1) GARRY, YOU PIONEERED THE USE OF ORCHESTRAS IN VG MUSIC AT A TIME WHEN THE GENRE WAS NOT EVEN A GENRE! CAN YOU PLEASE COMMENT ON THE EVOLUTION OF VG MUSIC AS WELL AS THE DIRECTION OF WHERE IT’S HEADED?
I believe you’re referring to my score for a couple of Philips Interactive games in the early 90’s including ‘Voyeur’ and ‘Voyeur 2’ which had – if not the first – one of the first orchestral scores for a video game. Their technology was a video tree that led the player from scene to scene based upon a series of decisions the player made. Because these video scenes were loaded on the then new CD technology it permitted the use of recorded music to accompany the video. Prior to their game hardware game music was mostly composer generated midi triggering basic synth hardware built into the box or player system you were using. Thus a recorded score was not possible.
A good friend of mine Robby Weaver was the producer and he hired me to score the original Voyeur which had a decidedly Bernard Hermannesque style and he gave me the budget to record with an orchestra here in LA. In 1993 this was very unusual and the game was a hit (thus Voyeur 2) and gave me the nerdy honor of being one of the first to score a game with an orchestra (maybe the first but this is contested). In terms of my work on Voyeur 1 & 2 scoring the scenes in the game was no different than scoring a film or TV show so it was pretty straight forward. At the time it was just another gig and I did not think too much about it. When Philips Interactive eventually closed shop and my friend went on to other ventures and I had no particular focus on games until my reentry into gaming a decade later in 2004 with Destroy All Humans a story in itself and mostly a serendipitous event.
Since then games as opposed to other audio visual works (film/TV etc.) are on a incredible glide path as the technology improves every year and as the creative teams making them improve with the technology exponentially. Because of their success it permits composers like myself to have budgets for orchestras and I believe some of the most creative scores being composed these days are for the medium. That said I would still venture to say that the simple lowly loop remains the most common interactive technique used in our craft. At the same time many composers and developers are implementing music with stunning subtlety making the games score experience feel nearly as composed to picture as in films. I still warn developers that interactivity should not be the enemy of creativity which sometimes can occur. Over reliance on complex interactive techniques can sometimes box a composer in and limit the emotional and creative strength of the score. I think the emotional creative strength of a cue is considerably more important than achieving some incredible feat in interactivity. And if a score becomes too interactive, a player may become distracted by the score and find themselves moving about to achieve certain cool musical results. This is fine in a music centric game and in fact may be the desired outcome. But in a dramatic game this could distract and music should not be distracting a player from the games core goals. Perhaps somewhere out there is the “J.S Bach” of game composers who can achieve it all. Looking forward to seeing and hearing that!
By the way I did not mean to imply that film and TV are not as creative as games. There is some incredible work being done in both those mediums especially television. My point is that even though behind the scenes film/TV continue to employ the latest digital technology – use of that technology does not change the medium in terms of sitting and passively watching the drama unfold. That aspect of the medium has not change since the introduction of sound in October 1927 (release of the first film with synchronized sound).
What’s coming for games? More change as the technology improves for sure. But how will that affect music? Hell if I know! But it does not interest me all that much. What’s most interesting is what moves me emotionally in music. That’s what I care about and I think that’s what interests the public/gamers. That’s not to say that I do not embrace complex interactive techniques. I employ them every day but they are just technique and the best music appeals to the heart.
2) MOST PEOPLE KNOW YOU AS A VG COMPOSER BUT YOU ACTUALLY STARTED OUT AS A COMPOSER FOR TELEVISION. WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES OF THE 2 MEDIUMS WHEN IT COMES TO SCORING?
First of all I would not call myself a video game composer, but instead a composer for visual media, which includes film and TV – as I have scored them all. Of course I love scoring games, and I like to say (which has the added advantage of being true) that the most interesting music I have ever been hired to write has been for games. Hands down being asked to scores games like the ‘Bioshock’ trio and ‘Dante’s Inferno’ or ‘Shadow of Mordor’ with budgets to hire orchestras or amazing soloists is just a great privilege and I am grateful to the development teams that made these amazing works and permitted me to add my music to them.
The similarities between scoring games and music for film and TV is that the music adds an emotional underpinning to all three, enhancing the pathos, the joy, the intensity or anxiety of the viewer. The main difference is of course that much of the music we write for games is not locked to picture, so to give the player the illusion that we are scoring each and every players experience we use sometimes simple techniques (looping) and often fairly complex interactive techniques to achieve this. That just does not exist in film and TV. Some game music actually has more in common with concert music in the way it is composed in the respect that we (the composers) who write it are writing music that captures the essence of a place and moment in the game without being locked to picture. Think program music like Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantisque”. So in essence we are tasked with writing programmatic music untethered to a specific picture but with the added complexity of writing using both linear and vertical techniques like layers, stingers, looping etc. to achieve this. At first it’s a little intimidating if you’ve never done it but it soon becomes second nature. Sort of a fun challenge really like writing counter melodies in a fugue! I have learned to love and appreciate it and it keeps getting more and more interesting as we and our development teams conceive of more and better ways to achieve this.
There are, of course, a number of ways that the business of scoring for games is different than scoring film and TV but I won’t get into that.
3) PARTS OF YOUR STUNNING SCORE FOR ‘Bioshock’ WERE COVERED BY CLASSICAL MUSICIANS ON YOUTUBE! CAN YOU COMMENT ON THIS INCREDIBLE CROSSOVER?
Yes this phenomenon is one of the delights of scoring games as well as TV and films. It’s certainly only made possible because of the digital age we live in. I find it particularly cool that pianists learn and play ‘Cohen’s Masterpiece’ because it is so difficult to master. Geez I can’t play it, or if I wanted to it would take me a while to learn as it’s a real knuckle-buster. The musicians, and I mean first rate classical players, who play game music in particular tend to be young and often are gamers themselves. I think older musicians would tend not to be interested in playing this music for the fun of it. But the musicians who do not only love the music (probably because they love and played the games) but find they can attract a large audience on Youtube with their performances. So for them it’s a win-win. For me it’s been very exciting to see people respond so powerfully to my music. Really touching because someone was affected by music I wrote and that means a lot to me. It’s one thing to be paid to write music for an audio/visual work and that’s wonderful. But for the public to respond so genuinely to it that they’re willing to take the time to practice and learn my music – well that’s very meaningful. Makes what I do even cooler!
I do believe that one of the benefits of writing music for popular medium is that we composers bring both chamber and orchestral music to an audience that rarely goes to the concert hall and perhaps a few of them will, I hope, find the beauty of concert music and start attending live performances of the music the I love and influenced me as I became a composer. The phenomenon of professional orchestras choosing to do concerts of game music to attract a younger audience is wonderful!
Equally cool is the fact that I’ve been invited to conduct or attend music festivals and special performances all over the world (from China to Europe) of game music that included my scores is a pinnacle experience – something I never imagined would occur.
4) WHILE 20th CENTURY STYLE DISSONANT COMPOSITION PUTS MANY LISTENERS OFF, THE ALEATORIC ELEMENTS OF ‘BioShock’ AND ‘Resistance’ WERE WARMLY EMBRACED! DO YOU COMPOSE WITH YOUR AUDIENCE IN MIND?
I compose with the project in mind. Always the project. I am not really thinking about whether an audience will appreciate it separate from the project but keenly aware of how it is affecting the listener in the context of where the music is placed. So when I wrote the music for ‘Bioshock’ and other projects using extended orchestral techniques it was to serve those games or films. That was the appropriate vibe for those parts of the games. Aleatory is really effective in creating really eerie and frightening textures. So when you’re scoring an eerie and frightening game or film it just seems to work. At the time I used those techniques it was new to the game industry so it got a bit of attention. I think if we asked most players just to listen to aleatoric music they would not find it attractive. But listening to a score that accompanied a film or game they love is a completely different experience. If the music fits the listener has no problem with nearly any style of music. To some players aleatoric music may have even been revelatory. Which is very cool that I may have introduced a few to that style of music.
My theory in general is that the best music for audio/visual works has a quality about it. It draws you in, the listener is sometimes is not even consciously aware of its presence but the music helps the audience or player to enter that wonderful state sometimes referred to as “flow”. When one is in that state we become untethered from our day to day life and instead are transported to a the a very pleasant place. The reason music is used is because it has this quality to elevate us. If I want to wax poetic I can even comment on what a remarkable phenomena it is that we humans love music. Why? How did it help us in our several million year evolution to our current modern state? What a mystery! On the face of it it would seem that it served no evolutionary purpose but remained a dormant quality within our brains just waiting for music to evolve over the last 3 or 4 millennia. Almost an argument for God really. How lucky we are to love this phenomena – it’s a hidden language and we composers learn to use it in really subtle ways to suggest and amplify the magical or hyper real worlds we score.
I also always like keep in mind that what I do does not exist without the listener. This may seem odd but I like to analogize it to a rainbow. A rainbow takes three elements to exist, sunlight, water vapor and the viewer who perceives its beauty. Without any one of those elements there is NO rainbow. So my music and the projects I work on depend as much upon the listener as does the sun and water to complete it and make it real.
5) YOUR MUSIC FOR THE ‘Destroy all Humans!’ FRANCHISE IS STYLISTICALLY VERY DIFFERENT FROM ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE DONE. HOW DID YOU APPROACH THAT?
Destroy All Humans! was tongue in cheek game where the gamer plays a small green alien from another planet invading earth in the 1950’s. It was really a take off on the 1950’s style sci-fi space film genre ala “The Day The Earth Stood Still” scored by one of America’s most famous film composers Bernard Herrmann. In fact they were using that score as temp music in the game. They asked me for a demo of my music in that style and as it turns out the score I had written and recorded for “Voyeur” was very much in the style of – you guessed it – Bernard Herrmann and it was recorded with a wonderful Hollywood orchestra. I grew up loving and appreciating Herrmann’s music (a big early influence) so for me his music was deeply imbedded in my composer brain. I sent the Developer, Pandemic Games, 5 or 6 cues that were literally exactly what they were asking for as they loved them. Within a month or two I was hired! I had not been a game composer (other than the Philips Interactive stuff years before) so I knew little about interactive techniques and less about game play dynamics. I had to learn it fast and the audio director Emily Ridgway was very supportive and helpful. The style of the music was all about the game I was scoring. As I mentioned above that’s always what I am working to achieve. So the music obviously would not sound like my darker ‘Bioshock’ or Dante’s Inferno stuff. I wrote the score as if I was Bernard Herrmann and took each scene (no matter how goofy) completely seriously but from the standpoint of Herrmann in the 1950’s. For me that was wonderful and they had the budget for an orchestra which I recorded here in L.A. YAY! I fell in love with scoring games! The game and the score was very well received and was quite successful and helped me be considered for other gaming projects – I was on the map so to say.
The subsequent ‘Destroy All Humans!’ (2 and 3) were equally cool! Cryptosporidium 137 (the little alien from DAH 1) keeps coming back to earth in subsequent decades so my score for DAH 2 was written in the style of Hollywood film and tv composers from the 1960’s and DAH 3 1970’s. For me going back to the style from those periods was GREAT fun! LOVED it – really. Perhaps some composers would chafe at that challenge but I embraced it and had a blast!
I think I am pretty flexible composer and capable in writing in nearly any style from dark dangerous classical to pop scoring. You name it I have scored it. I have written a LOT of music and I think I can pick up writing in almost any style by just listening to it for an hour or two. And I love those kinds of challenges as much as writing for a ‘Bioshock.’ Well maybe not ‘Bioshock’ which was a very special project!