World Building

I once read somewhere that J.R.R Tolkien created Middle Earth to give his Elvish language place to grow and thrive. Not sure if that’s actually true or not, but I certainly like the concept, and I’ve recently been interested in trying to apply it to music. In other words, constructing a world/culture, then writing a set of music/soundscapes suitable for that world.

Has anyone ever tried doing anything like this? General world-building links/thoughts are also appreciated too!


On a more subtle level, don’t we all do this? Our consciousness, decisions, judgments, beliefs, etc… set up a worldview and operate within in it.

By becoming more aware of how we’re involved in this natural process we can tweak of our worldview into a substrate for whatever you want to grow creatively, at the risk of forgetting that you created what you’re experiencing, and getting lost… I guess this a little similar to the theme of inception yeah? :slight_smile:

I hope this doesn’t distract form your main point just what came to mind… World building starts with the world we inhabit, or we must inhabit the worlds we build in order to give them authenticity? Maybe not?


This is, in effect, how video game music is composed - I imagine resources on that may be helpful.

1 Like

I have built (and am still building) a world in which my semi-weekly D&D game takes place for a few years now. In general, it’s a wonderful hobby that will teach you so much about basically everything, depending on what parts of your world are interesting to you. While it started as a place to tell stories with my friends, I have actually used it to get inspiration for making art, although not music in my case. I sometimes make ink drawings and poems based on the mythology in my world and it has been nice to make small pieces that are all tied together by something larger.

I was thinking about relevant resources on worldbuilding, but to be honest, all I know about is ways to make a world that is meant for storytelling. I wouldn’t know how to start something that lends itself to giving context to your music. But if someone is interested, I will gladly provide some of the things that have helped me.


A few years ago I began notes on a sort of fantasy novel aimed at younger/teenage readers. Overall the task has proved a great challenge and I’ve been unable to sustain the necessary focus on it. But it’s been an enjoyable exercise for the imagination. Perhaps I’ll finish it by the time my children are teenagers themselves!

I was making music at the same time and for one track felt immersed in reproducing the sort of dreamlike, vague, organic environment in which part of the story was set. But I fear the methodology of this worldbuilding, although certainly guided by the idea, was largely just my linking the idea of the place to arbitrary sonics. Nevertheless I liked the end result.

1 Like

This idea could be nicely applied to subcultures. Whether it be a political aim or just expression, people create these lifestyles for themselves and their like minded peers to inhabit and explore. Coming from a fashion background, this is very evident in many of subcultures who develop a style specific to their world view. Taking ideas from here and there, creating new ones, and furthering the assemblage of one’s self and community. Many of these ideas are tied to music scenes as well.

When I think of this world building in music, I think of scenes that develop in small (or large) towns across the world in which the artists are trying to escape the world they see around them through their music. Whether that be by creating an atmosphere to take them mentally away, or creating a career that will literally let them leave and explore the world they are creating.

In terms of musicians creating worlds for their music, someone like IglooGhost is developing a sort of lore to the characters he uses in his artwork that the music is framed around. Gorrilaz definitely embody this idea to the fullest extent. The band isn’t even technically real. Maybe even MF Doom fits in this conversation.
Sorry if this isn’t completely with the ideas you were saying but it got me thinking!


Yes. Someone is interested! Please share!

I’m writing a scifi/fantasy series, and I would say that my music often exhibits a two-way influence. I’ve long had a notion of using themes of the series as guides and impetus for music production (much in the manner of a soundtrack), though I would say that the tone of my writing is more likely to be influenced by my tastes in music production, rather than any likelihood of my constraining the music to suit the writing; I think that’s the thrust of what you’re getting at, and though I would also say that the bones of the story and the world do stand on their own, it is my contention that they emerge from out of the same primordial soup as the music and undergo parallel mutations along the way.

Along similar lines, I have a slightly less escapist angle from which neither my music nor my writing could ever be divorced: I’ve adopted a similar approach to that evident in works of futurism, vorticism, and what I believe is aptly referred to as militant modernism. Works of this sort envision another world running parallel to or emerging out of the contemporary context, or at least the germ of such a world; at any rate, work of this sort always seems to insinuate that world into our own as an integrated part of it (in architecture, for instance) but also in making art for such a world as though it were already immanent. As to the latter, Stanisław Szukalski actually represents a rather unique approach to this impulse distinctive from its modernist/futurist counterpart.

From a more escapist angle (though perhaps curiously so), I tend to think of the likes of Giger or Zdzisław Beksiński as emblematic of a certain necessity of worldbuilding toward a specific sort of artistic generation. On the musical side of things, this is somewhat pronounced with John Carpenter in that, despite composing for soundtracks, his music practically spawned its own genre and endures well outside of its original context and is even almost sufficiently evocative of that context (perhaps more evocative in some cases than the films themselves); while he produced that music only after filming and as a way to save money (so he claims), one could well imagine it the other way around (the films as an excuse for the music) to listen to the results and the legacy of his influence.


Right, then let’s do this. I will keep this focused on D&D, as that is what I know, but take what you can from this. I will start with some resources and then I’ll kind of lay out how I went about it. This may be quite long. You have been warned.

First off, Matt Colville’s youtube channel is just absolute gold should you want to get into worldbuilding with the express purpose of playing role-playing games. He covers a lot of ground talking about everything from implicit assumptions within your worldbuilding to straight-up how to make an interesting NPC. The channel is definitely more about how to DM, but nevertheless, some of it applies and he’s just good at making engaging videos. Highly recommended!

Another channel that I like is WebDM. Again, very much focused on D&D and DMing, but they branch out to other systems and talk a lot about common themes within fantasy and D&D and how to make interesting twists on them. They are more useful for inspiration for me, as they have a very conversational style that I like.

From these two channels, should you enjoy them, I’m sure you will find many similar ones, so I’ll stop here. There is also this collection of links that I have used many times when I was stuck or didn’t know what to work on. The last thing you will need is a way of organising your information. I use a patented method of different notes in different media, all scattered so that I myself never know what is going on at any one point in time. But I’d recommend, one note or even just google docs.
Now none of this really tells you where to start, which is probably the most important question. So I will try to show you a couple of approaches that I used and how it panned out for me.

In my opinion, you can do one of two things. You can start big, or start small. To me, when building fantasy worlds, this means asking myself: do I draw a map or do I construct a town? (Spoiler: I did a combination of both and cannot recommend that. Building cities is hard.) Let’s look at an example!

This is my world. The map is iteration 3, I think, but the original looks very similar. I did not do any planning, I just drew something that looked nice, made some modifications and boom, there you go. My players, in game, have seen about 0.001% of the map, I maybe know what 0.01% of it really is. So one thing I have learned is that it’s good to have enough space. If you look at the map, some parts are not shown. I do not know what lies beyond the map, and that has been good as well, since it gives me room to expand. Most importantly, all of these aspects enable me to have player characters be from anywhere and, should they want to, give them a place that they can build themselves!
Once you have a map, draw some mountains and rivers. You can read up on how mountains come about, or you could just place them wherever you like! Maybe mountains grow where great sorcerers die or maybe they were placed by sentient cakes. It’s your world, go nuts! With mountains and rivers, you have natural borders. Islands function in a similar way. Then you can think about civilizations. Where would people go in your world?

// Quick sidebar: Note how many assumptions I have already made. There are continents, mountains, the ground is made of earth, our natural processes seem to apply, etc. I find thinking about these things before worldbuilding tedious, and since my world needed to be recognisably fantasy medieval europe, I had little room for creativity in that regard anyway. I like making these decisions as they arise.

Let’s take a break from the big picture. Starting small is far less intimidating, but you make slower progress. If you know what time period you’re in and what technology your inhabitants have access to, constructing a town is straightforward. You can go with your gut as to what buildings are in a small medieval town or you can read up on it. (This will be the start of your highly specific google searches.) Again, we’re making a ton of assumptions, but we want to play D&D! Ideally soon! Once you know what buildings or what professions are a part of your town, you will have the thankless job of creating people that are interesting enough that your players will engage with them. Maybe this means that there is a priest of a god in the town! Are there gods in your world? Do your clerics worship sentient cakes? Why not? Maybe one of your players is also a cleric, but he worships the god of cookies, and so you have conflict. What are the tenets of the religion of Uhrgarbl, the great chocolate chip?

I think you can see that, essentially, worldbuilding just is asking a series of questions within constraints that generate more questions. To me, having a goal (like engaging my players) is paramount to getting anything done. I wouldn’t know how to construct something as a context for music, but I’m interested to see what everyone else says! Should anyone want to know more or more specific things, feel free to ask. :slight_smile:


oh this is so me—every single work i’ve ever created exists within the same world.

some of them directly interact, some of them influence each other proximally, and some of them are entirely parallel—they all, however, adhere unfailingly to an underlying pseudo-physical model that governs every aspect of their realization.

i built the model by analyzing a few of my key pieces—primarily a novel and a song—for their shared characteristics, which could then be refined into something closer to a set of fundamental principles. those principles are continuously tempered against additional works—should a new prospect ultimately fail to reconcile with them, however, it is declared an impossibility within the universe and discarded.

after seeing some of relevant discussion in the blogging and emailing threads, i’ve been toying with compiling a wiki that states the rules, lists the works, etc.


I love this idea of inhabitation as the grounds for authenticity. The presence of something authenticates it. Sort of the old “drum machines have no soul” stemming from the inability to identify the presence of a being making the noises occur. Its the subtleties and inconsistencies that create the aura of authenticity. When it comes to this world creation, maybe its not about creating an idea, of the world, but actually inhabiting the idea and attempting to understand the complexities of the idea. LOTR and Stars Wars feel more real because they aren’t perfect fantasies; they’re full of humanity.

1 Like

Thanks all for the thoughts! I’ve gotten some things to chew on for a

One of the things that has inspired me in the last year or so has been
the Codex Seriphinianus. It’s an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world/dimension using an asemic writing system. Most of those illustrations are great by themselves as surrealist sketches, but there’s something really compelling about framing them in the context of a encyclopedic codex. It gives these works a much more immersive context.

So, I suppose my interest is in World Building as a means of curation, and maybe even distribution as well.

I’d like to think that there’s some potential applying this sort of world building slant to experimental music practices. It seems like it could be a fruitful compositional headspace.

For example, I could write some piece or etude in some microtonal scale like Bohlen pierce or something. But instead of leaving it at that and calling it day (as I’ve done many many times before, and will do again), I could pretend for a moment that I was a xenomusicologist transcribing a sacred chorale from a very distant interstellar tribe of aliens, approximately rendered for human ears. Suddenly, there’s more questions and things to explore. Are there other chorales? Is it part of a larger ritual? What’s their religion like? How is this music performed? Where? When? Are there words? What’s the language? Do they even perceive music the same way we do? If not, what does that mean for the “music translation” process and fidelity?

In addition to being an amateur composer, now I’m an amateur linguist, anthropologist, biologist, astronomer, physicist, etc. All because I flipped a bit in my brain and decided my silly little etude needed a backstory in grounded another world. And this can all eventually feed back into compositional choices made in the work as well.


This thread makes me think of some Detroit techno and electro. In particular, the work of Drexciya was shaped around a mythological race and world, recently adapted into a graphic novel

DJ T-1000 (Alan Oldham) also tied his music in with comic art and sci-fi themes. Of course, many other Detroit artists were influenced by sci-fi worlds and Afrofuturism.


Following up on this.

A few months ago, I launched The Candy Crystal Rainbow Codex. It’s not too much world-building at the moment. I’m still trying to build up an aesthetic. Since this for me is really about building a context for some of my audio-visual work, I’m hoping a world and narrative will naturally emerge as the collection grows.

The source code for the project is available on sourcehut and github.


This stuff is wild! Can you shed some light on what is going on?

The little player windows are very interesting, but I can’t make sense of the text in an unrecognizable language…

Well yes. And no. I don’t exactly have a roadmap for what is happening at the moment, mythology-wise. I’m just kinda figuring it out as I go. Your guess is as good as mine for what is going on for most of it.

As the name, implies, the Codex is some kind of sacred text, maintained by some sort of techno-cult. The content in the book comes from another dimension through what they call “transmissions” (sometimes the “light”, or the “spectrum”), and it seems to warp the pysche of the humans who spend their lives contributing to it. What the actual purpose of the Codex is is still unknown.

I can’t make sense of the text in an unrecognizable language…

The text, with few exceptions, is asemic. The text on the pages is generated using this program. The “windows”, which are referred to as “Rainbow Slabs”, also use this same generative text, but with a special alphabet, which I loosely based off of sanskrit. Usually text in the rainbow slabs are comprised of a small handful of words known as koans.

I’m using my music software ecosystem to generate the content.

1 Like

Thanks! So much to explore here.

I have an old connection with asemic writing although I never knew what it was called… How fun!

I look forward to diving into these ideas soon!

1 Like

Really nice. I wish more of the internet chose not to explain itself.

Did you ever read (I think it was) something coming through - as I remember it, the world here was built around humans trying to interact with artefacts that are essentially alien code, but on a physical level - reminds me of this, in a good way!

have not, but I’ll add it to my growing science fiction reading list. seems like a great concept to explore.

That sounds conceptually related to Stanislaw Lem’s His Master’s Voice, based on human scientists trying to make sense of an alien transmission, and all finding it to have meaning in their field and yet still fundamentally untranslatable… If I recall correctly…