Age of Empires IV: The Byzantines and Japanese


The Sultans Ascend: Creating the music for the new expansion

The game continues with exciting new content

Age of Empires IV - Hero

Project: Age of Empires IV

Client: Relic Entertainment, World’s Edge

We Did: Music Composition • Orchestra, Choir, Soloist Recordings


Our composers have struck the right chord once again, composing a melodious soundtrack that combines the specifics of each civilization’s traditional music with the overall soundtrack and sound design. Our long-standing partnership with Relic Entertainment and World’s Edge continues to be positively melodic, as we’ve worked closely with the Relic Audio team to develop the score for the Byzantine and Japanese civilizations that are featured in this latest expansion.

Christian Wirtz, Nicolo Patricio, Dominik Morgenroth, and Henning Nugel – our composer team tackling the task – drew their inspiration from traditional instruments and chants to craft authentic-sounding themes for each culture. The creative process was filled with Zen as they blended their different strengths and specialties to explore the new in-game cultures. From powerful taiko drumming to ethereal Byzantine chants, The Sultans Ascend soundtrack will transport players to truly diverse realms.

The expansion also features “re-imagined variants” of civilizations that are already in-game, which include new heroes, units, and strategies. Our team worked on the video music for the Abbasid Dynasty variant.

We’re proud to continue working on soundtracks with Relic Entertainment for the Age of Empires IV. We hope our melodies help to immerse players in the gameplay and further develop the atmosphere of playing each civilization. It’s been a privilege to work again alongside the Relic team – we look forward to more musical memories together!

For the music of the Ottomans and Malians, which are not part of The Sultans Ascend expansion, Dynamedion composers Christian Wirtz, Alexander Röder, Henning Nugel and Armin Haas set to the task.

The adaptive music of Age of Empires

Before even broaching the subject of their assigned civilizations, the composers had to get familiar with the game system and the various ways it handles the music. The choices that players make in the game have an impact on Age of Empires IV’s intricate layering and seamless transitions. At any point, the music may go from a relaxed exploratory state to a tense or aggressive one, or from light to heavy fighting. Variations exist for each age of the game as well, and they tend to get increasingly complex as the gameplay advances. When a player enters a new Age, for example, the tone shifts and elements are added in, and there are entrance and exit pieces as well as typical transition parts.

Composing for the Byzantines

Henning and Chris started by dividing the workload up by the ages. “We developed the overall concept together though and really had much fun teaming up,” Henning said. “As the Byzantines had to sound distinctly different to other civs in the same geographical area, we both really dove into researching standout features of Byzantine music.”

Like with the other civilizations, it would start very simply and slowly develop to more complex themes. “It goes from the music of the common people to the grand religious music we think of as Byzantine,” Chris says.

The Byzantine period proved a little difficult to triangulate musically, since the only written records left concern liturgical music. They dived into the music of the Church, as well as folklore music that’s been handed down mostly by memory. “The secular music has been poorly documented,” Chris puts in, “and we had to do a lot of deep research to get a good understanding of what that might have sounded like.”

Together, based on these inputs, they brainstormed how worldly music could have sounded in Byzantium and came up with an interpretation they were able to work into the gameplay. The study led to finding the right instruments.

The sounds of history

“There still exists in current folk music an instrument that was actually called the ‘Byzantine Lyra’ but now goes under the name of ‘Cretan Lyra’,” Henning shares. “It’s a knee fiddle with three strings played with a bow. It has a rather special sound as instead of pressing down on the strings it’s played with the fingernails touching the strings from the side.”

Henning was happy to find a Cretan Lyra for himself to start his experimentations. The sound later developed into the Pontian lyre that Chris played in the higher ages.

Building upon that, he wanted something with a distinct sound during a distinct time in history, and turned to the Aulos, a set of two flutes that are played at the same time by a single player. “There’s a lot of evidence these were played throughout classical Greece and though I didn’t find them mentioned there, I’m sure that they survived into the medieval Byzantine era in one way or another.”

Read more about Dynamedion and the Age of Empires IV soundtrack here.

It was with this sentiment in mind, that he set about and found Thomas Rezanka, an Austrian flute-builder, who specializes in building Auloi. Thomas custom-built a pair of plumwood Auloi and gave him a lot of research material on how they were used. “There are these beeswax pieces used to close different holes on each flute as there are far too many to cover them all with the fingers of one hand,” Henning explains. “By rolling the wax and covering certain holes, it is possible to create a lot of different scales in different keys. You can hear the aulos in the exploration music and in the front-end loop.”

Both Henning and Chris are expert instrumentalists themselves and filled in a lot with their own handiwork.

Finding the right voice

Henning and Chris had both a lot of great experiences setting up the vocals for other civilizations, so they were eager to add something even more authentic to the soundtrack than just instruments. They found a fantastic female choir called Chórεs in Athens, who specialized in reviving traditional songs. “For Age 1, I wanted a female soloist who would sing in a traditional way, just like perhaps a Byzantine village girl picking flowers and humming to herself. But she also had to be able to hold her own in a full-blown battle track.”

The musical director of Chórεs found someone up to the task: Alcmini Bassakarou. They recorded her at Lizardsound in Athens. “We were blown away by her exact and inspired performance,” Henning said. She can be heard on all Age 1 exploration and combat tracks as well as on the front-end loop.

“We were very fortunate to work with Chórεs, led by Marina Satti and Eleni Gianni,” Chris adds. “They were invaluable in bringing the vocal culture to life and also assisted with the Greek lyrics we had. The solo female vocal for Age 1 later development into a solo male singer in Age 2. Once we reach Age 3 this fantastic pagan style vocal duo sets in. I was so excited to finally hear it as I had this sound in mind from the very beginning and I am glad it works so well. In the most advanced Age we finally reach the full symphonic sound of a big orchestra and symphonic choir. And everybody is singing our Greek lyrics that we spent so much time on. Very special. ”

Chores Sultans Ascend 1 tinied

Composing for the Japanese civilization

Transporting players to the Far East, the new Japanese civilization in The Sultan’s Ascend expansion also has a beautifully composed and culturally authentic soundtrack. Japan has an unbroken, rich and unique musical tradition that is deeply engrained in the culture, so it was important for our team to get it accurate. Dominik and Nico both worked on the music and spent much of their time studying and sharing ideas.

“I had to do quite a bit of research to understand the music from Japan,” Nico says. “I learned about the instruments and techniques they use to get their unique sound.”

“I listened to a lot of Japanese music to find the right colors and the typical tone and feeling,” Dominik adds. “I then experimented a lot with the Koto and the Pipa, trying to get typical Japanese sounds out of them as well as unique and progressive tones by bowing, scratching, or hitting the strings. Most of the instruments were new to me – I bought some and borrowed others – and it was a lot of fun experimenting with those instruments.”

A darker, simpler sound

“When thinking of Japanese music, the Koto immediately comes to mind,” Dominik shares. He featured the instrument prominently in his compositions, with a little trick as well. “I tuned the strings down a little for a darker sound in Age 1. For Age 2, we recorded a professional Koto  player to mark the progress of the civilization.”

Dominik also used the same downtuning technique with the Pipa, a kind of Chinese lute. “I played the Pipa to contrast its nasal and metallic sound with the Koto’s warmer and rounder sound. Almost all Japanese instruments originate from Chinese ones, especially for the earliest age, where many of the well-known Japanese instruments didn’t exist yet, so we found it a fitting instrumental color.”

Warhorns are a prominent aspect in any medieval-era war game, and that’s no less true about Age of Empires IV. At first Dominik had some difficulty finding a Japanese variant until he stumbled across the Horagai, a large sea-shell that “has a trumpet-like character. We found a player and recorded some Horagai-calls with him that add a lot to the tense combat-moments.”

Nico leaned heavily on the Shakuhachi, Koto, and Shamisen for the music of the later ages to capture the most authentic Japanese sound. “Once you hear a note played on these instruments,” he says, “you’re immediately transported to Japan. For Age 3, we decided to do na interpretation of the folk song ‘Kuroda Bushi’, which is famous there. Besides having the shakuhachi playing the melody, for this arrangement we used strings as well as percussion from the classical form of Japanese Kabuki theatre.”

He adds: “The shamisen was invented after the other traditional Japanese instruments that we used in the soundtrack, so we thought it was more appropriate to only use it for Age 4. That also helped make the music for Age 4 more distinguishable.” They had the shamisen player perform quickly and with a strong attack on the strings, adding a nice punch to the sound of the combat music on Age 4.

A live experience

The instruments and music are always recorded live with the best and most versatile musicians our team can find – with virtually no limit regarding geography. This often makes for the most engaging part of the process for our composers, as they get to really hear their music come to life. In person, or livestreamed if needed.

“The most interesting part was working with the live musicians,” Nico said. “Because the tracks for Ages 3 and 4 had a lot of shakuhachi parts, I feel that the player we recorded added so much life to the music.”

Dominik sourced many of his recordings remotely. For the Shinobue flute sounds he employed a musician in Switzerland, and for the Kotos and Horagai he found someone in Japan that could work with him.

Sultans Ascend studio work tinied

The dynastic cycle

Henning did the bulk of the work for the new music needed for the Abbasid Dynasty Campaign. It was a pleasure for him to return to it, as he had done work on the “prime variant” as well (read more). Though he wrote a completely new score, he re-used some of the original vocal recordings he had done for the original. “Especially the beautiful and haunting vocal lines of our lovely original singers Clara Sorace, Hayat Selim and Gediz Çoroğlu.” He lent his own hand playing the oud, bouzouk, and flutes for some additional live elements.

As the story progresses through time featuring many of the most famous Abbasid Dynasty leaders and heroes, you can hear different musical motifs. “As the start I struggled a bit with the idea as there are not a few persons coming up in the videos and I thought it would be hard to establish recognizable themes for so many of them. So I came up with an overall Abbasid Dynasty motif of just a few notes which is played on the oud right at the start of the first video. I then took this motif and used it as a basis for all the little themes of the Abbasid Dynasty leaders in the other videos. I changed the notes around or used it in a different rhythm, but the basic feel of it stays.” When you listen, you can hear how all the narratives are tied together musically and make it all into a single, cohesive Abbasid Dynasty whole.

And of course, what would the Abbasid Dynasty be without their chief opponents, the Crusaders? Henning also wrote music for the invading Franks. “They are dangerous enemies and easily recognizable by a rather straight low strings and percussion rhythm with low brass playing a simple but threatening melody line.”

Henning felt really good about revisiting the Abbasid Dynasty. “I really love the artwork of the videos and Lauren Wood’s storytelling and overall campaign design. Big thanks also to Robyn Smale and Caitlin Yu.”

The soundtrack continues

Our partnership with Relic once again delivered exceptional music for an Age of Empires expansion. The addition of the Byzantines and the Japanese civilization brings fresh excitement to the game, enhanced by the incredible compositions of Chris Wirtz, Nicolo Patricio, Dominik Morgenroth, and Henning Nugel. To fully immerse yourself in this captivating experience, don’t miss out on the opportunity to buy the game and hear the soundtrack. Join the adventure and let the music transport you to a world of strategic conquest and cultural exploration.

Check out Age of Empires IV and listen to how the music changes seamlessly, as though it were written for your gaming session alone. Learn more about the game here.

Buy Age of Empires IV today on Steam!

Listen to the original soundtrack


We’d also like to give a special thanks to all our musicians, recordists, studios, orchestrators, conductors, and everyone else involved:

Byzantine Civilization

Composers: Henning Nugel (Age 1 & Frontend Loop), Christian Wirtz (Ages 2-4)

Orchestra & Choir Recording Session Budapest Hungary: Budapest Art Orchestra recorded @ Hungarian Radio Station

Orchestrator: David Christiansen

Session Producer: David Christiansen

Conductor: Peter Pejtsik

Recording Engineer: Miklos Lukacs

Pro Tools Engineer: Gabor Bucko

Orchestral Mix: Christian Wirtz


Recordings Athens, Greece:

Singers: Alcmini Bassakarou, Tasos Poulios, Erasmia Markidi, Elena Leoni

Vocals recorded by Dimitris Karpouzas @

Video Recording: Giorgos Mufatsa Athanasiou

Organization of production: Eleni Gianni


Solo Recordings:

Fanfare Trumpet: Bernhard Führt

Euphonium & Bass Trombone: Christoph Pimpl


String Quintet – Recording Budapest Hungary: TomTom Studios

Session Engineer: Peter Barabas


Recordings Yerevan, Armenia

Produced by: AAA Audio

Qanun: Mayranush Rubenyan

Producer/recording Engineer: Olajide Paris

Translator: Gevorg Mnatsakanian

Japanese Civilization

Composers: Dominik Morgenroth (Ages 1-2 & Frontend Loop), Nicolai Patricio (Ages 3-4)

Orchestra & Choir Recording Session Budapest Hungary: Budapest Art Orchestra recorded @ Hungarian Radio Station

Orchestrator: David Christiansen

Session Producer: David Christiansen

Conductor: Peter Pejtsik

Recording Engineer: Miklos Lukacs

Pro Tools Engineer: Gabor Bucko


Solo Recordings:

Shinobue: Sandro Friedrich

Shakuhachi: Rodrigo Rodriguez

Horagai: Tim Bunting


Recordings China:

Shamisen: Wang Yu 王宇

Recording Engineer: Tang Jian 唐舰

Recording Studio: AimSound Studio


Recordings Japan

Koto: Miho Jogasaki  城ヶ崎 美保

Recording Engineer: Hideyuki Babai 馬場井 英之

Translator: Megumi M-K  工藤 愛



“…amazing job, seriously. The ingame music is a Masterpiece. It gives you chills, it lets you feel heroic, it sets the mood, the tone. Rarely I have seen anything comparable…Well done.”

“Sound design and music design of this game is astounding… 10/10”

The voice acting and music in this game is just 🖤

EXCELLENT JOB to everyone involved in music and sound.

Are you also interested in working together with Dynamedion? Check out our services and tell us more about your project!