Sunday, 26 April 2009

Rampant Speculation: Spot the Temp Track

I was listening to some music by esteemed videogame composer Jeremy Soule late last night and it hit me that one particular piece of music sounded quite like another piece of music from a certain major motion picture.

Here’s a short section the track in question, it’s called “The Dragon’s Eye” by Jeremy Soule and it’s from the first Icewind Dale game.

And now here’s the piece of music it reminded me ofl; It’s called ‘High Wire Stunts’ and it was composed by renowned film scorer, John Williams. It from the filn… well, why don’t you try and guess which movie it’s from. ;-)

If you guessed that it was from the 1993 motion picture Jurassic Park, you’d be right! Did you hear the similarity? Not convinced yet? Let me make it a bit easier for you – I’ll edit in a “good seg” across the two songs. The first is the Icewind Dale track; the second is the one from Jurassic Park.

Now, this could be one big co-incidence and I’m willing to accept that. Also, I’m not trying to call out Jeremy Soule for unoriginality and copying, as he is well and truly one of the premier videogame composers (I’ve actually got a post planned about some of his music from Oblivion) so I’m going to refrain from make any big conclusions from this initial observation. I will propose, however, that what we can hear in this example may in fact be the nefarious influence of the bane of all composers for image: the “temp track”.

A temp track is just as it sounds, a temporary piece of music that is used as a place holder and a musical guide until the final music is put into the game. I gather that what often happens is a member of the development staff finds a piece of music with certain feel and they use it to give the composer an idea of what they want the finished composition to sound like. The problem with this is that (as listeners) we can get quite attached to certain pieces of music and we run the risk of wanting a final track that essentially emulates the original.

I wonder if someone involved in developing Icewind Dale was a fan of the Jurassic Park soundtrack and used the aforementioned ‘High Wire Stunts’ track by John Williams as a temp track for the composer. Soule may have then been asked to make it sound “just like” the track without “being” the track (to avoid copyright infringement, obviously) and may have been encouraged (or explicitly told) to make it sound more like it.

Alternatively, Soule could have just been a John Williams fan! It’s entirely possible that he was completely and unconsciously influenced by the original (I do, however, find it highly unlikely that a composer like Soule would be unfamiliar with the majority of John Williams work, so I’m going to rule out “simultaneous and independent composition” as a factor). Composers are often influenced by pieces of music they find particularly effective and emulating other great composers can often be good for practice, as it were.

So there you have it – a case of temp track influence, unintentional sound-alike, or deliberate influence? We have no way of knowing, but its fun to speculate, so tell me what you think in the comments.


Fashigady said...

Whatever it really is, it would be a bit rich for John Williams to complain about it - how about contrasting "The Harbingers of Spring" and "Introduction to Part 2" of The Rite of Spring (Stravinsky) with the music at ~3:00 in, and the Desert theme ( from 0:20)

Logan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Logan said...

I really like your temp track theory. It reminds me very much of Rashomon's music, aka Not Bolero. Fumio Hayasaka's version of Kurosawa insisting on "something like Bolero" is pretty much a version of what every composer's worst nightmare must be.

There's definitely a difference between that type of "almost" homage, though, and true homage. John Williams is clearly intentional in his homage to Stravinsky. Star Wars is exceptional in its usage of homage to create something new and familiar, very much like what the movie is doing. This is no different than Howard Shore's homage to Wagner throughout his masterful Rings score.

My favorite Williams homage, however, is Superman. Both the Main Title and Planet Krypton are brilliant precisely because of the music they're echoing. I love to string the tracks along with Thus Spake... and Fanfare... and let them play out as superb companions.

Chris Lepine said...

I can confirm the "temp track" theory to some degree through my experience interviewing composer Lennie Moore (of Outcast, and 'The Watchmen' motion comic fame).. he said that a lot of times he starts with temp tracks, and uses them as a foundation for something else. You'll notice in the IWD track it soon transitions away from the strings towards a more loping drum beat.. (Which reminds me - I'll have to get to work on posting that interview soon - some of the things he's said about composition were very, very insightful.)

As for this particular piece, what I find more interesting is that while structurally they sound similar, they provide a completely different experience for me as a player. "Highwire Stunts" is very frenzied and tense... IIRC it is an intense scene in the film. It definitely has that "composed for this specific scene" feel to it. The IWD track, I suspect, was composed for a little more generality and fitness with many encounters in the game.. it is a 'little' tense, but darker, slower, more suggestive of careful exploration (ie. Bilbo in the Dragon's Den) than escape or highwire acts.

If that makes any sense. :) Either way, this is just to add a bit of flavour to the commentary, not really a theory of anything.

Bartley said...

Im involved in a crazy lawsuit and from your blog I realized you might be the expert to help in my case. It involves my original copyrighted song, one of the biggest bands in America, Time Warner, and Major League Baseball. It is in federal court in Boston Mass, USA.
I know you're in Aussie-land. Can we talk sometime?
Bart (