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BloodSpell Development Updates

Why The Punk?

BloodSpell Development Updates

Why The Punk?

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So, why the music?

I'm a huge fantasy fan. You might even say obsessive. I've been reading it, watching it, playing it and writing it for the last 23 years or so, and in that time, unsurprisingly, I've developed a few opinions about it.

One of them is that I am sick and fucking tired of what I'm going to call saga fantasy.

JRR Tolkein was an absolute genius, no doubt about it, and his work remains some of the finest fantasy fiction available. But Tolkein was trying to do something very specific with his work - he was attempting to follow the lead of the Norse sagas which he loved, and create a mythology of great heroes and their tale - their saga. And here's the key point about a saga - it happened a long time ago, and the heroes you're lionising are long-dead.

So, these heroes are larger than life, and their story is one of times past, of old glory. Tolkein's been criticised for this in the past. And when you tie that "feel" to Hollywood scoring approaches, it's easy to see that classical music - redolent of epic scenes, of scale, and of age, is entirely appropriate.

But a fantasy story, a story set in a fantastical universe, even if it's a medieval/renaissance society, doesn't *have* to be saga fantasy. And from my point of view, most of the more interesting fantastical work of recent years - I'm thinking Robin Hobb's Assassin series (brilliant writer, in spite of her lunatic views on fanfic), George R R Martin's Game of Thrones, and of course Joss Whedon's Buffy and Angel series (fantasy set in the modern day) - hasn't been so set on Events In Time Past. It's about events happening now. Whenever "now" happens to be.

"But it's a historical setting!". Our heroes don't have MTV or fighter jets, no. But from the point of view of the characters, this isn't history. This story is happening now. And from the storyteller's point of view, I don't have to view these characters as Ancient Heroes Of Old. I can instead view them as people, with flaws and virtues, reacting to events and situations happening, from their point of view, in the modern day. Now.

My biggest inspiration in this is the stonkingly marvellous "Knight's Tale", a tale of a squire in medieval England who rises, through trickery and luck, to become a knight. So far, so trad. The genius of Knight's Tale was to tell the story using contemporary music (there's a particularly marvellous scene set to "The Boys are Back In Town") and contemporary slang and dialogue. Because, after all, for the characters this isn't happening long, long ago. It's happening now.

("Shrek" is another fantastic example of the same idea - arguably even better-executed, but less relevant here because it's partially a parody.)

Hence the punk music. Because BloodSpell is a punk story - it's a story about rebels, people who are fighting the system, people who are going their own way. If our heroes lived in the modern day, they'd be listening to punk, rock and electronica (and hip-hop, but we're not down enough with the kids in the street to know our way around that scene). This is the soundtrack that reflects what they're going through. And the lyrics reflect what's happening in the story at any time - "Rockstar", for example, on the steps, when Jered's going to be initiated as a Black Monk, the best of the best - a superhero, a rockstar. Other times, we're using the lyrics to comment on the action, as you'll see (with any luck) in Episode 4.

BloodSpell isn't about Great Heroes of Long Ago. It's about people fighting for their lives right now - even though it's not the same "now" we're used to. Do you go to clubs to listen to Bach*? Played air guitar to Beethoven? Gotten ready for a tough confrontation with some top-volume Schuman? Then why the hell would we use classical orchestral music to reflect our character's lives? They're living in just as modern a day as us.

*OK - some people out there probably do find classical music modern and fresh to them. If I listened to Bach as the soundtrack of my life, maybe I'd want to use it - but I don't.
  • You'll definitely want to see the new movie on Marie Antoinette, then - Coppola uses modern music and has said something to the effect that she wants it to be relevant to modern viewers.
    • Cool. I loved "Lost in Translation" so I was probably going to see it anyway.
    • (no subject) -
      • Hmmm, I read about its being panned but haven't retained any of the reasons why. I suspect that its modernity may have played a part - okay, just Googled it; that it is fairly vapid seems little in doubt, lacking in historical context. Hip but not history, Time Out summed it up.
  • The music...

    (Anonymous)
    It's not that I think it is wrong to use contemporary music. I'm not even saying it is wrong to use punk or that the music is always completely out of place. It is just that the selection of the track sometimes is contrary to the mood of the scene, or the characters. I think there is enough variation of style within each genre of music to make it possible to find a track that fits the atmosphere. Of course, there is no requirement to use epic orchestral music for a fantasy scenario. But still, the music should work in favor of what you see on the screen, and there are always changes of mood that should be supported by the soundtrack. There is a lot of really good CC music out there. Why restrict the selection to a few tracks and try to bend them to every scene?

    Cheers,

    Ionflux
    • Re: The music...

      Thanks for the comments - interesting stuff.

      One quick thing - when you say "Why restrict the selection to a few tracks and try to bend them to every scene?", I'm not immediately sure what parts of the film you're referring to here. Can you explain more?
      • Re: The music...

        (Anonymous)
        Actually I cannot prove that you really reused a lot of tracks… I just thought I had heard that music before, of the scene when that… head inquisitor (or whatever it is called ;)) walked into the cathedral in ep. 3. And it did not fit very well, even if you are aiming for a tongue-in-cheek effect. There are different moods in different scenes even in Tarantino movies (I'm referring to that other comment on the Bloodspell site) and it shows in the soundtrack. All I'm asking for is to be a little more careful to make an already impressive project even more perfect. :)

        Maybe it is also because the tracks appear to be very similar in style. With some exceptions. I also seem to remember some very distinctive and fitting background music. I guess I will watch all of the episodes again and give more detailed critique when I have the time. :)

        Anyway, I really appreciate what you are doing. Even if I don't love the music, the project is absolutely great work. I often wonder how this could be done with a game engine… you must be cheating! ;)

        Cheers,

        Ionflux
        • Re: The music...

          Cheating? Us? Never, we'd never do a thing like that - good clean gamers that's us. True though, as far as abusing an engine we've pretty much battered NWN to within an inch of it's life - and to be fair it's responded very very well.

          I'm glad you like the film so far - as regards the music, we do not reuse tracks once they've already been used (unless it's a particular character's theme - and this hasn't been done yet but may be in the future). A couple of tracks may have reapppeared on the credit rolls but I think that's more than excusable and gives people a nice chance to listen to more of the track than is heard in film. To be fair, whilst assembling some parts of the film I have been thinking to myself "What would be the most incongruous piece of music to use here?" and gone ahead and used it - just for the jar effect (see comments page) - I quite like the way someof the music makes you sit up and go wtf?? I realise that often this is going to have the same effect as squirting lemon juice in someone's eye but sometimes you just gotta try these things ;)

          Thanks again for your supporting words on the film, hope you enjoy the future installments
  • In defense of serious/art/classical music...

    (Anonymous)
    I could go on for quite a while on this subject, but I'll keep my comments brief. You know, Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann were "living in just as modern a day as us" from their perspective, too. If you're going to use that argument with respect to your characters, then it's hard not to apply it to everyone else. Besides, Beethoven and Schumann were among the greatest innovators of their day, resisting conventions, redefining economic and musical relationships, and full of angst to boot ("rebels" to all you punk fans out there). Don't forget, Beethoven contemplated suicide and thought people couldn't understand him, and Schumann actually attempted to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. Even Bach, though he may not have felt as tortured by the burden of being misunderstood or under-appreciated, certainly thought he was "the best of the best" and did things with music that no one else (as far as we know) had even imagined. Do I even need to mention that all three of these composers - especially Beethoven if not so much Bach - were tremendous celebrities (or "rock stars") in their day? On a side note, it's ludicrous to base your impressions of all classical music on the conventional scores for epic fantasy films. If you want music that reminds you of a club (without the senseless redundancy that characterizes almost all pop music), check out Vivaldi's opus 3 no. 10 concerto for four violins in B minor (or Bach's transcription of it for four harpsichords). Listen to the swing of contrapunctus 2 from Bach's Art of Fugue. You want air guitar? Check out Bartok's fourth and fifth string quartets. And that same Bartok, or maybe some Shostakovich (string quartet nos. 3 and 8 perhaps?) would serve you well to pump up for any confrontation. Of course, if you prefer trite lyrics about being the best or facing oppression, then by all means resort to punk music. If you actually *need* the squeal of an electric guitar instead of the equally thrilling timbres employed in art music all the time, then stick with your stuff. I think the music you've chosen so far tends to be jarring and inappropriate to the scene, and it sounds like some of your other viewers feel the same way. In any case, at least recognize that the simple harmonic formulas and cheap sound effects that make punk music so abrasive aren't the only ways to achieve emotional intensity. I hope someday you'll give real classical music (i.e. not written for some mediocre summer movie) a chance.
    • Re: In defense of serious/art/classical music...

      You're right, but you're missing the point that Hugh was making. One of the main reasons for setting BloodSpell to a punk soundtrack was to suggest that the characters are experiencing the events of the story concurrently with the audience. We're not relating an epic tale that has already occurred here - we want to shove you into Jered's world and lock the door behind you. The music is meant to sound current from the perspective of the audience, not the characters. If we were making BloodSpell during Mozart's lifetime (or Bach's or even Elgar's) we'd use music concurrent with that time. I don't know if Mozart would have released anything under a creative commons license, but if he did we'd have used it.

      You've said that

      the music you've chosen so far tends to be jarring and inappropriate to the scene

      Would Shostakovich's String Quartet No 8 be more appropriate? Really? If you think so, I don't agree. It'd be just as jarring. I think it'd probably be just as effective actually - Shostakovich can kick butt when he wants to. But we're not using Shostakovich. We're using punk.

      You're too harsh on punk. Summing up the entire genre as having simple harmonic formulas and cheap sound effects is a little trite. What's wrong with simple harmonics? The great thing behind punk is not the complex musical articulation - the Sex Pistols never wrote a track in Eb Minor with a 5/4 time signature. Punk is about emotion, anger and anarchy. It's supposed to sound ugly. That doesn't invalidate it. (And, at the risk of starting a flamewar of pedantry, it's formulae not formulas, and Mozart used deliberately simplified harmonic structures in some of his most idolised pieces).

      Punk lyrics aren't trite. Good punk lyrics aren't, anyway - there are always bad examples in any genre (Benjamin Britten, I'm looking at you - Noye's Fludde makes my eyes bleed). Punk lyrics are often (though not always) quite simple, but that's not the same thing.

      I'm not asking you to change your opinion. It's a perfectly valid one, and I do understand what you're saying. I take exception to this , though :I hope someday you'll give real classical music (i.e. not written for some mediocre summer movie) a chance.

      So far, we haven't given any classical music a chance, dire or otherwise. Are you saying that the only reason we haven't got any classical music in the film is because we don't have any knowledge of truly great classical music? I think that the various members of the team, myself included, who are trained classical musicians would object to that. We haven't got any orchestral or classical music in the film for the same reason we haven't got any jazz or rap or maori tribal recital chants - because we're using punk. If you really, really wants to see BloodSpell with a maori soundtrack, go ahead and make it yourself. It's creative commons, after all. We're only too happy for you to slice and dice to make something that you like better.
      • Re: In defense of serious/art/classical music...

        (Anonymous)
        I don't have a problem with the music, personally. I like the pure contrast of the music and the subject matter. The only music/visual match i didn't like was, of course, the "411" segment. I've watched the episode three times and every time I've cringed at the part.

        Forget classical or orchestral, it just doesn't fit Bloodspell. You guys should definitely stick with the punk music that ya got, but I would also suggest maybe going over it a few more times before release and try not to cross that fine line between a narrative film, and a music video.

        Also, one thing I will say in disagreement with the whole "it's happening now, not in the past" stuff is that while it works in terms of that ideology, you're also permanently dating your film by using modern music. True, it may not be as mainstream as pop or hip-hop, but in 5, 10 or even 20 years from now, people will be listening to different styles of music, and the stuff today will seem ancient - thus killing any kind of emotion that the song was supposed to bring to the scene. On the other hand, classical and orchestral music is timeless, the only difference throughout the times being the quality of the recording.

        Imagine watching an epic feature film today, with a soundtrack from the late 80's and early 90's. I just watched the original Batman the other day. Those Prince songs made me want to bash my head on the table. :P Now imagine, instead of Devito's orchestral soundtrack, the entire musical selection was Prince music. It's an extreme example, but you get the idea. :)

        Again that's not to say lose the punk, but just don't make it too obvious.
        • Re: In defense of serious/art/classical music...

          (Anonymous)
          That was me BTW...

          - Executor VI
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