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Non-Linear Music – Asa Gray, Intern

There is a rapidly growing number of composers who want to make their living in the video game industry. Writing music for interactive media is a thrilling task. The possibilities for creative expression are literally limitless, and video games are basically the coolest thing since fireball throwing ninjas. The bad news for composers is that the game industry, while growing, is already pretty saturated with composers eager to hear their music over images of said ninjas. To stay competitive it’s wise to acquire other skills relevant to the medium. The most closely related skill is sound design, but a proper education in sound design during your fourth year as a film scoring major can be elusive.

Interning at the non-profit interactive media developer Public VR, I am tasked with creating full soundscapes for the company’s projects. I have been able to develop my passion for composing non-linear music, and to learn sound design by actually creating sound effects and placing them in a virtual world. I’ve found that composition leads naturally into sound design. The instruments are different, but the process of imagining sounds and making them appear in your DAW of choice is largely the same. The level of expression that can be achieved in the absence of clear pitch and metric rhythms is remarkable. What’s more, as both composer and sound designer, I am able to build a cohesive sonic atmosphere, and avoid having to suffer the pain of seeing my music turned down while the sound effects get cranked to 11. The music and sound effects can support each other at a reasonable volume.

Music and sound effects are becoming inseparable art forms. Together they immerse the player in a virtual world, they drive the gameplay forward, or they make a game unpleasant and unplayable. If you want to make great game music, it’s best to know how to make great effects.

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Asa Gray is a 7th semester Film Scoring and Composition dual major, currently interning with Public VR. You can contact Asa at: asa dot gray at gmail dot com.

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2 Comments

  1. Brian Curr

    Asa –

    Atonal music is a basic concept. I think I understand the definition of non-linear music. Can you provide more detail?

    Also, is DAW a specific computer program?

    Much appreciation,

    -Brian Curr

  2. Asa Gray

    Brian –

    Tonality and linearity are separate concepts, tonality dealing with the way pitches relate to one another, and linearity dealing with how a piece unfolds over time. Most music is linear, having a clear arc as the piece continues, an arc determined by the composer (the first verse of Billie Jean will always be followed by the first chorus of Billie Jean). In a game, the player determines the course of the music. A player may advance to the next stage at any point in time, and the music can’t stubbornly refuse to change because the loop isn’t finished, it has to somehow transition into the next section. Because the music doesn’t follow a rigid predetermined path, it is described as non-linear.

    DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation, the main tool of anyone working with recorded sound. Some common DAWs are ProTools, Logic, and Digital Performer.

    -Asa Gray
    Asa

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