Cyberpunk Music

The machine sings to me...
The machine sings to me…

January 24, 2013

Music and gaming go hand in hand like peanut butter and chocolate. Or peanut butter and apples. Or peanut butter and chicken. If mixed into a sauce.

For our Shadowrun games, though, I had a problem. I’ve got plenty of fantasy soundtracks and atmospheric music for a Medieval Eurpean-style world, even music from other parts of the world like the Middle East. Shadowrun, though, presented a problem. The 4th Edition anniversary handbook had a lot to say about music in the Sixth World.

While traditional acoustic instruments still exist, these are relegated to niche markets. Most music may still use electric instruments or their acoustic counterparts, but the majority of music is composed mentally through cyberlinks. Genres such as goblin rock, synthrash, and neo-classical are commonplace. How would I replicate this using music from 2013?

First thing’s first.

I created five playlist requirements. Firstly, I needed ambient music to simply have on at any point in the game. Secondly, I needed three distinct genre playlists for clubs or neighborhoods. Finally, I needed music to play while a battle raged on.

Music II by ~me-are-cus on deviantART

The background music was fairly simple. I wanted synthetic sounds, but I also wanted a mix of actual instruments. Bear McCreary’s soundtrack for Battlestar Galactica provided tracks like “The Card Game” and “The Cylon Prisoner,” slightly off-kilter music that was still mellow enough to just play in the background. A few tracks from the 24 soundtrack like “Jack on the Move” and “LA at 9am” gave some synthetics and percussion. Once I knew the kind of sound I wanted, I added a few tracks from Bryan Tyler and Marco Beltrami. It may have only been 20 minutes worth of music, but the final listing is slow enough to just set the mood and odd enough to sound otherworldly. Plus, it can loop without being obvious.

The next three playlists would be more difficult.

First, I wanted a club mix. The easiest thing would have been to just look for some popular dance mixes and use those, but I wanted something that was more than just repetitive “umphts” over and over again. I wanted lyrics if possible. I wanted a combination of sounds to showcase the wild spectrum of music in the Sixth World. The Appleseed soundtrack had a few entries such as “Anthem”, as did the Animatrix soundtrack with songs like “Martenot Waves” and “Big Wednesday.” I chose them because there was actual texture to the music. I rounded the whole thing off with some Velvet Acid Christ since, let’s face it, heavily electronic music that resembles white noise will probably be very popular in this world.

music II by ~asmo0o on deviantART

The rock playlist was easier since it’s my favorite genre. I wanted rock music with a little bit of electronic, maybe some traditional instruments thrown in to represent the fusion of genres in Shadowrun. I started with a little Deftones, Filter, and Celldweller. Songs like “Change (In the House of Flies),” “American Cliché,” “Symbiont” were slightly electronic, and industrial, which I thought went well with the setting. More traditional rock music like Stone Sour’s “Monolith” and a few bands from The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack gave me the kind of grungy sound I was looking for, too. I resisted the urge to put in a lot of hard rock or heavy metal because I didn’t want music that might just sound like white noise, unlike some of the club mix.

The hip-hop playlist was probably my favorite to put together even though I like rock more. Hip hop started out as a way to express urban problems through music, and if there’s one thing that exists in Shadowrun, it’s urban problems. I didn’t want Top 40 stuff, though. I wanted something that, like the other mixes, had texture and maybe even odd instrumentals. I started with Atmosphere’s “Say Hey There” and Fort Minor’s “Kenji” because of the down to earth feel I think is really missing from a lot of music. It’s both lyrical and musical. I added a few tracks by Tricky, including “Christiansands” and “Antihistamine,” for dark atmospheric.

For the fights, though, I could finally cut loose with the fast tracks. Techno, heavy metal, the works.

In the end, I ended up with music that was dark, slow, and brooding when it needed to be, but also fast and electronic. There were some Asian influences, certainly a mix of genres, and that’s really what I was looking for. So far, the music has helped set the mood and tone of the game, and the various mixes are long enough that I can swap them around and they haven’t looped yet.

That’s it for me this week. I’ve been taking care of my sick wife and work started properly this week, so I’m beat. Keep sharing the articles, follow me on Facebook for up-to-the-minute rants and links, and I’ll see you all around.

In the meantime, let’s watch and enjoy Gerard Butler doing what he should really stick to doing in film: kicking ass and taking names. Enough romantic comedies already!

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