TL;DR: ALL Proceeds for the charity album SPIRIT go to Hurricane Harvey Relief, and raise awareness for the continued need in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Florida.
A few weeks ago, when Houston was devastated by Harvey, me and several other people in Materia Collective were talking about some concrete ways that we could help. We started posting, and saw that there were many people with the same idea. So we decided that we would do some sort of charity album, with funds going to a reputable charity. Emily McMillan, right off of the heels of the release of Spira, decided to step up and be the producer yet again for this effort, and she did an outstanding job.
The decision was made to make a short EP, but with absolutely everyone that we could possibly fit into the tracks. We had the amazing Braxton Burks, Ruby Toung, David Ramos, and Ro Panuganti jump on board to do arrangements, and for some reason everyone was ok with letting me tag along.
The year was 2012, and I was attending Brian Schmidt’s GameSoundCon. I had known for a while that I wanted to do music professionally, but I was still very much working the unrelated day job, and looking for the right avenue of entry. I had a lone film credit to my name as an instrumentalist, and was mostly doing audio engineering for local bands.
At the convention, I had a paradigm shift. I had found “my people”, and I realized that I need to be doing this for a living.
At the very end of the second day, the last speaker was Clint Bajakian at Sony. He talked about this guy that I hadn’t heard of named Austin Wintory who had done this soundtrack for this really amazing game called “Journey.”
To close out the conference, he played a gameplay video of the final segment of the game, which is where your character begins to majestically fly to the top of an illuminated mountain that you have been traveling towards through the entire game.
You can watch the final sequence of Journey below:
The music during this sequence was a piece that he composed called “Apotheosis.” There is much to be said in describing that piece, but I’m inclined to ask you to stop here and go listen. (I’ll wait)
Even though I hadn’t played Journey, that piece, and that sequence burned into my brain as the lamp post for making a huge life transition away from the military, and into full-time creative work.
When we initially started discussing themes for the album, the terms “hope” and “rebuilding” came up several times. The very first thing that hit my keyboarding fingers was “I’ll do Apotheosis!” before I had even realized what that meant, and what challenges await.
Oh boy. Here we go. A few hours after posting, I started sitting down to begin listening, transcribing and arranging… and this sinking feeling hit me: This piece is so far outside of my wheelhouse. Like, I am perfectly comfortable with a small jazz or rock ensemble. No problem. I’m a rhythm section guy. Gimme complicated chords, give me time signatures, etc. No problems.
But transcendent, emotionally powerful orchestral pieces? Shit.
Not on my resume.
Oh, sure… I studied it a bit in school… but it was all MIDI arrangements, not for live musicians, and *certainly* not for something of this size.
We decided on a 3-week timeline. One week to arrange, one for recording, and one for mixing and mastering.
Great. Perfect. I can do this. *cough*
The next several days were spent painstakingly transcribing, arranging and marveling at the cool contrapuntal and polyrhythmic elements that Austin lovingly wrote into this piece.
I barely finished by the deadline.
Oh, and there’s a really important part of this whole thing that I basically suck at: ENGRAVING.
For the non-musicians: Music engraving is the art of drawing music notation at high quality for the purpose of mechanical reproduction. The term music copying is almost equivalent—though music engraving implies a higher degree of skill and quality, usually for publication.
It makes the raw notation that you put down actually pleasant to read for musicians who will be doing the performances.
And I’m terrible at it.
Big thanks to everyone involved
It would have been a train wreck disaster without their help, and I am so glad to have them fixing my mess.
Not only were they gracious, but I learned quite a bit, and was able to correct several gaps in my knowledge about each instrument family.
Next up, Laura Intravia. She jumped in and really helped me out with choir writing. Oh yeah, did I mention this was my first time writing for choir? It was my first time. I’ve done rock vocal harmonies, at most. Never a legit 5 part choir with 20+ people.
If you’ve never listened to Laura’s work, you need to fix that immediately, because she is outlandishly skilled at what she does. Thank you for your help on this.
Then, there’s John Robert Matz. Dude plays wind instruments like crazy, sings tenor in a way that will make you weep with joy, and is an award-winning composer in his own right. So he jumps in and plays Trumpet, French Horn, Tenor Vox, Irish Low Whistle, and Wind chimes (in the end of the song), and was incredibly helpful and encouraging with some of the arrangement problems I ran into. Huge thanks.
Along with John, Ian Martyn, Jesse Buddington, Fabian Fabro and Josué Ferreira de Oliveira are responsible for that incredible ending that you hear. And it should be noted that I gave them very little structure to work with. I essentially dropped their parts in over my drone/pad, did a few light edits, and voila. Mesmerizing performances.
Two final thank you’s before the full credit list: About 2 nights before the final mixing deadline, I just could not get the piece sounding how I had envisioned it. I was quickly spiraling into frustration and discouragement.
Emily, ever the consummate producer, gave me some space to just vent a bunch of problems that were keeping me in a fog. She suggested I talked to the other producers, who had been in the same boat.
Braxton listened and just kinda casually mentioned that he loved how folksy/Nordic it sounded. It caught me out in left field, because it’s just not even close to what I was trying to do.
I was so busy being frustrated, that I wasn’t listening to what was there. I went back and listened again, and then we both simultaneously mentioned “Banner Saga!” and everything clicked. Getting that vision was able to take me through to the end.
So thank you both to Braxton and Emily for your patience and support.
I am so thankful for this amazing crew of people that jumped into this project. These are the people that made this track what it is:
Peter Anthony Smith
Josué Ferreira de Oliveira
John Michael Hunt
John Robert Matz
John Robert Matz
Mary Kate Jiménez-Wall
Mary Kate Jiménez-Wall
Ann Zeng (not a typo. She did awesome)
John Robert Matz (noticing a trend here?)
Bijan Bryan Eghtesady
Tim Rosko (Yes, he literally did every male part)
Daniel Romberger (And yeah, also tons of stuff)
Overtone throat singing
And finally, thank you Austin for writing such a brilliant, transcendent piece.
I hope that everyone who is in need right now from hurricane destruction can recover and begin rebuilding.