SCORING TAMARAK TRAIL
Hey folks, VS Trippi here with something a bit different! Today we’re looking at the soundtrack from Tamarak Trail and the inspiration behind it. This was written by our wonderful friends Michael Noble & Alyxandra Guevara from Yarrow Games!
Lets get into it!
“My aim has always been for my music to be more of a character in the scene, rather than just a folder full of background music.” – Michael Noble, Composer & Sound Designer @ Yarrow Games
I’ve always had a hard time picking out specific influences for a score, when asked. My inspiration is the mood of the scene, the setting, the cultures, and so on. With a game like Tamarak Trail – where there’s no one central narrative being told to the player – the music and visual directions had to team up to allow for players to shape their own narrative.
Back in 2020, when I saw the first bit of concept art and a mood board from our art lead, Lynden, my inspiration was pretty much set: “hillbilly murder mystery”. The game takes place vaguely in the early 1900’s, in the absolute boonies of the Canadian Shield. I was born in rural Tennessee and grew up in rural Kentucky, so I remember all too well the feeling of simultaneous wonder and discomfort when venturing through the woods, only to stumble onto an old abandoned barn or cabin.
“Am I supposed to be here? Am I supposed to be seeing this?” That was my inspiration while composing the music for Tamarak Trail.
I wanted the phrase “I hear banjos” to be expanded into a feature-length soundtrack. I wanted the music to feel serene, almost welcoming, like the forest is luring you into a false sense of security. But I also wanted the audience to feel vaguely uncomfortable while exploring. I knew from the beginning I wanted the mix to be dry, and for the human “imperfections” to become part of the performance.
Sculpting the Musical Soundscape
“Largely, our approach for scoring Tamarak Trail was to treat the world itself as the ‘main character’.” – Alyxandra Guevara, Music Producer @ Yarrow Games
What was here before we arrived, a lone adventurer armed only with basic kit and a strange dice bestowed by a mysterious source? What resides here now, and how is that reflected along the Trail? What is behind the corruption laid to our world, and is there anything we alone can do?
In Tamarak Trail, the region of Canada you find yourself fighting in and unraveling the mysteries of is accented by endless pine forests & impact-blasted cliffs, haunting caverns & mineshafts, and the elusive home of the Cult. But despite the chaos wrought on the environment by the Cult, fragments of continued civilization and everyday life still persist – albeit more twisted than before.
The twistedness of the world of Tamarak Trail, escalating as you travel deeper, is represented in the suites of music meticulously crafted for each environment.
The main “glue” across the majority of the soundtrack is piano complemented by violin. Your welcome to Tamarak Trail features the relatively welcoming sounds of wispy woodwinds, chimes & “things you hit with sticks,” and the expected twangs of guitars by the local populace.
Later, deep in the local caves & mineshafts, the soundscape that accompanied you towards these depths is now more haunting, reflecting your growing distance from the relative safety of the forests, endangered now by the Cult’s more afflicted ranks.
Arriving to the home lands of the Cult itself, there is distinctly more complexity and movement within the accompanying musical suite. Brooding, classically-influenced, and dominated by organ & piano, with only remnants of previous instrumentation now serving this new musical entourage of the occult.
Your journey is a long and arduous one, and there is dauntingness you may feel while venturing nearer to the epicenter of the Cult’s evil. We intend for the player to feel that as they follow the Trail, but through the soundtrack, we also seek to invoke steadfastness and a persistent sense of intrigue in the game’s world, no matter how far you are in your journey.
WRITING THE FIRST OF MANY…
You start here. The beginning of the trail, with piano and strings first bringing you into the environments around and ahead. Being on the quieter side of the soundtrack and written & structured similarly to the first suite of background music awaiting you, this piece is intended to invoke reassurance and continued confidence in the player, no matter how far or how deep in run-after-run you are.
“Secret Society” is an overture of sorts to the musical experience of Tamarak Trail. Written within the earliest stages of development, this track aided in creating the framework for the musical soundscape of our game. The track features nearly the full suite of instruments present throughout your journey, and also introduces to the player the primary leitmotif of the soundtrack. (You’ve already heard this leitmotif in the trailer music, by the way!)
DEVELOPMENTS IN DEVELOPMENT
Throughout the soundtrack, our suite of sounds is periodically joined by features from handpicked performers on their respective instruments. From gorgeous dual violin arrangements, striking bouzouki parts, and melodic mandolin accompaniments, the musical experience of Tamarak Trail aims to deliver both diversity and cohesion while emphasizing the outset vision of “human ‘imperfections’ becoming part of the performance”.
As we further created the soundtrack for Tamarak Trail, there were times we found ourselves rightly challenged by feedback on the musical directions we wanted to go in.
Before the soundtrack struck the balance of ideas present in their final forms, we explored more abstract and atmospheric arrangements – even more experimental than what was defined at the outset of development: Lengthy rests for all instruments to create space, long stretches of ambient noise mimicking respective environments, and pieces of longer nature with various movements. Looking back, these arrangements may have complemented a darker or more intense game experience. These weren’t befitting of the style or tone of game found in Tamarak Trail.