The music of Mists of Pandaria is some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard in World of Warcraft. It’s not like the previous Cataclysm soundtrack, which featured a lot of ominous strings and chanting to make you feel uneasy. Instead, the Mists soundtrack is calm and soothing. Part of this is due to the nature of the traditional Chinese instruments used—the guzheng, a plucked zither; the erhu, a two-string fiddle; and the dizi, a transverse flute. The composers had to learn how to compose music for these instruments; Western music (aka classical music) typically uses a heptatonic scale—seven notes per octave—while traditional Chinese music uses a pentatonic scale—five notes per octave. This radically different composition brings a new character to the world, and it fits the new continent of Pandaria quite well.
I think my favorite part about the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack is that you can’t tell who composed what. It’s a seamless soundtrack. It’s very difficult to hear a piece of music in game and think, “oh, this track was composed by Neal Acree.” The soundtrack is one with itself, which is again befitting of Pandaria.
However, it displeases me that the official soundtrack included with the Mists of Pandaria Collector’s Edition doesn’t include composer information in the metadata. The soundtrack itself lists Neal Acree, Russell Brower, Sam Cardon, Edo Guidotti, and Jeremy Soule, with additional music by Derek Duke. Additionally, the credits for Mists of Pandaria lists Glenn Stafford among the composers, yet there’s no mention of him elsewhere; Stafford has composed music for Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. It’s plausible that he did provide music, but it’s just weird that the Mists credits are the only place he is listed.
To solve these problems and mysteries, we have to dig into the music files used by the game itself. There are over 330 tracks used in Mists of Pandaria for a total of more than 7:15. Seven hours of music! Compare that to the OST, which contains 20 tracks (arranged as suites) for a total runtime of 1:17:51. There’s a lot of great music that you can’t hear on the OST, but I’ll be getting to that shortly. Onto the mystery!
The first thing I noticed when I extracted the music from the game files is that Derek Duke didn’t compose very much music for Mists of Pandaria. He’s mostly responsible for the short, tinny Sha themes, and that’s it. These few snippets are empty yet ominous, which is very different from his fuller compositions. However, it’s still very atmospheric, which makes it fit right at home next to his other compositions.
The second thing I noticed was that Glenn Stafford wasn’t listed in the game files at all. Confused by this, I took to Twitter and asked Russell Brower (@Hordeland) about it directly. This was his response:
I looked further in the game files for the Pet Battle music, and found nothing. That is, until earlier this week, when I extracted the music for patch 5.1; I didn’t find the Pet Battle music in the 5.1 files, but in finding the 5.1 files I discovered that I had overlooked the crucial archive file containing Pet Battle music, among other pieces that I had missed.
This is another reason why I’m displeased with the OST, because extracting files is never a straightforward affair. For example, most of the music for the Wandering Isle is contained in the archive for the Mists expansion (Expansion04.MPQ), while the rest of it is contained the sound archive (sound.MPQ). Granted, these scattered files do not matter to the game client, because the game loads all of the archives, compiles a single list file, and searches in the combined Sound\Music\Pandaria directory; it’s tedious only for a nosy human like me.
The lack of metadata in the Mists of Pandaria OST almost makes sense once you do look at the game files, though. The OST is arranged into suites, so you’ll hear all of the various Wandering Isle pieces combined into a single 2:32 track. You’ll hear the musical styling of Russell Brower, Neal Acree, and Jeremy Soule all at once, transitioning seamlessly between each section.
Onto the actual Mists of Pandaria music
I heard a wonderful piece of music in my first trip to Siege of Niuzao Temple. As I greeted my pick-up group, I was greeted with a piano that brought me into a place of intrigue and mystery. Why am I in this tree, where am I, and what are these bugs doing? I informed my group that it was my first time here, and said, “Ooh, this place has cool music. I wonder if this piece was composed by Jeremy Soule?” It was the first time I ever took a guess as to who the composer was. The Siege of Niuzao Temple is not the only place you can hear this music; you can hear it at Niuzao Temple in Townlong Steppes, as well as the surrounding area. It seems to be primarily related to the Sha of Fear, Niuzao, and the Mantid, but you can also hear it in Mogu’shan Vaults—listen for it in the corrdior connecting the Golden Hall to the Dias of Conquerors! The piece of music I’m talking about is ‘Scholomance H3,’ and it IS by Jeremy Soule. (As an aside, most of the tracks I name were extracted from the game files, unless I explicitly state it’s on the OST.)
The music in Shado-Pan Monastery sweeps me up like nothing else. Most of it is an amalgam of ‘Way of the Monk,’ ‘Sha (Spirits of Hatred)’, and ‘Shado-Pan’ off the OST. I’m not fond of the Sha music; it’s too creepy and unsettling, which is perfect overall. Inside the Snowdrift Dojo, there’s a combat event against novice students. During the fight, ‘Ginsu Valor 3H’ comes on, which was composed by Sam Cardon. Between the subdued percussion and choir, this is a great piece of music that fits the dojo location really well. After leaving the Snowdrift Dojo, there is one piece in particular that always comes on: ‘WoW Cardon 4 Strings’ by Russell Brower. It’s snowing, there is a great vista, and we have seen the stakes are raised. The music reflects all of this so well; we’re cleansing Shado-Pan Monastery while we join the annals of its history. It features the same Cardonian melody that we hear inside the Snowrdrift Dojo, as well as when we visit the Temple of the White Tiger, the Temple of the Jade Serpent, or any of the other Monk sanctuaries.
I love visiting the taverns in Pandaria. The music is so bouncy and playful! Edo Guidotti did a fantastic job with the ‘Toast’ tracks. I’ll sometimes log in just to sit in a tavern and let WoW run in the background as I take care of other stuff (like writing this article!) If you’re ever feeling in a rut, visit any tavern in Pandaria and crank the music up. It’s warm, inviting, and lets you kick back and put your feet up as you down a pint; you’ll feel right at home. This also due in part to Neal Acree’s ‘Family’ tracks, which is slower and calmer, creating a place of safety. whether you’re taking a break from the farm or dailies, or just trying to get out of the rain—and why would you want to do that?—it’s the perfect complement to the regular tavern music.
So far, the only piece of music on the entire Mists of Pandaria soundtrack that I have only animosity for is “Gecko 4 1H” by Russell Brower. The first 50 seconds aren’t too bad, but then it cuts out. A few seconds later, we’re treated to a little bit of guzheng and it’s very calm. Then CRESCENDO! It goes to full orchestra. It goes from small and calm to big and loud. It stays big for about 20 seconds before it goes even bigger and louder. Not even 15 seconds later, we’re treated to a THIRD crescendo that somehow manages to be even louder than before. This track plays whenever I go from the Shrine of Two Moons towards Halfhill; it’s the Eternal Summer Fields sub-zone. What makes it worse is that transitioning over to the Valley of Four Winds doesn’t change the music as it’s supposed to, so when you should be hearing nice quaint communal farming music, you’re hearing this racket that’s getting louder and louder. I hate it. It’s the only time where I would prefer no music. Oddly, a quick burst—muting and unmuting—fixes it; it either switches the music to the proper zone or picks a better track to play. “Gecko 4 1H” isn’t on the OST, but you can hear the melody used as part of the intro for The Wandering Isle; the intro doesn’t suffer from the same overbearing crescendo, though.
Lastly, I like that on the Wandering Isle, there’s a Lorewalker who recounts the tale of Liu Lang, the first Pandaren explorer. He sings a song, but there aren’t any lyrics available. I mean that as, there’s no pamphlet in the OST with the English lyrics and there’s no in-game book with Pandaren or Common lyrics like there was with Lament of the Highborne. I first heard this song when I was watching the 48-minute long credits reel for the expansion before it was released. When I visited the Wandering Isle and heard the song for myself, I realized what it was I heard. When I flew through Krasarang Wilds on my main the next day, I heard bits of the Liu Lang song. After finding all the Lorewalker objects for Liu Lang, and leveling a pandaren on the Wandering Isle, I began to appreciate the resonance between the two zones. It’s thematically resonant because Liu Lang has a statue on the beach; it’s the same beach where Shen-zin Su was born and where Liu Lang departed Pandaria. Coincidentally, it will start raining in the Krasarang Wilds and no one can tell if you’re tearing up or not.
I’ll be listening to the music introduced in 5.1 and keeping an ear open for anything interesting. Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite tracks from the Mists of Pandaria soundtrack?