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Tetris Effect: Music Audio Analysis
I recently came across the game “Tetris Effect” for the PS4 and was amazed by its music. It is so well done that it manages to make a classic game like Tetris feel contemporary and challenging. The music is so good that you will not want to stop playing this game. I wanted to delve deeper and analyze how the audio of this game works.
This article will focus on the music of the first level, “The Deep.” The level takes place underwater and starts with a sustained note that is played by an earthy sounding synth. Each time the player moves the blocks left/right or changes their configuration (face up/down/left/right), different-pitched vocal chops are added to the cue (music piece). What is interesting about that, is that every player will hear a different cue as they create the melody by moving the Tetris pieces around. It feels like the player is also the composer of the game. The vocal chops work musically every time. The note that was held from the beginning was Bb, which is also the tonic center of the piece. When the vocal chops are added, they are different notes that exist within the Bb Phrygian mode. The choice of using the Phrygian mode is highly effective; it creates a sense of magic and wonder that begins to describe the beauty of underwater life. The music also matches the game visually. The shapes are transparent and blue, creating a calm and dreamy environment.
The moment a Tetris piece reaches the ground, it triggers a sound – something known as a stinger. This stinger is a percussive sound. As soon as a row is completed, a different stinger is triggered and lasts longer than the vocal chops. That stinger consists of a long-lasting note – like a reversed violin – together with a small four-note synth pattern, a percussive sound, and a visual effect. The notes change each time that stinger of the raw completion is triggered, keeping the game stimulating.
Time also affects the music of this game in a very refreshing way. After playing for 30 seconds, a second musical layer of long-lasting ethereal sounding notes is added in the music, starting from Bb, the tonic of the music cue. When the player has been playing for 50 seconds, a third layer is added to the cue. This layer consists of a shaker playing on the downbeats. This is the first time there is a sense of rhythm in the game. After playing for 1 minute and 10 seconds, we start hearing the eighth note subdivisions by the shaker. At 1:20’, the eighth note subdivisions are equally loud with the downbeats. This entire section of the music sounds like an introduction.
The music also changes with the number of lines completed. One of the bigger stingers of this game is triggered when the player completes 12 lines, one-third of the level, and upgrades to speed level 2. This layer consists of an electronic drumbeat. The more you play, the more energetic the music becomes. The stingers that are triggered by completing lines change, altering the music more and making the cue more interesting. More visual effects are also added. Since this game takes place “underwater,” we start hearing sea creatures’ noises and see more sea animal graphics. Soon after we hear the rhythmic beat, a vocal line with lyrics is added to the music, making that section of the music feel like the verse of a song.
The music keeps getting more intricate as you play the game. As soon as you have completed 12 lines (2/3 of the lines of the level), the music changes and from the verse we hear a musical section with lyrics that sound like a chorus. At that point, when the player changes the Tetris shapes instead of hearing vocal chops, we hear notes from a piano/mallet sounding synth.
At Tetris effect, there is a “zone mode.” In order to activate it, you need to charge the circle by completing the rows. As soon as you charge the circle, the “zone mode” is activated. We hear a low pass filter on the music and the vocals are no longer heard. The piano is heard very clearly. Every time a line is completed we hear chords instead of one-note stingers as we heard before. When the “zone mode” ends, the low pass filter is off and we hear the same piece of music without the vocals and the vocal chops. This section of music could be considered as the “outro” of the piece. The moment you reach the 36/36 lines you trigger a rhythmic stinger and the piece ends, leading to the next level and a different music cue.
The audio of the Tetris Effect is very clever. Instead of hearing a composed, fixed song, the player creates the music while playing the game. Each time you play the same level, you re-create the music and it sounds different. Although the structure of the cue remains the same –introduction, verse, chorus, outro - you can change the duration and melody of each section by playing faster, slower, moving the Tetris pieces more or less, activating the “zone mode” faster, playing on expert mode etc. In my opinion, Noburo Mutoh, the composer of this game, together with the programmers, made this classic game feel dynamic and new.