You love the comics. You adore the games. Well, wait until you hear the music! The soundtracks for Telltale's Bone games were lovingly crafted by San Francisco Bay Area composer Jared Emerson-Johnson. So load these tracks up onto your computer or iPod and just try to keep from humming along. We dare you.
by Jared Emerson-Johnson
Back in April, when I was plotting out my first sketches for Bone: Out From Boneville, it was evident that the bulk of the score needed to be highly thematic. Jeff Smithâ€™s rich and textured collection of characters, locations, and plot events cries out for a large catalogue of musical motifs to help tie all of the threads together. This is common enough for any graphic adventure game, but it was especially true for this project. After all, not only is the game grounded in telling its story, itâ€™s the first installment of a much larger whole. The adventure certainly doesnâ€™t end with Fone Boneâ€™s reunion with Smiley in Barrelhaven, and therefore the score was obligated to serve two functions equally: to follow the story of the Bone cousinsâ€™ arrival in the valley, and to hint at the larger struggles that are destined to come.
The musical challenge that this implied was immediately apparent to me. Because the tone of the complete Bone series moves from innocent adventures to dire and epic ones, all of the character and location themes needed to be flexible enough to grow with the story as it progresses from one game to the next. As far as I am concerned this balance between the carefree moments and the increasingly serious arc is the heart of Jeff Smithâ€™s unique storytelling voice.
The first sketch I wrote was of the main theme motif for the forest and the larger mysteries of the valley. I strongly felt that although a majority of the tensions in this first chapter of the story are basically light and fun, something of the upcoming weight of Fone and Thornâ€™s quest ought to be represented in the main theme for the game. The lyrical, flowing quality of this motif made it easy to tidily slip it into nearly any other piece of music. It appears at least once in virtually every piece of music in the game, and completely realized versions of the theme can be found in the main titles, and the forest theme.
Likewise, owing to my natural inclination to compose the mysterious stuff first, the second theme I wrote was the somewhat dark and foreboding motif for Great Red Dragon. There is the hint of a Coltranian jazz influence on the Dragonâ€™s theme - something that implies both his ancient spiritual nature as well as his undeniable coolness. If the Great Red Dragon is anything for certain, he is cool - probably the coolest. Even in his first brief appearances in the story we feel the dramatic weight his character possesses. Much like the Dragon himself, this theme pops in and out of the score, and is most strongly prominent in the tracks for the Dragon Stair, Thornâ€™s Nightmare, and of course The Red Dragonâ€™s Theme.
Harmonically, the main forest theme, and the Red Dragonâ€™s share a similar tonality - something that should point to the ancient and mysterious history of the dragons in the valley. Incidentally, the first part of Thornâ€™s theme is melodically related to the forest theme for a similar reason (to be more fully developed as her mythic destiny is fulfilled). Of course, Thornâ€™s primary dramatic function in this first installment is as an adorable love-interest for Fone, and therefore this initial setting of her theme is basically lush, romantic, and sweet. However, I tried to include a "larger than life" quality in her theme - something that will be extensively expanded upon as she grows and meets her fate in the upcoming installments.
Since they seem to operate almost exclusively by instinct and a more primitive brain function than anyone else in the story, The Rat Creaturesâ€™ theme is written for percussion alone. As the creatures grow in power and organization as the upcoming war progresses, we will hear this theme become a bit more grounded in that octatonic primitivism of Stravinsky and BartÃ²k that created such raw and brutal concert compositions in the early part of the 20th century. But for now, they just drum on.
Ted the Bugâ€™s theme is pure fun, and it afforded me the rare luxury of having a legitimate reason for using a slide whistle, a kazoo, and a jaw harp in the same piece of music.
Likewise, the Possum Kidsâ€™ theme is pure fun, with a bit of an Irish flare - my own little ode to all of those Disney films from the 50s and 60s when there always seemed to be at least one large family of animals that was Irish.
Ironically, one of the silliest and most comical themes of all is the most sparingly used in Out From Boneville. Phoneyâ€™s scheming theme - while the underlying foundation for the opening Desert track, and sneaking in and out of the locust chase music and the dinner conversation - is going to be fully cut-loose as we approach the great cow race and all of the barrelhaven shenanigans that are up-and-coming. Iâ€™m very much looking forward to it.
One of my favorite things about this project is the down-home Appalachian instrumentation that weaves its way in and out of the score - particularly in the parts of the story near Granâ€™ma Benâ€™s cabin. It was a fun way to ground the "stuck-in-the-past" quality of Smithâ€™s magical valley. It certainly helps to strongly contrast Roseâ€™s pace of life with Phoneyâ€™s sleazy big-business world of Boneville. For those who like it, there will be quite a bit more of this as we meet Lucius, and explore the town of Barrelhaven in the next installment of the game.
For most people words about music are much less interesting than the music itself, so I encourage you to download some or all of the tracks and let them speak for themselves. Hopefully they will bring you some of the same joys I had in writing them.
by Jared Emerson-Johnson
Greetings fellow Bone-heads™, at long last I'm taking a moment to write up a few words about the music for Telltale's second installment of Jeff Smith's utterly nifty Bone saga. Believe it or not, I've been meaning to draft up these notes for the better part of the year, but what with the excitement of Sam and Max season 1, there never seemed to be any time.
At any rate, with the recent release of the Bone Director's Cuts, now seems like as good a moment as any to strap on my typing fingers and talk a little bit about the score for the second game.
The first thing that's worth mentioning is that I had even more fun writing for Cow Race than I did on Out from Boneville. This was partly because there were so many delicious opportunities to elaborate on the motifs I established in the first game. It was also great to finally score Phoney, Barrelhaven, and to really meet (and control) Smiley bone - all of which received musical treatment Iâ€™d been plotting since before we began production on the first game.
I know I've mentioned it before a few times, but my favorite aspect of scoring Bone is that lovely balance between the comic and the serious - the rustic, and the mysterious. The Great Cow Race allowed for quite a bit more of both, and I had fun widely swinging from the rustic spring fair, to cranky/cartoony Phoney, to Barrelhaven's earnest melody, to Smiley's jaunty theme. And the best of all was the chance to mix them all together in the music for the cow race itself.
Regarding Smiley's Theme: I know a number of critics have compared Jeff Smith's artwork to the work of Walt Disney, and it's a comparison that seems appropriate to me - especially in the case of Smiley Bone. If you've ever been to one of the Disney theme parks, you'll probably agree that of all the Bone characters, Smiley seems the most like he'd feel at home in Disneyland. Not only does he look the part, but he is so absurdly carefree, I wanted his theme to have that light, Main Street USA, Americana sound. That's why it's infused with all of that Dixieland/ragtime/western swing - not to mention all of the little musical quotes from the early American songbook canon.*
You may also notice that the music for Gran'ma Ben's cabin (though it may seem all-new at first listen) is a fairly conservative variation on the themes that were established in the first game. If you play the games back-to-back, you'll hear expanded versions of some of those lilting, melancholy ideas that were only hinted at in the first game's score. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to unobtrusively develop ideas this way.
In the end, I suppose my main point (if any) is that I had a ball with this project, and I certainly hope each of you have as much fun listening to it as I did writing it.
Now before I go on too long (as I do), I'd best go back to dedicating my every waking moment (and the occasional dozing moment) to the music and sound for episodes 3-6 of Sam and Max.
Jared Emerson-Johnson * Interested in more about the music from Bone? (including more about the musical references in Smiley's theme) Check out this great interview with Jared conducted by the fine folks over at Mixnmojo.