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Behind the Score: Call of Duty: Black Ops

Interview: Sean Murray  |  Call of Duty: Black Ops Review  | BONUS: 2009 Interview with Sean Murray  |  BONUS: Call of Duty: World at War Review

The war effort didn't end with the conclusion of World War II.  In fact, a new war was almost simultaneously born - The Cold War.  Warfare had gone underground, but the call of duty to serve remained strong.

Join with us as we go with them all BEHIND THE SCORE OF Call of Duty: Black Ops. In this edition:

- Photos from the Black Ops recording session
- SoundCast  Interview with composer Sean Murray
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Game score review
- BONUS Coverage:  2009 Interview with Sean Murray
- BONUS Coverage:  Call of Duty World at War Game score review


Review:  Call of Duty: Black Ops

Call of Duty: Black Ops (Soundtrack) by Sean MurrayJust Doing His Duty
Review by Marius Masalar

Whether or not it’s entirely fair to do so, I often find myself expecting the best scores from the titles with the most familiar gameplay. In the case of CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS, the latest entry in the most popular first-person shooter franchise of all time, the game’s familiarity led me to hope that where it would set itself apart would be the music. The plot’s twisting darkness and mind tripping time jumps seemed to offer plenty of opportunities for creative interpretation, not to mention the strong Russian undertones and the usual military bravado found in this kind of thing. With the stage so conveniently set for him, SEAN MURRAY shows us what he’s capable of.

To help pull us into the game’s complicated mindset, the opener “Cube One” (1) introduces not only the notion of the number stations that are crucial to the plot, but also the general instrumentation we can expect — synths, distortion, and percussion. “Eagle Claw, Pt.1” (2) is the first real dose of music, and it’s a tense action sequence. Strings churn away under layers of synths and manipulated drums. They don’t have much to say, but they do keep pace, and when the synth brass enters three quarters of the way through, we get some semblance of theme to hold on to; it’s nothing you’ll be humming, but it’s serviceable. The minimalism continues in “Mac-V” (3), a groovy and evocative track that elicits memories of Tron: Legacy with its prominent synthetic pulses. Despite some unexpected vocal and violin flourishes, it fails to pull itself out of the realm of cool background music though.

The synth strings are back in “Blackbird” (4), along with some eerie guitar work and what sounds almost like twisted throat singing. MURRAY escalates the pace with a tempo change midway, but the track otherwise remains very static until it reaches its end climax. “Pegasus” (5) is the first time we hear the orchestra offering something other than a repeated pattern. Various sections weave and clash to form a propulsive atmosphere. Strong synthetic percussion supports the cue where needed, but manages to stay out of the way. In “Dwarka” (6), we get a dose of a slightly ethnic feel from the airy processed guitar, but the novelty quickly dissolves back into tired string ostinatos before we can celebrate.


BONUS Review:  Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War (Soundtrack) by Sean MurrayModern World War Two Fare
Review by Marius Masalar

There could hardly have been more pressure on the next game of the CALL OF DUTY franchise. CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE boldly took the franchise in a new direction with it's engrossing storytelling and new game features. It garnered the praise of critics and gobbled countless hours of addicts (myself included). As successful as MODERN WARFARE was, initial reaction to the announcement of next CALL OF DUTY game was mixed at best. First, the announcement that TREYARCH would assuming the development responsibilities caused concern in some, as CALL OF DUTY 3 didn't meet their expectations. (I personally sank more hours in COD3 multiplayer than any other multiplayer game on the Xbox 360 to date). Second, there was a dull groan that echoed through cyberspace as it was also announced that this next game would be returning to World War II era. Third, not only would this be a WWII FPS, but it would encompass the Pacific Theater, which historically has proven to make for far less successful games than their European theatre counterparts. Still, the question that plagued my mind right up until the launch of the demo was, "Who is going to be scoring this thing? Whoever it is, they have one heckofajob ahead them."

Most reading this review will know that it was MICHAEL GIACCHINO who helped to launch the CALL OF DUTY franchise way back in 2003. The franchise went on to have other notable composers like: GRAEME REVELL, JOEL GOLDSMITH and HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, score subsequent games of the franchise. That's a pretty rich line up - one not so easy to follow either. The key to the musical direction for CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR would be Treyarch's choice of just what type of game they would be putting out. A return to the Call of Duty 2 or 3 style or something new? As it turns out, composer SEAN MURRAY got the scoring gig. SEAN MURRAY has delivered a few games for Activision in the past such titles as TRUE CRIMES: NEW YORK CITY and TRUE CRIMES: STREETS OF L.A.

Despite the fears of so many, CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR is being touted as a success. Interestingly (and wisely), Treyarch decided to build on the many successes of CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE, at least in terms of the style of gameplay, story development, achievements and multiplayer features. In fact, some would say that they actually improved on some of the very things that made MODERN WARFARE such a hit! Rather than roaming the deserts of the Middle East as a US Marine or the much colder environments of Europe and Asia as member of the British SAS, this time you suit up as a private in the US Marines hopping from one, hot, Pacific island to another, fighting off the desperate and lethal Japanese army. In that wonderful contrast that Call of Duty is famous for, you alternatively play another private, but this time in the Red Army - poised to take Berlin. Like its predecessor, CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR is an entrancing experience. Moving from mission to mission is wonderfully addicting; however, the in-your-face-brutality of World War II, guerrilla-warfare is much more sobering than the cold and, many times, distant fighting of our stealthily-evovled modern wars. So WORLD AT WAR combines the best of both worlds: the classic WWII FPS gaming experience and the game play features of Modern Warfare. And backing all of it is SEAN MURRAY's score.




Listen to our SoundCast Interview
with Sean Murray




BONUS: Interview
Sean Murray (2009)

Composer Sean MurrayCC: When did you first start on this and when did you complete your work?
Sean Murray: I started about 2 years ago, writing the score periodically and I’m still working with Ubisoft on a few Call of Duty: Black Ops related projects.

CC: Talk about how the score evolved from the time that your first started until it was completed. In other words, how different was the score, in the end, when compared to your initial ideas.
Sean Murray: The first music I wrote for the game was written for the E3 2006 presentation. This music was written fairly quickly and the game was still in the prototype state. The themes for each of the 3 cities and the Assassins’ stronghold were written first. Then whenever a gameplay element was complete, I would go and score this. This means I had some time to plan everything throughout and came up with a massive instrument rule set for all the locations and moods in the game. This rule set defined what instruments and music scales were used and where to use them; and it turned out to be especially helpful once the score started to become really huge.

CC: How involved were the games' producers in coming up with the palette for the score?
Sean Murray: I was selected by a team of over 200 people and they all had an influence on the music direction. The palette was my own but certain things were asked of me before I began. The tragic Christian sound of Acre, the Muslim sound of Damascus without using Muslim music scales, and the melting pot of Jerusalem were all ideas of the team. A deep, atmospheric and spiritual sound was also something the team was looking for. Beyond these templates, I was given almost total creative freedom and it really helped in getting a unique sound for Call of Duty: Black Ops - especially the primal and almost ritualistic meditative sound of the Assassins’ own religion, which was cool to bring out when you stalk and follow your primary targets.








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