Hi Bill, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?
Thanks for taking the time to ask the questions. :) When I first moved to LA, I was doing sound design for the Xena: Princess Warrior, and Hercules television series as well as films like David Lynch’s Lost Highway back in 1996, which I got into through a friend of mine from Berklee College of Music. A year later that same friend was working at a company called Soundelux and he introduced me to Scott Gershin, a partner there who had started a new division with the focus of doing sound design and music for video games. I joined Soundelux and just a few months later put together a 3-cue demo in the style of John Williams for DreamWorks Interactive and their new project “Trespasser: The Lost World” (http://www.billbrownmusic.com/musicG2.htm#Trespasser) which was very exciting for me – John Williams being such a huge inspiration for so many years...
You’ve written music for a lot of Rainbow Six titles. How did that collaboration start in the first place?
Around the same time that I started writing the music for Trespasser, I was asked to do a demo in the style of “The Rock” for Tom Clancy’s game company Red Storm (which eventually merged with Ubisoft). I did one fairly simple demo cue, maybe 45 seconds long – and that became the Rainbow Six theme. The final version was almost the same, just a bit longer.
How would you compare your Rainbow-scores? Is there any Rainbow-score you are especially proud of?
Some of my personal favs are the Rogue Spear Remix (that one I just did just for fun after completing the music for Rogue Spear), the R6 Athena Sword Intro / Outro , the R6 Xbox releases , and then we took it all to the next level recording the R6 theme and score with live orchestra for Rainbow Six 3 Raven Shield (http://www.billbrownmusic.com/musicG1.htm)
The whole score to Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield was performed by a real orchestra. How did that come to happen?
Simon Pressey (of Ubisoft) and I had been discussing it for a while. I had been pushing for live orchestra on all of my projects as my sound was evolving in that direction. I remember talking with Simon about it over dinner up in San Jose during the Game Developers Conference that year. We were on the same page about it all, so it was just a matter of Simon convincing Ubisoft and setting it up with the Montreal symphony, which he did!
Did you enjoy working with a real orchestra? How much does the overall composing process differ when using a live orchestra as opposed to a sampled score?
I always enjoy working with live orchestra – there’s nothing else like it. For me there is more freedom and inspiration working with live players. Live musicians breathe life into an idea. For me, samples are a way to help get the idea across, heighten the impact of the idea and explore new or unconventional sounds. My brief experience with sound design was helpful in that regard. It also helped me understand a little better how music and sound effects can work together, or how a director can choose to highlight one or the other for a more emotional or visceral reaction.
Fans have compared the sound of your Rainbow-scores to that of film composer Hans Zimmer. Has his music been an influence when coming up for a sound for the series? What other composers have been an inspiration?
As I had mentioned earlier, Red Storm asked for a score written in the style of “The Rock” – which was scored by Hans, so of course his music was a big inspiration. I was a fan of his already since hearing his scores for Rainman as well as The Rock, so it was fun for me. I continue to be inspired by modern composers such as Paul Hindemith, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Bartok, John Adams, Stravinsky and impressionists like Debussy, Ravel – and more recently composers like Silvestrov, Ginastera and Dutilleux. And of course the film music of celebrated composers including Bernard Herrmann, the Newmans (needless to say, I also love Tom Newman’s music! That whole family is amazing…), Williams, Goldsmith, Barry, Silvestri, James Newton Howard, David Arnold, John Powell, Chris Young, Elfman and many others continue to inspire me. My friend Lennie Moore’s game soundtrack to “Outcast” was really a thrill – especially at that time when it was truly rare to hear something truly operatic in game music. I’ve really enjoyed following Michael Giacchino’s career as well. He’s an excellent model and inspiration for what is possible and available to a composer in any and all genres – all at once! It’s also nice to hear how much he enjoys his work and family, as I also do.
You’ve also scored the MMORPG Lineage II. What was it like to compose music for such an expansive game world? How did you approach such a huge project? How much creative freedom were you given?
It was a lot of fun and very exciting at the time to write so much music for live orchestra. I was given quite a bit of freedom to explore with Lineage 2, as with most game projects I’ve worked on. My biggest inspiration came from the game itself, the look and feel of it, and the story – the epic nature of it. Those big projects really give you a chance to stretch and write epic, soaring orchestral music, which was awesome! The second phase of Lineage 2 "Lineage II: Chronicle 2: Age of Splendor" (and the next hour and 1/2 of music) was even better as I had already discovered the musical feel of the world, and they gave me longer cues, more room to create thematic structure with. I remember just hauling ass through writing and orchestrating that phase – it came so easily and it’s still some of my favourite stuff. You can hear a handful of those cues on my site’s music main page - http://www.billbrownmusic.com/musicmain.htm
Your body of work also includes movie and television work. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
I would say musically the opportunities to create great music are the same – especially as game budgets have continued to increase in recent years. It’s just a matter of how we can best serve the picture, or the game play with that music. When I score CSI:NY every week, or when working on a film project, I’m thinking of the arc of the story, the setting of the narrative, the characters, and the dynamics and momentum of the editing and dialog, even how sound effects will fall into place in the final mix. Working on a game, I have all of those things to think about, but the momentum is non-linear – the editing and dialog are ‘created’ by the player – so I create the score so it can react to that in a seamless way. When I composed the score for The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction I worked with the producers and developers to make sure they had everything they needed to underscore the story that unfolds in real-time, non-linear game play – which included creating the cues in sections that synced measure and beat-accurately to events in the game – reactively to the player’s movements. You’ll find more on that in this article about The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction here: http://www.billbrownmusic.com/press.htm - and you can find the full soundtrack on iTunes!
Are you pleased that your scores are being discussed / compared with film scores? For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening?
I think as game budgets increase, the qualitative distance between films, television and games is closing. We’ve also seen changes in film scoring budgets in the past few years, which might impact composer’s decisions. Film producers and directors are becoming more personally involved with games, which also makes a big difference in regard to the a-list moving into gaming. The popularity and success of games in the past ten years has really impacted the industry, and it’s been great for game composers as we have more and more opportunities to work with world-class orchestras. It’s a whole new game, even compared to just five years ago, with thanks to visionary producers like Steve Schnur at EA, Simon Pressey over at Ubisoft and the producers at Universal / Vivendi and Radical entertainment who helped me record with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Eastwood scoring stage at Warner Bros. for The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
Rising to the challenge of the project can actually become the most enjoyable part. Like with Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, the challenge was to create over an hour of intense, thematic, heroic action music for the Hulk and still keep it fresh and compelling for the players over hours of game play…that’s a fantastic challenge – and it became a really fun one for me. With CSI:NY, the challenge for me includes creating new sounds, pushing boundaries and finding new musical architecture for each new episode – while grounding and truly supporting the narrative, the subtext and the action with themes and sounds organic to the CSI:NY landscape. This is the challenge with each new project, to bring something exciting and fresh into it, while supporting the story and the characters. For me, bringing a sense of timelessness and elegance to a project, depth, gravity, affirmation, darkness, or even other-worldliness – all are fantastic challenges!! It’s amazing to be doing this for a living. I really love this work.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?
Zodiac – David Shire, Tribute – Keith Jarrett trio, Stargate – David Arnold, The River Wild (Jerry Goldsmith), The Four Temperaments (Paul Hindemith), and of course, Silvestrov’s Symphony no. 5 (who doesn’t have that one in their CD player?)
What is so far your favourite project you’ve worked on?
CSI:NY . This show has been so rewarding for me on so many levels – it’s really hard to describe in just a few words. I love all of the projects I’ve worked on – I really do. I feel so grateful. There is something in every one of them that will always be a part of me. It’s difficult to explain, but looking back on something I’ve worked on reminds me of friends I worked with, the journey we took together through the process of creating – and of course the project and music. Every one of them was challenging and fun and interesting for me. It’s truly an adventure.
What would be your dream project?
CSI:NY ! (How cool is that?) Another one of my dreams would be to score a David Fincher film some day (we’re dreaming here, right?) – really though, those films and those musical choices – they are such an inspiration for me creatively. I would love to score films like that someday. My goal is always to work with that level of professionalism, nuance, sophistication and artistic integrity…so I try my best to bring that to everything that I do, (yes - including music for games!)
What are you currently working on?
I just finished the score for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars which should be coming out very soon and I’m just about to dig into season 4 of CSI:NY!
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
When I used to work on more game projects at once, and before the TV series, I would have more opportunities to play… now we play with our 2-year old baby girl which is awesome.
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
Thanks everyone for reading, I wish you much happiness, grace and peace.
Thanks again and good luck on your coming endeavours.