Friday, October 19, 2012

Theremin Thursdays

So, I have been thinking about starting up some day related themes on Gaming with Chuck, and I believe that Thursdays are a good day (as good as any) to explore music, and the relationship between gaming and music that is inspirational for gaming.

 So why the Theremin?

Well, first, because it is a fascinating and geeky instrument.

Second, because it goes so well alliteratively with Thursday.

And third, because - it is often (mistakenly) credited as the secret behind the soundtrack of one of the best Science Fiction movies of all time.

The movie, of course, is Forbidden Planet. By all means watch it again, and soon. The movie really is better than you remember - and responsible for SO MUCH more that comes after it in science fiction in popular media (which includes not only Movies, but Music, RPGs, and Computer Gaming - amongst other things).

The soundtrack was done completely as electronica, although not using the Theremin.  The soundtrack for Forbidden Planet was composed and written by Louis and Bebe Barron, and they referred to the revolutionary music as Electronic Tonalities.  This was done largely on scratch built equipment - crude synthesizers hand built by Louis, some 8 years before the first Moog.  But it was not on a Theremin. There is a nice short on youtube talking about the project and the results.

Here is a sample of the electronic tonalities from Forbidden Planet - this is a composition inspired by the long forgotten civilization of the ancient Krell.

The first (perhaps only?) movie that featured a soundtrack including a Theremin was Spellbound, by Alfred Hitchcock.  A great movie in it's own right, but not nearly so influential (at least at Gaming with Chuck HQ) as Forbidden Planet. Spellbound features the theme of madness - so features art inspired by Salvador Dali, and also the lovely Theremin infused with the orchestral score.

Okay, enough about movies, how about gaming?  Well, glad you asked, gentle reader.  There is an interesting theremin composition available that celebrates the music of the Legend of Zelda.

Which brings up an excellent segue - There is a great Zelda Medley composition that has been put together and performed by Lindsey Stirling.  Lindsey is a very geeky - and extremely talented - musician.  Here is her Zelda Medley (she plays the violin - incredibly well).

An unscientific poll has found that most gamers find Lindsey to be a much cuter Link than Link.

In addition to her Zelda Medley, Lindsey has done some other pieces that might be of interest to gamers.  These include:
Before going on to the gaming connection, it is only right to point out that the instrument that started this conversation - the theremin - has been featured in one of the cultural icon programs of our time - Big Bang Theory.  Here is a clip of Sheldon Cooper playing his theremin (which I think is a Moog Etherwave).

Segue - Although Sheldon Cooper was inspired to take up the theremin, it was NOT used in the soundtrack (or theme music) for the original Star Trek series (or any follow on).  It was, however, used in The Day the Earth Stood Still (second best early Robot sci-fi film, after the before mentioned Forbidden Planet).  That movie segues into other conversations related to films and gaming, which we will not pursue here, other than to say Klaatu Barada cough-cough-cough.

Okay, the tabletop gaming link to all of this.

Well, first of all there is a HUGE impact of classic sci fi on one of my favorite RPGs of all time - classic Traveller.  Available still today, 35 years after its initial release in 1977 (same year as Star Wars).  The current version that is a favorite at Gaming with Chuck is the Mongoose Games reprint, also known in some circles as Riki-Tiki-Traveller.  But when playing a classic Traveller adventure, such as Shadows, or Annic Nova, or Research Station Gamma, you can just hear the theremin music playing in the background.  More on Traveller in postings to follow soon.

Okay, Lindsey Stirling was mentioned.  While not at all related to the Theremin, it is music that has a STRONG relation to gaming.  Lets look at her songs.  First there is the Legend of Zelda composition - based on a game series (a very popular one) on a variety of different game platforms.

Next is the theme song from Skyrim.  An incredibly popular game, and soon to be the basis for a new MMORPG. The other day, while perusing game books in a book store, I found an impressive "cheat" book for Skyrim, located with the RPG books.  I flipped through it - even if you never played the electronic game (on a PC), the amount of material in there could make for a quite impressive table top RPG setting.  Dungeons, background, history, etc etc etc.  Well done.

Next up from Lindsey Stirling and Peter Hollen is the Game of Thrones piece that they did.  Impressive, and based on the tv series' that have been on (and no doubt, yet to come).  There are a number of really interesting games out for Game of Thrones, for the tabletop, including a great living card game, and several board games.  One of my favorite is the tactical battles game, Battles of Westeros.  The base game comes with armies, cards, and scenarios for clashes between the Stark family and the Lannister family.  Lots of add-ons expand those two, as well as adding lots of other factions (and armies).  Great looking map, great scenarios, and really nice plastic miniatures.  It is also related to one of my favorite board game designs, which has been covered on Gaming with Chuck before - the Command and Colors games (including Battle Lore).

 There is also a multi-player game, that covers the power struggles between the different households, as they all struggle to become high king.  Great game, with really nice components, out of print for a while but Fantasy Flight Games recently released a second edition.  This game was designed by Christian Peterson, who does a lot of the designs for Fantasy Flight, and is becoming quite a good game designer (some say, all Ameritrash, but I don't think so - this one title, at least, shows heavy Euro influence).

Finally, of course, from Lindsey is her Lord of the Rings medley (she even sings on that one).  Great job, again, and very inspirational.  The number of games influenced by the Lord of the Rings is, of course, too many to number here.  I will mention, however, the FANTASTIC job that Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) did, at one time, of chronicling the man lands and sites of Middle Earth for gaming purposes.  Their guides and modules were aimed primarily at their own Middle Earth Role Playing game (still very good, and very playable), and also their magnum opus Rolemaster (RM). RM started out as an add-on to Dungeons and Dragons, presenting modules that could replace weapon combat (Arms Law), beast and monster combat (Claw Law), and magic (Spell Law).  The first two were later combined into Arm Law/Claw Law.  ICE would go on to produce their own core game, in the book Character Law.  They would add to it, a monster and treasure book (called Creatures and Treasures), and some modules in their own world.  They would eventually produce a much more interesting world, Shadow World.  But the best stuff (hands down) that they ever did for fantasy was the extensive Middle Earth series.  They produced Middle Earth Roleplaying as an introductory version of RM, and suited for more casual gamers.  Many of their products are available as cheap (or sometimes free) PDFs on sites such as Drive Thru RPG, or RPGNow.

One of the most fabulous things about many of the Middle Earth products from ICE was the Angus McBride cover art.  Wow.   Other than the Brothers Hildebrandt, I think that Angus McBride inspired me the most in thinking about the visuals of Middle Earth.

French Language release of the excellent Middle Earth module, Carolan
 Without getting into the equally impressive list of Science Fiction games that were based on Star Trek, I will call an end to this article, but tune in again next week for more on Gaming and Music, on Theremin Thursdays, here at Gaming with Chuck.

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