Spinal is the Killer Instinct franchise’s resident bone daddy, so when it came time to lay down his theme for the 2013 reboot, composer Mick Gordon naturally procured an instrument made from an actual human bone to round out the track.
“The last little bit that I wanted to add was something a little bit creepy,” Gordon told fighting game documentarian Esteban Martinez of Hold Back to Block. “Seeing as [Spinal’s] a skeleton, right, I wanted to find something that was a little bit evil and dark and, I don’t know, meant something. Something that you’d use to summon a skeleton warlord.”
What Gordon tracked down to fill this role was a kangling, a Tibetan instrument traditionally carved into a human femur or tibia—otherwise known as the two massive bones that make up your leg—and used in Buddhist rituals and funerals. You can hear the kangling briefly in the opening to Spinal’s theme, around the time a round would start in the game.
“If we have an idea like this, I don’t tend to share it,” Gordon added. “I would rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission. If I had approached upper management and said, ‘Hey, I’m looking at recording a human bone,’ I don’t know. And the moment you ask, if they say, ‘No,’ then you definitely can’t do it.”
Mick Gordon is one of the most talented video game composers around. He’s provided fantastic music to everything from Destroy All Humans! and Need for Speed to Doom and Wolfenstein, but his multifaceted work on the 2013 Killer Instinct reboot, for my money, stands as one of his crowning achievements in the industry.
But something about this situation comes off as a little disrespectful to me. Kanglings are meaningful ceremonial tools that carry weight in another culture, not regular instruments that can be swapped between projects and environments with little thought. And while Killer Instinct is great, it maybe isn’t so important that you need to cheapen an artifact with such significance.
In any case, be sure to check out Hold Back to Block for more insight into the creation of the Killer Instinct soundtrack as well as other fighting game-related projects. They put out some great stuff.