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Meet the composers behind the 1.21 Update soundtrack!

Composing the Trial Chambers

Meet the musicians behind the 1.21 Update soundtrack!

What melody captures the moment of meeting a breeze for the first time? And what does successfully navigating a trap-filled trial chamber sound like?

Take a musical journey into the trial chambers and listen to the Tricky Trials album on your favorite streaming platform – today! In fact, why not listen along as we speak to the three composers behind these beautiful tracks: Kumi Tanioka, Lena Raine, and Aaron Cherof to understand what composing for a game like Minecraft is like, what inspired them, what challenged them, and more!

A musical journey into the trial chambers 

Trial chambers are a very special feature of the Tricky Trials Update not just because they’re full of traps, tricks, and treasure; but because each trial chamber you find will have a different layout, different mobs to do battle with, and different challenges to face!  

“Keeping the trial chambers in mind framed my entire composition process. Especially “Deeper”, which felt like a piece closely tied to my visualization of the trial chambers: new colors, materials, and a sense of intentional design in an otherwise chaotic space.” – Lena Raine

Lena Raine is no stranger to challenges. Having gained her degree in composition, Lena struggled to break into music, and instead focused her early career on her love of game design. Later, she was able to combine her passions for composing and video games by writing the music for Celeste. Since then, she’s composed music for several video games, including Minecraft! Composing for the Tricky Trials Update proved a little challenging for Lena, too as she wanted to do something she’d not tried before: 

“I was determined to try out some new sounds for “Deeper”, but nothing I did seemed to work. I spent two days recording, but I didn't like where it was going. So I made the radical decision to scrap everything and start again (which was really tough after 2 days of work!) What I ended up with, however, ended up becoming one of my favorite tracks.

“Deeper” isn’t as dark as some of the Nether tracks, but it speaks to a slightly darker side of the Overworld, and evokes a feeling of constrained darkness.”

Lena Raine

Aaron Cherof, who has been composing for games for fifteen years and worked on the soundtrack for the Trails & Tales Update, used darkness in a different way in his composition process – by creating one of his tracks while sleeping. This is a level of multitasking I can only dream of – and even then it doesn’t happen!  

I’ve been composing for a long time, but having a musical idea come to me in a dream is something that’s only happened twice in my entire life! “Watcher” had been rattling around unfinished in my head for a while, so it spent a lot more time “in the oven” than my typical songs. Working on this update was the inspiration I’d needed to give “Watcher” form, and finish it! It’s pretty magical to hear it out in the world after being trapped in my head for so long!” – Aaron Cherof

Kumi Tanioka worked at Square Enix until 2009 before going freelance, and now as well as composing music for a variety of games (including Minecraft!) she publishes her own original albums, and performs her music live. For Kumi, the challenge of creating music for the Tricky Trials soundtrack was all about trying to find a perfect balance, not just for her but for Minecraft fans who create their own worlds within the game.

“I never want to destroy the world that Minecraft fans have in their minds, and I also want to express my own feelings in the music, too. Finding the balance between how far to go and where to restrain myself while also making Minecraft fans happy was difficult!”

Kumi Tanioka

A Chorus of New Challenges 

"I hope players can enjoy a feeling of nostalgia even when listening to songs they’ve never heard before as they embark on an adventure through the unknown." - Aaron Cherof

I’ve never thought of myself as a competent combat player, but for this update I’m determined to give the trial chambers my best shot, and clasp my blocky hands around one of the smashing new weapons: the mace! Of course it’ll probably take me hundreds of attempts and lots of broken armor, but you know what they say! If at first you don’t succeed, run away screaming try, try again. 

Kumi Tanioka tried something new in her composition process, too – to surprising ends!

“For the first time, I used an instrument called aquarion [a glass xylophone]. I love the sound of the piano, so I really wanted to use its tone, but I had been struggling to express something new with only the piano. Then I heard the aquarion, and the instrument really resonated with me. I immediately thought of a motif for a Minecraft song! Another track, “pokopoko”, includes a new sound that we created using a bamboo instrument. It’s a simple but warm tone, and it allowed me to approach the world of Minecraft from a different perspective.”

Kumi Tanioka

I think I might try and learn from Kumi, and approach the trial chambers from a different perspective, too. Perhaps the breeze just wants to be my friend? And if that’s the case, then maybe I shouldn’t thwack it with a sword? Sure, befriending the breeze wouldn’t be a conventional way of trying to get a trial key, but according to Lena Raine sometimes breaking with convention is sometimes a good thing.

“There are a lot of composers playing with microtonal compositions, or breaking from western tonality. As a composer who primarily works within conventional harmony, I've always wanted to try writing less "normal"-sounding music, and I played a lot with a sense of tuning in the second half of 'Endless'. I wanted to toy with the perception of tonality (which instrument feels out of tune with which?) and was pleasantly surprised by the result!” – Lena Raine

Unexpected Surprises

Aaron Cherof understands the trepidation and excitement of approaching a new challenge. When composing the track for one of the music discs, breaking new ground dirt blocks was something really important to him. 

“Without spoiling it for players who haven’t discovered it yet, the music disc was really exciting, as well as being unknown territory for me. My goal was to write something that hadn’t been explored musically within the world of Minecraft before. Inspired by some of my favorite music, I tried to filter that through a different lens. In the end, I hope the music disc track can also inspire players to try venturing into unfamiliar waters on their own creative journeys!”

Aaron Cherof

Consider me inspired, Aaron! On top of claiming the mace and befriending the breeze, I’ll now be going on a hunt for the music discs included in this update so I can bring the feeling of the trial chambers home with me, starting with the wonder you feel when you first uncover that rectangular structure deep underground. This quiet sense of amazement is something Kumi Tanioka wanted to preserve in her compositions, too: 

“These songs are for listeners who love the Minecraft universe, who love Minecraft music, and while of course you can listen to my songs separately as a soundtrack, I hope that you will take some time to listen to my music while playing. I wrote my songs in the hope that players who are on a journey inside Minecraft will not wake up from that dream world. On the contrary, I hope the music will help them immerse themselves in their Minecraft world even further, and enjoy it even more.” - Kumi Tanioka

Hypnotizing melodies 

Kumi Tanioka’s music is so dreamy that I can find myself utterly hypnotized while mining for resources (I want all the new decorative blocks coming with the Tricky Trials Update!). Of course mindless mining can be a little dangerous in the trial chambers, especially if you stumble across a trial spawner! Then things get tense really quickly, something Lena Raine has tried to weave into her music.

“One of my favorite things to do in ambient music is to have this sense of tension bursting at the seams. I put some explosive processing on a track, while holding it back with gating, only letting it out occasionally. This creates a wonderful sense of tension where suddenly an unexpected 'scream' comes from the synth before it ducks down again, giving you an uncertain surprise!”

Aaron Cherof

This update is filled with surprises, from the breeze’s wind charges triggering everything from switches to tripwires, to the way enemies scale based on the size of your adventuring party! Aaron Cherof dropped a few surprises into his compositions too, in celebration of Minecraft turning a very big number: 

It’s Minecraft’s 15-year anniversary this year, and I wanted to celebrate that by using mostly minimalistic instrumentation. Piano has always been at the heart of Minecraft music, and many of the songs I wrote for Tricky Trials have piano at their core – along with a few extra surprises along the way for listeners. I hope players can enjoy a feeling of nostalgia even when listening to songs they’ve never heard before as they embark on an adventure through the unknown!” – Aaron Cherof

"I never thought I would be part of building the Minecraft world again, so I feel very honored to have been able to create these three songs." – Kumi Tanioka

What's your favorite track?

Asking a composer to pick their favorite track is a bit like asking me to pick my favorite wolf variation – impossible! But of course I asked them anyway.  

“Of course, I like all three songs because I put my heart and soul into them, but I especially like “pokopoko”. In this track I wanted to express a bird's-eye view of the world of Minecraft while delving a little more freely into it. To craft “pokopoko”, I travelled throughout the Overworld, listening to all the great Minecraft music as I explored, and then I imagined the world I wanted to express.” – Kumi Tanioka

"It’s hard to pick a favorite! But I think if I had to narrow it down to one, it’d be “Featherfall”. I love the journey of the song, and the simplicity of the duet between the piano and music box at the heart of it. I fell in love with the melody while writing it, and I think I could live in the coda of the song forever." – Aaron Cherof

“’Deeper’ really sticks out for me. Perhaps because it's a bit of a weird one in terms of how I came up with it, because I had to throw away two days’ work and start from scratch! On my second attempt, I started with a glitched-out piano synth which can be heard after the intro, before it goes into the main groove. The way it cuts up the rhythm into different rhythmic groupings was really inspiring to start playing with polyrhythms and build up the mood. I also played with the processing on the synths to create this wonderful sense of tension.” – Lena Raine 

What’s your favorite track of the Tricky Trials album? Listen to it today on Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you like to listen! 

Sophie Austin
Written By
Sophie Austin
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