Fair warning for those reading or listening to this: This piece is an introduction to the music in the game of Destiny and its intriguing historical, mathematical, and scientific ties. What it is not is an all-inclusive explanation, being as I am not the composer but merely a musician who appreciates the dive into the various aspects of the music and hopefully into the mind of the composer himself.
When I set out to script this mini-series I found myself lost in the aspect of music that first made me fall in love with it. For those of you who may not know, I was a music educator for a few years and while in college performed not only with my college band and vocal groups but also with a female barbershop chorus. Shout out to my Sweet Adeline buddies. It was with all these different groups that I learned a new appreciation for the voice and how flexible it truly is. What I mean by that is that unlike the piano which is tuned to particular notes the voice is flexible enough to change pitches ever so slightly. For example, I can bend the pitch severely or in such a small way that many will actually not be able to detect it.
Now, the voice isn’t the only instrument that is capable of pitch changes like this. There are others that have this capability such as non-fretted string instruments i.e. violin, viola, cello, double bass and also the trombone. Granted any musician worth their salt can modify the pitch of their particular horn with various modifying movements, but it is the voice I find to be the most naturally adaptable.
Why is this important?
Because with my barbershop ladies I finally began to understand overtones and harmonics on a more intimate level. You don’t have to be a trained musician to experience this. One of the simplest ways I’ve experience Harmonics is with a shower, particularly a tiled shower. Have you ever hummed or sung in a tile shower and without increasing your volume notice that one pitch is significantly louder? This is because you found the harmonic resonance that works with the tiles in that particular shower. The tile vibrates naturally at that harmonic and it appears to amplify the sound instead of dampening it. Overtones work in a somewhat similar way.
An Overtone is mathematically relative and resonates with the fundamental pitch, therefore, they are always present. This happens much like the tile in the shower but at a lower volume level. Because of this, we don’t generally notice them in our everyday life, but musicians tend to experience overtones more often thanks to the manipulation of sound being our job.
If you have a tuned stringed piano you can experience this fairly easily. Hold down the sustain pedal, which is the far right one, and strike a bass note. If your piano is tuned fairly well you will likely hear the octave above the pitch you struck. The reason why the octave rings are because it is mathematically double the frequency of the original note. It has a relative resonance.
Why all the math talk about music? Have you ever wondered why we use certain notes with each other in a song? It actually has to do with the math behind each of those notes. It is these combinations of notes that what we generally call a scale or mode.
And for my history buffs out there, much of what we use by way of scales was developed by Pythagoras. Oh yes, ol’ a squared +b squared= c squared himself. The Pythagorean scale developed as a series of 5ths. For people not familiar with the concept of a 5th it is an interval, the distance between two notes. In a vocal scale using solfege, it is the distance between do and sol.
Now, back to Pythagoras. In music, our most famous remnant of dear ol’ Pythagoras’ is the circle of fifths. You might remember this from high school band as the circle with all of the key signatures attached to it. Thanks to Pythagoras and a few others we developed our western 7 note scale. It is the arrangement of these notes today that we call music.
Scales and modes are what musicians talk about when they are discussing the expected arrangement of notes in a piece of music. The most simple of these is the Ionian mode also known as our major scale. (do re me fa sol la ti do) Notice that we returned to the do’ of the scale which is one octave above where we started. This particular scale is made up of W(step) W H W W W H steps in this order. Throughout all of our recorded music history, various composers have changed the starting note of the prior mentioned combination of whole steps and half step in order to create various effects.
Now we can finally get to what is unique about the music in Destiny.
Much of the music is based on what is called a Lydian Dominant scale or more simply put, the acoustic scale. There are two things significant about this: 1) this is a scale that is built off of the overtone series between overtones 8-14 and 2) it scrambles the Pythagorean order of scales/ modes by having w, w, w, h, w, h, w (whole steps and half steps respectively) instead of the traditional scale order w w w h w w h of which our ears have grown accustomed to in the west. By using this modified mode it gives the music an ethereal and unresolved sound. Even the structure of many of the pieces are meant to feel unresolved, without a settled end leaving the listener with always wanting to hear more.
Why is the Acoustic Scale important to Destiny besides the obviousness that it was used in various pieces throughout the game including in the infamous Music of the Spheres? Well for starters the Acoustic scale persist in the music of the peoples of South Siberia. Those of you who are familiar with the in-game geography should recognize this as near where the community believes the Cosmodrome would be located in real life. Another notable tie to this scale is its use by various composers in the 19th century such as Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Franz Liszt, and Claude Debussy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to speak more to this later, especially regarding Bartok and Debussy with how they influenced the music of the Destiny Universe.
The primary reason why the Acoustic Scale is an interesting choice for the music of Destiny lies in the fact that this scale is the closest approximation, using our tuning system, to being mathematically in perfect harmony and thus most like the natural order of the universe as dictated by physics. Why choose all of this for the game? We may never know the exact reason, but to gain insight on what the composers were toiling over and touted as their most masterful work would, it is my hope, glean a fraction of the genius of the piece as a whole.
Thank you guys for joining me in this little introduction into how the music in Destiny is an important aspect of the game world. It is my hope to continue this series for Destiny and possibly other franchises who’s music also plays an integral part of the story. Let me know your feelings down below if you are interested in something like this and remember to Focus Your Fire. Grn signing off.