Bastion is a game by Supergiant Games. If you haven’t played it yet, you really should.
The music playing in the background? It’s a pleasant mix of spaghetti western plus modern electronica. Darren Korb, the in-house composer, says he used Logic (and I can hear some Apple Loops in there, too) to sequence it. That gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, being a fellow Logic user. However, there are two spare tracks, just guitar and voice, that really cut through the thick morass of distorted guitar, snappy synths, and breakbeats. They are technically simple, but they resonate emotionally, much more than the rest of the soundtrack. They’re also the only songs that one person could conceivably perform by themselves (the one exception being the track where the narrator hums the first piece’s melody).
Watch this video to see one of them, as well as a third piece that’s a mashup of the first and second one.
Darren plays these songs in an open tuning, really giving them their characteristic “open-ness”, a sound that rings out because of all the open strings sustaining constantly. Now, I learned to play the two main songs, “Build That Wall” and “Home Sweet Home”, in regular tuning, mainly due to Internet tabs written as such and laziness on my part, and they still sound fine. You hear the music and sing the words, and you get the gist. For a quick accomplishment and bout of satisfaction, it gets the job done. Such renditions are not really “authentic,” though. You miss out on certain notes that shape the music in a distinctive way when you play them this way.
Retuning your guitar to play a couple songs is annoying, though, right? 99% of the popular music out there is written with the good ol’ EADGBE, and that makes it versatile when you just want to play a bunch of songs. I just want to be able to pick up the guitar and play a bunch of stuff without having to think about changing string tension. However, alternate tunings do mix up your way of thinking and can make you write and play differently. I think my first real dip into the world came via Soundgarden in the late 90s, a band that often writes things in alternate tunings. Whether this contributes to their unique sound or not is debatable, but it makes you think about composition in a new way. Each alternate tuning is like a portal to a different world of musical possibilities.
Years later, I wrote a song called The New Standard, which is written in open C tuning. I don’t play this song a lot when I’m noodling around. Can you guess why? ;-P It’s a great song, and something I never would have written in standard tuning, but needing to retune 5 out of 6 strings just to play it? Not going to happen often. This is the inherent risk in writing something in a non-standard way, no matter how fresh or novel the tune might be.
To sum up my point, Bastion’s spare guitar songs are beautiful. They’re largely beautiful because they lay a bare framework for a fantastic and melancholic voice. The guitar parts can be played in standard tuning, and I don’t think the fundamental core of the songs are lost. Playing them in their original open tuning, on the other hand, is what makes it truly distinct and will remain the only true, authentic versions.
That being said, I think I’ll stick to standard tuning for the time being.