Choose Your Own Adventure

Greetings Earthicans, I hope your individual journeys through Middle Earth have been fruitful since we last interacted and you have been creative in some form or another. I have been composing almost exclusively for Games lately and have come to a realisation, that the compositional method used in Game scores is Postmodern, for it is non-linear and we use a technique of deconstruction to break the music into its base elemental properties, once deconstructed we can then start to construct a new piece of music that enhances the users emotional experience and is unique to every player. In musical terms this process is called layered composition.

If you would like to see some examples of a composer who completely understands this technique, then check out Winifred Phillips, I know I reference Winifred a lot in this blog and that is because she is one of the masters of this compositional style. Winifred has worked on numerous games in the Little Big Planet franchise, a franchise who utilises the layered composition method to enhance the fun-factor and whats even better is that in LBP there is a create mode where you can design and share your own levels and you even have control over the score, complete with layers to really customise the emotional experience! So cool and a brilliant demonstration of layered composition.

For a demonstration from Winifred herself then click this link.

So What Exactly Is Layered Composition?

  • Imagine that you have a number of individual songs that all start at the same time and can merge together to make one musical piece.
  • Each individual song must have enough merit to stand alone and also be able to become one of the layers in the master track.
  • If you fade different layers in and out then different emotions can be achieved.

Where Do I Start?

When I use this method, I think of what emotional states may be needed in the level of the game I am composing for. In this demonstration I have the following emotional states;

  • Triumphant
  • Lonely
  • Exciting
  • Cool

Instrumentation plays a big role in this method so let’s have a look at the instruments used in each emotion.

Colour coding the instruments to correspond with emotions
Colour code the instruments to correspond with emotions
MIDI sequence of emotional states
MIDI sequence of emotional states


  • Brass
  • Strings

Brass instruments have an inherently regal sound to them, perhaps a social construct but in composition we can use constructs to our advantage to convey emotions.

Brass and Strings
Brass and Strings


  • Solo Piano

There is something about a nice Grand Piano in a huge space, playing minimally that really makes you feel alone.

Lonely Piano
Lonely Piano


  • Violins and Recorders

When Violins play an ostinato (repeated phrase) it gives a sense of excitement and the Recorders are almost bird-like, giving a feeling of flight.

Violins and Recorder
Violins and Recorders


  • Electric Guitar!

Lets face it, Electric guitar is one of the coolest instruments of our time!

Electric Guitars
Electric Guitars

The tonality of the piece is like the glue that holds everything together and in this example I have used the Lydian mode. The Lydian mode is the fourth mode in diatonic harmony and has a raised fourth, giving the mode an enchanted feeling.

You may notice that at 2:00 the tonality changes to the Dorian mode and think, that’s not going to fit in with the rest of the track, an assumption that is just, but hear me out. This change to the Dorian mode is for when our player lingers on the exciting section of the stage for a while, they don’t want to hear the same few bars repeated for an eternity so I have composed an Extension to the Exciting phrase.

The Extension to the Exciting phrase
The Extension to the Exciting phrase
MIDI sequence of the Extension to Exciting
MIDI sequence of the Extension to Exciting

This Extension is intended to be played only after the player has lingered in the Exciting section for some time and a significant event like a boss battle or frenetic puzzle takes place. The Exciting phrase is like an intro and outro to the Extension and the Extension can only be played via the Exciting phrase. This is why I have titled the blog you are reading Choose Your Own Adventure, because you as a player are dictating the course the music will take.

The concept of extending the layers could work for any of the emotions in the composition and if used in a logical manner can make the game’s audio seem intuitive and almost human, like the piano player in old-school silent movies, who would play to suit the on-screen action.

Put It All Together!

After bouncing the MIDI sequences of the emotional states to audio tracks, then opening a new session and working with them as audio, we have control over the levels and therefore control over what emotion should take place. This is like doing a mock-up of what the game would sound like.

Mock-up of in game action
Mock-up of in game action

It is worthwhile to point out that implementing this process would be handled by the development team, giving the commands to fade or trigger layers at certain stages of the game using a program called Unity (that’s why Unity matters!) and its obvious to see that being proficient in using Unity lets you know what is possible in the game audio realm, also if you can implement this part of the process yourself then that’s another job title you can add to your resume!

Thanks for reading!







  1. Exciting implications of layered composition. The idea in essence instantly made me think of the great masters of counterpoint e.g. Bach. If you think of the Mozart Jupiter symphony that uses quintuple invertible counterpoint (five melodies that can be used and interchanged in bass or treble parts but still work together) he has chosen an adventure but there are many different emotions that are conjured through the various themes and the different layering and combinations of these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point reubpress! Thank you for your reference to Bach and especially Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, I didn’t know all the awesome details but it is not hard to imagine such a brilliant composer using every technique at his disposal, all the while the listener is just loving the score, on an adventure, without even being aware of the technical aspects…now that’s true mastery! Imagine what Bach and Mozart could have done with Game-Audio, the mind boggles!


  2. I love the idea of colour coding the tracks, but I wonder what issues you might face when collaborating with others? I often find that when I look at other people’s sessions, the colours don’t match the instruments (in my eyes, that is). And I know people who have strong synaesthetic associations between instruments and colours that override any other factor. Interestingly, the colours you have used in this example match the colours that I generally use for those instruments. I wonder if that has any significance…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is an awesome point Jack, thank you for your thoughts on this topic. In my opinion I think the idea of semiotics and social constructs play a very important part to people when they think about assigning different colours to instruments. It would seem sensible to set up a system that remains the same to make workflow seamless, but how do we all agree upon which colour to use for which instrument? I’m not sure whether there is a standard for this type of thing and It would make life easier if there were, especially when collaborating. It probably should be noted however, that in different cultures colours have different connotations, so maybe the only real way to solve this problem is to agree upon the colour codes in pre- production. That is a great question and we may never know the answer to it, but at least you and I could work together without getting confused!


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