A Score of Questions, Part 2

Back in July last year, we analyzed the pedigree of Halo Infinite‘s announced composers, as well as the music we’d heard thus far for Infinite. Later that year, we not only received new, complete pieces of music for the (now-delayed) game, but also news that another composer had been added to the roster—Joel Corelitz, who composed music for indie darling The Unfinished Swan (from What Remains of Edith Finch developer Giant Sparrow) as well as the blockbuster Death Stranding. Now that we have another portfolio to interrogate and music to look at, it’s worth revisiting our thoughts on how Infinite‘s soundscape is shaping up.

The long background on how the sound of Halo music came to be and the backgrounds of co-composers Curtis Schweitzer and Gareth Coker is covered fully in the previous article, so read that to catch up. But the short of it is that ultimately, Halo‘s music is founded on the interplay between strings, piano, and choral elements, and the emphasis on feelings of ancient and mysterious grandeur. You want to make a Halo game that feels like a Halo game, you need those things in some combination.

Now let’s look at Joel Corelitz. If you compare his work to that of Schweitzer and Coker, I think it’s fair to say he’s much more on the electronic/tech music side of the equation, similarly to Neil Davidge. The work his company Waveplant produces is generally very modern and electronic, as seen in the audio for the short “Loom” (if you don’t like spiders, you might want to take our word for the quality of the audio and skip it):

The music of Death Stranding, where Corelitz composed additional music alongside Swedish composer Ludvig Forssell, is far more ambient and “retro” than most anything we’ve seen in the portfolio of the other Infinite composers, with passages that feel they could score a cyberpunk film. But it also has more quiet or orchestral portions, that feel subdued for a Halo shooter but run in a similar vein as the backgrounded scores for Spartan Assault or Stephen Rippy’s Halo Wars:

A section of “An Endless Beach” from the Death Stranding soundtrack. The heavily-reverbed pianos are reminiscent of some of the music we’ve already heard from Infinite

It’s possible Corelitz will be focused more on the ambient/electronic aspects of the score in a similar way to how Davidge focused on those for Halo 4, although that doesn’t seem to be the case with what we’ve heard so far, where all the composers are offering music that could be for regular moment-to-moment gameplay or cinematics.

A few months after the E3 2020 showing, 343 did release additional full pieces of music. The first, Curtis Schweitzer’s “Reverie”, is like “Set a Fire in Your Heart”, mostly part of the E3 demo:

As mentioned, there’s a lot of pulsing synths underneath the opening passages, with a low, quiet brass laid on top; at 0:23 the horns pull what sounds like an E to B-flat drop that is a dead ringer for the end of Halo Online‘s “Ode to the Abyss”.

A section of “Ode to the Abyss”. That I keep hearing Tom Salta’s work reflected in the Infinite music is probably entirely coincidental, but I can’t stop hearing it, either.

After this initial section, around 0:30 we get a riff on the classic theme with the choir. It’s very interesting how the voices are used, however, and atypical with O’Donnell-Salvatori’s work. Combat Evolved obviously used male Gregorian-style chants, and in Halo 2 they began layering in much higher female voices; the opening to Halo 2‘s menu music demonstrates this approach, where the male voices go up and the female voices layer in at the high end of the soprano voice range:

In comparison, “Reverie” pulls a different trick: it starts with female voices firmly in the midrange of an alto, and drops down, with deep male voices providing the response. It’s less inspired by the Central European roots of Gregorian chant in the Catholic Church, than it is Russian choral music of the eastern Orthodox Church, which is famous for its rumbling-deep ocktavists. While the next passage brings the higher voices up again, it stays much lower than Halo 2‘s sound. Like with Coker’s “Set a Fire in Your Heart”, the piece does a lot of alternating between the musical voices.

After the choral-focused part, more instruments are brought in, with the strings and that Rippy/Saltaesque use of the piano again, before ending with some choral parts that riff around the Halo theme without ever going back to it, and some glassy synths and triangle hits.

The next piece, “Through the Trees”, is Corelitz’s first-heard piece for Infinite, and it’s a straightforward reinterpretation of “A Walk In the Woods”, heard in various forms in O’Donnell’s scores:

Here again is a swirling synth undercurrent that helps to unify all three composers’ work, along with a very light percussive streak. Some bleep-bloop-type electronic sounds do pop up, and of the three composer’s work Corelitz’s definitely features the most use of them—but they’re still pretty quiet, and used for flourish on top of other instruments, echoing the melody. Here, the choral component is much higher and much more reminiscent of O’Donnell-Salvatori’s work. In some ways, this one is actually the closest to a “classic” Halo piece of all the music for Infinite we’ve heard—the drum bridges throughout are very close to the rhythms in the “Another Walk” quote of the melody used in Halo 3.

With all three composers and examples of their music, I think we have a pretty solid idea of what Infinite‘s score is going to look like—heavy on reference to the old games, with a lot of work done to make it sound the same, but different. It’s not the most daring of approaches, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Halo‘s sound is one of its most greatest assets, and one worth treasuring.

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