Marty O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori wrote a ton of music for the Halo franchise. More than six hours of it is in my iTunes, and that’s not even close to all of it.
Of all the music for Halo Marty wrote, one soundtrack rises above all the rest: Halo 3: ODST.
ODST gets a lot of hate for the campaign, the multiplayer, or both. But who cares, because the music is awesome.
Marty went in a completely different direction with ODST. He (mostly) replaced the electric guitar with a saxophone, of all things, mirroring the film noir aspects of ODST’s story. Most of the voices are gone – certainly the heavy Gregorian chant influence is missing. The piano is still there, perhaps a reminder of Halo 3, and that trademark tribal percussion is present too.
And just like the first three Halo scores, the Northwest Sinfonia returns as the performing orchestra.
I like ODST for its differences and its subtleties.
Much like the other Halo scores, there are long tracks on the ODST soundtrack. For my ears, the Halo soundtracks play a lot like a symphonic album, with these long pieces that evolve over time, with many moods per track.
And that’s exactly what Marty hoped when he ordered the music and put it all together. “I’ve ordered the suites to match what you would hear if you played straight through the game,” he said in the ODST liner notes.
It’s a thing he does with his soundtracks – one of many things that make Marty a unique composer in the industry. Another odd Marty fact is that he typically doesn’t start writing a score until the game is pretty much finished.
(Budding game composers, that probably won’t be an option for you. He can, because he’s Marty.)
Each piece on the ODST soundtrack is actually a collection of several pieces as the game unfolds chronologically. The “Overture” alone has five miniature movements.
The “Overture” is one of my favorite tracks, but there are several more to add to that list.
“The Light at the End” begins as if some sort of piano prelude. If you’re a fan of the chords and harmonies used in the opening of this piece, you’ll love Aaron Copland. Jus’ sayin’. In any event, “The Light at the End” also eventually features those Halo voices we cling to in all the soundtracks.
Listen: The Light at the End
As beautifully symphonic as the “Overture” is, it might not be Halo enough for some of you. In that case, check out the bass/drums/guitar of “Traffic Jam”.
Listen: Traffic Jam
One of my favorite tracks is “Neon Night” due to the opening motif. Three different notes, but repeated in a pattern of seven, which inevitably offsets the three notes. It creates a twisting effect – like a small puzzle for the brain to decipher while listening. So simple, yet such a treat for the ear.
When the piano returns at about 3:04, the new melody is a modified inversion of what we heard at the beginning of the track. As a result, that new melody doesn’t exactly sound new – it sounds familiar and germane, and those are things we like to hear in soundtracks because it makes us feel connected to the music and story.
Listen: Neon Night
And then there’s “Bits and Pieces”, which might be my favorite Halo track in the history of Halo tracks. The mini-movement called “From the Ashes” starts it off. The orchestra blends so incredibly well with all of the other musical elements – the upper strings mimicking the piano, while the low strings sweep back and forth underneath it all.
I want you to listen for two instruments in the opening moments of “Bits and Pieces” – listen for the harp, and listen for the triangle. Those two simple sounds add character and depth to the music, if not a layer of warmth. Also, this.
Listen: Bits and Pieces
I appreciate that Marty didn’t overuse the saxophone. Rather than saturate the soundtrack with that “film noir” staple, it’s used on occasion. To my ears, it’s more refreshing as a result.
Listen: Asphalt and Ablution
ODST is a fun listen. I love how Marty organized it, from the suites of music to the chronology. I like the film noir aspects, used sparingly in a blend of traditional Halo score elements. Do you have a favorite Halo soundtrack?
Soundtrack available for purchase right here!
Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.