Making music for Skywind
by Matt Hawken with additional contribution from Marius Schlichting
Jeremy Soule’s original soundtrack to Morrowind echoed the alien landscapes and creatures of Vvardenfell with a complex and mysterious score, combining the sonorities of a symphonic orchestra with the tonal complexities of early 20th-Century Impressionist music. Morrowind’s soundtrack has become a classic and for Skywind’s music team, this is a tough act to follow! However, we’ve assembled a crack team including several professional musicians and composers and we’re ready for the challenge.
For the full nostalgia experience, Skywind will also include the remastered Morrowind explore music which is packaged with the Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim (Dragonborn DLC is necessary for the Skywind installation), allowing you to explore Vvardenfell with the original soundtrack accompanying your travels, alongside our new creations.
Here are a few of the ways we’re making the most of Skyrim’s Creation Engine to update, adapt and expand the music of Morrowind:
Sadly, due to technical restrictions of the time Morrowind’s score is not as broad and deep as its gameplay. As the entire game needed to fit on a single CD-ROM, the soundtrack was limited to 45 minutes in length. Fortunately, in Skywind we have no such restrictions! Although we are still a long way off finalising the length of the soundtrack, we hope to come close to, or even surpass, Skyrim’s 3-hour running time.
We’re taking advantage of the Skyrim engine’s ability to play specific tracks in certain regions. Now the soundtrack will shift as you travel the varied landscapes of Vvardenfell, taking you from gentle strings in the Ascadian Isles to tribal drums in the Ashlands.
Another musical feature introduced in Skyrim are short pieces of music which play when you arrive in certain areas for the first time. We are creating unique ‘discovery stingers’ to herald your arrival in many of Skywind’s locations.
Towns & Cities
It’s not just the landscapes that are varied in Morrowind - each town around the island has a distinct flavour and history. In Skywind, each of the larger settlements will have their own soundtrack for both day and night time.
Dungeons, Caves & Tombs
Going underground, we’re writing some spooky and mysterious music for the hidden depths of Skywind.
Of course, you’re not just going to be exploring peacefully. Although combat isn’t yet implemented in testing, we’re hoping to replicate Skyrim’s adaptive battle music so the music will rise as your enemies fall!
Alongside the main soundtrack there will be ambient music to accompany your adventures in Vvardenfell, just like the ‘Atmospheres’ from Skywind’s soundtrack. We’re also writing unique music for guilds, forts, taverns, temples and even Vivec cantons, as well as short songs for characters to sing in game.
Follow our progress!
You can listen to all the music submissions for the game as we create them at the project’s Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/tesrskywindofficial - however please bear in mind that all these tracks are subject to approval, edits and final mix/mastering. We hope you enjoy listening!
How is it done?
Matt H: I use a 2013 Mac Pro with 64 GB of RAM, which sounds like a lot but can quickly get eaten up when you're loading a symphony orchestra's worth of audio samples. I run the latest versions of OS X and Logic Pro because I like to feel like I'm on the cutting edge! And I listen on a pair of Focal CMS-65s which help me create mixes that translate well on other systems, which might be laptops or headphones for most people. I really enjoy my little studio set-up but it did take a while to accumulate everything. My first piece of advice for anyone who wants to work in music production is to get a decent paying job first because it's an expensive hobby, although it's getting cheaper all the time.
When creating realistic orchestral music from samples, there are two sides to the process. The old-school part is writing appropriately for the instruments and orchestrating effectively. I'm lucky to play several instruments and have a degree in composition and orchestration so I've had the chance to be trained by some great people, but it's a lifetime's work and I'm definitely still beginning! The new-school part is the production - making choices about reverb, EQ, panning, compression and much more.
Marius S: Well, there isn’t much to add to the description of proper music writing vs. technology that Matt wrote above.
I personally try hard to not succumb to the DAW when creating a composition. That simply means I try to keep and develop the fundaments of the music outside of the computer first (sometimes more than other times). Well, I also don’t have/use a modwheel or such so when I record midi I have to use my imagination for the important dynamics/expressions anyway. When you use a music program you do not have to bother with traditional efforts like writing down all the notes and can just create music purely by ear. That also means you can quickly make mistakes when it comes to proper good writing for the orchestra. After all, the best sounding synthetic orchestra is the one that is very close to what you would write for real musicians!
So I always start off with on the piano and end up with fundamental sketches or full ideas. However, sometimes it’s nice to have a computer that makes it possible to go beyond you own imagination that lets you test out new textures and such.
I’d like to show you a comparison of a piano idea turned into the intro of the final piece. In this case it is music for daedric interiors. To give you ideas what concerned me for this: fitting atmosphere, unique instrument textures, skyrim-esque synths, ambiguous tonalities... and so on.
It’s more of an ambient sound compared to mainland tracks, but maybe it’s still interesting to hear.
Matt Hawken is a full-time composer and musician living just outside London, UK.
Marius Schlichting is a full-time composer and musician from Germany.