STEP BACK AND TAKE A LISTEN – MUSIC IN GAMES #5

Another Monday, another music blog. I hope everyone has had a splendid week! I have spoken at length about how instrumentation matters in a composition and I can think of no better example of this in a video game than Click Clock Wood from Banjo-Kazooie. Four seasons each play a variation of the main theme of the zone, and with the dynamic and tempo changes alongside the instrumentation, each unique variance captures the essence of the season.

Click Clock Wood revolves around a giant tree and the life that is sustained by it. Throughout the seasons you repeatedly encounter a number of characters, watch the stages of a tree house under construction, and witness the cycle of life as the level design takes on the aspects of the seasons.

We start the level with Spring. A swung melody of flutes overlays clarinets, trombones and tuned drums greets us as we enter the zone. The high energy created by a moderate tempo and active melody defines this area, as the game shows us a growing world full of vibrant colors. Grant Kirkhope shows off his music theory knowledge with a jazzy twelve-tone melodic fall back into the main theme, and cleverly ties the piece directly into the zone with the use of tuned bird sounds.

As we progress, a door is opened to take us to Summer. The tempo has been slowed slightly, and a time adjustment has reconfigured the melody into a waltz. The melody is now shared by flutes and violins, and bee buzzing synths support the harmonic movements with a countermelody. This variation is still colorful and moving, but subdued, much like a lazy summer afternoon.

Another door, another season. Fall returns to the swung melody of spring, though a few octaves lower. The instrumentation has changed to low strings, synth low brass, woodpecker and frog noises, and percussion. As the tune builds into the full chorus, it brings back flutes several octaves lower to reprise their melody. Th energy is back up with this variation, but with everything being significantly lower pitched, it isn’t as lively. The tune is winding down, it has all of the essences of spring, but none of the pep.

The final door opens upon winter, a quiet set of jingling bells sets the tempo as a marimba plays the melody solo over bell chords and a wind track. Quiet, high pizzicato strings, a walking bass and more bells join as the track builds. Finally, a palm-muted crunch guitar begins playing over snaps. All in all, its like a tune straight out of The Ventures’ Christmas Album. The use of a wooden percussion instrument subtly suggests of the giant tree the level revolves around, while the remaining instrumentation takes advantage of a few dozen decades worth of musical mind control telling us that these instruments are related to Christmas and snow and chestnuts over an open fire.

Instrumentation matters, a snowy mountain sounds different that a snow-dusted forest, just as a sunny beach and a coal mine at dusk sound different. Click Clock Wood’s melody remains the same over each season, but with some minor adjustments, you can hear four distinct tunes loosely held together only by that shared melody. Very few other game soundtracks offer a selection of music that make looking at this as easy as Banjo-Kazooie has, and just goes to show the extent of Kirkhope’s talent.

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