Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: shadow of the colossus

NEW PIECE – “Colossus”

Hi everybody,

So, it’s been a big year.  In the last eight months, my family grew by one and I took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to pursue a Master’s degree in Composition from Brandon University.  I know, perhaps we could have timed that better but, as the old saying goes, “the right time is when it happens,” right?

Anyway, I’ve certainly learned a lot this year (from both experiences above) and I’m ready to share my second semester piece for concert band, “Colossus.” It’s a Level 5 piece–my first one–and it’s a programmatic tale about the dangers of human hubris… oh, and hunting a giant.

Giants are in folklore and media from across the world, though I’ve long been fascinated with the creatures who protect (rather than attack) humankind; the gryphon is one such creature, but what if it were a giant? Something like humans, but bigger? My first thought is that humanity would rather protect itself and that there would be great honour to whomever slayed the giant (because we are arrogant and often don’t trust what is there to protect us, right?).  However, even more provocative questions are “who will protect you when the giant is gone? And what were they protecting you from that you never even saw? And was removing your guardian even a good idea?” And my favourite one: “What happens now?”

(And if you think that humanity doesn’t behave that way, look no further than Brexit).

Video-Game-Shadow-of-the-Colossus-37265

You might also be thinking that this sounds a whole lot like the plot to Team Ico’s 2005 release Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 2 and you’d be right. In fact, there’s a great big quote for you about two-thirds of the way in.  I drew a lot of inspiration from the game’s narrative (including the piece’s title), but especially from the music.  I studied Gus Tredwell’s (The Slow Pianist on YouTube) piano transcriptions and looked at how all of that music was put together.  The title Colossus implies a Greek sensibility, as opposed to “giant” or “jotun” or something, so all of that is in there.

Even the structure has a Shadow of the Colossus element to it: It starts strong, but there is a long slow build as the giantslayer traverses the landscape, gradually growing in intensity as the colossus gets clearer into view, despite still being far away.  When the battle finally engages (with the band restating the opening motive), the music is dark and dramatic until the hero takes the upper hand, when it gets epic and victorious.  That last section, however, is very short and where we expect a triumphant ending, we get an unsettled ending, as though we may have done something we shouldn’t have.

Musically, I’m pretty outside of my comfort zone here.  There’s a lot of diminished and augmented harmony in the first half as dissonances stack through the band.  The second half of the piece is quite chromatic over pedal tones, so the different sections feel more like key areas and less like harmonic motion from chord to chord (slow harmonic motion is something I really worked on throughout the piece).

So, I hope you enjoy it and, if you want to play it, send me a note (in the “Contact” field) and let me know!

-K

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VGM Wednesday – “Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus

“Demise of the Ritual” from Shadow of the Colossus, by Ko Otani

Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games that I never, ever thought I would beat.  I don’t know why, but I had this fear of it, like I wasn’t very good or something.  I knew a ton of people who’d beaten it, but I never thought I’d be one of them…

… until one day I was.

I picked up the Ico/SOTC Remaster for PS3 and started playing it, getting to the third colossus and being unable to make the jump on the platform.  For those who’ve played, it’s this one:

3rdColossusJump

Ugh, so hard, except it’s not.  Once I learned the back jump control (R2 + looking back + triangle), it wasn’t hard at all.  I just didn’t understand the controls, which I needed to learn.  The game gave me a situation where I needed to figure it out so I could use it later on, which is just good game design.  Once I got it, I got it for the rest of the game.

Then I fought the colossus and fell into my old traps of thinking I couldn’t do it and that I wasn’t good enough to beat him.  How was I supposed to beat this game if I’m stuck on the third boss? There are thirteen more after this! So I kept running, falling off, and eventually dying.

But each time I died, I did a little better each time.  This is a concept that comes up in our classroom a lot: Failing better.  Every time I died, I was further along than I was before, and on the fourth round, I beat him and there was much rejoicing.  Then I fought the fourth one and beat it the first time, and the same with the fifth.  I was getting better.  I could do this.  As we say in the band room, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

I still died at times as the game progressed, but I was dying less and less and getting better at figuring the puzzle of beating each colossus.  The game got a lot more fun once I overcame my self-sabotage.  If I reframed my perception and my approach, the game (or, at least, the playing of it) was entirely different experience.  It was fun.  It was exhilarating.  There many times where Wander was literally holding on for dear life and I was right there with him.

Before I knew it, I was at the sixteenth and final colossus.  I had reached the end of a game I never thought I’d finish.

Malus-final-colossus

That’s where the music comes in.   Ko Otani’s score is absolutely gripping and I would finally hear “Demise of the Ritual” in the game environment.  A lot of the battle themes are moved around and reused, but not this one.  This one only happens during the last colossus and, in the spirit of honesty, I never thought I’d hear it while I was playing.

And hear it I did.  By the end of the nearly two-hour battle, I was humming all of the inside parts and singing some of the beautiful English Horn writing whenever it came up.  It’s a humbling experience to die five times on the final boss then win after hours of fighting, but I was failing better each time.  On my third attempt, I hadn’t even reached him yet and had no idea how to proceed.  It was one of those experiences where you just have no idea how you’ll ever succeed, where you collapse before you’re even close to the finish line.  And we’ve all been there, right? I’M SO TIRED AND IT’S ONLY TUESDAY!

But then you keep going.  You assess where you went wrong and what alternate solutions are.  You keep doing what you did right and changing what you did wrong.  If you don’t do something exactly correct, you practice until you get it, and that’s where video games shine:

If you can’t do it, you can’t move on.  There are no pity passes or half-marks, it’s pass/fail and that’s it*

In the end, I did it.  It was a gripping feeling to finally beat a game I didn’t think I could ever finish.  As weird as it sounds, sometimes I feel like a fraud or a phony for not beating games in the core repertoire.  Granted, there’s an argument that the need to finish games isn’t entirely necessary to experience them, but I try to finish things that I start.  I haven’t beaten Ocarina of Time yet, which is embarrassing, but I felt the same with it that I did with SOTC: I just can’t do it…

…except that I can, and taking down SOTC showed me that.  So  I guess I’d better get on that!

-K

PS: (I’m going to try to create some content again because that’s important)

* Mostly, not every single game has pass/fail, like that ridiculous option to skip parts you can’t beat in L.A. Noire, which is garbage.

VGM Wednesdays – ~Revived Power~ Battle with the Colossus

“~Revived Power~ Battle with the Colossus” from Shadow of the Colossus by Koh Otani, released in 2005.

How did this get published? This is supposed to be next week’s VGM Wednesday.  I must have hit “Publish” instead of “Schedule”…

Oh well, I guess it’s already out there!

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Aren’t you pumped now? What a ride!

I love so many things about this game’s score.  There is an Into the Score episode on this game and it’s still one of my favourites to this day.  The battle music in this game works in pairs – there is a piece that’s darker more ominous when we first begin our fight, then when we unlock the secret of the Colossus’s weakness, this upbeat and inspiring music plays.

This is the latter.

But this score is so much more than that.  As one of the loneliest games that you may play, the absence of music becomes very prevalent as you and Agro traverse across the barren landscape.  Lots of browns and sunken greens, faded colours and a pale sky.  Ugh, crushing.

I could write and write and write about this episode, but I’d mostly be rehashing the podcast episode.  If you want to hear it, it’s down below!

I can’t recommend this game enough.

Happy (or not-so-happy) playing,
Kenley