Fable - A Soundtrack Story
The Fable soundtrack ended up being an entirely different beast to what I had originally planned as fate (and a Hollywood composer) gave it a direction I never would have dreamed possible…
It all began way back in 2000 when myself, the Carter brothers and some other members of the team were discussing how the music in Fable (or at the time – Wishworld) should sound…
“I think it should sound like a dark fairytale”, said someone.
“Yeah, like Danny Elfman’s stuff”, piped up someone else.
“Maybe we could get him to do it”, squeaked someone from behind me.
After we’d all finished laughing we got back to work.
Fast-forward to September 2003 and, incredibly, there is a rumour that Microsoft are actually in talks with Danny Elfman’s agent and there is a distinct possibility that he would be interested in doing the Fable theme for us. We all held our breaths and one month later it is a reality!
So myself, Peter (Molyneux) and the Carter brothers find ourselves huddled around a conference telephone talking to Danny himself.
The upshot of the call was that Danny would supply us with a three minute theme comprising the emotional and moral elements of the game – heroism, darkness, light, evil, good, combat etc. He would go away and compose some demo sketches from which we could choose the bits we liked. He’d take on board our preferences and supply us with a finished demo version. Once we’d OK’d it he would record it with a Hollywood orchestra and supply us with the finished track, all session score sheets, the score itself and all the relevant midi files that came from the score.
By the beginning of December I had everything from Danny and it was now my job to work with his theme to compose the rest of the in-game music – keeping some thread of continuity and consistency throughout.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
OK, now I’m scared.
It was clear, pretty much from the time we started talking to Danny that we couldn’t have a massive orchestral soundtrack theme and not continue that into the game itself. Not only would I have to do Danny’s theme justice but I would have to compose for orchestra, which meant sourcing an orchestra, conductor, orchestrator, studios, mixing facilities etc etc.
Where the hell do I start??
As luck would have it, in my hour of need I took a call from Paul Talkington. Paul is an agent of sorts. As part of his many talents he puts composers in touch with orchestrators and organises the orchestra, studio bookings, recording and mixing sessions.
Paul had been consistently calling me for a good few years but I had never had need of his services before – until now that is.
Not only could Paul put me in touch with an orchestrator but an orchestrator who had worked with Danny Elfman on Sleepy Hollow no less!
Paul – you lifesaver!!
The man in question is Allan Wilson.
Allan is an orchestrator and arranger. Not only that but he also conducts the orchestra for you if you ask him nicely enough. We met and talked about the working procedures involved, the timescales and deliverables etc.
MORE COFFEE PLEASE
With only two months to get everything done and dusted it was fairly obvious that some very late nights would be involved in getting this done on time and indeed for nearly two months I virtually lived in my studio drinking copious amounts of coffee.
The working procedure was a good one. I would compose in the way I usually did and drip feed Allan with material on an ongoing basis.
I started by creating an orchestral template in Nuendo, consisting of all the possible orchestral sections/instruments and linking them to Gigastudio and Reason orchestral samples. Seemed straightforward enough – until it came to the myriad of styles and effects each instrument is capable of, known as ‘articulations’ – trills, slides, rips, rolls etc.
In a midi sequencer these are played by just hitting a note on a keyboard and are consequently meaningless in the score itself.
As it turned out, I just had to create a new Nuendo track to cater for each of these – with a track name that reflected the articulation so Allan knew what each midi note was meant to be triggering as well as letting him know whether the trill was semi-tone, whole tone or whatever.
I had already decided that the in-game music would not use any clever technology – and that what was needed was just long atmospheric pieces with Danny’s theme weaved in here and there. The music should convey the feel or ambience of each of the regions of the game such as graveyards, quirky villages, friendly towns, caves etc. Any danger or combat situations could be handled by simple cross-fades to suitably eerie or up-tempo pieces composed for those situations.
I generally kept each piece of region music to around 3 to 4 minutes long knowing that when we came to record it for real we could do various takes with different sections of the orchestra tacited to give the piece a different feel.
I wanted the Fable music to be lead by strings, woodwind and French-horn so I generally approached these parts first unless the piece was particularly percussion based. I always tend to start with strings and woodwind in any case. I don’t really know why although I do find that brass and percussion parts come a lot easier after these parts have been written. I find the possibilities with woodwind are endless. They are a kind of mini orchestra in themselves. The range and tonal quality of the section from the highs of the piccolos down to the rumble of contrabassoon really does it for me. I found that I was relying on them more and more to carry the theme and to bring out the nicer harmonies.
I’m glad I spent so long perfecting these parts.
When I was happy with a composition, I span off the sample mockup mix to hear it in-game to make sure it worked with the graphics. Finally, I created a score straight from Nuendo and e-mailed this to Allan to orchestrate, along with the midi file and the sample mix as an MP3 for his reference. I would then go straight into composing the next cue.
Orchestration is a dark and esoteric art if it’s to be done properly. Essentially, the score that Nuendo spits out is generated automatically from the midi sequence and if this was given to an orchestra to play they’d think the composer was an imbecile. Allan seemed like a magician to me. I just handed over what seemed like nothing at all to work with and what you get back is a beautifully manicured masterpiece. The orchestrator knows what each instrument is capable of and, more importantly, what key brings out the best tonal quality for your composition. Just be prepared to take calls questioning the D flat in bar 54, suggesting trumpets in unison to accompany the french-horns and don’t ever call the cor anglais an english horn!