When I write, I put on music. When I play RPGs, I put on music. I don’t anything about music, really, but here’s something I’m listening to.
Rather than go off on a tangent about my love for David Arnold’s Bond scores, let’s look right at Thomas Newman’s Skyfall. I know some fans who felt it wasn’t distinctly enough a Bond score, and I sympathize. At the same time, I get a kick out of the unusual minimalism used when Newman doesn’t so much quote the Bond theme as allude to it. The opening notes of the film accompany the sudden appearance of a Bond out of focus, on the track “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.” It’s a wonderful gesture of the Bond we know — even if that Bond is about to be torn down and reconstructed, again. Only “Breadcrumbs” gives us a complete statement of the theme, here.
I got and heard the Skyfall score before the film opened, so as I listen to it I remember not only the film we all saw but the sketch of a film I imagined from hearing the music the first time. I heard familiar horn blares and orchestral builds not quite committing to the whole Bond theme. I heard simple percussive, aggressive battles in tracks like “Silhouette.” I heard traces of Bourne-like motion in “New Digs” and a brush of Adele’s title theme in “Komodo Dragon.” I heard what I was so sure was a climactic and maybe bittersweetly heroic action beat (it wasn’t) with a bombastic statement of Bond horns at the end of the track, “She’s Mine.” The Skyfall score reminds me of two films, then — one I saw and one I didn’t.
While I haven’t had a chance to play Skyfall during RPG play, it’s allusions to Bond without actual Bond statements make it a great tool for me, because it suggests Bond-like action or intrigue without quoting Bond so much that it might feel like parody in practice at the game table. The two halves of the opening sequence’s score, “Grand Bazaar, Istanbul” and “The Bloody Shot,” are each 4+ minutes of building adventure and action which could work during play. (I try not to use tracks less than 4 minutes for action scenes unless I have enough of them that they won’t loop too often.)
Other tracks offer additional moods, of course. “Quartermaster,” for example, offers a bit of peril and panic for investigations on a deadline. “Enquiry” has dramatic momentum and thematic allusions all over in its brassy horns, all of it petering out at the end, which can be useful sometimes.