The new Sony Playstation 3 game The Unfinished Swan is all about exploring the unknown. The same is also true for composer Joel Corelitz of Waveplant Studios, whose personal creative journey with the project found him writing 60 minutes of original music that blends traditional and non-traditional elements into a wholly original score.
"People in music often talk about film and TV scores as either being traditional or non-traditional, with non-traditional frequently being characterized as at odds with a classic, melody-based score," Corelitz says. "I wanted to create something that felt like a mix of both, a blending of organic instruments and ambient sound design that would feel fresh ten years from now."
Set in a mysterious black-and-white landscape that grows more colorful as the game progresses, The Unfinished Swan centers on a lonely, 10-year-old orphan named Monroe who follows a swan that has stepped out of an unfinished painting and wandered off into a surreal, storybook-inspired kingdom. Each chapter brings surprises, new ways to explore the world, a host of bizarre (and sometimes dangerous) creatures and encounters with the eccentric king who built this empire.
Finding A Balance:
For Corelitz, one of the key challenges centered on taking the game's moody narrative and composing a score that didn't sound too minor key. The goal, he says, was to use those emotions and build on them with music that also captures a sense of wonder at this strange world.
"There's a sad backstory to the main character," Corelitz explains, "and we needed to bring those emotions to the table, but it was equally important that we infuse the music with a sense of curiosity and playfulness."
With that in mind, Corelitz's score features an array of plucked acoustic instruments, such as harps, marimbas and violins, layered onto a bed of ambient sound design and ethereal synth tones. It's a blend that effectively borrows from traditional film scorers and non-traditional mood purveyors.
"As you play the game, the music is constantly evolving," Corelitz says. "It's never quite the same no matter how many times you play. The music is not just background noise, it's part of the world, it's part of how you feel, how the character feels. We didn't want those things to be separate, we wanted it to be all one experience."
Recording In Nashville:
The music was recorded at Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, Tenn., and for Corelitz hearing his score performed live by both a 25-piece orchestra and a simple string quartet was a powerful moment.
"Ocean Way is an amazing studio housed in a 100-year-old gothic church," Corelitz says. "Hearing my music performed by this orchestra in this studio was amazing. The Unfinished Swan let me spread out creatively and flex musical muscles that I haven't used in awhile. It was an amazingly satisfying project to be a part of and I'm proud of what we accomplished."