BATTLE AT WITCH CREEK

As a composer, you just never know which of your works of music will have staying power.  I did not expect “Battle At Witch Creek,” a simple piano piece that I composed for the “Rise of Nations” soundtrack (released in 2003) to have such lasting impact.  But many video game fans, music students and aspiring composers have asked for the sheet music or come up with their own interpretations of the piece — often with stunning results.  (The original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iRz7tJ8M38.  The “Glewndack” version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BABGiL5y4lU&feature=related.  The “Shatteredr” version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjaPU1jrThg&feature=watch_response.)

“Rise of Nations” was developed by Big Huge Games and published by Microsoft Corp.  The soundtrack, released by Nile Rodgers’ Sumthing Else music label, was the first video game soundtrack available in full-surround sound (5.1) on DVD.  Composing and recording this music was truly memorable.  I worked with first-rate musicians from the Seattle-based Northwest Sinfonia, with the assistance of conductor Simon James. The sessions were recorded at Sound Lab Studio in Redmond, WA.

“Battle At Witch Creek” was also a nod to one of my former bands, which was called Witch Creek and based in San Diego.  While the band didn’t last a long time, it was a true creative experience that made a life long impression on all of us as well as a lot of people who saw our shows.

One thing that astounds me about the popularity of “Battle At Witch Creek” is that it took me very little time to write it.  I’m not going to call it a throwaway composition, yet it’s an example of a piece of music that came out of “going with the flow.”  Sometimes over thinking or spending too much time on a piece of music leads to nothing but frustration.  In my experience as a composer, I’ve made it a habit to write what I call a “sloppy copy,” based on whatever mood or vibe I’m feeling at the time.  You simply push the record button and play.  Let yourself go in whatever direction you’re feeling and don’t worry about wrong notes or poor timing.  The point is to capture the moment.  It’s helpful to then hit the save button and walk away.  Come back and revisit your work a day or two later, with fresh ears.  You can always tweak it to make it better, but the first rule is to go with the flow.

Witch Creek at a concert at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. From left to right: Mike Sterling - guitar, Rick Reed - bass, me on drums, Robb Lawrence - guitar, Gabriel Sakakeeny - keyboards. Photo courtesy of Robb Lawrence.

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2 Comments to “BATTLE AT WITCH CREEK”

  1. I never realized there was something behind the name of Battle at Witch Creek, I thought With Creek was just a name for a place on the battlefield :). Speaking of simple, did SimpleSong from Rise of Nations live up to its name while being composed? :)

    • I had a great experience with the band Witch Creek. When you compose instrumental music, a title can be pretty vague. After composing it, I struggled with what to call it. Battle At… worked because of the nature of the game. And I always thought the name Witch Creek had a mystique about it. Thus, the title.

      With regard to Simple Song, sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to compose. :) I’m glad you have the vision to see that!

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