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Revelation (Neal Acree)

August 28, 2016

Cover_RevelationREVELATION

Neal Acree, 2016, Varese Sarabande
23 tracks, 50:34

Easily one of the best video-game scores you’ll ever hear. Acree’s Revelation is a wonderful exploration of Chinese techniques and colours.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Revelation Online, known in China as TianYu, is a Chinese themed fantasy MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) by NetEase, one of China’s top game companies. The game features a mythology written by bestselling Chinese author Jiangnan.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with an absolutely fantastic main theme (“The Chosen”), which Acree thoroughly puts through its paces (not just here, but throughout the score). The cue starts off with the magical sounds of the East – erhu, guzheng and taiko. After about a minute the main theme is introduced. It’s carried by winds and strings and is repeated throughout the remainder of the cue, constantly changing in tone and colour. As the cue progresses, brass comes in to provide a counterpoint. It’s all incredibly attractive. The most cynical of cynics might note that the track does carry on a bit… but really, with a melody this good and orchestrations this vivid, who wouldn’t want it to go on forever?

“The score for Revelation called for a rich, cinematic sound but the game’s story and artwork called for a traditional Chinese palette,” Acree described.  “Orchestra blended with traditional Chinese and Japanese instruments was the natural approach and can make for some beautiful and evocative colors.  Each Chinese instrument has its counterpart in the Western orchestra but brings a unique character to the overall sound.  Combining the cinematic scope of the orchestra with the unique colors of the traditional Asian instruments helped create an otherworldly sound that existed somewhere between the two worlds that created it.”

The score features a handful of big action pieces, such as “Into Battle”, “Hall of Dragon Flame”, “Lair of the Wolf”, “The Spider Queen” and “The Battle of the Five Emperors”. What sets these cues apart from your ‘regular’ action music is their melodic core and the colourful orchestrations. Revelation is seldom, if ever, just ambient. Throughout the score, Acree introduces various themes which form the basis for everything else. The melodies and orchestrations all help towards telling a story. This is what I love most about any score – its storytelling capabilities; and Revelation is a real storytelling score. Acree’s score is easy to admire from a technical viewpoint, and easy to love from an emotional one.

Though he is not formally trained in Asian music, Acree often writes with an Asian palette. “The key to making the music sound genuine (aside from a lot of research) is to put it in the hands of musicians who truly understand their instrument and who grew up playing Chinese music,” Acree explained. “Inviting the players to interpret the melodies through their own voices and experience opens up a new world of possibilities and gives the music a sense of authenticity that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.  The music of Revelation wouldn’t be what it is without the talents of Tina Guo (cello solos), Karen Han (erhu), Bei Bei (guzheng), Jie Ma (pipa) and Uyanga Bold (vocals).  The best part about working with musicians like these is that it’s the best way to learn how to write for the instrument.”

Great action cues aside, the highlights of the score are those cues where Acree allows his wonderful melodies and the Asian orchestrations to take centre-stage, aided by the tantalising performances from the featured soloists. Cues like “Weiyang Palace”, “Capital Plaza”, “Capital Living Area”, “Oracle Academy”, “Jade Maple Paddock” and JAde Maple Villa”… they really delve deep into Chinese culture and, to my Western ears, sound as genuine as anything I’ve heard from Asian composers. In terms of orchestrations, the score is written for a large orchestra and relies particularly on strings, Chinese winds and percussion.

Writing the music for Revelation was very personal for Acree, it was the last of his scores he was able to play for his father before he passed away. Acree remembered, “His love of Chinese movies and culture was a way of life. We studied martial arts together when I was a kid and he would go on to teach Tai Chi for over 20 years. He was never a religious man but became a Buddhist later in life. One of his lifelong dreams was to visit China so when I got to go for the first time and conduct, I felt like I was living his dream.”

Is it any good?

Neal Acree’s Revelation is, well, exactly that: a revelation. It’s a fantastic score – well written with attractive counterpoint, superbly orchestrated and performed splendidly (by the Northwest Sinfonia, featuring soloists Karen Han, Tina Guo, Bei Bei, Uyanga Bold and Jie Ma). These star soloists add a sense of genuineness to the music. The writing is great, but it’s the authentic details in the performance that really elevates this score above anything else. I do have to say that the main theme really carries this score. It is gorgeous, a true master stroke and it turns every cue it touches into gold. Without it, it would still have been a beautiful score, but I believe that the main theme really elevates if to a whole new level.

I don’t know what it is about Chinese (or Asian) settings that seem to bring out the best out of (Western) composers. Presumably it’s about their rich history; their embrace of nature and the spirit world; and how myth and magic seem to be embedded in their culture. Hans Zimmer’s Beyond Rangoon, George Fenton’s Anna and the King and Klaus Badelt’s The Promise are just three of the top of my head that also explored Asian colours and succeeded wonderfully. Acree’s Revelation very easily sits amongst them, and on good day tops them.

For more information, samples and photos from the recording sessions, visit Neal Acree‘s website.

Rating [4.5/5]

Tracklist:

01. The Chosen — Main Theme From Revelation (4:57)
02. Cloudfall City (1:19)
03. Weiyang Palace (2:01)
04. Holy Wings (3:02)
05. Capital Plaza (1:20)
06. Capital Living Area (2:00)
07. Stele Forest (2:02)
08. Into Battle (2:02)
09. Oracle Academy (2:14)
10. Jade Maple Paddock (2:17)
11. Jade Maple Villa (2:54)
12. Through The Gates (:29)
13. Destiny (3:11)
14. Forever Gone Desert (1:45)
15. Hall of Dragon Flame (2:13)
16. Endless Night (1:52)
17. The Dragon Abyss (1:49)
18. Lair of the Wolf (2:47)
19. The Spider Queen (1:59)
20. Spirit Town (1:34)
21. Lost Forest (2:11)
22. Sword Spirit of the White King (2:56)
23. The Battle of the Five Emperors (2:23)


Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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