This is my entry for the Spitfire Audio / HBO Westworld Scoring Competition 2020. A four-minute car chase scene from Westworld Series 3 Episode 5 was provided. The music on the version of the scene that aired was Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Of course I immediately thought, I can improve on that. Just kidding, but the competition was a nice excuse to hone these skills and come up with something interesting.
My composition takes advantage of the anatomy of diminished chords. Diminished chords create a sense of tension, they sound fairly discordant in isolation. Within a composition, this tension is usually resolved when the chord changes to a more conventional major or minor chord. Diminished chords can be really effective within a chord sequence, creating depth and interest, but the diminished chord is usually a supporting character, it’s rarely the star in its own right. For this sequence, I decided to build everything on a single diminished chord, only straying from it once or twice.
The diminished D uses the notes D, F, G# and B. Each of these notes is 3 semitones apart, this 3 semitone interval continues up and down the keyboard in both directions to create different voicings of the same chord. It is the bass notes that define the root of the chord. So the diminished D becomes a diminished F, diminished G#, or diminished B if you change the bass note. In a sense, these are all the same chord, it’s all the same notes just with different bass emphasis. The bass note riffs (played on layered string pads) jump between these alternate root notes, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. In the background, the timpani pulses like a war drum, alternating the D note in two octaves. BOM-bom-BOM-bom!
For the car chase, I extracted as much tension from the diminished chord as I could. It never resolves, it only changes form. The one exception is the moment when the homing missile is fired. The music ceases for a moment, the missile misses the car. As the missile flies into the air and turns around again to seek its target, I added some other chords around the diminished chord, then I return to the recurring motif just before the missile hits the car. Another beat of silence, and the return of the ominous long bass note as we see another pursuant car emerge from the flames of the destroyed car’s wreckage.
I’m fairly happy with how this came out. Whether or not it leads to paid work scoring for HBO or a collaboration with Ramin Djawadi, I can at least take solace in the fact that I kicked Wagner’s ass. I’m sure we can all agree on that.
This is the company that got there first. We were always going to create communities. This is where we ended up doing it. And a few years after we did, after enough of us joined, this is the company that slashed the organic reach of artists and community groups and started deciding what you see and what you don’t see based on who pays them.
This is the company that makes manipulative sentimental ads for the friends who keep you on their platform the longest. This is the company that inserted itself into every relationship in your life and allows an algorithm to mediate your experience.
This is the company that keeps tabs on people who don’t even have a profile. This is the company that spies on you, even when you’re not on their website. They have every photo of you and they made computer systems that can recognise you.
This is the company that failed to keep your data safe, that sold your secrets to an invisible mob of shady internet bottom-feeders. This is the company that allowed US Election ads paid for in rubles. This is the company that enabled filter bubbles, hate speech, and propaganda – to the point where Donald Trump got elected president… and beyond.
It keeps getting worse and worse. I keep wishing we had something better.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I can continue to work from home through this crisis, so there’s no huge stressful financial component to this for me, not yet anyway. Being stuck at home, restricted movement, it all sucks. But I don’t have that crushing feeling in my chest that I had when I was unemployed, when I was vulnerable and the Department of Social Protection ceased my benefits. That’s not a story I’m willing to tell. I could lay out the simple facts of it, but it doesn’t capture the existential terror of feeling that you are outside society, without prospects, without allies, without value.
I never fully recovered from that. It was over five years ago, but I am still feeling the emotional aftershocks of experiencing how easy it is to fall between the cracks and disappear completely. I have been self-isolating already for years, because the person I used to be was completely destroyed by the experience of adapting to corporate slavery after the ordeal of unemployment.
A slave, that’s really how I see myself. That’s really how I see the world. We are all slaves under a broken economic system and a legal system so steeped in corruption that the wealthy have for centuries made the rules in their own favour. We haven’t really moved on from feudal times, not that much. We serfs just have more things to distract us. I know I’m not going to change the world with an expletive-laden rant, so thank fucking God for all those fucking distractions.
Day one of lockdown, I did something I had been meaning to do for a while. I created a Patreon account and started contributing money to some of the creators whose work I value. I’m not being too extravagant, I need to save for my future. I’ve got a kid on the way. But I can spare some money for the musicians, comedians, podcasters, and creators who continue to enrich my life.
All in, I’m only spending like €20 a month on Patreon. It’s not going to break me, but it will make a big difference to them, especially since I intend to continue it indefinitely. I sent €250 to a friend of mine living in the US who couldn’t afford groceries or toilet paper. I sent €100 to another friend living locally whose livelihood is badly affected. I buy albums from local musicians on Bandcamp (#FairTradeForMusic).
What else can I do? In the coming months, I hope to support local businesses as they reopen. I want to buy local goods and support my community – more than I did before. I was lazy. I was inattentive. I was resigned to the way things were. It doesn’t have to be that way. I want this crisis to inspire me to believe in a better world. I hope others will feel the same, and regard their spending power for what it is – the power to reshape the world. What you choose to consume and spend money on shapes the world around you.
For the people now facing unemployment and uncertainty about the future, it’s much worse than it was for me. At least I theoretically had the hope of finding a job. With everything shut down, the people who have nothing now must be feeling unbearable levels of anxiety and panic. The crisis brings it all into sharp relief. We are in this together, and we need to look after each other.