Thursday, September 11, 2008

Soundtrack

Soundtrack is a straightforward musical game that, for a change, requires less effort from the musician and more effort from the players. In most scenes, the musician is following the scene and matching the emotion with the music. In a soundtrack, the musician plays whatever music they like, and the actors have to change the pace and emotion of the scene to match the music.

This is a listening game for the players. Investing yourself in the scene and the characters, and taking your cue from the musician, is tricky!

For me, as the musician, the key is to make the changes in emotion or style quite dramatic. If we're in love-theme music, changing to dramatic-discovery music is a significant shift, and it's not so hard for the players to spot. By contrast, I find that if I play the music like I would for a regular game, with perhaps more subtle changes as the scene progresses, the players have a much harder time recognising a change and following it.

I also find it's good to give the volume a little temporary bump up as I'm changing styles. That's my way of waving a flag at the players to say "hey, now's a good time to listen to me!"

The timing for changing styles is important, too. If someone is mid-sentence on stage, a change will either get lost, or just kill whatever that player was saying - just as if someone had interrupted them. Dropping the changes in between sentences, finding a gap where you're not interrupting, makes a big difference.

Music in a soundtrack can really provide offers for the players. For example, two players are arguing, with tense music behind them. One of them says "Why did you burn my house down?" Keep the music tense, and they'll escalate; change it to a sad lament, and the accused will come up with a story to earn the audience's sympathy. Change to love music and the accused might reveal their secret feelings for the other.

Like most games, you can choose to play this either constructively or as a bastard game. I generally find that, if the players have assumed wild crazy characters, it can be effective to do quite dramatic shifts, for example, sad funeral music to secret agent chasing music. It's a bit like a bastard Musical Hotspot, where the fun is in seeing them cope with to an inappropriate style change.

On the other hand, if the potential is there for a meaningful story with good characters, I'll try and match that and not go too crazy, keeping the changes logical and in line with the scene. In some ways that's kind of defeating the purpose of the game, but I'm pretty happy to sacrifice a game's handle if it means telling a good story.

One thing I've only experimented with a little is using prerecorded or presequenced music for a soundtrack. That way they players really have to listen, because the musician isn't going to change to a new style at a convenient time. Pre-sequencing your own music is what I've tried, and it worked... eyah, just ok. There's a track on the My Best Friend's Wedding album that I've always wanted to try out as a soundtrack; it's about four minutes long, and has 5 or 6 quite distinct emotional shifts. Someday!

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