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Halo 4

Halo 4's Composer Commentary

Neil Davidge has some big boots to fill: stepping into the composer slot vacated by Marty O'Donnell and scoring the return of Master Chief. No easy task.

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Well, it shouldn't be. But the composer's got the career chops to prove he has the experience to handle the pressure, and an ability to bring something new to the career of UNSC's most famous spartan.

With over twenty years working on the music scene, the fifty year old has worked alongside artists and film makers to score music for bands and movies, and has been the long-time co-writer for Massive Attack.

Referencing film scores like Star Wars and Blade Runner for his work on Halo 4 suggests an impressive mix of epic science fiction and more personal moments - dual-wielding the two important elements to Master Chief's newest adventure.

Coinciding with the release of Halo 4 on November 6th will be the official soundtrack album, with a special edition that'll include a commentary by Davidge, discussing the ideas and the behind the scenes planning that went into its creation. Here, shown for the first time anywhere, is that track commentary.

WARNING: SPOILERS WITHIN

Halo 4

1. AWAKENING

This was the first sketch idea that I presented to 343 Industries back in December 2010. It started with driving strings, infectious, powerful Taiko drums and electronic percussion, developing into a strident piano and orchestral melody with building intensity. The piano and basic percussion is a constant throughout all the variations of this piece, augmented with new counter melodies, percussive workouts and eventually the synth bass that now underpins much of it.

2. BELLY OF THE BEAST

The track started out as the original 2011 E3 trailer. We demoed half a dozen ideas for the trailer campaign. Andrew ‘Drew' Morgan (arranger and / additional producer) and I talked about a version with a simple but relentless rhythmic pattern that would build in intensity as it progressed. Another idea had a long rising synth / bowed piano line that slowly increased in pitch throughout the piece. We ended up combining both ideas!

3. REQUIEM

This piece was inspired by the awesome graphics supplied by the 343 art department, in particular a glorious alien vista with a singular, tiny, silhouetted figure in the foreground. I put together 3 different ideas, passing each on to Drew to augment and develop further. Each idea had a strange, almost sad yet magical feel but overall this version won out in the end. The orchestral string melody versus the twisted Kantele / Dulcimer sound and the pitch reverse delays all combine into an equally compelling musical landscape.

4. LEGACY

'Legacy' features the lead voice and 'choir' of Claire Tchaikowski, augmented with drone textures from the London Bulgarian Choir (LBC) and traditional male choir mapping out the bass. This theme represents the 'culture' of the Forerunners, once the proud guardians of the entire known universe. One of the visual reference points I used was the ‘council of chambers' from Star Wars, where amongst the many different voices of races clattering to be heard there is one unique and defining voice that stands out above all others. In this piece Claire's lead vocal represents this singular voice.

Claire recorded her vocals in Bristol, whilst the choirs were recorded at Angel studios, London.

5. FAITHLESS

This is one of the Battle pieces I composed. It started off as an electronic, percussive, ‘glitchy' demo idea to which I first added the distorted and flanged orchestral string chugging, sampled guitar effects and finally the tense horns and regular string orchestra. Drew expanded on this, layering some counter parts to my original orchestration and Jeremy Wheatley mixed it, nailing it with his first attempt.

Halo 4

6. HAVEN

When I returned from Seattle in December 2010 my head was full of ideas courtesy of the experience at 343. I had the memory of impossible buildings, glistening cities of the earth and sky. I wanted to create a track that would fully capture that moment of awe upon first seeing these imposing structures.

There's a nod towards classic Sci-Fi scores in this track, from the Vangelis' ‘Blade Runner' score, to the Theremin led 'The Day The Earth Stood Still'. I particularly love the cascading climax to this piece, reprising the main theme melody on horns.

7. NEMESIS

Originally composed for male choir and orchestra, we later added the female voices of the London Bulgarian Choir due to their enthusiasm for the track.

We recorded the male tenors, basses and the LBC in Angel studios in March of 2012 and it was a session that went some way to finally defining the choral sound of the new Halo 4, an important milestone considering how central the use of choir had been to defining the original music of the franchise.

Halo 4

8. ASCENDANCY

This is the first battle piece I created and the electro, bombastic, acid workout was the culmination of many attempts to compose to the mission capture videos. With the addition of some great syncopated orchestration the track ended up becoming the bench-mark battle sequence music for the game.

It's a very dense track of distorted and filtered synths, electronic and orchestral percussion (I think I counted ten tracks of Toms) and as a multi-track recording it numbered almost 200 tracks including two orchestral string passes and one Brass microphone array.

9. SOLACE

This was a 'Dictaphone' composition sung into my iPhone and accompanied by guitar. There was a natural pacing to the melody when sung, yet transcribing it threw up just how delicate and unorthodox the timings were. Drew added some beautiful piano in the droning mid-section and together we worked up the orchestral arrangement.

The final part of the jigsaw was finding the right instrument to convey what was to become the lead theme sound, it came in the form of a tuned percussion instrument that has an almost rusty sonic that gave the theme an appropriate and ancient quality.

Halo 4

10. TO GALAXY

This started as a piano sketch and was part of the early 2010 rough sketch ideas. This track later became linked to the UNSC Starship, Infinity.

This final version has an extended, slow build introduction, leading to a syncopated 'rock riff' on strings and then to the main theme. To give more control in the post-production phase, I recorded different parts of the orchestra as separate passes. For example, the rhythmic string parts separate to the melodic string parts, Brass separate from the strings. It's helpful to retain some degree of control for the post-production process and is also beneficial to the game implementation process (stitching the music to game play).

11. IMMATERIAL

The OST version of IMMATERIAL is a combination of three different compositions, all of which are thematically related and all written in the same period. The working title for these pieces was D-Rez (A, B and Battle variation) as it was intended to musically describe the feeling and sight of a person being digitised, physically dismantled and downloaded to become a slave drone. Part A was written to represent the actual horror of the digitisation process. The second, the mystery of The Composer device itself and the third being the mayhem that ensued!

Halo 4

12. 117

Music supervisor and additional composer, Kazuma Jinnouchi wrote this composition.

Kazuma joined the project in October 2011 to fulfill the role of music supervisor. Most game projects don't just have one composer, because of the huge volume of material required across the campaigns and multiplayer sections; there are often half a dozen different composers as well as the lead composer. His 117 composition is a very fitting addition to the OST and he has superbly provided essential links between my own 'evolution' of the Halo music with the previous music legacy composed by Marty O'Donnell.

13. ARRIVAL

When we were asked for an 'epic space battle' I thought this composition might work. Drew took my idea and expanded on it, creating the long, slow, woodwind and string build-up. We then collaborated on the rest of the orchestral arrangement adding the counter brass melodies. I then built up the percussion until it sounded suitably epic!

14. REVIVAL

This is a complex evolution of the NEMESIS theme. The original production was around thirteen minutes long but I had to edit it down for the OST even though it still lasts around 7:20!

Again using the male voice choir recorded in Angel Studios and our new ‘language' of the Forerunners, we built an eerie, slightly religious sounding at times choral chant to a frenzy, when the distorted feedback beats are finally unleashed. All praise Ohmicide, the ultimate distortion device!

Halo 4

15. GREEN AND BLUE

This is an emotional, beautiful, rich and very human composition. It's one of my favourite pieces from the score and was also the very first orchestral recording that we made at Abbey Road studios for the game. It was wonderful to hear this performed by the London Chamber Orchestra, and a spine tingling moment for all in the control room of Studio 1. The Cello solo was performed beautifully by David Cohen.

The overall orchestration is a juxtaposition of the soft, intermittent digital bleep noises, representing Cortana's fading abilities as an artificial intelligence, and the heroic string melody of Master Chief who is concerned for his only friend and companion. This is a theme of friendship, love, and ultimately, loss.

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The fifteen track soundtrack, in special and regular editions, will be available from www.halo4soundtrack.com this November 6th. Halo 4 releases the same day.

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