Composing ‘Walk Like a Panda’

OK, so we have a story, we have concept art and now we need sweet music to complete the world of the Red Panda. Enter your critical-listening host Sam ‘I love the Ailuridae family’ McLean! In this post I will lead you through the composition process of Walk Like a Panda.

From the beginning of this project the teams lead told me that he wanted to get the nostalgic feeling of playing a classic adventure game and in particular the feel of the The legend of Zelda universe. To me, one of the finest of the Zelda games was A link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, an adventure game about a boy called Link setting out from his peaceful village to do battle with the evil pig-demon Gannon. In a sense our game is quite similar and because of this similarity I went back and listened to the soundtrack to A link to the Past.

Critical-Listening

Apart from the bombastic adventure themes, ALTTP (A Link to the Past) has some very interesting musical sections that remind me of Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine composer who was best known for his tango music.

So why does it remind me of Piazzolla? Lets take a look.

  • Jazzy chords (major 7, minor 7, dominant 7,  min 7b5)
  • Parallel chordal movement
  • Motor Rhythms
  • Syncopation

Jazzy Chords

In basic Jazz theory, the traditional western chord formula of 1,3,5 is replaced by 1,3,5,7. The chords we now find in a major scale in the Jazz realm are;

  1. Major 7th (1, 3, 5, 7)
  2. Minor 7th (1, b3, 5, b7) (b means flatten)
  3. Minor 7th (1, b3, 5, b7)
  4. Major 7th (1, 3, 5, 7)
  5. Dominant 7th (1, 3, 5, b7)
  6. Minor 7th (1, b3, 5, b7)
  7. Half Diminished or Min 7b5 (1, b3, b5, b7)

In terms of Walk Like a Panda, I have used a Major 7th arpeggio exclusively and have also inverted the chord like this;

Original F major 7th chord = F, A, C, E

Inversion used in Walk like a Panda = F, E, A, C (thats rude!)

Parallel Chordal Movement

Another trait that distinguishes Piazzollas music is the the moving of chords in a parallel motion, for example, moving an entire major 7th chord up or down. This type of movement basically puts you in a new key every time you move the chord and the result is that the music can remain minimal but still hold interest.

Motor Rhythms

The tried and true technique of using motor rhythms is here to stay and has been used by countless composers, spanning centuries from Bach to Piazzolla. Motor Rhythms are when singular notes are repeated to give a feeling of impetus and like the name suggests it acts as a motor, driving the song forward.

In Walk like a Panda the motor rhythms are played by a pizzicato string section.

Syncopation

Syncopation is when you play off the down beat and is used commonly in jazz and Piazzollas music. The xylophone and the melody from the brass section and solo-cello help with this task along with the fact that this piece is in a 7/8 meter which helps to keep things exciting.

Putting It All Together

Putting all of the pieces of the musical puzzle together is the fun bit! To me it’s like cooking, you have your base ingredients that make up the majority of the meal and then add some spices and garnishes that top it off.

So we have our ingredients now we just need to bake it! When thinking about what life must be like as a Red Panda certain elements of its nature must be addressed.

Playful Panda

The Red Panda is a playful creature who’s front legs are shorter than its hind legs, the result of this is that the creature appears to waddle when it walks on flat ground. The 7/8 meter gives the same waddle feeling, for the accents are in the 1st and 5th beats which translates into a group of four beats followed by a group of three (I count 7/8 like 1,2,3,4-1,2,3). Basically Ive used 7/8 so I don’t have to keep swapping meters from 4/8 to 3/8.

Instrumentation

Being just a little larger than a domestic cat, the Red Panda has furry padded paws for when it walks through snow. It loves to climb trees and can twist its ankles to scale down them vertically with little effort.

Given the nature of the adorable Ailuridae, I needed instruments to suit. Pizzicato strings, xylophone, kalimba, African drums and sitar are the main Panda instruments and the brass section, solo-cello and choir are there to back them up.

I have used the Pizzicato Strings and Xylophone because they have an inherently playful nature, and can also give the feeling of the cold and snow.

The kalimba is an African thumb piano and has a quirky sound to it, and because there is no other animal in the Ailuridae family I thought that this strange quirkiness was a perfect analogy to the Red Pandas own bizarre walk of life.

Like the Kalimba, the African drums and Sitar were employed because of their unique sounds, hinting at the ‘one of a kind’ nature of the Red Panda.

Lastly the brass section when moving in parallel chords is totally Nintendo’s trademark and yeah, it’s a complete rip-off but hey, Nintendo rocks!

Lets put it all together! Enjoy and please take the time to think about our little furry-footed friends

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