What does a cherry grove sound like? If you’re lucky enough to stumble upon this biome once the Trails & Tales update releases, then beneath the buzz of bees and the occasional baah of sheep, you’ll hear something very special: a new piece of ambient music. But what melody does serenity have? And how do you turn falling petals into a piano score? That’s what we’re asking Aaron Cherof, the composer for the Trails & Tales update, as we dig deep into the enchanting sounds of the new cherry grove biome.
Aaron Cherof: “We’re in cherry blossom season in Seattle right now, and I look forward to it every year. It’s a moment of transformation where the world suddenly looks bright and different after the cold grey of winter. Cherry blossoms are a highlight of spring that disappear all too quickly.
With this piece, I wanted players to feel something magical. Like there’s something glittering in the wind that might disappear at any moment. I wanted the music to encourage players to pause and appreciate an ephemeral natural beauty before it fades away, and carry that inspiration with them.”
“With this piece, I wanted players to feel something magical”
Listening to this track and following bees between the trees is how I’m going to spend 80% of my time once the update releases (the other 20% will be spent building the pink cottage I’ve always dreamed of). This is what makes composing music for Minecraft different compared to other games, Aaron says, because players are often left alone with their own thoughts and actions.
“Minecraft is notable in terms of its music because at times it’s more about the absence of sound than the presence of it. Even when there is in-game music the score is reserved in terms of rhythm and percussion. That’s the opposite to most games, which pack audio at you constantly to try and make you feel a certain way.”
“I’ve done a number of songs for games with minimal or no rhythmic elements to them, “The Stillness of Night” from Moment to Midnight, for example, but those tend to be the exception rather than the rule. With Minecraft, the music rarely intrudes, letting the ambiance of the game world carry the mood for the players.”
Anyone who has accidentally stumbled into the deep dark will agree with Aaron: silence can be just as powerful as sound. Especially when that silence suddenly gets punctuated by a piercing shriek. But my regular inventory loss aside, as a humble crafter of words, I admit being a little in awe of the music-composing process, especially discovering one’s muse. For this piece, Aaron drew his inspiration from a story that he remembered reading back in his college days.
“I wanted to capture the feeling of a familiar but foreign world”
“I was thinking specifically about Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter. The original story – which I read on quiet shifts at a bookshop back in college – is about Moomintroll’s journey, where he combats his loneliness to find new friends and experiences in winter. The story really stuck with me, and I wanted to capture these feelings: where Moomintroll wakes up in a familiar but foreign world, and that solitude, along with the mystery of the unknown that sits at the heart of Minecraft.
One of the other things that inspired me so much on this project was how community is at the heart of Minecraft, and it feels like the game is such a collaborative effort between the development team and its gaming community.”
Aaron Cherof, the composer for the Trails & Tales update
For Aaron, community is something that’s really important. “My life is bettered every day by the communities I’m a part of, both offline and online, socially and creatively. Creativity can’t breathe in a void; and the encouragement I’ve received from people who play the games I’ve worked on, and from the people who’ve listened to the music I’ve written, makes a monumental impact on me and inspires me to keep creating.”
Collaborating is one of my favorite things to do too, both in Minecraft and in life. After all, isn’t building better when one of us (me) can go and pick the new cherry petals, and the other can pop to the Nether to fetch Netherrack? I think so, but my Realm buddies don’t agree. Aaron’s collaboration with Mojang sounded a lot more equal!
“I’m really grateful that I was able to express so much of my own voice through this soundtrack”
“Mojang Studios gave me a lot of freedom with this piece, which I was really humbled by. They were great collaborators and gave helpful, creative feedback throughout the process. They encouraged me to push and pull on the dynamics more, and in some spots they suggested changes to the instrumentation. Overall it felt like smooth sailing with the composition and construction of the piece, and I’m really grateful that I was able to express so much of my own voice through this soundtrack.”
Ah, I see now where I’ve gone wrong on my Realm. Next time, I’ll volunteer to be the one that goes to the Nether (I just can’t promise I’ll come back with anything in my inventory).
Luckily in Minecraft my builds tend to be very piecemeal. I start with everything made from dirt blocks and then replace them with something prettier as I get further into my save file. A delightfully chaotic method, as far as building goes, while Aaron’s process of creating music sounds much calmer.
“I usually write music in linear chunks, where I fully develop 8-16 bars of music at a time”
“I’ve joked in the past about calling my compositional method “building bridges to nowhere”! I usually write music in linear chunks, where I fully develop 8-16 bars of music at a time, and I learn where it’ll goes from there as I write it. Often I’ll start with an opening that builds up slowly, then I’ll have an idea for a transitional section, and then another transitional section, and I end up with these musical ideas that constantly venture forward without always looping back to where they started.”
“I end up with musical ideas that constantly venture forward without always looping back to where they started”
As a pianist primarily, Aaron often composes most of his work on the piano before translating it into other instruments. “If I’m aiming for a specific feel or vibe, I might come up with a soundscape first and leave some space carved out for a melody to come in later, but melodies are often the first thing I come up with. So I’ll build everything else up around it to support the lead instrument.”
Aaron is an avid gamer, too. This year he’s been playing Tunic, Outer Wilds, Pizza Tower, and more; and both video games and music have been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“I knew I wanted to write music for games but had no idea how to get into it.”
“Most of what I played growing up were JRPGs for SNES and PS1, so when I started writing music around age 11-12, I was deeply influenced by the soundtracks to Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross and the Final Fantasy games. Later, in my teens, I spent more time listening to video game soundtracks than anything else I could find in record stores.
I knew I wanted to write music for games but had no idea how to get into it. Then in the late 2000s/early 2010s indie games were becoming popular, which was great because those games were made by people in my community that I could get involved with!”
Aaron became engaged with the Seattle indie game developer community and participated in game jams such as Ludum Dare, Molyjam, and TIGJam where he met people to collaborate with. At the same time, he was getting involved with game remixes and putting out his own music – such as Anagnorisis, which he released in 2015 – an album that led him to work with Ben Driscoll / @daisyowl and John Guerra / @johndaguerra on Sunshine Heavy Industries (Rocket Rat Games).
“We’ve collaborated on 5 projects so far, my favorite of which was probably the Sunshine Heavy Industries soundtrack. It felt like such a collaboration between the game inspiring the music, and then the music inspiring the game. The greatest thing you could hope for as a creator is to find people that you can build things with, and who inspire you to make your best work.”
“The greatest thing you could hope for as a creator is to find people that you can build things with, and who inspire you to make your best work.”
I am inspired every day by my Realm mates, who share their building talents with me and show me time and again that there are always more things you can do with a trapdoor! Aaron played Minecraft when it first released in Alpha, and was surprised to see how much the Overworld had changed when he stepped back into the game for this project.
“It’s been astonishing to see how much the game has grown. I think it’s important for games like Minecraft to exist, because they bring people together. I’m humbled and honored to have been approached to write the score for Trails & Tales, and I’m really excited to see what it inspires players to create together.”
Well I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly feeling inspired. Will I build the fence for my new cottage out of Nether brick? Possibly! Has Aaron left us all a challenge to incessantly tweet him our cherry-grove-inspired builds? I hope so because I love a challenge.