James Semple on Music for Over the Edge: Volume 1 - Urban
We at Atlas hope you've been enjoying the third edition of Over the Edge. In addition to the core rulebook and revised map, we have an adventure anthology on the way for you. What better way to set the mood for a session than with a custom soundtrack? Today, we hear from Sounds from the Edge composer James A. Semple to hear about his process for creating the music for Over the Edge.
You can listen to the track "Welcome to the Island," explained by James below, while you read this post! It's on SoundCloud.
Over to you, James!
When starting a project like the Over The Edge music I usually have to chat with the creators about a few things. Firstly, what is the purpose of the music? Does it have utility? Is it simply there to suggest an atmosphere, inspire GMs while writing, play in the background while people are gaming? Are certain tracks tied to specifics within the game? In the case of Over The Edge we decided to break down the music into three albums of six tracks. Each album would be tied to a specific aspect of the game. With this in mind we look at the second main area: what am I using the music to describe? This is often a long conversation with the creators because they will often have very specific thoughts as to what the music should and shouldn’t be.
Splitting the music of Over The Edge into 3 suites allowed me to vary the music somewhat. We found it natural to tie the music to the ruling family of the island and tie a quality of the island to each of the siblings:
- His Unassailability Jean-Christophe D’Aubainne, the reclusive figurehead of the State who has inherited power from Our Martyred Leader (and also cracked the fractional dimensional code, allowing him to slip the bonds of four-dimensional space-time, at least fractionally).
- Sir Constance, the Mistress of All That Changes Hands and owner of Swaps, XXX. Her authority and influence on the Island only extends so far as there is truck, barter, trade, loans, rents, royalties, fees, sales, and investments. In other words, she’s everywhere.
- Sister Cheryl, whose center of power is the Temple of the Divine Experience, where she rules over her devoted followers through sheer charisma. Spirituality takes all forms in Al Amarja, and she takes her cut from each.
With [the first volume,] Urban we began by focusing on Jean-Christophe, the head of state. Here we see the ‘face’ of the island’s culture and particularly the face it presents to the outside world. At the same time we also feel the real urban qualities of the island seeping through the music suggesting the truth of what life is like here, despite the PR.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in the track "Welcome to the Island." For this I imagined music that would function as the ‘theme tune’ for the island. Initially I was inspired by the schmaltzy smooth music from 1950s American tv commercials. This post-war period was famously a big commercial boom and these commercials really pushed the promise of a new life and bright new future. I wanted to capture this hopeful, superficially optimistic style including the fact that sounds dated by today’s standards. Of course another place this style of music had resurfaced was within John Barry’s wonderful music for James Bond. Much of his smoother music focused around an orchestral sound with jazz sensibilities. It captured that suave sophisticated yet exotic and even nostalgic quality the Bond movies possess.
With all this in mind, "Welcome to the Island" opens with the glossy harp glissando and smooth strings. The melody initially seems bright and optimistic yet quickly veers off course into unexpected note choices. It can’t quite hide a slightly dark unsettling quality as chromatic dissonant minor harmonies pull away from that expected sound. After the opening A section we drop the pretence entirely and pull back to a gentle harp with pianissimo muted brass chords. Here the mysterious qualities of the island are brought to the fore.
I was fortunate enough to have the wonderful Andy Findon playing alto flute for this part. Andy is a seasoned veteran player who has played on many James Bond scores and of course he performed this beautifully breathing life into the slinking melody. Again it’s a familiar sound to listeners suggesting creeping around in potentially unsafe territory. From here our track in turn gives way to a more modern sound as we glimpse at the real street life of the island, here represented by hip-hop beats and ‘sound design’ aspects. Finally the main theme reclaims the track but with the modern beats underneath it much as the rich quarters of the city sit atop the urban streets. The culmination of the island theme encompasses the true nature of the island - glitz and grime together.