Have you heard? 08. Neptune, the Mystic

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves

The Planets: Neptune, the Mystic - Gustav Holst (1915)

Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite is undoubtedly his most well-known music ever. Particularly, the themes he wrote for Mars and Jupiter have been played and loved around the world. But there are five other planets he wrote music for, one of which is Neptune, the Mystic. Dreamy and soothing, this is the final piece in the suite, many years before the discovery of Pluto.

So how does an orchestral piece of music written to portray a distant planet as a wizard constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

Before even beginning to assess the relationship between the music and the subtitle, “the Mystic”, I am going to jump straight to the end of the piece. The music ends with a soft choir repeating the same bar over and over again as it fades into the distance. In today’s modern age this is not unusual, but in a live 1910’s performance the effect was simply astounding. How did he do it? In a stroke of innovation for the modern orchestra, he instructed the choir to be put in a room offstage and the door slowly and quietly shut. Very clever!

Neptune, indeed, is a mystical piece. It is not grand or tense, but sombre and magical. That is what makes it special. It’s about the atmosphere rather than the journey. The instrumentation captures this beautifully. It is light and dream-like, heavily utilising the wind instruments and pitched percussion in drifting scales and unresolved chords. In the second half of the piece a choir appears and begins to add to the atmosphere in the background. There are many small chimes and lonely motifs, reflecting the traditional ‘mystic’ viewpoint. Everything is slow, measured and composed. Transitions between motifs and segments are seamless; there are no blunt announcements. Only there is the humble mystic at the end of the universe, craftily weaving his magic.

The music is a perfect fit for Neptune. The choir gives a sense of distance, while the strings flutter around the mystery of the blue planet. It’s the perfect music to have playing in the background when taking it easy… especially if on a trip to Neptune,

Neptune has been inspirational to me as a piece that showcases how a composer to think outside the box to utilise the orchestra in ways to achieve their desired outcomes. These days we have other ways of fading out an orchestra, but Holst’s solution back in 1915 really challenges me to think about things I can do to my pieces to add difference and uniqueness. It also reminds me that not all pieces need to be grand and ‘show-y’. I appreciate the simple atmospheric and impressionistic music Holst has created. it has character and it has soul. It feels just like a planet.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 07. Route 209 (Day)

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Route 209 (Day) - Ken Sugimori/Hitomi Sato (2006)

Pokemon. This is not the Pokemon theme song. In fact, Route 209 (Day) is simply one short piece in a huge catalogue of music written for Pokemon games. In this case, the music features when travelling along Route 209 between Hearthome City and Solaceon Town, in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum during the day. The best description of these two places is a bustling city for the former, and a retirement village for the latter, with a popular off-road cycle path in between.

So how does generic background music for a Pokemon game where there is hundreds of pieces to listen to constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

Well, for a start it has that beautifully simple and classic retro feel. It is straight to the point. It dances like sunlight with it’s lightweight piano ballad. Now when you’re adventuring through the Pokemon world to become the very best, there could be nothing more relaxing.

But if we take away the context of the piece (the Pokemon) and just examine the music itself, we have a short fanfare for an electronic orchestra. At its core, it’s remarkably simple. But it’s the small details and flourishes that really make it a joy to listen to: cheerful A-major key, long wholesome notes, little piano twirls, bouncing string scales, gentle drum beat. The piece is short, but written cleverly to fit three very different, but similar, themes together in one place, each with their own distinct character and feel. You have the initial fanfare to announce your arrival, then you have curious ‘old-timers’ melody before finishing with a more upbeat tune to return it to the fanfare. It’s like a convergence of all ages of life. Throughout the entirety of the piece there’s various counterpoints and counter-melodies. Like the piano counter-melody that plays over the top of the trumpet fanfare at the beginning of the piece or the string counter-melody in the middle section. The chord sequence is constantly rising, giving the feeling of elation and joy. The piece also does not restrict itself to any preset sequence or mode or structure. it just goes where it needs to go to express the many different experience from within this one portion of the Pokemon world.

Personally, I think it’s a fantastically crafted piece of music and a joy to listen to. Especially so given that it’s a electronic composition with a retro feel for a Pokemon game.

This piece has had some influence on my music. I used it as inspiration to write my own light-hearted and joyful adventure music in the Adventure_RPG album, particularly for the piece: “A Day of Adventure”.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 06. In Dreams

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

In Dreams - Howard Shore and Fran Walsh (2001)

Everyone knows the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Academy Award winning theme music composed by Howard Shore. But not everyone knows that the same iconic theme for Frodo Baggins and The Shire has a full suite of lyrics to accompany it. Official lyrics to the greatest film songs would almost seem like something you would expect… in dreams.

So how does a singsong set to Lord of the Rings music constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

First and foremost it is totally unexpected. Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, nor did they expect a young soloist to feature in the most iconic Lord of the Rings song. The melody, rhythm and harmony is like-for-like the same as the orchestral version, but it is without the bells and whistles and glorious flourish. Instead, the piece is a mellow choral song about hope on an arduous journey. Of course, the melody and harmonics alone are remarkable, but it is the instrumentation that makes this piece truly unique. The blend between the young soloist and the choir, backed by a soft orchestra really emphasizes the emotion and spirit of the lyrics. The orchestra is there, but it is not the centerpiece of the music. Even when the iconic themes get their orchestral spotlight the music stays mellow and measured.

The lyrics are simple and clever, making enough reference to the journey undertaken in the film to be relevant. They never talk explicitly of the ring or of Frodo, but they do talk of the hardship and the hope within. Even at the end there is a direct reference to The Hobbit, a nice little touch.

This piece has absolutely influenced my music. Whilst I haven’t managed master the choir, you can find some influences from Howard Shore’s work in One World and Fantasia in F: Commemorating the Steward.

Happy listening and enjoy!

p.s. don’t forget to watch the movies.

Have you heard? 05. Ritual Fire Dance

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Ritual Fire Dance - Manuel de Falla (1915)

Have you ever considered going to a ritual fire dance? I haven’t. But if I did I could absolutely imagine Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” urging me on. Written for a ballet, the music takes a rather uncommon concept and attempts to bring imagery and life to it. The composer himself has since transcribed it into many different arrangements.

So how does tribal themed ballet music constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

Right from the get-go, de Falla’s, “Ritual Fire Dance” does exactly what it says on the tin. The first half minute of ominous trills really sets the mood. The primitive woodwind that follows sets the tone for the rest of the piece: playful, inquisitive, mystical. The music then constantly jumps between moods. At one moment it is staring deeply into the fire, the next it is jumping around in ritualistic form. It draws you into its world and makes it so easy to imagine a bunch of cavemen with sticks dancing around a fire. It’s an interesting and different use of strings - Mozart would be confused. Frantic arpeggios are not dominant, instead being replaced by an unavoidably eerie plucking. Even the brass make heavy use of their mutes at the end of the piece. It’s creative and different in the way its been put together and how it conveys its story. That’s what makes it notable. Even the orchestra hits at the end are seemingly confused and random. But it works!

Although I am yet to delve into the realm of ritualistic dance music, this piece nevertheless serves as an inspiration to me that an orchestra can be used creatively and outside the usual expected bounds of the current trends. It’s different and unique. I like that.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 04. Udan Mas

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Udan Mas - Geoff Knorr (2013)

Take a traditional Indonesian motif, add an orchestra and what do you get? Well, if Geoff Knorr is in charge, you get wartime music for the Indonesian nation in the highly acclaimed video game Civilization V. Each nation gets its own set of peacetime and wartime music, based on traditional melodies and local instruments, but “Udan Mas” takes the cake for taking such a simple tune and turning it into something fierce and respectable.

So how does a battle cry for an army of Indonesian Kris Swordsmen constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

The beauty lies in a simple four-note theme that creates the entire essence of the piece. Drawn from traditional music, it drives it forward while still keeping the traditional Indonesian feel. Traditional instruments are included alongside a full orchestra, giving it authenticity that would otherwise be lost. The masterful blending of the brass with the rest of the orchestra gives the piece the distinct ‘war’ feeling. The piece never stops moving forward. Always marching, it swells, it glares and it calls out. The entire orchestra is only a rhythmic conduit for the deep brass to annunciate their call for war. It’s tense, yet so craftily traditional. You can feel the army approaching, step by step. You can feel the hesitation and the deep breath before the plunge as the woodwinds trill, teeter and then strike in. From a tune so simple as four notes, Knorr has created a piece of music that makes you sit tense in your boots. When listen to this piece you know those swordsmen are coming.

This piece has had some influence on my music. It shows how the brass can be used in effective, but not overwhelming, ways. It has directly influenced two of my pieces: “Serenade in F: II. Sunset” and “Serenade in F: III. Nightfall”.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 03. Chevaliers de Sangreal

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Chevaliers de Sangreal - Hans Zimmer (2006)

Everybody knows Hans Zimmer, the powerhouse of film composing. But not everybody knows all of his music. Shortly after helping Klaus Badelt write the first block of music for the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, Zimmer found himself writing for The DaVinci Code, a film based on a very popular novel where the protagonist deciphers a series of incredibly cryptic clues to save the world.

So how does an orchestra on a treasure hunt constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

“Chevaliers de Sangreal” is one of those pieces where you feel the emotion building slowly over time, until it flows over into a crescendo of many feels. Zimmer’s mastery of the strings section is not lost in this piece. Starting gentle, the piece builds atmosphere with soft, but filling chords and harmonies. The string motif in the background brings a sense of continuity as the piece seemingly meanders through a variety of chords and builds in emotion. Eventually the choir even joins in. But for a piece where the rhythm and melody in every bar is just about the same, it stays relevant and interesting through dynamics, instrumentation and harmonies. Deep basses and horns fill out the chords and melodies, while strings and woodwind dance around to bring that extra little bit of embellishment. The piece itself is so simple, yet incredibly effective.

This piece has inspired me to explore the world of compositional and musical development in a different way. You don’t have to make something different to be interesting, just something more.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 02. Drysdale Overture

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Drysdale Overture - Douglas Lilburn (1937)

Douglas Lilburn’s “Drysdale Overture” is a New Zealand piece of music that takes the definition of ‘classical’ music, stretches it a bit and embellishes it into something far more ‘modern’. It is one of the first pieces of music published by Lilburn in a long-spanning career as New Zealand’s most recognised composer.

So how does a hybrid classical-modern orchestral overture constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

“Drysdale Overture” is a fairly unique piece in its combination of delicate, yet lush, melodies and intricate rhythm and pace. It sets itself as totally different to the masterpieces that came before it. Instead of being about the tones, harmonies and structure that defines a truely classical pieces, it is all about the melodies and instrumentation. There are grand brass swells and soft woodwind solos, but never does any one theme overpower another. It flows through a variety of emotions, guided by a gentle pacing of the strings. Yet, the strings never go crazy, the brass never goes crazy, the woodwind never go crazy. The music is temperate, yet so well instrumented that it seems like it was written fifty years before it’s time.

Personally, my favourite section is from about 8:10 to 8:40. The delicacy of the strings, complete with the brass chords, invoke powerful imagery and emotion and are a fantastic development not he previous recurrences of the same theme.

Although Lilburn’s treasure has not directly influenced any of my own compositions, the style of writing and the instrumentation is something I find inspiring for future pieces.

Happy listening and enjoy!

Have you heard? 01. Red Planet Nocturne

Have you heard? is a showcase for the unconventional, unique and inspiring music out there that never seems to get the limelight it deserves.

Red Planet Nocturne - Christopher Tin (2016)

Red Planet Nocturne” is a short piece of music written for piano and synthesiser by grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin. Generally known for his work on the Civilization franchise, particularly “Baba Yetu”, Tin composed the work as the main theme for the economic strategy video game Offworld Trading Company.

So how does a mix of piano and funky space synth constitute an unconventional, unique or inspiring piece of music?

First, it is important to understand the context of the music. Tin is tasked with writing music for a video game set on Mars where almost every action taken needs to be carefully considered in a competitive live (space) market environment. Now, how many orchestras do you think there are in space? Believe it or not, we have an International Space Orchestra, but they haven’t actually performed in space. No, there are no orchestras in space and fittingly there are no orchestras in “Red Planet Nocturne”. Instead, Tin opted for a soft bell, a typewriter of some sort and a fuzzy firework when playing with his synthesiser, giving the whole piece the ‘otherworldly’ feel that it needs. Then, he ‘earths’ it with a soft piano chiming away in the background, bringing wholeness and familiarity to the music. After all, it is still us humans that are colonising Mars.

The result is gentle piece that meanders in its own way. The music almost feels as if it is floating around, curiously adventuring into a new unknown. That doesn’t sound too much different to Mars anyway. In any case, the music is mysterious, but soothing, and well worth a listen!

“Red Planet Nocturne” has influenced some of my work. Most notably, the piano chimes in the piece inspired similar chimes in my own piece, “Crop Circles” from the Adventure_RPG OST.

Happy listening and enjoy!