Sunday, May 12, 2013

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Da Vinci Code - Hans Zimmer

The Da Vinci Code
by Hans Zimmer

I will not use this post to debate on its accuracies or fallacies and the like.  I will not use this to debate on whether the book or the movie is better.  This post is whether or not the soundtrack will work for games and that's what you're going to find inside here.  For those not familiar with the movie, or the book it is based in, feel free to google up the title.

The soundtrack is by the renowned Hans Zimmer, whose approach to music will always have a distinct approach to the swells and emotional rises.  In this case, the tracks have an ever present sense of mystery in them, with soft hints of other melodies dancing around a central theme - like secrets that wish to be uncovered.  The opening track, Dies Maercurii I Maritus (Track 01) opens with such a haunting touch that you will find yourself drawn in, and when the piano joins the theme come the 1:30 mark, you will definitely have a sense of an emotional weight being stroked within your heart.  Once near the three minute mark, the main melodic theme for DaVinci Code enters the tunes, hinting at a grander and more noble purpose behind the tragic design.  I have used this track to open very many games before.  The musical rise is just perfect for games, and yet not too familiar to the point players would hum along.  The explosive swell come 4:22 however might be too much for some groups, but I felt it was a perfect to reveal the key scene, character, or anchor of the story at that point.   Interestingly, the second track, L'Espirit des Gabriel, quickly embraces a darker tone.  And the building repetitive leitmotif at 1:15 is a great moment of tension that might test the quality of your speakers.  Fructus Gravis (Track 04) is a favorite of mine, with its sweeping melody and sublime touches of danger hidden in the fringes of the music.  The tone is hopeful and yet there's the understanding of dark clouds at the horizon.  It shifts abruptly to tense however at the 1:40 mark, which sadly limits the usefulness of the track, given at 2:10 it returns once again to its original feel.  Malleus Maleficarum (Track 06) is one of the more haunting works with voices mingling with the persistent strings and the passionate shifts that bring to mind suffering and pain.  Salvete Virgines (Track 07) is easily the best track in the soundtrack, composed of chanting voices that swirl and fade in and out amongst each other.  Interestingly, this track was one of those that was not present in the film.   If you're a fan of Carl Orff's O Fortuna, you will probably find this track as a useful one for your games.  Poisoned Chalice (Track 09) might remind some of you of the musical approach Hanz Zimmer used in a scene from Lord of the Rings, and admittedly, it is hard not to imagine this track as being one used to introduce a new ancient ruin to the scene. The sudden swell at 2:00 might feel disruptive for other groups, however.  By the tenth track, The Citrine Cross (Track 10), we shift back deep into the leitmotif of the soundtrack, with the heartbeat-like percussions  constantly there, reminding us to solve the crime before it is too late.  Voices enter the scene come the one minute mark reminding us that lives are at stake in the task we are undertaking.  And by the 1:40 mark, the rise gets more chaotic and tense that players might end up screaming at each other to get a scene done.  Sadly, the track shifts in mood at the 3:14 mark, suggesting a resolution to the tension has been achieved.  I really wish the music at this point onwards was simply a new track, allowing the tension to be nicely maintained for a few more minutes.

Rose of Arimathea (Track 11) is a strange monkey, because it literally is a continuation of the earlier track.  I mean, if you tried playing it by itself, it sounds like you chopped of something from the start of the track, which is sad.  The piece itself is haunting and dark, with a growing sense of foreboding that is sure to signal "danger" to your players even if you don't describe anything dangerous nearby.  But by the 1:20 mark, it suddenly cuts into something akin to Psycho's signature shrieking, only here it uses piano keys played in a repetitive sequence that meticulously gains more empathic weight with each new added instrument.  But then it cuts that away in exchange for a heavy church bell tolling in the silence.   At the three minute mark, the original leitmotif returns, only now it uses the bass chords for a more diabolic touch.  Halfway though, at four minutes, the mood AGAIN shifts, and becomes a haunting piano melody of longing and regret.  It maintains the leitmotif, which shows Hans Zimmer's expert hand in composing a good signature sound, but given this is all in a single track, I feel hard pressed to make this useful in a game.   But yes, the track does end in a happier note.  Finally, CheValiers de Sangreal (Track 13) is your key theme track, pulling out all stops to give life back to the opening track and injecting the hope and joy suggested by the 11th track.   I find it ironic that this would be the thirteenth track, and I have NO idea why the V would be capitalized in the title, but I do like how this track feels something has been achieved and I have used this track many times to end a game session or a one shot to give the players a sense of fulfillment and completion.

A wonderful purchase, but a difficult one to use in a game if your games tend to have long scenes.  The shifts of mood and swells can make some tracks a headache to embrace.  But given this fourteen track soundtrack has 68:03 minutes worth to swim through, I still feel that this is a useful soundtrack to add to your cache of tunes to add the needed dash of excitement, mystery and spiritual fear into your game.

DaVinci Code OST track suggestions:
WTF moment: Rose of Arimathea (Track 11)
Introspective/calm moment: Daniel's 9th Cipher (Track 08), Poisoned Chalice (Track 09)
Tense/mystery moment:  Dies Maercurii I Maritus (Track 01),  L'Espirit des Gabriel (Track 02), The Paschal Spiral (Track 03), The Citrine Cross (Track 10), Rose of Arimathea (Track 11)
Combat music: Beneath Alrischa (Track 12)
Hopeful moment: Ad Arcana (Track 05), Salvete Virgines (Track 07), Kyrie for the Magdalene (Track 14)
Drama/sad moment: Fructus Gravis (Track 04), Malleus Maleficarum (Track 06) , CheValiers de Sangreal (Track 13)

Best Used In: Dark games.  Mysterious games.  Games where hope may be fleeting.  Where secrets are meant to be uncovered.  Where threats may surround you without warning.  Wonderfully, setting and genre are not that tied in this soundtrack, but while I doubt this will prove useful for noir games, whether modern, medieval, post apocalyptic future or fantastic, such settings may have this soundtrack enrich the gaming experience.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY MOTHER's DAY!
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