Over the past week, we've delved deeper into the renowned city of Westmarch, giving you a first look at its history, visual landscape, and bestiary. But there's still one more important design element to explore: its music!
To whet your auditory appetite, we've put together an exclusive preview track featuring just a small sample of new melodies you'll hear as you help defend this besieged metropolis against the Angel of Death. So grab your headphones, Sanctuary; stay awhile and listen.
To get a better understanding of what goes into creating a soundtrack for a game like Reaper of Souls™, we also sat down with Diablo® III Music Director Derek Duke for a quick Q&A.
Q. When setting out to create the soundtrack for Westmarch, where did you begin?
Derek: The music of Westmarch was some of the first created for Reaper of Souls. In fact, it was written while I'd just started working on the opening cinematic. The soundtrack for Westmarch picks up right after the opening cinematic ends, so it has to instantly get you into that dark, dangerous, gothic sort of pace.
I really wanted to match that pace and encapsulate the creepy, ominous vibe the developers were going for with Westmarch in that early music. That all begun with the instrumentation. The orchestral voicing used in Reaper of Souls, and particularly in Westmarch, is weighted a bit more traditionally. This means more woodwinds and less brass than what’s commonly used in today's scores. To my ear, it makes a big difference, and puts the orchestral emphasis a bit more on voicing (harmonized melodies that contain one or more instruments) and colors (the quality of the sound, or timbre).
Q. What's unique about the Westmarch soundtrack? Are there any particular instruments or themes that are specific to the zone?
Derek: In Westmarch, I'd say sonic themes in the music work to propel the story by creating associations.
For example, there are a couple of the themes and musical textures established and attached to Malthael from the very beginning, starting in the intro cinematic with his arrival.
There's a deep, otherworldly moaning underneath the strings. We use a percussion technique to get that sound out of the timpani and bass drum by rubbing it with a super-ball or wet finger. (My producer had a real "WTF" moment when he heard that sound coming from the orchestra, by the way.) Following that with the orchestral bells seemed the obvious choice for the Angel of Death—a character not for whom the bell tolls, but the one who's holding the bell and tolling it for everyone else.
These musical textures and combinations are often the sign of Malthael's presence or the harbinger of his arrival. As you play through Westmarch, you hear these musical ideas used throughout the music, changing and evolving contextually as the story moves forward. Keep an ear out for them!
Q. So, there are themes tied to specific characters, but what about specific locations? Are there certain themes or portions of music for different parts of the city?
Derek: Yes, definitely. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but it's the time and places and evolution of the music pieces that help to move the story forward.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the track you’re sharing with us today?
Derek: Like much of the in-game music in Diablo III and Reaper of Souls, this an arrangement of several music pieces, some assorted flavors.
It starts with some of the broad Westmarch crescendos or swells, and you’ll hear the giant tam-tam (or gong), and bowed acoustic guitar playing above.
It then moves in to the Y'Anu theme over the moaning tympani and bass drum. This theme is first heard in the Reaper of Souls intro cinematic, which takes place in the Tomb of Rakkis where Tyrael attempts to hide the Black Soulstone. Y'Anu was written as a meditative chant of the Horadrim whereby the acolyte could meditate on the mysteries of Anu, or The One.
And last but not least, Malthael's signature theme (which I mentioned above) buttons up the end.
Thanks for listening, and I hope you all enjoy!