What Makes it Memorable? – Halo 2 – “In Amber Clad” (Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori)

November 18, 2010

So far, we have identified several elements that aid with making a song memorable: use of chords to emphasize notes in a melody, homophony to create a hummable melody, and repetition of segments. One more thing I want to look at with repetition is the difference between too much and too little. For this, I want to look at “In Amber Clad” from Halo 2.

“In Amber Clad” is one of the only tracks from Halo that immediately springs to mind aside from the main theme when I think of the game. The song plays within a canyon full of snipers and has a pacing that matches the methodical work of taking them out. The song itself is pretty simple, which makes it easier to analyze what is going on. There are only two main parts to the melody, the first pattern (A) only eleven notes long, the second (B) just six. The A pattern is repeated throughout the first portion of the song, with a short break at 1:04 for the B pattern before returning to an updated version of A (A’). Yet for each time this segment is repeated, the melody gains greater emphasis, first played softly on one guitar (0:14), then louder and more full (0:36). Further, the melody is not alone, but emphasized with background harmony, with first strings, then choral. This gives layers of depth to the song that would otherwise be lost if just a single guitar was used. Further, the underlying harmony keeps the melody fresh as there is always something to listen to other than just the guitar (Why do you think most Christmas music is so annoying? It’s often monophonic and lacks depth and variation and is repeated endlessly – looking at you, Rudolph!).

Another interesting thing about this piece is the melody itself. While adding variation keeps the melody from becoming monotonous and boring, it doesn’t tell us what makes that A section so memorable. Ultimately, there is no way of saying ‘this is how you do it’, but there are some things we can learn from this. One is the rhythm of the notes. Those first quarter notes go quickly, with a short pause before playing three more quick notes, followed by another pause, one punctuated note, another quarter note and a long note. This makes the melody punctuated, which is another element that aids making a piece memorable by creating a specific pattern that is easy to remember. A similar technique is used in the B section, which instead of lots of short notes, plays long ones interspersed with short segments. It has a specific rhythm to it, and it is one that might lend itself well to lyrics – and thus humming.

“In Amber Clad” was only released in HALO 2 Original Soundtrack and New Music Vol. 1 One thing that was interesting about this volume was it used original music by artists like Incubus that was inspired by the series.

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