Dynamedion’s staff composers discuss writing music for the Wizarding World
Project: Harry Potter: Magic Awakened
Client: NetEase Games, Portkey Games
We Did: Music Composition • Orchestra, Choir • Soloist Recordings • Ingame Sound Design
The world of Harry Potter is a timeless place. It’s been capturing the imaginations of children and adults everywhere since 1997, when the first book was released. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hit cinemas in 2001, it was quickly an international treasure. The magic still goes on today, with a continued movie series in the cinematic universe along with new games and apps frequently released, like “Harry Potter: Magic Awakened”.
“Magic Awakened” is a Harry Potter mobile game that will soon be released for the global market, having already met success late last year on the East Asian and Southeast Asian markets. Dynamedion composers Steffen Brinkmann, Jochen Flach, Armin Haas, Dominik Morgenroth, Benny Oschmann, Alexander Röder, Simon Schrenk, and Matthias Wolf composed the music and David Christiansen worked with the Bamberg Symphony to bring it to life. We caught up with Armin, Benny, Alexander, and David for a quick interview on composing for the game’s soundtrack. The game was nominated for the G.A.N.G. Awards for Best Audio 2022.
A touch of John Williams
The original swashbuckling Harry Potter soundtrack was written by the renown John Williams, and the adventurous theme has stuck around through every twist, turn, and quidditch match. The music was such iconic work that it even helped create the onscreen character of Harry, and certainly captures the mood and essence of the Wizarding World. The later scores that weren’t by Williams would vary some, but none would be quite as iconic as the original title track of “Hedwig’s Theme”.
There was a great deal of contribution though by other composers, especially Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat, who both composed the soundtracks for two films each, and Patrick Doyle, who composed the music of the fourth film. “The other composers involved made very good work and influenced me on my own music for the game,” Alexander Röder says.
The music for “Magic Awakened”
The composers of the game soundtrack all thought it was important to preserve the feel of the original movies. “John Williams… set the musical language for the Harry Potter-universe with his score for the first Harry Potter-movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Benny says. He goes on to say that it’s “heavily influenced by Romantic Russian composers like Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,” and that the French Impressionistic music, with its use of wholetone or octatonic scales, also weighed onto the original compositions—and thus also onto the compositions for the “Magic Awakened”.
“John Williams uses a lot of rare scales to achieve the magical sound,” Armin adds. “I had to dig out my old Star Wars score book one more time to achieve that John Williams orchestral sound.”
In the game, the stylistic range goes beyond just writing Harry Potter themes and score cues. There are various sequences that need their own flairs. Benny says, “I was also in charge of a number of dancing music tracks, which are used in an interactive dance scene in the game. The stylistic range of those was huge, ranging from Baroque dances like Minuet, Gigue and Bourree over the classic Vienna Waltz to Flamenco or Chachacha.” Regardless of the variety, the team was able to develop specific trademarks for each piece.
Then there were the darker and scarier moments, where in the movie Williams sprinkled in elements from Avant-Garde music. “Williams managed to mix all this together with his own stylistic trademarks and created such beautiful and rich musical language for the Harry Potter-universe,” Benny says.
Capturing the spirit of Harry Potter
If you were to ask a music-critic what instrument defines the Harry Potter soundtracks, it would be the celesta. It is that chilling, bell-like keyboard instrument that catches the spine on “Hedwig’s Theme”, and used throughout all the soundtracks no matter the composer. “The celesta is used in a very prominent way,” said Alexander, “And it is used in special ways with arpeggios and unusual scales to evoke the magical setting.”
That thrilling combination of celesta, along with the additions of the harp, give any work that Harry Potter-sound, and they both have huge voices in the soundtrack to “Magic Awakened”.
Writing for an app
As an app, writing music for “Harry Potter: Magic Awakened” carries its own peculiarities. In some ways it has a lot in common with a traditional game. “You have to deal with loops, stingers, transitions, and all that,” Benny said.
But it is actually quite different, given the nature of the medium. It has to be quick and keep the player on their feet as people aren’t typically playing games on mobile as long or immersive as they might on desktop. “Games are more casual on mobile,” Alexander said. The player is there for a very short time and the music must help catch the attention and lengthen it as much as possible. Alexander continues: “The music must come to the point quickly and stay interesting. There is not so much time for long developments in the music. Everything has to be on point.”
An additional thing to keep in mind while writing is the speaker size. “You should be aware that the speakers of mobile devices are very small,” Armin pointed out. “You have a small amount of bass frequencies.”
Recording the compositions
The compositions were recorded in Bamberg, Germany by the world-class Bamberg Symphony. It’s pretty standard these days for console and desktop games to have their soundtracks recorded by a live symphony orchestra, but it’s not something typically found on mobile apps.
“It was a special pleasure to be at the orchestral recordings,” said David. “The Bamberg Symphony is one of the most prestigious orchestras and has a fantastic sound and tonal balance that thrilled me.”
The pandemic meant that they had to follow special requirements when they recorded the Harry Potter soundtrack. They weren’t able to record the entire orchestra at once, but had to split the strings, winds, and percussion into their own sessions. The musicians had to be kept at a distance from each other.
“We spread the strings all over the stage with the prescribed spacing,” David explains. “In the end, this resulted in a nice and wide sound. The rest of the orchestra was then also recorded with plenty of spacing between each other. In the mix, this resulted in a nice overall picture.”
Having to adjust to such a strange and unusual array was no problem for the musicians at the Bamberg Symphony though.
“Harry Potter: Magic Awakened” will be released for Android and iOS in the near future. Keep checking their website for updates on when you can get a chance to play the first mobile game with a soundtrack played by a live studio orchestra.
“The music really makes you feel like you’re in the movies.”
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