Alex Rhodes

Composer | Arranger | Editor

The Chinese Dynamo Project: Week 4

A Melding of Hemispheres

Now begins the unofficial second half of The Chinese Dynamo Project, which allows us to take the basics of Chinese compositions and apply them to a modern example within an original composition. However, before I actually begin composing, there is one final step I want to take in order to connect the styles we’ve been discussing with contemporary film and video game scoring. To do this, we will be analyzing and studying a couple compositions by the composer who actually inspired this project: Jack Wall.

As I mentioned during week 1 of the project, video games are celebrated for their capability to not only imagine and create new worlds, but also visit distant lands on our own planet. With these vast journeys to foreign lands comes the necessity to create new soundscapes that further immerses the player into the numerous domains. Jack Wall has done some amazing stuff with this notion in mind: with his scores, gamers have traveled to regions of real countries and fantasy worlds alike. Of course, because we are studying Chinese composition for this project, we will be examining Jack’s works that implemented specifically Asian techniques and instrumentations within his own distinctive style.

An Introduction to the Study

In 2015, Jack Wall released his acclaimed score for the new installment of the Call of Duty video game franchise, entitled Black Ops III. Like many other episodes of the franchise, this game introduced new areas of the world to explore and experience within a dark, covert setting. We will be analyzing two of Jack’s pieces for the game: “In Darkness” and “The 54 Immortals”. Both of these cues occur during levels that take place in Asian regions, and the use of compositional styles in the pieces make it evident where the player is supposed to be.

However, due to some time constraints, we’ll be getting into this analysis next week. My original plan was to go over the basic harmonic and melodic structures of the two cues with nothing to go on but my own experience with the score and music theory, but Jack has since graciously agreed to send me the sheet music so I can do an actual full analysis that would leave nothing to simple speculation. This would take longer then anticipated, though, so I will leave this for the following week. Sorry to lead you on like this – I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to properly evaluate and dissect the music.

Below is one of the pieces, “In Darkness”, in order to introduce you to the kind of tone that I am going to be looking at when melding the two styles.

"In Darkness", composed by Jack Wall. Video courtesy of Ingrooves.

First Steps

Because of this slight setback to the schedule, I wasn’t able to get as much done this week as I had hoped. However, I can still make some attempt at beginning my composition before I do my in-depth analysis of Jack’s work. Besides simply beginning the project file (with which I will be using Logic- my preferred method of creation), I did some research on the four instruments I will be using within the program. Like I mentioned before through our study of four core instruments, I will be writing a piece for Erhu, Guzheng, Pipa, and Xiao.

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There was one problem I was faced with, though: even though three of the four instruments sounded fairly decent and sufficient as a performance instrument by themselves, the stock Erhu I was left with still had those distinctive traces of bad MIDI work. I couldn’t write a piece using this specific VST and call it listenable. Surprisingly, the massive VST collection I own doesn’t really include much in terms of Chinese instrumentation. So, I embarked on some pretty extensive research on another Erhu plugin that I could use at an affordable price. After hours of investigation, I believe I have decided on one. At the moment, I’m still in the process of getting it (you have to utilize that student discount when you can). Below you will find a sample of the plugin uploaded by the company; it’s really surprising to me how good it sounds.

We end this week here, after multiple setbacks that could (and hopefully will) end us up in a spot better then we were expecting. After I install Embertone’s VST I will be able to begin my piece, and next week we will finally be able to do some amazing exploration into the world of modern compositions that comprise of seemingly contrasting styles. Even if the sheet music portion of the analysis doesn’t work out, there are some amazing topics to cover and ideas to dive into next week.

-Alex