Hi Jamie, 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?
I got started in the video game music business by a matter of chance. I was working at a sound design company in Hollywood and was introduced to two game composers there named Bill Brown and Mikael Sandgren. I started assisting them and little by little they started letting me write additional music for their projects.
Let’s talk about The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth. You composed music for both the original and the sequel. How and when did you get involved in those projects?
I got involved in this project when Mical Pedriana at EA heard the music that Bill Brown and I had written for the Lineage II game. They thought it was a perfect match with the Howard Shore sound for the films, so we were hired.
How did you approach the two games musically? Were you influenced by Howard Shore’s movie scores? How much creative freedom were you given overall?
I studied the movie scores very, very closely and our job was pretty much to sound exactly like that, but without using the specific themes. While there was a lot of music written for the movies, there were a few key music themes missing that needed to be there in the game, such as the Dwarves and the Orcs. I had to come up with themes that Howard Shore might write, were he to be required to do so. While I usually like to write completely original music, these games were a blast to work on since the music is so epic in nature.
You also composed music for another strategy title that focuses on epic battles: Bladestorm. How did you first start out writing the music? What were your specific goals for that scoring assignment?
For Bladestorm I wanted to capture the grandness of the Hundred Years War instead of focusing too much on the brutality of battle. I wanted to leave that up to the sound effects. The themes for the French and English sides are very stately with large Latin choirs singing phrases from the traditional church text. The harmonic texture of that score is very romantic in nature.
How did you deal with the interactive side of the game? Are there any cues/musical passages that you’re especially proud of?
I didn’t have much of a say for that game as far as implementation and interactivity. From my understanding, they were going to use my music as mainly an introduction to battles and character entrances, and then have the sound effects take over for the bulk of the action. I’m particularly fond of the Joan d’Arc theme and the Black Knight theme from that game.
The score was performed by the Prague Symphonic orchestra. 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?
Using a live orchestra adds tremendous depth and emotion to the music, as a huge group of live musicians play it, each with their own interpretation. There are small mistakes, tuning differences, and human noise in the recordings, but that adds to the realism. With samplers, they can almost be too perfect, which doesn’t feel quite right.
For the action game Lost Planet you worked a lot with electronic and synthetic sound. Could you describe what particular soundscape you were aiming for and how you implemented it into the game?
The basic soundscape for Lost Planet was pretty straightforward. Most of the game takes place on an icy cold planet, so I took quite a while to come up with a palette of especially designed atmospheres and pads that would reflect that. The other thing that had to be designed was the Akrid alien creatures. They had to have a very organic, percussive and wild sound. So I banged on as much percussion as I could!
You’ve also written music for film and television. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
The most common distinction between film music and video game music is the interactive element of game music. The score must be able to change at any moment. But that is a technical thing. Musically the lines are already very blurred between the two, and I don’t treat them very differently at all. Music is music.
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?
Talented composers are always drawn towards both money and creatively engaging projects. Even Mozart was a working musician that wrote music for the highest bidder back in the day. When films were invented, they overtook the concert world as that creative outlet for the world’s top composers. Video games are the next true media art form that is both lucrative and creatively engaging, so it is only natural that the best composers will be drawn towards it.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
I think that game music will continue to stretch out in different and unique directions. We will always have the typical big epic, action music but there will be a lot more viable ‘independent’ style games and quirky scores in the future.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
The most challenging task is also the most enjoyable one. That is, to come up with a ‘sound’ for each project that sets it apart from the pack. At the beginning of a project I really pull my hair out trying to come up with a creative spark that inspires me. But through that process the rewards are very great, in that you hopefully create something fresh.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3-player right now?
I’m constantly listening to the music of my peers in both film and game music. There are so many great composers and scores coming out these days! The musical world is changing so rapidly that we as composers need to stay up to date with what is hip and fresh. The funny thing about it is a lot of it is cyclical, like fashion. But it always comes back in a slightly new way, making it interesting once again to a new generation. In that regard I’m listening to the fabulous score for There Will Be Blood which takes a new approach to the Bernard Hermann style of string writing.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
The one I’m currently working on! ;)
What would be your dream project?
I feel like every project I work on is kind of a dream project in a way. I’ve always dreamed of making a living in music and here I am doing it. How cool is that?
What are you currently working on?
I’m just finishing up a trilogy of films called Jack Hunter (mini-series). Those were a lot of fun to write, as they are sort of like Indiana Jones meets the Bourne Identity in the middle-east. On the game front, I’m working on the game Spiderman: Web of Shadows currently.
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
I don’t have much time to play anymore these days, with a new family and plenty of work to do. But I’m currently playing a little GTA4 and looking forward to playing LEGO Indiana Jones with my wife!
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
That about covers it. Thank you for the interview!
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.