May 2017
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Scoring Cassock: Vocals and Instrumentalists

In a prior blog post I described writing the title song for Cassock: Myghin’s Song, a story-driven game that blends British Isle folklore with Lovecraftian horror. Drawing from Irish folk music tradition, the song comes in both English and Irish Gaelic versions, each tweaked to match the rhythms of its respective language.

Writing lyrics in an exotic language may have artistic merit, but finding a vocalist capable of performing bilingually is another challenge altogether. The producer and I reviewed a number of candidates, but agreed that the perfect choice was London-based recording artist Eurielle. Eurielle has an evocative vocal tone that can range from intimate to ethereal; you can hear her on a number of film and TV productions, including the Downtown Abbey soundtrack album. And importantly for our purposes, she had experience singing in Irish!

Armed with the vocal score and Éamonn’s translation, Eurielle not only gave us a hauntingly beautiful performance in English, but added smoothness and euphony to the complex, crunchy syllables of the Irish lyrics.

Next came the instrumental tracks. My arrangement originally called for two celli, but given the song’s desolate tone I decided to substitute bass viol, also known as the viola de gamba. You can think of the bass viol as a Baroque precursor to the modern cello; in contrast, it has a thinner and almost medieval sound. Viol players are rare find, but as Los Angeles boasts every conceivable musical specialist, my search was thankfully brief. Jim Garafolo, primarily a studio bass player, brought in his viol and provided us with both expressive accompaniment and solo tracks.

Finally came drums and percussion. I had written some rhythm parts, but wanted to leave room for interpretation and choice of instrumentation. I got in touch with MB Gordy, a specialist in ethnic and exotic percussion. (If you watch any film or television, you’ve heard him play.) We tracked a number of different noisemakers, from frame drum to bass djun djun to the more authentically Irish bodhran. We also recorded some colorful instruments at MB’s suggestion: metal tines, handfuls of shakers, detached timpani heads, and metal rub rods. It’s not yet decided which of these sounds will emerge in the song’s final arrangement, but suffice to say that I feel like a kid in a candy store.

The Beautiful Dream is still in its editing and mixing phase, but I’ll be excited to share the results as soon as it’s done!

April 2017
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Cue of the Week: “Morituri Te Salutant”

This orchestral and choral piece opens up Empire Earth 2 with a healthy serving of sturm und drang. Both ensembles were both recorded in the beautiful renovated Magyar Radio studios in Budapest.

One question that arises with archetypical “chanting chorus” music is what to do about lyrics. One school of thought is to not bother, since the listener only hear the vowels for the most part. But not wanting a stream of nonsense syllables, I took it upon myself to cobble together a miniature Latin war poem. Finding words that both made sense and fit musically was quite an effort, but I pulled through thanks to generous assistance of some Latin scholars I reached online.

April 2017
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Scoring Cassock: Lyrics and Language

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.

April 2017
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Cue of the Week: “Above the World”

When it comes to orchestral cues I’m more inclined to share live recordings than those made with digital instruments, since the former are evergreen and the latter tend to show their age as technology advances. However, I liked this map view music from Empire Earth 3 so much that I gave it a sonic makeover, including a touch of analog tube emulation for warmth.

Accompanying a screen showing the contested Earth from orbit, this cue’s focus is conveying both tension and the panoramic sweep of the view.

Morituri Te Salutant // Michael Gordon Shapiro - HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  1. Morituri Te Salutant // Michael Gordon Shapiro - HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  2. Emerald, Texas // HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  3. Mythic Battle // HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  4. The Yard Sale // Michael Gordon Shapiro - HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  5. Investigations // HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  6. Home Room // HOMEPAGE MUSIC
  7. Sands of Arabia // HOMEPAGE MUSIC