In light of Sumer getting an honorable mention in the Independent Games Festival for Best Student Game, I thought I would talk a little bit about my process for writing Sumer's music. If you don't know anything about Sumer or Studio Wumpus, I recommend you check out their website; there's a great introduction video there.
One of the first emails I received from Studio Wumpus included a list of instruments and materials from the time period:
Wood (super rare and valuable though)
Wind (made of wood, bone, or metal)
trumpets (also likely)
They had clearly done their homework. The music they were using as a placeholder, "Hurrian Hymn No. 6," is the oldest found piece of music.
It's important to note that this isn't Sumerian music. Scholars can only guess at what it would have sounded like. We have their instruments, and we deciphered their scales, but unfortunately there's no way to hear what they did with those tools.
Despite that, I had an idea for tackling this score. I had just bought a Tascam portable recorder, and had two instruments that I thought I could fake Sumerian music well enough with: my classical guitar, and an old ocarina.
I also decided that, as percussion, I'd use pots and pans from my kitchen (covering the metallic percussion section on the developers list).
Perhaps my favorite part about the process (other than getting to play ocarina for a game score) was the implementation. The Studio Wumpus team has been really on board with the creation of more complicated musical structures. This gives the music a chance to be part of the gameplay in Sumer, often by shifting gears as the players are running out of time to make decisions.
Music that is adaptive in this way usually requires a disciplined approach to structure on the measure-to-measure level. Small, looping sections of music had to be able to transition to other sections on every downbeat, or even on both 1 and 3 (see A Year of Harvest, or Goats to Market).
The choice to use mostly live sounds that were at hand has really strengthened the aesthetic of the score. It pushed the music closer to that dusty, ancient timbre that the strings have in "Hurrian Hymn." Alongside that, it was a blast to get away from sample libraries for the most part, and it gave me a chance to create something that felt like my own Sumerian style.
Here are some cues from the soundtrack: