More about the music behind the episodes

Every month I write a new sound track for the upcoming episode for The Tales of Sage and Savant. Sometimes I begin playing with themes and settings before the episode is recorded, but most of the time I don’t begin the music until the episode is finished, voice, sound effects and all. In some respects, this is like a film, the score comes after everything is is done.

One of the things I’ve learned in the process is how much the music sits under the rest of the sound. The dialog, particularly in audio drama, has to be at the fore. If the music obscures the dialog, then it fails. That’s the sound engineer’s job (which is also me), but the composer has to think about this when writing the music. Themes and orchestration that are too busy either get lost under the scene, so the complexity is lost, or they steal focus. Again, not good for the episode.

Much of my orchestral music is very complex. I like the density of rhythm and orchestration. Learning to pull this back and pare it down to the barest essentials has been an interesting process. In episode 309: We Know Not What We May Become, the characters travel to Czarina Catherine’s reign. I wanted the music to have a Russian feel, taking influence from Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky. The music of these masters is anything but simple, often laying theme over theme to create their sound.

I started the episode with a simple violin over low strings. Dr Sage has yet to Transmigrate, but I wanted to set the tonal feel for the episode.

When the characters do end up in Russia, I introduce them with “To Russia.”

This begins with low strings and brass and a simple melody. Eventually, a second melody is placed over it, but only when the initial theme has time to play out and become effective background for the additional music.

Because so much of the music is under the voices and action, it can get a bit repetitive. Even laying a melody on top of a repeating figure does little to keep the music interesting all by itself.

There is over three minutes of ‘action’ at the beginning of episode 309. “Surprise in the Lab” moves with the scene, but as a stand alone piece, it doesn’t seem to do music.

However, in “Chasing After Dr Sage” the music has several mood. This reflects the shifting emotions of the scene as it plays out.

When Professor Erasmus returns to the lab, he finds himself in a number of different situations. “Back to the Lab” reflects this as the piece shifts even more through the various moods.

You may have noticed, I have not created an album for every episode. I have written music for each episode, but it takes time to convert the music used in the episode to something I can post on Bandcamp. Even then, as with episode 309, the music hasn’t gone through the processes it should to be a stand alone album. The themes need to be drawn out and developed. Music, like the podcast, has a narrative, but the narrative that plays out in the podcast doesn’t necessarily translate to a narrative in music.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned through the process is how very different soundtrack music is from something you’d hear on a CD. This gives me new appreciation for the soundtracks Hollywood releases. The composers have to go back through the music and massage a great deal to make it work as stand alone instrumental music.

I will continue to write soundtracks for the episodes. Occasionally, I will post them to Bandcamp.


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