Musical themes in the Monkey Island series

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Monkey Island's soundtracks have been considered extremely impressive and influential. Michael Land has been involved in the soundtracks of all five games, acting as the principle composer for four of the games and receiving credit in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge and Escape from Monkey Island.

The Monkey Island games are noted for their heavy use of tropical music genres which reflect the games' setting, these include some reggae, dub, calypso and other similar genres. However, the games have also included traditional and often heavily moving orchestral pieces. Singing has been featured in The Curse of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: Special Edition.

The first and second games used an entirely synthesized musical output with the first game having a traditional, rudementary MIDI compositions and the second a more refined one which used the iMuse sound-system (programmed by Michael Land). Since the third game all of the games have featured real, live instrumentation.

Contents

The Secret of Monkey Island

The original versions of the game used internal speaker and simple MIDI instrumentation. Later CD versions used enhanced MIDI instrumentation to give the soundtrack a more forceful sound. Jesse Harlin recreated the soundtrack with real instruments for the Special Edition.

Harlin commented on the major difficulty of recreating the soundtrack, as MIDIs allow ranges of instruments which can't be reproduced physically. He asked for Grim Fandango composer Peter McConnell to play violin for the Special Edition. McConnell particularly elaborated on the Ghost Ship theme, including a brand new solo for it.

Recurring Themes

  • The Monkey Island Theme -The iconic Monkey Island theme was featured for the first time in this game. The first game features an extended organ introduction which eventually explodes through crescendo like sound into the proper theme. Each game features a different variant of this theme as its introductions and pieces of its melody are also used as incidental musical cues.
    • The Special Edition version of the theme is considerably more slow tempoed. In addition, a flute plays the main melody.
  • Chapter Screen - Variants of the Chapter Screen theme are heard in all five games. Most notably in The Curse of Monkey Island each Chapter Screen theme has a distinct added musical element which reflects a theme in the chapter itself.
  • The Voodoo Shop / Voodoo Lady's Theme - A dark bass and flute theme used in the Voodoo Lady's shop. The theme is also used with a more intricite instrumentation in Monkey Island 2 after which the theme was altered somewhat for the third game.
  • LeChuck's Theme - This theme is also used in various arrangements in future games. A low trombone theme played with a semi-fast tempo which seems to enhance LeChuck's evil but at the same time comical nature, the percussion is handled with xylophone like sounds.
  • Guybrush and Elaine / Love Theme - Used in various compositions in later games (though makes only a brief appearence in The Curse of Monkey Island). Begins with a sweeping violin intro and moves to a calm French horn melody. Used for the first time when Guybrush and Elaine are together at the Mêlée Island docks. Jesse Harlin was unable to accurately reproduce the opening of the theme and thus had to opt for a simpler violin intro.

Other themes

  • Scumm Bar Theme - A steady mix of lighter flute and heavier horn melody. This theme has not appeared in other soundtracks and so is considered iconic of this game.
  • Stan's Previously-Used Ships - This game uses a unique and more suave Stan theme which has not been heard in any later game. It has an upbeat sound which utilizes multiple horn-instruments. The theme can be heard at the ship yard on Mêlée Island.
  • Cue 2 - A 16-second musical cue, part of the CD-ROM tracks but which doesn't appear in any part of the game. This cue has a creepy sound which seems to indicate it might have been original intended to be used in a scene involving LeChuck. No reason for leaving the cue out of the game has ever been officially claimed. It was nonetheless recreated for the game's Special Edition and is part of the game's code even though it can't be heard in the game proper.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge

With the introduction of the iMUSE sound-system the game used a different computarized instrumentation. The iMUSE system also allowed themes to fade in and out into other themes when exiting locations, rather than having them stop immediately with the change in location as in SMI. Like with SMI, the soundtrack was recreated with real instruments for the Special Edition.

Recurring themes

  • The Monkey Island Theme / Opening Themes & Introduction - This version of the theme begins with a dark, low orchestral hum and a bass-line before being joined by an organ and the actual theme which is played on flute. This version of the theme notably features a brief chaotic drum and organ solo which is followed by the bass-line being played solo before the theme melody playes for the last time. The solo coincides with the monkeys dancing in the credits sequence. This theme ends on a low note which leads directly to the serene Introduction theme of Guybrush on the beach on Scabb Island.
  • The Monkey Island theme was noticeably absent in-game in the Special Edition. However, it can be heard over the menu when the game starts and the introduction sequence was also reinserted into the game's PC version through a patch. The Special Edition rendition remains faithful to the tempo and melody of the original version.
  • Stan's Previously Used Coffins - The more recognisable horn and percussion heavy theme which features an organ backing and appears in all of Stan's later appearances. The opening chords emulate the melody of a funeral march before the more upbeat theme itself kicks in. This intro appears also in The Curse of Monkey Island but is downplayed in later games where Stan's business no longer deals with the deceased.
  • LeChuck's Lament - An extremely slower, darker and more sinister variant of the LeChuck theme which plays up his resurrection as a zombie. This version of the theme is heard less frequently than the more upbeat orchestrations.

Other themes

  • Largo LaGrande - A jazzy melody played on low horns and appears whenever Largo is present in Part 1. The melody stops appearing in Part 2 where LeChuck's theme is more prominent. Due to the character having no appearances in future games this theme does not appear in most of the future games. In "The Siege of Spinner Cay" chapter of Tales of Monkey Island Guybrush briefly whistles the melody to himself.
  • Woodtick Theme - Several variations of the Woodtick theme are used to emphasize the differences in the locations in the town of Woodtick. The theme alters depending on whether the player is visiting the Woodsmith, Wally at the Cartographer's Hut, the Bloody Lip, Mad Marty or the Swamp Rot Inn. According to Ron Gilbert on the Special Edition's commentary, the Woodtick theme was intended as the grand introduction of the iMUSE sound system. Michael Land and Peter McConnell who worked on the intricate theme swore they'd never do anything similar in another game because "no-one noticed" their efforts.
  • The Bone Song - Heard during the sequence where Guybrush's Parents dance as skeletons. An upbeat big band style dance number. Even though the game does not feature singing per se the Bone Song does feature actual lyrics (later used as a hint in the game). For the Special Edition the Bone Song finally features actual lyrics. However due to the randomized nature of the puzzle the choruses don't always match the rhythm of the music. This was fixed for the Special Edition's PC release through a patch. The song is actually a variant on the song Dem Bones.

The Curse of Monkey Island

The third game was the first to use real instrumentation and thus has a considerably more immersive sound than the previous games in the series. It also continued to use the iMUSE system to allow the natural fading in and out of themes during the game. This was the last game in the series made by LucasArts where the music was principally composed by Michael Land.

Recurring themes

  • Introduction & Main Titles - Features a calypso-style introduction when the camera zooms in on Monkey Island during the beginning. This variant of the Theme Song features dramatic orchestration with flutes and steel drums. The main theme is also referenced in game by Edward Van Helgen who claims it was the deviously catchy tune which his crew happened upon during a journey.
  • Voodoo and Things - Though this theme features the same bass-line as the original Voodoo Shop theme the melody is more rounded and not as heavy. This version of the theme has been used in all subsequent appearances by the Voodoo Lady.
  • Sword Fighting, More Sword Fighting, Even More Sword Fighting, And Yet Some More Sword Fighting, Winning/Losing a Swordfight - A series of orchestral themes ever increasing their intensity, used during Insult Swordfighting in Part 3. The Winning a Swordfight theme was also used during the second major cutscene in Escape from Monkey Island.

Songs

  • "A pirate I was meant to be" - The series' first full instrumented and vocalized song number featuring Guybrush, Cutthroat Bill, Haggis McMutton and Edward Van Helgen. The song is also part of the gameplay where the player must select the correct lyrics in order to make the pirates stop singing. An upbeat song with comical lyrics which deal with pirating and also fueled by Guybrush's sarcasm. The song later appears in a new version on the Manatee toy in "The Siege of Spinner Cay" in Tales of Monkey Island.
  • "Plank of Love" - This song was planned and written to be performed by Guybrush and Elaine over the ending credits. However, due to time constraints the song was never finished. It is unknown what the composition and melody of the song originally was. Instead the credits theme consists of a combination of themes heard throughout the game.

Escape from Monkey Island

The fourth game continued to use real instruments although it also recycled certain pieces of music from the previous game. In total five composers (including Michael Land and Grim Fandango composer Peter McConnell) are credited for the game.

Recurring themes

  • The Monkey Island Theme / Main Titles - This variant is very similar to the theme of the previous game and is in fact an alternate take on it.

Other themes

  • Scumm Bar - This game features a markedly different version of the Scumm Bar theme which features various percussion instruments and an accordion. The theme is watered down for various incidental cues in other parts of the game.
  • Monkey Kombat - A mix of tropical whistle and flute sounds set to a fairly steady drum-beat. Used during Monkey Kombat sequences. The victory theme uses a more funk-oriented guitar part as well a synthesized drum sound to coincide with Guybrush's dance moves.

Tales of Monkey Island

  • The Monkey Island Theme - Tales of Monkey Island uses a scaled-down full version of the melody for the beginning of "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal" and for the end credits for all five chapters (though the end credits for "The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood" have two melodies played before the Monkey Island theme is played last). The theme is simplified most likely due to the lower production budget available for Tales.

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