We chat to composer and orchestrator Alex Palmer about the Australian 20th Anniversary ‘Halo’ performance that took the world by storm.

In case you missed the memo, Xbox just celebrated its 20th anniversary, making gamers feel both nostalgic and painfully old in one fell swoop. To celebrate the big occasion, alongside the anniversary of the company’s biggest franchise Halo, Xbox partnered with The Sydney Youth Orchestra and Paul Glass, Kamilaroi Man, to produce a uniquely Australian performance inspired by the music and visuals featured in the shooter series.

It was a surprise inclusion in the online presentation that struck a real chord with long-time fans of the Halo series. And behind the scenes of it all was none other than composer and orchestrator Alex Palmer. If you caught the performance (you can check it out below), you’ll instantly note the strong Australian influences running throughout the incredibly beloved score.

According to Palmer, who arranged the piece, that was a very intentional decision – especially when it came to the didgeridoo. “The principal way in which we sought to bring a particularly Australian feel to this piece was through the use of the didgeridoo. Although it’s widely known as Australia’s most famous instrument, the true range of what it can do is often less well-understood. Showcasing some of the wide range of effects that is possible was one of my main goals, as well as tying this in with the traditional orchestral palette.

Some of these didgeridoo techniques include the manipulation of harmonics in a way that the traditional instruments of the orchestra cannot, as well as short impactful techniques like barking which we hear at the very end of the piece. I’d also like to acknowledge my tremendous respect for the didgeridoo soloist on this particular arrangement, as well as the long tradition of didgeridoo music and Australian indigenous music more broadly.”

With over two decades of history and eight games in the core series, there is certainly no shortage of material to work with. Every fan has their favourites, so much of the main challenge for Palmer was finding a way to add an original and personal flair while still honouring the vibe and recognisability of the original.

“Ultimately going with the main three excerpts that we viewed as non-negotiable brought us to a good length to accompany the visual content that had been prepared, so we were happy with that duration,” he explains about the creative process.

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“We certainly considered including even more musical content, but we ended up deciding to leave it there. In terms of deciding how to structure those excerpts, for me creating a captivating introduction, a contrasting middle, and in this case an explosive finale was the main goal. So laying out the excerpts in this way was a natural choice that hopefully succeeded on that front.”

At the end of the day, the composer and orchestrator was chuffed to play a role alongside the incredible talents at the Sydney Youth Orchestra. “It was a tremendous pleasure for me to be part of the celebration, and the fulfilment of a lifelong dream of making a small contribution to the body of Halo’s music,” Palmer admits. “I’m part of the generation who was just beginning to play video games when the Xbox debuted 20 years ago, so taking this opportunity to also reflect on that 20-year period and how far the Halo series, as well as Xbox as whole, has come in that time was a privilege!”

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