When somebody with money wants somebody killed to death, they call the Goof-Off Hitman. No matter how many jokes he cracks, how many drinks he ends up buying for his targets, how endearing he might seem… the Goof-Off Hitman never fails.
Until he runs into the protagonists of my fictional and never-to-be-actually-made game, of course. This is Chiptune Chaos, in which I create a soundtrack for a hypothetical RPG, and this track is perhaps the one where I’ve thought the most about what’s happening as it plays.
It’s a very strange track, I should warn. ‘What’s Going On?!’ was pretty weird, what with being in 13/8 and all, but ‘BWTGOH’ is a mishmash of a few different things. As a piece of music, it’s disjointed garbage. As the background music for what I’ve got in mind, though, I think it might be slightly – slightly – better than that.
Picture this, if you will. The Goof-Off Hitman – an eccentric sort of bloke, the kind of guy who wears steampunk goggles on his forehead – has been happily integrating with the party for a little while. Then, when the bar’s closed and they’re all ready to make their merry way on to their next quest, he turns and faces them. ‘Y’know,’ he says, ‘I’m real sorry about this, but… well, I am a hitman. If I don’t make no people dead, I don’t got no money to buy bread.’
That said, the battle begins. (Click that sentence to listen along.) The track starts out with a jazzy bassline; I was playing about with an app called Hexaphone, which simulates a piano with a limited amount of notes from a scale, and the ‘blues’ scale lent itself pretty well to the little riff that starts off this tune. The blues scale on Hexaphone consists of a root, minor third, fourth, tritone, fifth and minor seventh, and those are the notes the bassline uses in this opening. It’s the addition of the tritone that lends a jazzed-up feel to it, something I come back to later on. During this riff, the Hitman’s not got a care in the world. He’s shooting, sure, but only half-heartedly. He’s more concerned about pulling off fancy trick shots, or rolling his bullets around his fingers like a magician. Then he starts to pick things up a little bit. The next part of the track is a pretty simple chord progression in the bass and electric piano, which the drums enter on the second run through (the repeat also substitutes one of the chords for a major chord on the tritone, just to mess around a little). There’s a lot of silence between chords on the first run, during which I think the Hitman might be messing with the party by pretending to sneak up on them.
Then the time signature changes to 12/8, and the electric piano plays a little melody. The Hitman sits down at this point, I think, taking a quick breather. Maybe he opens a can of something, maybe he plays Candy Crush a little bit. The party are, of course, still very much aware that this is only a limited reprieve, and he will be trying to kill them again pretty soon.
For this melody, by the way – and the chord progression before it – I’m indebted again to my old band Ever The Optimist, in particular a track called ‘Behind Every Great Man Is A Woman (Stealing His Money)’, which was about a detective and his love affair with a great jewel thief.
The opening riff returns, but this time in 12/8, giving it a more swing-like rhythm. The tempo’s slightly increased, too, as the Hitman starts to take things a little more seriously. The party are having to work hard to support each other now. Then, eventually, one of the party gets in a good hit on the Hitman, knocking his health down to around half. At this point, he enters the next phase of the battle, acting unpredictably and dancing around to attack from weird angles. The piano plays a series of bizarre, totally random chromatic notes as he makes the transition into an even more lethal opponent. After the party take down his health a little more, he starts to let up on any sort of antics altogether as the bass plays a frantic rhythm. He’s bringing out heavy attacks dealing a lot of damage now, which leaves him open to counterattack but also requires the party to spend a lot of their time on healing and defence. The drums start to intensify as it becomes clear to the Hitman that, this time, he’s outclassed.
Then, as he’s defeated, we modulate from C minor to F sharp major, a transition across the tritone, for no good reason. The battle ends, and the party can breathe a sigh of relief, but the Hitman’s still unpredictable; this is no time to relax. They need to find out who wants them dead, and the Hitman, realising that he truly has been beaten, joins the party as the piano and bass play F sharp major – A major – D major – C sharp major, a chord progression that makes very little sense whatsoever but does finally resolve from the perfect fifth (C sharp major) to the tonic (F sharp major). Despite the perfect cadence, it doesn’t sound like a finality because, what with going to A and D, the key never settled in F sharp; the Hitman himself doesn’t make a lot of sense, but brings about resolutions even when they seem out of place.
Finally, as the night draws in and the party wonders where their adventure will take them next, a slow descent suggests a transition from F sharp back to C, and almost doesn’t make it, but just about gets there (in a roundabout sort of way that doesn’t bother passing through G or B, the leading notes that would make sense to travel through on the way back to a tonic of C). The Hitman is, after all, still the man he was. He’s just on the side of the good guys now.