CASE STUDY

Fable OST - 'Summer Fields'

Title: Summer Fields
Orchestrator/Conductor: Allan Wilson
Performed by: The Philharmonia
Recorded at: CTS Wembley, London
Engineer: Mike Ross-Trevor
Mixed at: Whitfield Street Studios, London

Orchestra:
Strings (VN1 : VN2 : VA : VC :  DB): 14 : 12 : 10 : 8 : 6
Flute (2) – doubling piccolo and alto flute
Clarinet (2) – one doubling bass clarinet
Oboe (2) – one doubling cor anglais
Bassoon (2)
Contrabassoon
Harp

Over the years I’ve had so many mails and letters about this one piece. There’s something about it that resonates with a lot of people.
The original concept was to have a thematic music backdrop for an area called the ‘Lookout Point‘ – a kind of hub that connects three or four of the main regions in the game.
I like to work with keywords given to me by the designers as it helps with direction of the music as well as making sure that the ‘feel’ of the music marries with the feel of the visuals it is accompanying.
For this track, ‘Safe‘, ‘Summery’, ‘Idyllic’, ‘relaxed’ etc. seemed to sum up what the place was all about.

An obvious candidate for something that would fit these keywords is the ‘pastoral landscape‘ style that Vaughan-Williams is so well known for – no brass or percussion, just gentle instrumentation evoking a sense of the British countryside and nature. I set out intentionally to try and capture as much of this style into the piece as I could. Indeed the actual orchestration for this piece is as sparse as I could get it while still conveying all the characteristics already mentioned.

The first thing to get across was the idea of a hot summer day with a warm breeze, buzzing insects and a heat-haze. I decided to use a section of the violins playing a sustained four note cluster for the entirety of the piece which, to me at least,  seemed to bring a sense of the ‘heat’.  At times it’s barely audible but it is there if you listen out for it. There is a slight dissonance to the cluster that leaves it hanging in the air and sets it slightly apart from all the other instrumentation.

Hands up who knows what chord this is

Without wishing to wax overly lyrical, much of the initial orchestration lends itself to the idea of petals in the breeze, butterflies bobbing around, bees buzzing past etc. – you get the general idea!
Woodwind and harp are ideal for this and work quite nicely played over the cluster ‘heat-haze’ backdrop.

One of the key elements of this track is the ‘freeformnature of it – that is, it shouldn’t ‘sound’ like it has a tempo or time signature. Although the score itself  obviously has both, the way it is played should feel free of those constraints. This is something that’s quite hard to achieve when playing to a metronome click and taking all your cues from the conductor and this became fairly evident after the first couple of takes as the track was missing that freeform element.

Allan (Wilson, the orchestrator and conductor) suggested we knock out the click track and dispense with conducting them altogether (maybe just the odd wave of his stick to nudge them here and there). The Philharmonia were essentially playing and taking their cues from each other and the result was perfect.  It’s amazing how  well this worked and was a lesson in letting the players themselves take the initiative in timing and feel.
As an example it really helped the seamless transition from clarinet to bass clarinet in the descending run at 3.28 which had always been intended as one continuous phrase played by one instrument but given the range of the run itself had to be spread across the two different instruments.

Throughout the score for the Fable soundtrack I tried to reference the original ‘Danny Elfman‘ theme in some way or other by weaving it sympathetically into most tracks. With the Lookout Point,  I knew that I wanted the track to start quite lazily with different instruments flitting in and out in a relaxed fashion but that I also wanted to resolve the piece towards the end by referencing the Elfman theme and bring structure to the instrumentation and orchestration if only for a few bars. You can hear this in the track at 2.40 – where a quick upward run on the flute brings in the full Elfman theme melody.

Lastly, to the track name itself…
‘The Lookout Point’ didn’t really say anything about the nature of the music and, as we had been referencing the track by the codename ‘Ingame_FieldsExplore’ throughout the game’s development, we decided that ‘Summer Fields’ summed up the piece really well.

Download 'Summer Fields' MIDI file

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