretch so I decided to get some things recorded via my midi keyboard. I knew I wanted the bass line to be driving (constant 8th notes), cryptic (implying danger), and a bit off kilter, thus the 7/4 time signature. Below is the bass line that comprises the main section of the tune:
I decided that to create tension and keep a hypnotic lull, I would build parts off of this base line using loops. This worked perfectly with the method I was composing (via midi keyboard) and ended up being a nice example of how I approached things differently in this process. Looping multiple parts on each other worked perfectly for this piece.
Percussion and Choirs
Next I added a basic percussion loop that gave some earth-y flavor. The sound of hand drums signified nature and the ground, which seemed to be a good choice for The Tangle. The next loop to enter is an epic sounding choir. The choir sings in open 5ths which give it a open and non-specific harmonic color. It seemed to be the right choice for the tune at this point:
Again, all these loops are fairly simple and a result of me playing off my keyboard.
Time for a Melody
Last but not least is the main melody. I decided to use a pan flute (again going to the nature/earth element) playing in E 5th Mode Harmonic Minor or Spanish Phrygian scale. This scale to me has elements of non-western cultures (and with the possibility of being slightly offensive) seems to capture this other worldly/earthy vibe The Tangle bestows:
E 5th Mode Harmonic Minor or Spanish Phrygian Scale
I added a small echo and a distorted guitar counter melody. Why? I just thought it sounded cool (a legitimate compositional decision IMO).
The Tangle does feature a second section in 3/4 time. I felt this helped break up the 7/4 and give the piece a bit more momentum. Because the bars are grouped in smaller units, it gives the piece an accelerating feel. Again, I keep the bass lines moving in (almost) constant 8th notes:
The ending section is an interesting coda to the entire piece. I decided to explore the 5/4 time signature. Here’s the bass line:
It creates a similar effect to the 7/4 irregular time feel with two less beats. In addition, this section has less static harmonic movement and the bass moves through several chords, a needed section to get off us the relentless E Pedal in the other sections. The listener will probably still hear the relationship between this section and the one in 7/4 as the bass still contains a very similar structure.
Fun fact: I group the choir ahs and string melody in two patches each, one with the top voice and second harmony voice separated and panned them hard right and left. This is a technique I hear frequently employed in early Final Fantasy titles and gives the parts a more wide space, rather than each note coming from the same area.
Melody 1 – panned left
Melody 2 – panned right
I hope this article was interesting and informative. The Tangle was one of the most unique pieces I had to compose for the game and challenged me to use a new way to approach the compositional process. I knew that I needed to make the theme special as The Tangle was the opening dungeon and would set the tone for the entire game. It also gave me a unique opportunity to explore some irregular time signatures and utilize sounds that I had not done in other pieces.
Thanks and stay tuned for my next article! Have any ideas on what to write about? Please comment below!