“Symphoniacal” Listening Guide

for Version 8.0

The current version that is available online is version 7.0, which will differ significantly from the version in this guide. First, I would suggest you get a pair of really good headphones (or a good sound system). Mostly because that’s how I composed it, but also because you never realize how wonderful a good pair of headphones can be until you listen to something like this through them. I took great care to make sure the levels were a certain way, and some things may be (intentionally) hard to hear unless through high fidelity equipment. But even if you don’t have a great way to hear it, don’t let that stop you from listening. This thing is LOUD. You won’t have any problem hearing it.

Also (and this is very important), make sure you have the time and attention to set aside the 74 minutes it’ll take to listen to the whole thing. This isn’t intended to be background music any more than Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies were meant to be. It’s supposed to be an experience, like watching a movie or reading a book. Sure, go back and listen to your favorite sections, but at least listen to it all the way through once.

This guide is neither exhaustive nor completely accurate, though I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible. Like the project itself, I am always working on updating this guide. There are dozens of sources, and it is time-consuming to make sure that everything is labeled correctly. Plus, I want the explanations to be as thorough as possible, and that will change every time I make a major edit. If you recognize something that is missing or otherwise incorrect, please let me know. Over the years I’ve forgotten what certain things are.

Chapter 1. “Now Entering Nexus County”

Prepare yourself and your equipment for the coming storm. If you can make it through this first section, you shouldn’t have to adjust your volume. Just get comfortable and prepare yourself for the rest. (That is, of course, assuming you can handle the rest.) The nexus energy ribbon is moving your way, so the only thing you can do is brace for it. This section has no music or melody, just sound.

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Chapter 2. “Dear Listener”

This was one of the first chapters I ever created once I realized what the project was to become. It helps set the tone of the piece, which is dark and menacing. It is also the first time actual music is introduced. You will hear similar voices from varied sources. The idea is to emphasize that we are beginning something large, both in length and scope.

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Chapter 3. “Menouthis”

Short, loud, and extremely powerful, this moment is here to represent the maniacal part of Symphoniacal, and to give you one last chance to make sure your speakers are at the right volume. The music you hear is brief but important. This is a symphonic group that doesn’t actually do film scores, but their music is indicative of the kind of sound you will hear from here on out.

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Chapter 4. “Bringer of War”

I absolutely had to start out with the seminal piece that likely influenced almost every composer in Symphoniacal: Gustav Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War” from The Planets. It was the first song I ever heard in classical form that had such energy and intensity, and I have always held it as one of my favorite songs (regardless of genre). This version is blended with other songs and sounds that I thought would give this classic tune new energy. After all, everyone has heard the original version of this song, and I didn’t want to create yet another version of it.

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Chapter 5. “Satus Novus”

This section has been heavily modified from the original version I made. The primary rhythm is from “Bourne Identity,” which falls into the background for a moment before returning. Fans of the show Enterprise might recognize the brief moment where the opening theme appears, but it’s not the usual theme. Mixed in there is also a bit from The Matrix, which is part of the original chapter.

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Chapter 6. “Enhanced Nightmare”

You may find it hard to believe that most of this section comes from Lord of Dance, but the music was absolutely perfect for Symphoniacal. The “enhanced” part of this piece refers to the sound effects that were mixed over the top of it. They came from an obscure Halloween CD I once owned.

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Chapter 7. “Apocalypso”

I swear Mel Gibson stole the name of his movie from this, but he made it just different enough to take credit for it. ;) This is the first appearance of Danny Elfman’s music, one of my all-time favorites. The soundtrack to Batman Returns was one of the first soundtracks I listened to over and over and over and over again, and though there are a ton of other great moments, I had to throw an homage in there. This chapter hasn’t changed at all since I first created it. In fact, this is probably the last of the original Symphoniacal that I created several years ago. As it fades away we are led into a the cinematic trailer from the emergence of the Dark Portal in World of Warcraft, with the words “You are not prepared!” echoing in the minds of everyone who has seen it.

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Chapter 8. “Run Like Cory”

This is the chapter where most of my newest stuff begins, and as the Lost soundtrack starts to build I put a soft moment from Star Wars. It is the point in episode 1 where Yoda and Mace Windu are speaking in hushed voices at Qui-Gon’s funeral about the possibility of the return of the Sith, specifically the part about the Sith master and his new apprentice. There is at least one moment from every Star Wars film in Symphoniacal, and all of them are musical references to important points. (I’ll explain more as we go.) We return to the intense moments of Lost, which is basically the same track used every time there’s something to run from on the island. It ends abruptly with the threatening French horns giving a nod to the alien theme from Independence Day. As it fades out, we slip quietly into the next chapter, which is the beginning phase of “Evey Reborn” from V for Vendetta.

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Chapter 9. “Evey’s Enlightenment”

As the threads of this chapter come together, the true shape of this work comes into focus. The opening and closing vocals in this chapter are from “Vespera” by Libera. They are the haunting bookends, and they frame an important section of Symphoniacal.

There is one word that has continually popped into my head throughout this project: serendipity. By sheer luck and coincidence, many of these chapters have almost fallen right into place without a lot of manipulation on my part. “Enlightenment” is an example of this. It just happens to be atonal enough to blend perfectly into the main song in this chapter, “Evey Reborn.” Though I’m sure Jeremy and Julian Soule didn’t intend for this to happen, it is the perfect introduction to the rising tension of Dario Marianelli’s music. You would probably have to hear each track separately just to know which is which, and that is exactly why I mixed it that way. The fact that two moments work together musically and thematically is probably my favorite part about this entire project.

This scene in V for Vendetta is probably the most emotionally powerful one throughout the entire film, and Natalie Portman’s performance is absolutely brilliant. But I don’t have an obsession with Portman or her character, Evey. To me, that moment represents the rebirth of humanity, and it seemed necessary that it was in Symphoniacal. Of course, every time I listened to the soundtrack I imagined the scene in my head, and so I thought it would be appropriate to have the audio from the movie further enhance the musical drama. Evey’s enlightenment lines up perfectly with the track authored by the Soule’s, and the fact that their last name is a variation on the word “soul” just further seals the deal.

Though it is extremely subtle, the track from Ender’s Game plays throughout this entire chapter. It serves more as an enhancement of the existing music, and it ties the two chapters together.

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Chapter 10. “Ender’s Throne”

This chapter has been completely revamped and renamed in honor of the new music. I replaced some of the oldest sections of the original piece, so I didn’t take this decision lightly. The first thing you actually hear is the continuing track from Ender’s Game, but it’s still blending into the background and providing ambience. What you’re more likely to notice is a tune that is familiar to most fans of the show Game of Thrones. But I didn’t want to simply play the opening theme. It’s a different track from much later in the series. It moves slower and is more deliberate than the original, and it fades out just as the alien’s theme from Ender’s Game takes front stage.

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Chapter 11. “The Villains”

As the title of this chapter should suggest, the next few minutes highlight the musical themes to nothing but the bad guys. By the time you reach this chapter, “Decepticons” from Transformers and “Outbreak” from 28 Weeks Later have been building for more than thirty seconds. Since one is about building drama (“Decepticons”) and the other is about building tension ("Outbreak"), putting them on top of one another helped me get into the villains section. The first thing you hear that actually starts the track is the theme from the aliens in Ender’s Game. If you listen carefully you can hear Hans Zimmer’s take on the Joker, an atonal sound that speaks to that particular villain’s tension.

As the Decepticon theme reaches its peak, we hear a moment from one of the most important moments in the story of the soon-to-be Lich King in World of Warcraft. In this moment, a hero has chosen to make a very dark decision to slaughter everyone in a village in order to save the entire continent from a horrible plague. It is the beginning of the end for that character, and it’s the reason he eventually becomes the primary villian in an epic story. As the Lich King’s fall fades into the background, the driving rhythm comes from Hans Zimmer's theme for the Kraken.

It should be noted that this section also contains an important element that does not take center stage. The audio from “Palpatine’s Teachings” is essentially a low growling, and it makes several appearances throughout Symphoniacal. I used it because it provided atmosphere whenever I felt it was lacking. Plus, Palpatine is easily my favorite villain in any work. But rather than push him to the front like the other villains, I allowed him to work insidiously in the background of the entire piece. All according to plan.

After the Kraken’s theme fades out there is a sudden shift toward the raucous and playful theme of Baron Harkonnen from Dune. As that comes to a close we introduce the powerful (and yet, unnamed) theme of the aliens from Independence Day. All of this is capped off with our transitional piece, starting with the brain bug's theme from Basil Poledouris' Starship Troopers soundtrack. When you hear the music go from menacing to heroic, that's the specific moment when we jump to the next chapter.

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Chapter 12. “The Heroes”

This is clearly the chapter of heroes, starting with a piece that is surprisingly under-appreciated. I know a million trailers that would benefit from Basil Poledouris' magnificent theme, and the entire soundtrack is full of great music like this. As the bottom drops out of that theme, it reveals the opening piece to the show Heroes. Not only is this the very first music we hear from the first episode, the words spoken by the character Mohinder Suresh is perfect for the belief system (so to speak) of Symphoniacal. As Mohinder finishes monologue, we transition into Steve Jablonsky's wonderful interpretation of the Autobots theme. Man, you wanna talk about heroes? How about your childhood heroes that were robots made of sports cars that came from outer space to save humanity? Now, THAT is a hero!

But, seriously...isn't that a wonderfully heroic theme? In fact, I believe that the soundtrack to the Transformers films are so excellent that they’re almost ironic. The films, in my opinion, are increasingly hard to watch. But the music is some of the best you will find in modern cinema. I felt that this theme was so good that I didn’t really need many others after that (although I wouldn’t mind adding more later to balance it out). Then again, there’s something to be said about the imbalance of good versus evil.

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Chapter 13. “No Mercy, My Suite”

As we enter this chapter, we join a colony of lemurs high in their trees at the end of a long day. If you have seen the movie Dinosaur, you'll undoubtedly remember this scene. As the island creatures stare at the sky, their instincts have yet to kick in. After all, what does it mean when stars begin to rain silently in the distance? And what is that mountain-sized rock doing as it falls out of the sky? It disappears over the horizon, and there is a moment of silence followed by a wall of sound and destruction. This marks the beginning of the end for the dinosaurs.

James Newton Howard’s score is the primary source for this chapter, with a cacophony of sound that represents the desperate attempt to escape the rain of death. But if you know the score (or if you listen carefully) you can hear Christophe Beck’s music from Buffy the Vampire Slayer lending a hand in making it even more intense. There are sections that just happened to blend together so perfectly that they just had to go there. And all the while, Steve Jablonsky’s score from The Island builds quietly while we escape all of the things. Then suddenly, the merciless army of 300 joins the fray.

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Chapter 14. “...to Die For”

The moment just before this chapter starts is a blend of at least four tracks, but as it officially begins we are introduced to the first song I can remember hearing by Hans Zimmer. Oddly enough, it was from a Disney movie, but it’s dark and powerful nonetheless. This is the moment in The Lion King when Simba is caught in the middle of a massive stampede, one that was set off by a rival in an attempt to kill the young cub. Zimmer’s music is nothing short of fantastic, and I learned this fact at an early age all thanks to this specific track. Since that time, Zimmer has remained my favorite modern composer (as you’ll eventually notice in later chapters).

As this chapter draws to a close, we are given another glimpse into the madness of John Murphy’s 28 Days Later score. Just look at the title: Tammy kills her dad. This is a hint of the darkness to come.

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Chapter 15. “They Came in War”

Remember when I talked about serendipity earlier?  Here’s another good example. I have been listening to the Independence Day soundtrack since it came out in the mid-90’s. I was so obsessed with the music that when I went to see the movie in the theater, I noticed that the opening music was different than it was on the actual soundtrack. Well, apparently they felt the sound of the trumpets and the heroes theme fit the soundtrack better, but the opening sequence in the film itself needed to be more menacing. The movie version did not have the heroic theme, but rather, had the alien’s theme (which was significantly darker). A decade later, I discovered an extended version of the soundtrack that included both versions. I realized after I listened to them that they were almost identical, except for the slight thematic differences at the beginning.

What you’re hearing at the beginning of this chapter is two separate tracks played simultaneously. The alien theme (from the movie) is in your left ear and the heroic theme (from the soundtrack) is in your right ear. Listen carefully and you can hear the trumpet in the right channel and the dark alien theme in the left. As the themes build and synchronize, I panned them back towards the center to weave their sound back together. One of the truly amazing (and potentially unintended) aspects of this is how the two themes seem to play off each other, taking turns with their respective themes. It’s possible that no one realizes that they are two completely different tracks without being told. It worked out beautifully, which I can only say because I really had nothing to do with it. It was just serendipitous.

I added Richard Burton’s performance of the opening lines from “War of the Worlds” which was abridged for the album it appeared on. Independence Day and War of the Worlds are essentially the same concept, after all, so I thought H.G Wells’ words here were more than appropriate. This track, by the way, is one of many examples of why you should listen to Symphoniacal with a good pair of headphones.

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Chapter 16. “Exit Mr. Skywalker”

This chapter (and the next one) are some of the most complex pieces in the first half of Symphoniacal because they are composed of dozens of different songs and sounds, some of which I can’t remember. As soon as this chapter opens we are are slapped with an intense moment from The Matrix entitled “Exit Mr. Hat.” These next two chapters were initially conceived with more of a focus on Star Wars, specifically Anakin’s path towards his transformation into Darth Vader. My intention was not to glorify Skywalker (or Vader), but to focus on the darkness and tragedy of someone becoming morally lost.

The intensity at the beginning of this chapter represents Anakin’s mother being assaulted and abducted by her captors, the sandpeople. The track “Atrocities” comes from an unrelated work, but the rhythmic nature is meant to echo the idea of those that have taken Shmi Skywalker. After the initial Matrix moment we hear a glimpse of Emperor Palpatine’s theme, who is manipulating the sandpeople through the Force. He intentionally makes the situation worse, and by the time Anakin finds his mother she is delirious and only minutes away from death. The first glimpse of the darkness within Anakin is visible in this moment of Attack of the Clones when Shmi mother dies in his arms. John Williams’ score takes over and slowly builds through this moment. In the movie, the scene cuts away from the violence as soon as it begins, but in Symphoniacal we stay with Anakin as his passion empowers him to tear apart the entire village, women and children included.

At this point I took serious liberties with the audio and remixed things in a way I rarely did throughout Symphoniacal. I mixed in a looped moment from “The Battle” from Gladiator and threw in the (literal) alarming sound from the Dust Brothers’ Fight Club soundtrack. This is to represent the blinding agony that Anakin feels was the dark side surges through him.

This is the when the track “Final Battle” from Van Helsing comes marching in, and it takes over until the next chapter. The triumphant and glorious sound after Anakin’s havoc is intended to be a reminder that sometimes evil does prevail.

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Chapter 17. “Absolute Power”

This is the second to last chapter before we reach the halfway point of Symphoniacal, and I wanted it to build and build and build and BUILD until horror is all we can hear. As Jesper Kyd’s “Apocalypse” pounds on, you can hear the musical tragedy of Anakin Skywalker’s downfall courtesy of John Williams. This is the most traumatic and disturbing section in all six Star Wars films, and for a good reason. Absolute power, as we all should know, corrupts absolutely. Anakin helps to murder every Jedi he comes in contact with, and he even slaughters a room full of children. This kind of unbridled and corrupt power can (and often does) draw us closer to something resembling an apocalypse each time. I added the Joker theme, the virus theme from 28 Days Later, and the apocalyptic moment from Terminator: Salvation because they were thematically appropriate and provided even more noise for this terrible moment.

That’s also why I put that asshole Adolph Hitler in this section. I do not want to glorify him or his ideals. I don’t see him as a fallen hero like Anakin Skywalker. But his rant is dynamic, passionate, and terrifying. And most importantly, the crowd cheering at the end signifies an even more chilling reality: that even in the face of pure evil, people will fervently support it. This was inspired by what Padmé Amidala says in Revenge of the Sith: “So, this is how democracy dies...to thunderous applause.” It’s important to reiterate that my use of Adolf Hitler’s speech is in no way meant to glorify his behavior or his words, and I intentionally made the noise and music cover him up because I wanted it to become part of roar.

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Chapter 18. “Unfathomable”

The last chapter of the first half of Symphoniacal begins with a wall of sound and power, including a human heartbeat that gets more intense, the noise from the chaos in 28 Days Later, and the track “All Is Lost” from the apocalyptic moment in Terminator: Salvation. After the noise ends, the rest of the track is dedicated to John Williams’ masterpiece. This chapter is primarily intended to reflect on the unfathomable things that evil is capable of causing and the tragedy of fallen heroes.

This music presides over what is easily the most tragic moment in the entire Star Wars saga. Anakin Skywalker has just betrayed the people he swore to protect, and he has just murdered hundreds of innocent Jedi, children included. His fall from grace is far more than the story of a young man who has gone down the wrong path; it is the moment when a great hero causes great destruction and horror to untold numbers of people. Misled and misguided by a soothing voice, his turn to the dark side is simply the result of a few carefully chosen words. Say whatever you want about the Star Wars prequels, this moment and this music is one of the most powerful things you’ll ever hear.

As “Anakin’s Betrayal” fades out, we are left with a track from a little-known but incredibly important film called Baraka. This film has no plot or dialogue, but it is loaded with emotional content. Full of world music that is vibrant and rich, this particular track is atonal and haunting. During this part of the film the camera slowly pans by actual torture equipment, gas chambers, and other unholy things that humans have used upon other humans. Many of these things have to be explained because, for the rest of humanity, they are simply unfathomable.

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Chapter 19. “Elbamohtafnu”

If you’ll listen closely you can hear the beginning of this track and the precise moment that we hit the halfway point in Symphoniacal. The track itself has a few sounds that sound like they’re being played backward, and that was the inspiration for what I did. Basically, this section is formed by Michael Stearns’ song playing forward then immediately reversing and playing backward until it fades away. It’s not just kinda halfway or sorta halfway; the beginning of this track is the halfway point of this whole piece down to the millisecond. Which, by the way, is 37 minutes.

I suppose now would be a good time to explain why Symphoniacal is exactly 74 minutes long. Compact discs (for the most part) hold 74 minutes worth of audio. Legend has it that the people who came up with that number were executives at Sony and/or Philips who wanted Beethoven’s entire “Ode to Joy” symphony to fit on a single disc. There’s conflicting evidence that this is the case, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Symphoniacal could go on for days considering how much great music there is out there. When I heard that story about the length of a CD, I envisioned this being distributed on discs and playing in people’s home and car stereos. Since that time we’ve almost completely stopped using discs for music distribution. But I have stuck with this length to focus on the quality (rather than the quantity) of Symphoniacal. That’s why I keep releasing different versions instead of sequels.

Anyway, this particular track will hopefully provide the listener with a moment to relax and reflect on the moments that came before. The emotional drain of sheer tragedy needs a moment to recover, so I let this audio play for a bit before I reversed it and started moving toward the second half. I added audio from a rain forest to give this section a soothing nature, plus I wanted it to feel like we were in the forests surrounded by elves. The music you hear comes from the epic opening scene from Lord of the Rings where they lay the groundwork for the entire saga.

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Chapter 20. “Vans Shimmer”

These new two chapters an extended homage to Hans Zimmer, may favorite modern composer. The first chapter features the more optimistic and heroic themes, which is why it has the word “shimmer” in the title. Zimmer’s music is usually dark, but he is not a one-trick pony. He is a master of genuinely powerful musical composition, able to weave themes together as well as any of history’s greatest composers. In fact, this section almost led me to create an entire Zimmer-based Symphoniacal, but that would just be cheating. As it is, I still feel the need to mix in other pieces to keep this from being a Hans Zimmer remix album.

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Chapter 21. “Sans Glimmer”

And here is where the dark side of Zimmer’s music gets to shine (or not shine, as the title suggests). The audio spoken by John Travolta from the movie Swordfish ends on a note about how Hollywood has a lack realism. It is immediately followed by a powerful section from a very gritty and realistic movie about the true nature of war. Black Hawk Down does not glorify soldiers or war, but shows just how truly horrific these situations can be in modern battle. Travolta’s character is right: realism is not a pervasive element in Hollywood’s modern cinematic vision, and I specifically chose that moment to highlight that there are a few films out there that do fight the trend.

This version of Symphoniacal mixes this section up a bit, and I take a chance to add in other non-Zimmer music. As the power fades away from the Black Hawk Down moment, the intensity remains throughout. There are at least three completely different things playing at once here, all from different composers. This is a good example of stringing unrelated music that is musically similar in order to create a unique thread. The idea was to create something that doesn’t sound like a medley or a remix that simply hops from one song to another.

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Chapter 22. “Sector 6”

The next few chapters are a simple representation of different sources that will lead us into a three-part section on the way to the finale. As the track “Sector 6” blends in, it is designed to move us further away from purely classical nature of the previous songs, with electronic sounds and sudden stops.

But most importantly, this chapter begins with a pivotal musical moment from the Star Wars saga. John Williams’ score for Star Wars is easily one of the most recognizable soundtracks in popular culture. And instead of having a bunch of music we would all recognized, I wanted Symphoniacal to contain the most important musical moments from each of the films. The music you hear at the beginning of this chapter is from the moment when Luke Skywalker returns to his homestead to find his only known family murdered. This is the turning point for young Luke, who is no longer tied to the life he has always known. It is a grim and upsetting moment, especially if you consider that you are watching Luke’s smoldering family. But it is the first important step towards his destiny.

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Chapter 23. “Sleepy Hollow”

        Danny Elfman’s music always fits the mood of the films he works on. But more importantly, sometimes the very nature of his music seems to give a whole new feel to the stories. Without knowing anything about the classical story, you can almost feel the monster on horseback riding through a dark forest. It ends with a triumphant and menacing fanfare that is one of Elfman’s best moments.

        As that song fades away we are suddenly left with a strange atonal sound. This is not just filler. This is the specific moment in the movie 12 Monkeys were Dr. Peters opens a vial filled with a deadly virus and sets it free upon unsuspecting victims at an airport. He then goes off to spread the virus to a dozen cities, and this sets off an apocalyptic plague. It’s extremely short and would probably go unnoticed, which is exactly why I placed it in Symphonical in this way.

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Chapter 24. “Camp Aeterna”

The entirety of this chapter is composed of two completely different tracks that overlap and build off of one another. Gottwald’s score for 2001: A Space Odyssey is unlike most film scores, particularly modern ones. It relies heavily on the mysterious and dissonant notes that build tension. Kamen’s score for X-Men is far more traditional, with a distinct rise and fall. Together, they blend

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Chapter 25. "Fortissi"

This section is where the volume, the energy, and the intensity begins to build that will not stop building until the end of the piece. In many ways it is the third and final act, barreling headlong towards the conclusion. Musicians will recognize the titles of the the next three tracks. For those who do not know, the term "forte" in music means to play loud. The term becomes "fortissimo" if you want the musicians to play very loud. And to get your musicians to even louder than that, you add an "issi" or two into the mix.

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Chapter 26. "Issi"

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Chapter 27. "Issimo"

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Chapter 28. "The Beginning of the End"

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Chapter 29. "Ruminations"

This track features many important elements found throughout Symphoniacal. It all has to do with careful introspection, and the music is this section is meant to reflect that. From “The Katra Ritual” where the mind/spirit of Spock is carefully returned to his body to “Padmé’s Rumination” where she first begins to realize the doomed nature of her relationship with Anakin Skywalker to “Dear Clarice” where Hannibal Lecter (an otherwise terrifying mass murderer) gives sage and insightful advice...all of these things are a part of the “conversation” between people about life-altering subjects. The person you hear speaking at the very end is Aldous Huxley from interview he gave a few decades ago. He is talking about the potentially useful use of hallucinogens as opposed to the abuse of it. Far from advocating its use, he explains how it can be used in collaboration with meditation and careful attention to achieve the same states of consciousness and awareness that artists and religious people have.

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Chapter 30. "Now Leaving Nexus County"

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