Note: You can download the CotN soundtrack here.
Behind the Music of Children of the Nile - By Keith Zizza
In the summer of 2002 I began the process of writing music for Children of the Nile. As with every game soundtrack, before composing I had to figure out at least three things: what the musical style was going to be like; how to put it all together; and how much of it to write.
After listening to a lot of traditional and contemporary Middle Eastern music, I decided to go with a modern approach. This way, there would be far more styles and rhythms I could create, and I could arrange each piece with as many instruments as I wanted.
Every instrument in the game is either sampled (I just couldn't lug that set of war drums into the studio!) or real. The biggest challenge was to get the samples and the real instruments working together seamlessly in each tune.
For the sampled instruments, I used mainly a Roland Super JV and EMU EX4T. All of the final tracks were mixed in Vegas using Waves Platinum plug-ins and mastering tools.
Here are some of the real instruments I used on the project, among others (click on any to listen!).
The more interesting instruments to play were definitely the esraj, bulbul tara and the talking drum.
The esraj is a simpler version of a sitar. It has four main strings and 13 "sympathetic" strings (the strings that resonate, giving the instrument a sustained reverberating sound. The instrument can be played flat, standing upright, or even with a bow. I played it flat (two hands, no bow) on "Karnak by Camel", "Many Roads, Many Travels", and "Jewel in the Desert".
The basic idea behind the keyboard sitar, or bulbul tara, has been around for centuries. It is a hollow wooden box with strings running from one side to the other on the top. If you press a key (or, sometimes round buttons are used) a small, attached piece of metal below it clamps down on the string beneath. When strummed with the right hand, you get the desired note. Strumming the note over eight or more similarly-tuned strings gives it a very palatable, full ("chorused") sound. The hollow box adds a nice reverb effect. I used the bulbul tara on "Journey Down the Nile", "Craftsmen's Song", and "Jewel in the Desert".
The talking drum is a fun instrument. Basically, you hold the drum under one arm, hitting it with the opposite hand. Squeezing the drum under your arm stretches the ropes that hold it together, causing the pitch of the drum to go up. As you let go, the strings release, and the tuning goes down. It makes for some interesting rhythms! This drum can be heard in "Karnak by Camel" and "Craftsmen's Song".
The other instruments (and some other rhythmic instruments not pictured) were used extensively on most of the tunes. The tambourine was used on almost every one of them.
My goal was to write music all in a similar style and meter - and the hope that about an hour's worth would keep it fresh and interesting. I didn't set out to copy the musical style of any album or movie; in fact, I wanted to make sure the music didn't sound like anyone else's. Everything about our game is unique in some way, and I wanted the music to reflect that as well.
I hope you enjoy the music as much as I did writing it!