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‘Take This Life’: Tom Salta about the creation of Halo’s first ever pop song

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I bet many of you have played video games since you were little and on any device you could get your hands on. Now think of any video game series that has left a major impact on you up until today. Then no matter if it was through climbing an E-Sports ladder, gaining experience in programming and several RPG makers or via evolving your music or design skills, I am sure there was a time where you told yourself: I want to make a living from being part of a video game series like this!

This is exactly what composer Tom Salta thought when he got his hands on Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001: He was so amazed by the soundtrack that he took Halo as an incentive to turn around his prior career as a record producer and started out in the world of scoring for video games (you can read more about it next week). Only five years later he was already nominated at the MTV Video Music Awards for his score for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 1&2. Again five years later, in 2011, he got a call and was invited to become part of the team re-scoring that very game which made him risk his whole career only to get into making music for games. Obviously, he was speechless but got to work as soon as he could on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

Now fast-forward to 2015 when Tom was working on the original score for the animated series Halo: The Fall of Reach which was already his fifth involvement with 343 Industries’ Halo series. He sat on his piano thinking of a fitting theme for the initiator of the Spartan II Program, Dr. Halsey. The more he got into it the more he felt how well the melody would fit a full song. Having a background as a songwriter as well as having produced albums for major pop artists such as Cher, Whitney Houston and Peter Gabriel he got to work instantly. And then, all of a sudden he found himself composing, arranging and producing the very first pop song in the history of all Halo games – based upon lyrics exclusively written by Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director for the Halo franchise at 343 Industries, in collaboration with Jillian Aversa and Tom Salta.

This is the inspiring story of how Tom Salta created Take This Life featuring fantastic vocalist Jillian Aversa, well-known from previous Halo titles. The sad part about it is not only the moving lyrics of the song but all the more that almost nobody will hear of this song as it never actually appeared in HALO: The Fall of Reach – and therefore it is up to you to spread the word about this fantastic song and get everyone you know to create i.e. fan videos based on it to carry the unique story it tells as far as possible.

Below you can read what Tom told me about it all and you can find the fantastic lyrics to the song too, telling the story of the Spartan II Program and it’s many deaths in a way never told before: From the eyes of the children who were taken from their families to be put through the horrific procedure to be turned into cybernetically enhanced supersoldier to save humanity.

tom salta take this life
The emotional lyrics of ‘Take This Life’
by Frank O’Connor, Jillian Aversa and Tom Salta. You find them in text form here.

It’s a very meaningful song in the Halo universe. I come from a background as a songwriter and producer, so a lot of times I end up gravitating toward songlike material and being inspired to turn it into something more. There was a theme that I referenced earlier in the More than Luck section, a short piano motiff [You can read more about ‘More than Luck’ in our previous article]. When I was playing it, I thought, “Wow, this is a beautiful melody, we really should turn this into a song!“ I got lost in it and within an hour I had a melody and structure for an entire song. I was getting chills imagining this telling a story about something pertaining to Dr. Halsey, Cortana, Master Chief or the children. I wasn’t sure exactly how, but I knew there was something there. I played it for the Senior Audio Director [Paul Lipson] and he “got it” immediately. Then he played it for franchise director Frank O’Connor, who was one of the original writers from Bungee. Frank heard it and said, he wanted to write the lyrics to this! So now we had one of the original writers and lead franchise director wanting to write the lyrics to an original Halo song!

So it’s not a fan song. It’s a song from the creators of Halo. When we got lyrics back from Frank, Jillian Aversa and I worked on the lyrics to adapt them into more of a song-like form. This was amazing because given that the story behind the lyrics was conceived by Frank, it’s technically an official piece of the Halo canon now. It’s an extension to the story in The Fall of Reach and what’s really cool about it is that he chose to write the song from the perspective of the kids as if they were talking to Dr. Halsey. It’s from a perspective, that’s never been dealt with in any of the novels or games.

Although it was intended to be heard in the ending creditsit didn’t make it in.

It’s an important song– and it’s exclusively on the soundtrack. My hope is that the song gets more exposure. I would love to see videos made to it!

You can send Tom Salta your fan videos via Facebook and Twitter as well as you find his contacts on his website. You can purchase ‘Halo: The Fall of Reach’ together with Halo 5: Guardians Limited Edition as well as it is available on the Halo Waypoint Channel and on Blu-ray. The Soundtrack is available on iTunes and Spotify.

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Based in Berlin, Germany. Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief. Music Producer at Eon Sounds Productions. Founder of Composers for Relief. Keeps Moving.

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