Alternative Composers to Hans Zimmer

Once upon a time, I did interviews for the Bolthole. It was a little site primarily dedicated to Warhammer and 40k stories from the Black Library, and we interviewed many of the authors who did work in those franchises. Early on, one of the questions I tended to ask was simply, “Is there any music you prefer to listen to while writing?”

And unfortunately, the answer was rarely more creative than Hans Zimmer.

Zimmer is a terrific composer, no one can easily deny that. But his name is simply too easy to spurt out because it’s what other people say. And in doing so, authors looking for some great tunes might easily pass up the chance to find composers who produce music that better fits their genres and style.

But of course, not if they’re reading my blog…

Ramin Djawadi

“Why does that name sound a little familiar?” you maybe asking yourself. It’s understandable. I mean, once the credits are on the screen, we usually zone out. So you might have missed his name in the opening titles of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Pacific Rim. Ramin Djawadi is just one of those up and coming types who might someday replace Zimmer as the name most associated with great musical scores. His style is best described as bombastic with a hint of the kind of powerful overtures that sweep us into some grander, often national conflict.

Thomas Bergersen

Funny fact. Just because Hans Zimmer did all the music in a movie doesn’t mean he did all the music for said movie. Enter the amazing work of Thomas Bergersen, who did this tune for one of Interstellar’s trailers. The co-founder of the famous production company Two Steps from Hell, Bergersen has composed some of the most emotionally dramatic pieces you’ll probably ever listen to. For amazing tunes, check out his albums SkyWorld and Sun.

Adrian von Ziegler

Unlike Djawadi, there’s an excellent chance you haven’t heard of Swiss composer, Adrian von Ziegler. In fact, he’s unlike almost everyone else on this list. He hasn’t really been involved on any major movie, game or television scores. Instead, he has achieved famed through sheer, raw talent and use of Youtube which you can check out freely.

Jason Graves

One glance as Graves’ prominent works list on Wikipedia makes it clear that the man has basically been everywhere in the gaming world, with more than a couple of dozens titles under his belt. However, his most significant works are likely for EA’s Dead Space series and the recently rebooted Tomb Raider series. Horror lovers may find a kinship with his work.

Basil Poledouris

But not every composer worth checking out has to be current. Basil Poledouris is a name associated with several unforgettable films in the 80s, including the first two Conan the Barbarian films and the Robocop series. The 90s were not without mentions either, expressing a diverse range of genre matching with Starship Troopers, Hot Shots: Part Deux and Free Willy.

Ennio Morricone

If you know what spaghetti westerns are, then you know who Ennio Morricone is. Made famous alongside movie western star Clint Eastwood, Morricone’s most unforgettable work can be found in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, in the piece “The Ecstasy of Gold.” His work is so powerful, it has been reused very often in other great films, including five by Quentin Tarantino.

Kenji Kawai

Chances are that only anime lovers would know the unusual and mysterious work of Kenji Kawai. But there’s a haunting, unforgettable element to his style that transcends any cultural barriers or genres. His best works may be in the form of the first two Patlabor movies as well as the Ghost in the Shell titles.

Yoko Kanno

Now while Kenji Kawai maybe known only to anime lovers, there’s a better chance that more people have heard the fantastic pieces of Yoko Kanno. This woman has no limits, and is capable of blending  blues, jazz and pop into an unbelievable and infectious fusion. Notable works include Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Macross Plus. But best of all the soundtrack to Cowboy Bebop, which is so critical acclaimed, even people who normally turn up their noses to anime may own it.

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Silent Hill: Homecoming

I like Alex, but his under development doesn't quite put him on the same level as James Sunderland.

I like Alex Shepherd, but he feels under development compared to James Sunderland.

There’s always a sense of nostalgia when a long time Silent Hill fan goes back for a visit. There’s a few monsters who are just, classic. The creepy atmosphere. The same sense of foreboding and the story concept often have to do with the subject of sins left without atonement.

Let’s start with the story and characters. A major difference between this Silent Hill and others is that the likeable main character, Alex Shepherd, knows almost everyone in his home town. This sets the plot apart in that Alex has existing biases (both favorable and not) for the people of his hometown. I feel this better drives the story than a handful of strangers. Yet at the same time, the story itself wasn’t exactly well executed. I had to deduct points for the poor voice acting with memorably bad lines like, “Where’s… my… brother?!”

Although the developers did a great job of maintaining the mystery element, the ending was not quite what I expected.

One can draw a lot of parallels between Silent Hill 2 and Homecoming. At its heart is the denial of one’s sins and atonement. However, it is hard to top the overall experience and discovery of the earlier game. Homecoming‘s ending surprised me, just as SH2‘s did. But it does not give you time to really reflect on the surprise. I like, if not love, twist endings. But the main character needs a bit of time to really reflect on the surprise. That was something I got with SH2 but not with SH:H.

Another point of contention that many fans feel is how Pyramid Head was resurrected strictly to draw upon SH2 appeal. Rather than as a masculine avatar of self punishment that he was for James Sunderland, Pyramid Head was used as the Boogeyman for Shepherd. A scary entity of revenge.

Although the third possible ending made some sense of Pyramid Heads return, Konami blew two great opportunities here. First, they had a great opportunity to develop a monster that is parallel to the original Pyramid Head, but different and just as memorable. Considering how awesome the bosses were in this game, they have no excuses.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget.

Scenes like this make Sunderland difficult to forget, and hard to compare too.

Second, they never successfully developed just what the Boogeyman was, a conjuration of childhood fears manifest from one’s lack of parental protection. Instead, they plugged Pyramid Head into a role that didn’t quite fit.

Again and again, the developers wrestle with the combat system. I admit they have to strike a difficult balance between keeping the main character as combat green as possible, while allowing the player to succeed against rough odds.

One considerable difference is that Alex Shepherd is a soldier, and it shows in the game. He can switch weapons on the fly, which is great because the various monsters are weak to various weapons. He can evade and duck, and recover from being knocked down. Getting your timing down for dodging is very tricky.

The music is good as ever, as are the sound effects and the atmosphere. I got a little frustrated by the shadow effect that creates pixel-shadows on the characters during cut scenes.

I think what frustrates me the most about the Silent Hill series, and SH:H, is that the game developers don’t want to get off the path they’ve worn. Sure, there was Silent Hill 4: The Room, but the game play wasn’t terribly different.

Personally? If I were to develop another Silent Hill game, I’d focus a lot more on sneaking around. Sure, you can cut out the light, kill the radio, but there are areas where combat is unavoidable. I want to move with stealth across the map. Even with bosses, I’d try to avoid being spotted and steal or undo something important that kills them. Combat would be a last resort. Shake it up already.

Silent Hill: Homecoming was satisfying enough, but will not enter my hall of favorite games.

Music Mining

I was quite amused when I first read the Dark Heresy core rule book on involving the chaos gods in the roleplaying elements of the game. It came with a warning not to take any of it seriously. I mean, after all. What’s the worst that can happen?

Anyway, this Chaos Music Tribute series is proving to be an interesting challenge.

Raziel4707 mentioned how he prefers grindcore style music for Khorne. I’ve listened to that style of music before with its thick lyrics and wild instrumentals and yeah, that’s pretty Berzerker wild. I considered for a while using it in my list, but I decided on more coherent music. My goal was to encourage Khornite thinking, as opposed to music that basically makes you feel like murder.

But it does create doubt. I listen to a piece and feel it is good. But is Khorne enough? Perhaps not. But I have to look at what I’m doing objectively, and recognizing when the point is made and when it is not. So on those grounds, I feel that I made the right decisions.

I actually finished both Nurgle’s and Tzeentch’s yesterday, but I hesitated about releasing them. I had issues about Tzeentch’s because, although happy with two-thirds of the music, I want to replace three songs. And I worried about some controversial content with Nurgle’s tribute.

But this morning, I reread Nurgle’s tribute careful. I combed over the words and felt I had kept myself safe from any controversy by pointing out the debate rather than engaging in it. I cited my sources, accept that the debate may still be raging. Feeling it’s good, I posted.

I’m actually going to hold off on unveiling Tzeentch’s until Sunday. I just want a little time to find better music for those three I’m not impressed with. So until then, I’ll finish up Slaanesh’s first. Just songs relating to sex, luxury, excess, you name it. Easy peasy.

Another 10 Music Pieces

So immediately after my last post giving 10 pieces of music for writing, I started another post with more music. It takes a little research to find good music with little or no lyrics, while trying to avoid re-using artists I have already mentioned before.

  1. Nothing Else Matters, by Apocalypta.
    “What, no Apocalypta?” MisterEd asked on the Shoutbox immediately after my last music listing. Self-induced cranial knockings commenced afterwards.
  2. Blade Runner Ending Theme, by Vangelis.
    You may find this hard to believe, but Ridley Scott is actually looking to do another movie set in the Blade Runner universe. I honestly don’t know how to take the news given that the sci-fi/noir flick is one of my all time favorites, and that Scott doesn’t seem to have ever done a sequel in his life. We will see what comes of this. Until then, enjoy the original sound track.
  3. Escape, by Craig Armstrong.
    Just when you think it’s over, they’re still coming after you! Run, you fools!
  4. Canabalt Theme, by Danny Baranowsky.
    Canabalt is a simple flash game that came out sometime back. All you do is jump, timing yourself to avoid obstacles and land safely on buildings. Click the link to play, but watch the clock: Your day could disappear playing this.
  5. Factory, Vagrant Story OST.
    Vagrant Story was a one of a kind game. A dungeon crawler influenced by Shakespearean plot writing with supernatural elements.  I have heard talk and discussion of sequels to Ashley Riot’s story, but looking at the direction the Final Fantasy series went after the tenth or eleventh title, I’m not interested.
  6. Escape from the Tavern, by James Horner.
    Willow. Now there’s a movie time forgot. Let’s face it, Hollywood has only started to be kinder to the fantasy genre in the last decade or so with stuff like the Harry Potter series. Still, there maybe some treasures in the soundtrack, if one is willing to look for them.
  7. Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Babylon of the Orient (instrumental version), by The Shanghai Restoration Project.
    The Shanghai Restoration Project is a great band whose discography continues to grow. Most of their music has some lyrics to it and always has an Asian flair. You may also want to check out the lyrical version of this piece.

  8. Just For Today, by Hybrid.
    Oh man, I actually almost don’t want to share Hybrid simply because of how amazing their work is and how much it inspires me. Still, if I like a band I should support them by passing the word along. This song makes me imagine flying and fighting, but if you want something trance and dark, try Dreaming Your Dreams.
  9. Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme, by Harry Gregson-Williams.
    The Metal Gear Solid series continues, but will be doing so without Solid Snake. I can’t blame Hideo Kojima. He was probably scared to death of some other producer butchering his favorite character. Still, damn good music though.
  10. Promise, by Akira Yamaoka.
    My favorite of the Silent Hill series of games was Silent Hill 2. But the music overall has never disappointed. Spooky and eerie, like a ghost tale told properly.

Quakin’

I wish it was that kinda Quake...

Quake II wasn't bad, but Quake D.C. kind of sucked.

Alright, so yours truly was temporarily delayed yesterday thanks to tremors that struck the east coast of the United States.

The rumbling started while I was at my desk at work. For a moment, I wondered if someone was jumping around or intentionally shaking my cubicle, but when other people mentioned it as well I realized it was quake tremors. I imagine that explosives, like some people guessed, are more likely to be a powerful shake and then done. That is unless they were placed to demolish a building, where proper placement and timed detonations would collapse a building. Hence when it started going down, I acted on my elementary school training and threw myself under my desk should anything fall. About five seconds later,  I was told we were to evacuate the building. So I snatched my bag and joined everyone else in orderly but hasty departure.

Everyone dashed outside after swamping the staircases. We assembled in the parking lot, laughing about it. My Facebook news feed was abuzz with news about it, and during the jog down ten flights of stairs I even managed to squeeze out a message via my phone. Everyone was fine, just shook up by the experience. Unlike the west coast, we don’t get many earth jiggles in these parts. Still, we slowly began to laugh and take it easy about the news. 5.8 in Virginia. Could have been worse than a few broken bottles and minor scraps. Phone signals were weakened by traffic of people calling but still got through to make sure my family was alright after a few tries.

Still, you can’t go through a mid-sized earthquake without some collateral damage. The news later said that the Washington Monument and National Cathedral both took some structural damage. The Cathedral definitely got it worse, with three of the four pinnacles falling. Those tops are the highest in all of D.C., so repairing them will be a pain. Still, anyone who has attended the church on a Sunday knows that they’re good for it, either now or soon enough.

Also of interest, certain animals at the Washington Zoo started acted erratically a full fifteen minutes before the tremors ever struck. Taken from the Washington Post’s article:

The first warnings of the earthquake may have occurred at the National Zoo, where officials said some animals seemed to feel it coming before people did. The red ruffed lemurs began “alarm calling” a full 15 minutes before the quake hit, zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. In the Great Ape House, Iris, an orangutan, let out a guttural holler 10 seconds before keepers felt the quake. The flamingos huddled together in the water seconds before people felt the rumbling. The rheas got excited. And the hooded mergansers — a kind of duck — dashed for the safety of the water.

We WILL persevere!

We WILL persevere!

So we’re fine over here. Let go early, so we jetted on home. Some people were a little shook up over it, but we’ll be alright.

My plans to see Conan the Barbarian tonight got canceled however as traffic flooded the streets, so I parked myself at my favorite bar and chatted with my bartender, and backlogged a review for C.L. Werner’s Blood for the Blood God.

So that’s all the news for now. Working on a few reviews and am considering a musing piece about Khorne that may rock your socks off. Might try to line up another 10 songs for writing, probably looking for more ambient tunes and music. Then I’ll be hitting up the rest of my piece for September. Got to stay focused, earthquakes be damned.

10 Musical Selections for Writing

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952-February 6th, 2011.

Gary Moore. April 4th, 1952 to February 6th, 2011.

Okay, so my eye is feeling a bit better but I’m still going to hold off on the review. So instead, here are 10 more music pieces for writing. 10 more, you may ask? If you have not seen it, then allow me to direct you to the original 20 musical pieces post.

However, this post is a bit melancholy because I had just discovered that Gary Moore, a talented guitarist and singer from the UK, died of a heart attack earlier this year. Many people have not heard of the skilled musician and his amazing blues, but I had been listening to his music since before his death in February, 2011. For a lyrical taste of his work, check out Over the Hills and Far Away.

A quick note. This particular set of songs takes more from games than before. It’s easier to pick music from game sound tracks than it is from movies. The downside is that game sound tracks rarely show up on sites like Pandora.

  1. Cloud’s Theme, Final Fantasy VII Orchestral Soundtrack.
    It’s a strange theme that mixes hope with hopeless, and something on the lighter side with darker undertones. This song could work well for a overture of your piece.
  2. Doom 3 Theme, by Tweaker.
    Explosive piece that threatens something menacing until it just bursts into combative guitar and drumming, mixed with eerie vocal sound effects.
  3. Pandora’s Music Box, by Nox Arcana.
    Nox Arcana is an incredibly reliable source of subtle, creepy music sans vocals. Adding this music to any scene instantly turns it into horror material just because of its gentle yet eldritch nature.
  4. Underworld Domain, by Dargaard.
    A piece that is so pure, it was perfectly named. Unfortunately, this piece breaks the no lyrics rule, but given how well the singer blends her voice with the music, I’m making an exception.
  5. Wilderness, Diablo II OST.
    I love the Diablo series, and despite becoming slightly more cartoonish than it’s previous incarnations, I am still looking forward to Diablo III.  Here’s a piece from the second installment. Stay a while and listen!
  6. Arkham Bridge, Mechwarrior 2 OST.
    I used to be a huge, huge Mechwarrior and Battletech fan. As I got older however, I grew out of it. It wasn’t deep enough for me, just a constant mix of politics and warfare. That and I met one of the authors and wasn’t impressed with their attitude. If you don’t care for your fans, they’ll soon not care about you. Still, good music. You may also want to check out Umber Wall.
  7. Bloody Tears, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night OC Remix.
    Okay, I seriously believe that ‘Bloody Tears’ may just be the single most remixed game music of all time. There are dozens of versions, from classical pieces to piano solos, heavy metal jams to DJ dance mixes. The original piece started from the NES game Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and was updated in later titles. Here’s an acoustic guitar version, a violin version and the version from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
  8. Theology/Civilization, by Basil Poledorius.
    Straight from the original (as in, 1982) Conan the Barbarian, this ponderous piece is slow and mixes renaissance touches with classical music.  I admit that this is not one of my favorite pieces of music, but I suspect that others will enjoy this for its lighter notations. It can’t rain all the time.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? Find out yourself.

    Explaining exactly what Berserk is about is... you know what? I'm not responsible for what will happen to your sanity. Find out yourself.

  9. Murder, by Susumu Hirasawa.
    I honestly don’t watch much anime or read much manga anymore. But there is still one series I go out of my way to read, and that is Berserk by Kentaro Miura. Beautifully animated, beautifully told, I cannot stress how amazing is Berserk. This piece just keeps growing and growing in madness…
  10. The Loner, by Gary Moore.
    A non-lyrical piece by Moore, the original version of The Loner is 6 minutes long and takes a minute to warm up appropriately. However, compared to other versions, the guitar isn’t as distracting, but communicates its sorrowful melody well. To be honest, a chance to apply this to writing would be very difficult because it’s sad but also not slow. It may work well if a character is fondly recalling a person who has passed on. Rest in peace, Mr. Moore. You will be missed.