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20 April 2017

Scoring Cassock: Lyrics and Language

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One of my current scoring projects is a visual novel (a story-driven game) called Cassock — Myghin’s Song. Set in 19th century Britain, the story blends celtic folklore with a dark Lovecraftian twist.

The first element of the score is an eerie folksong that will be used in the trailer and early gameplay. I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with a group of talented specialists who’ve helped give the tune both regional flavor and the living quality of recorded performance.

First was the matter of lyrics. The song takes the perspective of a malevolent kelpie, who at the start of the game has been dragging children to a watery grave at the bottom of a supernatural lake. (I did say it was a dark story!) I decided to give the lyrics a cruel double-entendre. A sample stanza:

Come take my hand
Let's be unseen
Where the stars cannot find us
Where the dreamers go

At first blush it seems to be an intimate love song, but in context the true meaning becomes clear: it’s an invitation for children to drown.

For authenticity we decided to have both English and Irish Gaelic versions of the song. For the latter translation we tapped into the talents of Eamonn Costello, a specialist in Irish folk music at the University of Limerick.

Translating a song is rarely as simple as word substitution. Some terms require synonymization in order to ease their way across the language barrier. And even when a word is directly translatable, the syllable count or placement of accents can differ. As a result I had to compose an altered version of the melody in order to accommodate the natural rhythm of Irish Gaelic. Here’s an example of how the two versions contrast:

(The same line in English and Irish. Note how the melody was changed to match the rhythm of the Irish language. Below needs its second syllable on a strong beat, whereas the Gaelic aoibhinn needs its first syllable accented.)

Once the song was done and the lyrics were squared away, we faced our next question. Who was going to be able to sing the tune in two languages? For the answer, stay tuned for the next blog installment.

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