Variations

Variations are something that I love to hear but dread to create. When listening to music, the ear wants to hear changes while still feeling like it is in familiar territory. Too much of the same thing and we get bored and too much of something else and we get confused. The idea, for any good theme variation is to slowly morph and evolve the melody into a new and refreshing one every so often. And for me, it’s one of the most difficult things in composing.

There is a question that I’m asked on a relatively regular basis when critiquing my music with peers: What has changed? And the answer is usually nothing, which tends to be problematic. Like I said before, too much of the same thing is boring. I can argue that popular music uses copious amounts of repetition and #1 pop hits can have the same melody repeated 200 times in a song. But I’m not making popular music. I’m scoring video games. The player is already going to listen to the song 500 times, so repeating too much in one song can be aggravating to say the least.

So the answer is variations in the theme. It’s not a mystery. I’ve known this from day one, the problem is that I get stuck sometimes. When composing I hear something and instantly I’m proud of and attached to it. My ear and mind gravitate toward it and changing it becomes an exercise in denying my very nature. For me, once it’s in my head, it is only a few keystrokes before it’s on the staves. Which is ok. I have to get it out and on paper to save it. I can make changes later. The problem is that once I get it down and deliver the rough draft, it can often remain in this rough draft state. And that is NOT ok.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in another game jam, and this time I worked with 2 teams instead of one. This meant that I had twice to the music to write. I had varying levels of success on these projects, but, one song in particular turned out regrettably. The loop was too short for the style and after 5 minutes of game play, the track was frustratingly repetitive. The loop was too short to include any kind of variation so every 60 seconds you hear the same thing. At the end of the day, it’s not a huge misstep, as it was for “Internal Use Only”, but I’m still disappointed in myself, as I poorly represented my craft among potential employers.

Now that I’ve heard the bad end of this spectrum, I’m focusing more intently on the good end of it. [Unannounced] is the perfect project to do this with too, as file size is not an issue. Audio, and music especially, tends to eat up space quickly and songs length and file size are typical compromises that are made to accommodate. On this project, I have been told that file size is not an issue so I aim to make the best tracks that I can, without limitation. This may mean a 10 second audio cue or a 10 minute world loop. I can’t say for certain, but I know that I have no compromises to make.

Since having a ten minute loop would be pointless if there was only 3 minutes of music in it, I am using variations to create subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in the main themes to create interest and prevent aural redundancy. Obviously, not every track will be, but every track is allowed to be this long, and I would be remiss if I didn’t do everything that I can to make it work. I have a feeling that my bag of tricks is about get much heavier. I like that.

*Edit 3 for Theme 2 will be posted soon. Check back to hear it!

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