Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Sound of D&D

If you are asked for a musical genre to associate with the fantasy/SF genre, you'd probably choose metal, thinking of, for example:






Alternatively, you might choose the Gustav Holst-inspired film soundtrack classical end of the spectrum, also encompassing whatever type of music Enya is:





Neither of these has ever really sounded like the music that is going on inside my head when I read fantasy and SF fiction or play D&D, though. Fantasy/SF-inspired metal is generally too self-consciously doom-laden, and the classical-inspired stuff tends to be too faux-portentous or grandiose (much as I love me some Wrath of Khan OST).

These things are all a matter of taste, of course, but I more and more am coming around to 1970s jazz fusion as my personal backing music for D&D - specifically, the music generated by the weird conglomeration of virtuosos surrounding keyboard legend and crazed scientologist Chick Corea, particularly the outfit Return to Forever.  What is it about this music that screams JACK VANCE MOTHERFUCKER so loudly in my ear? Is it just that I can totally imagine a Dying-Earth spellcaster mixing potions in her laboratory to this soundtrack in some long-forgotten late-70s exploitation flick?:



Or this kind of sounds like the background music playing while somebody is travelling across the countryside in a never-made anime version of Lyonesse?




Or that this actually does sound like an alien chase in an Arabian desert (wait until the 2:25 mark)?



Or that it sort of feels like Cugel could be in the audience here, nodding his approval?



16 comments:

  1. This question is highly setting dependent to my ears, but if I'm thinking of the Byfield influenced, Moldvayish ur-D&D there's a species of vibesy, melancholic eurojazz around the turn of the 70s that conjures that mood somewhere in my brain. Probably connected to the kind of soundtracking in Italian sword and sandal and fantasy film.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpe7ch8ZmDw

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    1. Or this piece of swedish tolkien-prog
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC1vpEGLpdQ

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    2. Man yes, that Paesaggi one is so on the money for what I'm talking about.

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    3. i think there's an Et in Arcadia ego note that's being hit there - lilting but also foreboding or communicating longing that can't be fulfilled.

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  2. Maybe because this was the soundtrack of mid-to-low-budget fantasy and sci-fi fare of the '70s and '80s? There was an educational program about libraries with the awesome name "Tomes & Talismans" whose opening I can still remember today. Everyone remembers the lovely if ill-suited keyboard-dominated soundtrack to Ladyhawke, but most forget the soundtrack from Hawk the Slayer or the (far superior) soundtrack from Knopfler for The Princess Bride. (Fewer still probably remember The Archer: Fugitive From the Empire at all.) And the BBC had an electronic-heavy Clannad do the soundtrack for their fantasy-leaning version of Robin Hood. I don't see a huge leap from these to your jazz fusion preferences.

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    1. That Clannad video is hilarious.

      You are almost certainly right. I wonder if it's just that synths are cheaper than orchestras?

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    2. Mostly that, though I imagine the chance to get "spooky, eldritch" not-theremin noises helps.

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    3. Oh how I loathed the Ladyhawke soundtrack back in the day -- mostly because I loved the movie so much and found it such a poor fit. I've mellowed a bit over the years since, and can accept it nostalgically, perhaps because it evokes some of the jazz fusion/prog rock stuff I associate with my early RPG experiences.

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  3. Ha, I have been doing the same thing for a while. Playing light jazz under my recorded online game sessions. I'm thinking of going all audio with new recordings going forward and start laying this stuff as a replay music bed.

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  4. Having started playing D&D in its earliest years, circa 1975-76 (and largely having left it for other RPG genres in the early '80s), my musical association is always prog rock, which a lot of that jazz fusion stuff is actually pretty close to. I was never a particular fan of it, but our GM was, and that's how you get imprinted with things.

    I favor soundtracks for RPGs nowadays, or soundtrack-like music like Two Steps From Hell or E.S. Posthumus/Les Friction. I do prefer more anonymous soundtrack material like Jerry Goldsmith's unused score for Legend over more immediately recognizable stuff like Wrath of Khan, though.

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    1. Yeah, a lot of this stuff you could think of as being kind of "prog jazz". It's amazing how much musical experimentation was going on in the 70s - admittedly not always particularly listenable!

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    2. I feel like there was almost something in the air in the 70s - film, literature and music all having a collective fantasy/SF moment. Maybe an idea for a future post.

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  5. For some reason, I always think of Planescape and the Lady of Pain when I listen to ELO's "Queen of Hours".

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  6. My brief attempt at an Against the Wicked City campaign used Batzorig Vaanchig for some theme music. Obvious, yes, but a great way to set the tone for a group of 5e players who see D&D and think Faerun.

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    1. I have no idea what Batzorig Vaanchig is but will investigate.

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