Music of the Spheres - Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori, and Paul McCartney

Just over 4 years ago, this 8-part composition was finished by lead composer Martin O’Donnell, a veteran composer for Bungie. It was intended to be a companion to the then-new Destiny universe that Bungie had created in the form of the Destiny series of games. There were a series of struggles between O’Donnell and Bungie, one primary point being Bungie’s failure to use O’Donnell’s music in their trailer at E3 in 2013. This eventually resulted in O’Donnell’s firing from Bungie, and the disappearance of this album. After his firing, hope was lost that it would ever see the light of day. O’Donnell expressed on Twitter that he, “gave away nearly 100 copies of Music of the Spheres,” and that while he didn’t have the permission to allow it to be shared, “no one in the world can prevent me from giving you my blessing.”

A teenage fan, Owen Spence, had been reconstructing the album from publicly available material, starting in late 2016. This was well-documented, and just today, he released that he and a friend, Tlohtzin Espinosa, had been contacted by someone that had a copy of the album and wished to release it to the public. Following that exact directive, they published it on Soundcloud (where it is still available) and released a MEGA link which allowed users to download it.

Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, two composers of the Halo soundtracks, and Paul McCartney (of the Beatles) joined forces to create this album, resolving that it was their best work. I’d have to say that I agree, although I fully admit that I don’t have an extremely in-depth exposure to the full scope of their work.

With all that interesting, but still context, context out of the way – the album. Each of the 8 songs is paired to a planet in the Destiny universe, although not all of those planets are yet accessible (with fans of the franchise hoping that they’ll be included in future games). The first song, “The Path,” is written in the key of C, and each concurrent piece increases the key by a scale degree. Given that there are 8 songs, this puts the final track, “The Hope,” back to the key of C. Although this has (of course) not been confirmed, my suspicion is that this was the intent of the composers – that this travel through the universe of Destiny was not an evolution, but a revolution, ending just where it started.

In terms of actual qualities of the album, each song is extremely well-constructed, with perfectly executed dynamic and tempo changes being one of the highlights – the breaks don’t feel forced or inappropriate, even if the change is sudden, significant, and impactful. The composers clearly very well knew when to build slowly, when to build quickly, and when to snap entirely in an instant.

The changes in motifs, themes, and dynamics help to build a sense of story and flow within the songs and across the album as a whole. This isn’t just good for a “video game” soundtrack, this is a beautiful piece of orchestral music, entirely and explicitly in its own right. The composers did an extremely good job at communicating themes, almost like programmatic orchestral music, except without the program to go alongside it (or maybe one could consider the games themselves the program that traces the story).

Nothing seems out of place in this entire composition; there isn’t a moment where I internally went, “No, that shouldn’t have gone there,” except for the very end. In the latter half of the final track, “The Hope,” the orchestral backing drops out and brought in is a strumming guitar, soon followed by Paul McCartney’s voice.

It feels slightly off to have allowed the listener to develop their own concepts of the composers’ intended themes for the entirety of the piece, up until the last three and a half minutes. It seems almost as if to say, “We trusted you up until now, but this is a bit much, so we’ll spell it out for you.” I will admit that this is still very well put together, with Paul McCartney’s voice beautifully underscored and supported by the orchestral and band backing, but I’m not a huge fan of this style, in the wider context of the piece, as a whole.

It didn’t destroy my appreciation for all of the incredible work that has been put into this, from the composers, to the conductors, to the musicians, to the recording artists, to the mixers, and to whoever mastered this, but I feel that it isn’t the best note to end on, and that this piece could have been finished more gracefully.

The counter to this opinion is that the composers were either required or independently wanted to put a little bit more directly tied meaning to the music, in the context of the piece as a soundtrack. That, I can wholly understand, but I still feel that it was a creative misstep, at least to my ears.

That aside, I am a massive fan of this album. It is consistently and continuously engaging, interesting, and entrancing. In each song, new themes and motifs are called upon, combined differently each time. The composers were obviously very sensitive to their instrumentation, and took full advantage of the wide range of musicians, skills, and sounds that were at their fingertips (see: bounced bows at the end of, “The Ruin,” and the vocal technique of modulation inter-note (mirrored by the piccolos) in, “The Prison”). They intelligently used all of the tools at their disposal to not only make a great soundtrack, but a great album and a great piece of music. 9.5/10.