Rock that Saxon Lyre!

How to create a modern & early medieval score?

Victor, composer of The Great Whale Road soundtrack, and Joachim, co-founder/writer here at Sunburned Games, talk about the originating story of the score with an imaginary game journalist.

How did this collaboration start?

Joachim: Johnny, one of our developers, knew Victor from another project and he recommended him warmly. So I just dropped him an email, and that is how our joint adventure began. When Victor and I started discussing what the music for The Great Whale Road should sound like I might have had a vision, but I couldn't describe it very well. Looking at my first email to Victor from over a year ago I can see that I didn't make his job easy. My short briefing reads: "Something classic (think Wagner), but more primitive and rhythmic (think large skin drums and horns maybe)." He really deserves a lot of credit for translating my "directions" into the tracks we have today. 

Your first tracks were composed and recorded last year, correct?

Victor: Yes, I wrote the first tracks, the theme for the Kickstarter and Greenlight trailers, which were used as the main theme of the demo, and a second track for combat itself. I tried to imagine the long journeys, the sea travels, the battles, all the emotions and feelings of such adventures ... and combine all these things to create modern video game music with an ethnic touch.

Victor Riera

Victor Riera

Joachim: These first two compositions already captured the soul of what we were after, and I think included an influence of 70s Spaghetti Western scores.

Victor: Well, I really like Ennio Morricone's music and also his ability to create great melodies!

But the scope of the game has changed since then. How has that impacted the music? 

Joachim: For the second set of tracks for Steam Early Access start we were looking to emphasise the early medieval cultural aspects of the tracks while keeping the overall stylistic direction we started with. I pictured every culture in the game with its own theme and some ethnical medieval flavour.

Victor: We considered various options to maintain the consistency throughout the OST, to make sure we respect the special characteristics of each culture. The solution was to use the same ingredients, but to distribute them differently. Now we have a more folk based instrumentation with an orchestral touch.

Sounds challenging, what were the key problems to overcome?

Victor: The main issue is that you can't listen to a lot of authentic early medieval music on Spotify. All the music which claims to be early medieval is a reconstruction. It is how someone today imagines the instruments and compositions to sound like. On the plus side that maybe gives you more freedom, but the downside is that it is more difficult to find useful references. Luckily Joachim gave me a lot of interesting material and he pointed me in the right direction to start my research.

Joachim: Little did I know how difficult it would be. After I started to search for examples of early medieval music I panicked a bit. There is loads of romanticised stuff, but little which seems authentic. I then stumbled across Faroese chain dances and early medieval chant. That together with Celtic music gave Victor a starting point. There is this one Faroese Viking Age chain dance I love, and Victor used that as one of the influences when he composed the themes for the Danes.

Victor:  We had some ideas to start with now, but also the idiosyncrasy of every culture. We had religious chants for the Franks, an archaic Celtic sound for the Picts, and we were trying to do something darker for the Saxons. Don't get me started on the lyre.

So how did you deal with that when composing?

Victor: I focused on creating something modern which has a primal feel to it. I had to reduce the composition to basic harmonies, sometimes even monophonic parts. To strengthen the primal aspect I then added irregular passages and droning background sounds.

Did you use live instruments?

Joachim: We only used some live instruments for the first two tracks. We recorded them with Joan at his A.C.V studio in Barcelona, who also did the mastering. But for the latest tracks we went down the digital route due to budget constraints.

Victor: I went with loads of different percussion instruments. I tried to find instruments that sounded rough, for example ancient horns, harps, flutes or pipes.

How many tracks will there be at the start of Early Access?

Victor: In addition to the first two we have six new tracks ready to go. I had mentioned the project to Mikel F. Krutzaga, who had been the sound engineer for the Castlevania games, and he liked the tracks.

Mikel F. Krutzaga

Mikel F. Krutzaga

Joachim: Yes, and we got him on board to be our sound engineer. He has done a really great job.

Victor: Working with Mikel was a fantastic experience. He added an extraordinary amplitude to the themes, which has a big impact. His experience lifted the score to another level.

So what's next sound-wise for The Great Whale Road?

Joachim: More tracks in the future! If players like the game as much as we hope then we will add more cultures. And each of them will have its own theme, or a variation at least.

Victor: And I will be working on the SFX side over the next few weeks.

Will there be an OST to buy, and can you let us listen to a sample?

Victor: You can find the first two tracks on Soundcloud and we have added a little surprise.

Joachim: We will add the OST as a DLC on Steam, and maybe Victor will put it on bandcamp as well. We will use the theme of the Picts in our gameplay trailer, and we are keeping most of the new tracks under wraps until then.

Let's listen to the Danish theme! Thanks for your time, gentlemen.

Victor: De nada!

Joachim: My pleasure.