The music and sound of The Unfinished Swan
At its core, The Unfinished Swan is about the joy of creation and self-discovery. These themes revolve around two central characters: one young, who has dealt with great loss and loneliness, and one old, who must reconcile his current stage of life as well as his fate.
One of the initial conversations I had with Peter Scaturro, music supervisor at the Santa Monica Studio, involved using the key components of the score to offset the melancholy of the story. I consciously steered away from anything that felt too sad, stark or desolate. Instead, I focused on crafting a mood that was lush, curious and warm.
We wanted the music to serve as a companion for Monroe and the player as they explored the world of the game. To achieve this, I chose to highlight certain instruments and sounds that were inspired by the characters themselves.
Monroe’s signature sound is played by plucked and mallet instruments like marimba and harp – youthful, resonant sounds that highlight his innocence as well as the storybook-quality of the game. The bizarre, pompous King is heralded by gritty, electronic harpsichord tones.
I used acoustic sounds to imitate electronic, synthesized textures and vice versa – using analog modular synthesizers and extensive processing to evoke harpsichord and harp-like sounds. Too often, classical “thematic” scores are at odds with modern, texture-driven scores. My goal was to blur the lines and try to find the best of both worlds: to use the opportunity I had as a composer not just to write a score, but to knit the fabric for this world, completely from scratch. Aside from a live string orchestra, every sound in the score is original.
The compositional process was about subverting all traditional rules in favour of something more textural, more free-flowing – like an ocean of sound. Classical theory and traditional harmonic structures are here, but they’re lurking far below the surface. In-game ambient music is always evolving, never confined to a static loop. I wanted the music to feel seamless with the gameplay, as if it is part of the environment.
And that brings us back to the joy of creation – there’s a certain naivety in so much of my favourite art. The Unfinished Swan was the perfect opportunity to explore that. I’m so excited to put this out into the world. It was an incredible experience working with Giant Sparrow and the SCEA Music Department.
We can all relate to Monroe’s mother and The King. The spark at the beginning of a project is what we love best about creating. The real work begins when we have to develop that initial idea into a finished product, and I’m confident that no one has played or heard a game quite like The Unfinished Swan.