Anthem Music: Acoustic Analysis

By Oh_Gaz

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Setting the Score

Game and Film Musical Scores carry a weight. A persona. A responsibility.
They shape our experiences and reinforce a tale’s impact.
They drive emotions, raise doubts, create suspense and document our journey.
They are checkpoints, tragedies, triumphs, memories, beginnings and ends.

And critically, they are part of the factors that contribute to the “Video Games as art” argument. Anthem, so far at least, appears to benefit from this philosophy. 

Whilst we have only been privy to what seems to be the Anthem Game Main Theme during Twitch AMAAAs, the E3 Gameplay Trailer and indeed the more recent Gameplay commentary from Bioware’s own Ben Irving, we can already hear a handful of interesting effects, leitmotifs and themes appear throughout the recording. And whilst this is not new to the genre, or games in general, there’s a fascinating history to it all. A history that can help us identify and position the different sounds of Anthem.

The use of these characteristic, recurring leitmotifs that we see in Anthem, originated in the early 17th Century – and whilst composer Richard Wagner made it popular during the 19th Century and the ingenious Max Steiner brought it to Hollywood (Hello Casablanca and Gone With the Wind. edit: If you don’t know these films, PLEASE go watch them now), it was brought to bear to us geeks and nerds by arguably one of the greatest: John Williams.

Williams would have been mocked by pre-Wagner classical composers due to the uncultured thematic design of his pieces. Hmm. Imagine what they would have thought of the art of Dubstep!

Fortunately however, in 1977, we fell in love with Williams’ swirling, iconic themes. And to this day, many of us (me) cruise around in our sports cars (err…family people movers) whilst listening to the exotic music of the world (err…the Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). 

From Williams to modern day Bioware then, we continue to hear leitmotifs from many of the industry’s best composers – From Jack Wall, Sam Hulick and Clint Mansell on the Mass Effect series through to Inon Zur, Trevor Morris and the great Ted Reedy on the Dragon Age series. Whilst all these composers have their own style and approach, they each bring elements of theme to their compositions. With Ted Reedy and Co. being the confirmed sources of composition for Anthem, it will be exciting to hear the final score – particularly with Reedy’s recognisable percussive style from Dragon Age.

Knowing this BioWare pedigree before us, it’s fair to say: we’re excited! So…let’s assess the Musical Theme! Timing links are provided so you can hear each part for yourself…

Wait. What?

So, what is a leitmotif ? It is an audio theme or cue that recurs, creating a sense of attachment to a character, environment or thing. And I refer to “thing” for a reason that we will explore shortly. Indeed, there are are at least 3-4 recurring Anthem leitmotifs to identify.

The Magic of Sound (4:20 – 5:22)

The Main Theme starts with a beautiful yet ghostly 15 second choral melisma. In the vain of X-Files or Twilight Zone, it recurs later and evokes an old-world eery sensation with it’s sudden shift between notes over one syllable. Is this alien melisma meant to represent the Anthem of Creation? Is it a call from The Relics? Is it the Gods themselves (Shapers)?  

Many have compared the theory of the Anthem of Creation to that of The Force in Star Wars – an energy represented audibly by Williams’ masterful and iconic track Binary Sunset. Unlike Binary Sunset, this sensation is much less fanfare and far more electronic and alien in nature. Whatever the sound is, it commences our journey with Anthem in a slightly disconcerting way…

 

Drop the Brass (5:22 – 5:59)

Cue French Horns. Trombones. Brass. Oh and Strings. Lots of Strings. What better way to distract an audience than by juxtaposing an eery opening to a Medieval-esque Fanfare. The Fanfare is classic, yet compulsory. It is our new leitmotif. It hypes the gamer and sets the tone for the journey to come! It is the Star Wars Medal Ceremony, Game of Thrones and Superman all in one! And pop-culture laps it up…

Something Familiar (5:59 – 7:01)

From here, the track calls on some softened concert tom-toms/bass drum to drone a militaristic beat and carve the way for the new theme. Thus, the crescendo of the previous Fanfare ends, and the heart-beat of the track begins.

Curiously here, an electronic syncopated bass line fades in to join the backbone of the track. It’s subtle, but a little angry. Almost Mass-Effect-like in tone. The Strings quickly join though, and provide a new, yet familiar tune. You can hum it. Easily. It’s that same soft strings melody that ensured you would NEVER skip the opening to a Game of Thrones episode. It’s addictive.

You’re humming it now, aren’t you? 🙂

“Da-da-dahhhhh.
Da-da-da-dahhhhh.
Da-da-dahhhh.
Da-da-da-da-da-da-dahhhh”

Don’t Get Comfortable (7:01 – 7:33) 

The theme loops a second time, by marrying trombones/tubas and harmonising trumpets to mimic the melody and add punch to the soft lulls of the strings’ now familiar tune.

The royalty has arrived!
You can almost hear it!
The pomp and ceremony!
The grandness of Fort Tarsis!
The mighty Javelins of old!
The decoration of Queen Tarsis herself perhaps?
The fanfare of the golden days!
It’s grand, and epic…but still dark…and foreboding.

There’s just something not quite right here…

Light vs. Dark (7:33-8:22)

This curiosity draws us into the bridge of the theme. With a heavy emphasis on strings and the odd trombone, it quickly whirls up and down pushing to minor tones – almost luring the listener to a hopeful position. The light. Truth. Then: It snatches that assurance away as quickly as it began.

Building to a 2nd crescendo, we are hit with a volley of trumpets and oscillating strings overcoming the darkness, winning the struggle, ready to step into the light. Ready to hear that familiar theme return.

But it doesn’t.

The Sounds of Scars (8:22-9:20)

Instead, we get something much, much different. A quasi-tribal rhythm develops.

A filtered 
Didgeridoo effect surges and gradually builds an ancient tune alongside thumping mallets as they grind against tribal drums. We could be wrong here, but it gives a strong Scar-vibe.

This complete shift in tone is representative of something different in the 
Anthem universe. It reminds us of the Scar hideout we first saw in June 2018, the spines on the backs of it’s inhabitants, and the dark, nest-like huts scattered across the land. A deep, alien synthesised voice rumbles to support the didgeridoo sounds. Together they build, unknowing where it is to take us.

But the uncertainty dissipates quickly…

A Familiar Return (9:20-2:24)

With little notice, the full ensemble returns. The Javelins fly! And we hear the ancient droning Didgeridoo seamlessly cross-fade into a modern synthesised bass. It defines the return of the fanfare but reminds us that underneath the familiar and bright strings of this Anthemic Anthem, lies the foundations of an ancient and darker place. A fitting metaphor for the world at large…

And then…you start humming again…

“Da-da-dahhhhh.
Da-da-da-dahhhhh….
*Insert eery alien leitmotif*
Da-da-dahhhh.
Da-da-da-da-da-da-dahhhh”

The alien choral melisma makes a comeback! It plays as a counterpoint to the warming melody now whirling from the full ensemble. The Javelins are in cruise mode. The sky blurs.

At this point you are humming again…and the strings enchant you with a small melisma of their own moving up and down the scale, as if charming a snake (ranger?) to confront and subdue the alien tones.

All for nothing (10:48-11:40)

We are left then with empty nothingness. With the fanfare gone, the alien choral sound echoes through the land. The Anthem of Creation signifies it’s intent. More than an energy field, it battles against the call of the Relics: Active. Pulsing. Surging. Waiting to be silenced.

The Rangers are gone, they have triumphed as one. Or have they? 
What remains out there?
It doesn’t matter.
A lone, disconcerting violin grinds a near off-key whine.
It’s unnerving. Destabilising.
The final synthesised bass is heard…quickly overpowered by sounds of the ancient.

Fade to Silence.

Anthemic Days Ahead (11:40-end)

Game Musical Scores carry a weight.
A persona. A responsibility.

They shape our experiences and reinforce a tale’s impact.
They are checkpoints, tragedies, triumphs, memories, beginnings and ends.

So far, Anthem with it’s leitmotifs, encourages us to think about the journey ahead.

It also leverages acoustics as a real purpose to the game (with references to Anthem, The Anthem of Creation and  the design of the Relics themselves).
It’s sound is confident, yet eery. And it remains formulaic enough to be familiar. Welcoming.

In the weeks and months ahead, we look forward to not just seeing, but hearing  the music and sounds of Anthem.
It is clear that strong audio design will be advantageous to Anthem.

For music “can name the unnameable…and communicate the unknowable” – Leonard Bernstein.

By Oh_Gaz

New to the Community? Don’t forget to join!
Twitter: @anthemuniverse
Discord
discord.anthemuniverse.com
Podcast: AnthemCast

Video: YouTube