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You don't listen to the game music while you're playing WoW? Really? Maybe it's stopped giving you shivers. Or maybe it's just not atmospheric enough. This week, we have a solution: the WoW Soundtrack Project. WoW-playing composer Jejin (US The Venture Co.-H) is quietly building an entire library of alternative vanilla instance zone soundtracks. This sprawling soundtrack project, which is still winding its way through the early zones such as Ragefire Chasm and Razorfen Downs, is not meant to be listened to on its own; it's meant to be incorporated into your in-game experience, as background music to set the mood of the instance zone. We talked to the talented 17-year-old composer about breathing new life into old zones with these atmospheric pieces.
World of WarCrafts: What's your musical background and training?
Jejin: I have a very musical background actually, having studied classical violin for the better part of my young life ... So I have about 11 years of that under my belt, plus playing in numerous musical groups in and out of school: concert bands, string ensembles, choirs, etc. Music's a really big part of my life, I guess you could say. As for training in writing music, I've been taking a new experimental course at my high school specifically tuned to composing music for different types of media using computer programs. That course has really taught me a lot of what I know about music theory and structure, and the rest is really from practice and trying to write a little every day.
Can you tell us a little more about the specific tools you use while composing?
I use a professional music writing program called Sibelius 6 that lets you write the notes out on an electronic music sheet and hear it played back to you with decent sound samples. Then, once you've got it sounding the way you want and it's all written out on the music manuscript, you can print off the different instrumental parts, print off a whole score, turn the playback sounds into .wav files, etc. It's a really great program, and I'm sure I wouldn't be writing half of the music I write today without it. Other than that, I've used a few other programs for synth work and filtering: Audacity, ACID, Cubase and a few other music/sound programs that I've forgotten the names to.
What's the process of composing like? What are the steps?
For me, I have to have an image, place, event or character that I'm writing for. If I'm not trying to describe something or someone, my music ends up not having a purpose and becomes really weak-sounding, which makes me sadface.
For the Warcraft Soundtrack Project in particular, I start by choosing an instance that interests me and think of certain characteristics that this dungeon has or what theme is carries. Once I pin down the kind of feel or tone that the music should be detailing or reinforcing, I start brainstorming instruments that go along with it. For example, I knew that for Shadowfang Keep, I wanted to include the harpsichord (which is one of the instruments used heavily in Karazhan) to represent the human/ghost presence in the instance and the guitar/mandolin to represent the worgen prescience. From there on, it's a matter of experimenting in different styles, getting down a bunch of early musical themes, and continuing to write and rewrite. I can't stress how important rewriting and editing is ... There are a lot of songs that I've written one night and thought, "Ah yeah, this is awesome," and then the next morning listen to and think, "What on earth was I thinking?"
Also, I find it helpful to make use of what's already present in-game. What I mean by that is using styles or instruments that are associated with that dungeon or place. In Gnomeregan, I knew immediately that I should go along with the layered, whimsical sounding music that's already in place. So, I took that idea and the use of clarinet in the original track and took it in a slightly different direction. I always try and make it so there's an element of surprise and originality for the music in each instance, but I also realize that if something is familiar to a listener, they might react to it better. Plus, I just love writing for clarinet, so Gnomeregan was my chance to really go for it.
Which instances are next on the burner for you? Do the upcoming changes brought by Cataclysm factor into your approach or outlook at all?
I just finished Maraudon, which was a really extensive project for me, so I'm taking a slight breather before jumping head first into the next instance portal. (Though I can say that I've been doing a bit of planning for Blackrock Depths and Dire Maul as of late, so that should be coming up soon!) Also, Sunken Temple might be next in line because I may or may not be playing around with synth and heavy percussion and techno beats, which is something completely out of my comfort zone. (It's terrifying and exciting at the same time.)
Cataclysm is definitely a factor in what instance I write for first. I have no idea what is going to happen to a lot of dungeons, so I tried doing my favorite ones first! But I also worked quickly to get Shadowfang Keep and The Deadmines done, because I want to finish that music and release it before they are made into heroics (and possibly given a new musical score by Blizzard). Also, with changes to Gnomeregan, I didn't spend a whole lot of time on that dungeon because it may not be around for too long. Plus, have you heard the new music that was datamined for the retaking of that city? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Is there a way that players can substitute these soundtracks for the current soundtracks in the game?
Technically, yes. I've done it already using the Soundtrack addon, which lets you replace music in game with your own.
I went into this project with the full intention of letting people use my music in vanilla dungeons with this addon if they want to. I just have to figure a way to get it to them ... I mean, making all of the music on big zip file is one thing, but the part that stumps me is getting the music to people pre-programmed into the instances. I have to go in and plug in all of the music tracks into each subzone, and it carries onto all of my characters. I just hope it's possible to save people the trouble and frustration of putting in the music themselves. If anyone has any ideas as to how this can be done, I'd love to hear from them!
World of WarCrafts spotlights art and creativity by WoW players, including fan art, cooking, comics, cosplay, music and fan fiction. Show us how you express yourself by e-mailing lisa (at) wow (dot) com with your not-for-profit, WoW-inspired creations.