1) AUSTIN, YOU WERE IN LONDON RECENTLY WHERE YOU RECORDED MUSIC FOR THE ASSASSIN’S CREED VIDEO GAME. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT ABBEY ROAD AND WORKING WITH BRITISH MUSICIANS?
I’ve been very lucky to work with British musicians a number of times over the years, mostly for games, and I have to say the experience is always extraordinary. Not unlike recording in LA, one of the great joys is that you can ask for incredibly strange lineups and no one bats an eye. My first time I recorded there, I did a day of 8 contrabass clarinets at Abbey Road. Just a couple months ago it was 7 harps, plus 18-voice chamber choir. Superb musicianship and fun times.
On ASSASSIN’S CREED SYNDICATE, the score called for a small string group playing like a proper chamber ensemble. So no doubled parts, no hiding. It was a grueling week of recording and they rose to the occasion magnificently. It was without the hardest I’ve ever pushed session players but we got it all done.
2) HOW IS COMPOSING MUSIC FOR GAMES DIFFERENT THAN COMPOSING FOR FILM AND TV?
I get this question a lot; I need to formulate a pre-written answer because I always feel like I fall short in outlining the meaningful differences. Because at HEART, they’re not terribly dissimilar: write music to accompany something, and tease out its best self. Good storytelling is good storytelling.
However, the differences immediately emerge after you press past that very broad philosophical overview. Because the interactive element of games pulls them dramatically away from film, and actually all other media. Writing an opera, a symphony, an EDM album, a pop ballad or a film/TV score all have far more in common with each other than game scoring, because they’re all at heart linear. Game music (or in most cases, should be) as non-linear as possible. I’m a big believer in game music being as granular and adaptive as imaginable but *without* sacrificing the musicality of the performers. That’s no easy feat, because I like to write music that’s deeply adaptive, and we’re honestly still learning. As an art form, it still has a long way to go (which is exciting! When is the last time we got to participate in the front lines of an entirely new art??!)
3) YOU ARE A WEB SAVVY COMPOSER. COULD YOU PLEASE DESCRIBE THE BENEFITS OF HAVING A STRONG WEB PRESENCE?
Am I web savvy? I’m not sure I so automatically agree. I just have fun on facebook and twitter. I see tools like that (or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever) as just possible extensions of ourselves. I use what fits my personality. I abhor the idea of “social media” as marketing devices. I just like being a nerd on twitter and chatting with fellow nerds!
4) YOU COMPOSE MUSIC WITH STRONG THEMATIC MATERIAL. CAN YOU NAME SOME COMPOSERS THAT INFLUENCED YOU OVER THE YEARS?
Goldsmith is my number one, as anyone who knows will attest (while begging me not to start up some 2 hour Goldsmith diatribe). My love of Goldsmith is the full package though, not just thematic. His overall creativity was just so blinding. He never really let up. But with specific regard to themes, I’ve long admired many of the usual suspects: Williams, Horner, Barry, Delerue, Poledouris, Kamen, Powell, Desplat. Zimmer, for all his reputation with these big grand gestures, has written some really spectacular themes as well. I’m not sure who influenced me the most from that list. Lately I’ve been re-listening to Horner a bit as we passed the one year anniversary of his death, and goddamn could he write some great melodies. For such an old school, genuinely symphonic and not terribly experimental composer, he had such mind blowingly soulful tunes in him.
5) WHAT DO MAJOR GAME DEVELOPERS LOOK FOR IN A COMPOSER? ARE HIRING DECISIONS BASED PURELY ON TALENT?
Game developers hire based on the same spectrum of factors that filmmakers do. Talent, reputation, friendships, specialties, etc, etc etc. I’ve gotten jobs because I was sought out by total strangers, and I’ve gotten jobs because by my luck the developer didn’t really know any other composers so I just became the default. It really runs the gamut. So no, it’s never “based purely on talent” but what is? That’s not to diminish the need to work hard on your craft and try and better all the time, but the world is not so simple as that. A true, realistic meritocracy includes factors like your ability to be in the right place at the right time.