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“Halo Theme” (Martin O’Donnell)

November 22, 2009

Here’s a track a lot of newer gamers will be familiar with. This is the “Theme” from Halo as composed by Martin O’Donnell (2001).

“Halo Theme” (Martin O’Donnell)

If there’s one thing you can give to the Halo series, it’s a strong art design. O’Donnell did a fantastic job with the soundtrack, integrating some mysterious archaic and highly emotional gregorian chanting into the soundtrack along with some great percussion and almost tribal drumwork. The theme also adds some great atmospheric and ‘wind’ sounds to give a feel of empty space as well as a deserted planet. While O’Donnell composed the original piece in his car, he actually couldn’t find anyone to do the vocals, so he just got in front of the mic and did it himself. Pretty good job, if I do say so myself!

There really hadn’t been a soundtrack similar to this at the time, and his intriguing score certainly helped the game dominate the XBox. The game made use of some dynamic audio techniques that seem eerily similar to what was done on the C64 and Amiga where bits of tracks could be mixed and mashed together to create a score that would adapt to the gameplay. As a result, parts of the “Halo Theme” appear in many different parts of the game as a leitmotif.

O’Donnell has produced soundtracks for Bungie since Myth: The Fallen Lords (1997). Incidentally, when this track was originally released in 2001 on Marty O’Donnell’s MP3.com page, it had a length of 3:02. For the soundtrack CD (2002), a piano piece was added at the end to extend the piece to 4:22 (the track, number 26, is called “Halo”). The version here is the original MP3 off the site, so it’s only encoded at 128kbps, mainly because nobody cared much for audio fidelity back then (but kind of a collector’s oddity). The soundtrack for the entire trilogy has since been re-released in a four-disc set (2008). Incidentally, because it’s made in the US, you can buy the entire thing for the cost of an average Japanese album.

One other weird thing about Halo’s sound score. One of the game’s main enemies, the Flood, was given a really interesting sfx in the original game: the small parasites that would infect soldiers and turn them into zombies will constantly yell profanities. I found this very odd as well as demoralizing because not only are these little bastards turning your friends against you, but they’re also cursing at you constantly. If the Space Invaders were grotesque and almost leering in appearance, the Flood have the voices to go with that.

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