|Ian Livingstone - Music & Games (interview von yak)|
Along in our series of interviews about music in games, we had the
chance to speak with talented the young composer Ian Livingstone. Even though his
name has not been so common in the gaming industry by now this may change very
soon, seeing his tremendous talents.
Preparing my review for the much underrated game Mace Griffin Bounty
Hunter (see Review), I
was overwhelmed by the music played in the intro of this game and then, even before
starting the game, I had to check the manual looking who is responsible for that
music. And not only the main theme got me hooked, in fact all of Ian's music has
Publishers and developers of computergames seem to recognize
that not only state of the art graphics are necessary to enhance the overall gameplay
experience. We got full orchestral scores that did not need to hide behind big
hollywood scores. Jeremy Soule (see Interview)
let us live in the world of Morrowind,
Neverwinter Nights or
become a Knight of the Old
Republic, Richard Jacques (see Interview)
transformed us musically into a Headhunter, Jesper Kyd (see Interview)
let us be a Hitman or
fight the russians as Freedom
Fighters, and Christopher Stone (see Interview)
helps us to free the damsel in distress in Dragon's
Lair 3D. Now, with the talents of Ian Livingstone, we'll be a Bounty Hunter,
travel the Seven Seas as Sinbad, fight as Tau in the Warhammer40k
Universe or help Buffy
to fight the evil.
Hello Ian, thank you very much for the time and the chance
to speak with you about your music. First, as always, I like to ask composers
about their background. How did you first get started in music?
No problem - and thanks for the kind introduction :-)
Well I started playing piano when I was 5 and took my grades quite early
on - too early really to appreciate what I was playing. Around my early
teens I turned my back on classical music in favour of rock/pop and formed
a few bands here in Manchester - no big success but my band were supported
by local band Oasis
on their first ever gig, and I worked with a few acts on the infamous
Factory Records. Fortunately my folks supported my decision to drop the
classical and helped me buy a couple of analogue synths which I still
have and use to this day. It was much later when I re-discovered classical
and film music.
Did you receive training as far as classical music is concerned?
I did my grade8 piano and got a degree in Popular Music
and Sound Recording, Salford
in the early 90s - the course was more oriented to jazz and dance so the
other students thought I was crazy writing all this romantic orchestral
music when they were all into hard-house and acid-jazz. It was great being
in a competitive environment though and I picked up on a lot of styles
I wouldn't normally have heard at the time.
Who are your favourite musicians in the classical field,
or in the field of film composers?
Classical composers: I love the Russian greats - Rachmaninov,
Film composers - too many to list, but I guess Bernard
Poledouris and Danny
Elfman are a big influence. I also love the stuff that John
Debney's doing recently - his Cutthroat Island and Passion scores
What kind of equipment do you use?
It's almost entirely computer based - I have 8 PCs 1
for sequencing, 2 for Strings, 2 for Brass, 1 for Wind, 1 for Percussion
and 1 for misc World / Choirs etc. I know it sounds over the top having
so many computers but a lot of it is for speed when I'm working on a lot
of cues at the same time. I tend to swap over a few times a day to work
on something different as I like the freshness of working on a piece I've
not heard for a while, so my instrument template stays largely the same
no-matter what I'm on. The quality of the orchestral sample libraries
has shot through the roof in the last 18months with some awesome tools
for midi-based composers - and as it's all disk-streaming based technology
they're no longer limited to size of samples, so the realism is breathtaking.
Having said that I'd obviously still use a real orchestra any day than
a midi-mockup but there usually isn't the time or budget for more than
a handfull of real musicians.
The Bounty Hunter Theme is a terrific piece of music, you
reach the goal the create an outstanding atmosphere and mood for the game.
In fact we only get a "title screen" accompanied by your music. But the
music presents all aspects needed in the game. The player virtually can
hear the danger of space, the lonelyness, the cold, the mystery and the
adventure. Starting with a low-key metallic-sounding dark theme, the music
increases tensions up to the end of this 3-minute long lasting "tour de
force" piece of music. This is the first time I heard a so strong and
atmospheric main theme in a computer game and virtually without the help
of visuals or complex render scenes. Congratulations for this. Did you
have, musically speaking, freedom in the way you wanted to score Mace
Griffin Bounty Hunter? Did you get a temp track from the developers or
did they say what kind of emotions they would like to be transferred in
Thanks! I'm glad you think it worked - I guess the titles
screen is the one area you can go completely over the top with big themes
and extreme dynamic contrasts as it doesn't have to match any particular
game-play scenario. I had pretty much complete musical freedom as the
score was a relatively quick turnaround. Another composer (Dean
Evans "Silver") was supposed to be scoring Bounty Hunter
but he had a bad car accident just before work was to begin so I took
it off his hands in the final hour. I really didn't see many visuals beforehand
either, just documents with character descriptions and scripts, so I was
pretty much on my own for most of it.
You use a lot of chorus and voices in your scores producing
an impressing sound. The electronic produced chorus and voices sound very
real. How did you achieve this?
That's all thanks to a new revolutionary Text-to-Speech
midi tool developed by a guy called Nuno Fonseca, which works in conjunction
with an old choir library Voices Of The Apocolypse. It's like black magic
- you literally type in your lyrics, chose male/female, play your parts
on the keyboard and it sings it back to you. It doesn't work that well
too exposed in a mix, but if you surround it with other big orchestrations
you can usually make it sound pretty convincing, especially if it's latin
as no-one can follow the lyrics! There's also some similar new tools developed
by Yamaha called Vocaloid
which work along the same lines but with a combination of sampled and
acoustic modelling but for solo singers. Still very early stages but it's
frightening to see how convincing these tools are becoming.
Did you compose your scores having in mind that it would
be played by a real orchestra ? In fact I think some of the tracks in
Mace Griffin couldn't be played or performed by a live orchestra and chorus-
at least not longer than a minute - too fast and too furious :)
I'd always prefer the real thing, but usually the budget
just isn't there. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a catch 22 situation because
at the same time as trying to persuade the decision makers that a real
choir / orchestra will make so much difference to the overall production
and realism, you also have to do a good convincing mockup to get the gig
in the first place and get the music across to the producers. I think
with Mace Griffin I was resigned to the fact that it had to be out and
on the shelves in a matter of weeks so maybe got a bit self-indulgent
with the fast and furious orchestrations! Most of the time I try and stick
with realism but it can be fun to go a little crazy from time to time
when you know no-one's gonna have to follow the dots!
Most of your scores are for multi-platform games. Did that
bring along technical limits regarding the musical part?
Not really to be honest - these days unless you're writing
chip-music or midi which I've always tried to avoid, streaming audio is
pretty consistent between the various platforms, as long as there's a
good audio-programmer on the job. I'd like to do more 5.1 surround scores
than I do currently, and not all platforms can handle that yet in real-time
yet but it usually just means a down-mix to Prologic.
You composed the music of the Sinbad Legend of the Seven
Seas for the offical game, based on Dreamworks' animated feature scored
Gregson-Williams. The result is a fresh, adventurous journey in the
tradition of the hollywood swashbuckler movies. In fact I prefer the main
theme of the game rather than the movie theme. Did you get the film score
as an orientation?
Wow - thanks! I loved HGW's Sinbad score - yes I did
hear his trailer before I wrote mine but I didn't actually hear the soundtrack
or see the film until after the game was released. Yes I was obviously
guided in the direction of what he'd done to retain the consistency throughout
the franchise, although I've also tried to bring in some of the old-school
swashbuckling influences in there like Herrmann
HGW's main theme also sounds very simlar to Silvestri's
Mummy Returns to me, so I'm sure he must have had a temp track aswell
:). I also try and put in a bit of Livingstone here and there too but
it's easier to put my own stamp on non-licenced projects.
The Theme for the sirens is a very impressive piece of
music along with the melancholic reprise of the main theme in the track
"storybook". Which theme had been most difficult to compose for Sinbad
with all the different foes and heroes?
"The Roc" gave me trouble as the balance of graceful
flight together with huge vicious beast was a tricky one to pull off.
"Fish Island" was also tricky as writing for lots of skeletons running
around often ends up sounding too comical. I think I went through about
3 drafts of that cue and they kept sounding like a cross between Elfman's
Beetlejiuce and Tom & Jerry! In the end I listend more to what Herrmann
had done with his Skeleton themes ("Jason and The Arganouts" and "Seventh
Voyage of Sinbad")
Scoring a fantasy adventure seems to be most challenging
and a project with much musical freedom. Did you have this freedom?
Yes it's always a challenge as you can't always draw
from personal experience so you have to really stretch your imagination
and try and envisage the scenario. There's alot of freedom but as I said
the licence tie-ins like Sinbad can be a bind as you have to make sure
it all fits in with what you will hear in the film.
Some film composers show their best work in small- or low-budget
movies. Sindbad seems to be a more or less small-budget game production
only to present an "offical game to movie" tie-in (which in the end turned
out to be a nice little game). Did this influence the way you composed
your music? Do "small budget" productions offer more freedom in creativity?
From the experience I've had myself, you still have to
satisfy the producers and publishers whatever the budget. In some ways
there's more at stake for the smaller developer to get it right first
time so the project doesn't get canned two thirds of the way through development.
So in theory you can get less freedom. But…on the other hand it's sometimes
easier to get more involved with the smaller developers and be more vocal
with ideas. It very much depends on the personalities of the people you
work with and how much of an active interest in film scores they have.
I guess that doesn't really answer your question though! Hard to say…
The Sindbad track "Fish Island" sounds a bit like music
from the Conan score composed by Basil Poledouris. Did you receive prescriptions
to compose a sound a bit like this?
Heh! Poledouris is a big influence and Conan's been
on the temp track for a couple of other projects so I guess these things
subconciously rub off. No for this it just seemed natural to go for a
primitive sound - I think the ancient percussion is giving it that Conan
Did you compose the music for games like Sinbad or Bounty
Hunter based on scripts, or did you compose according to actual ingame
No - not really - scripts and videos are always the most
fun part in games but there's ever enough of it. Sinbad didn't have any
FMV, but I'd seen a couple of film trailers in advance so I knew the kind
of thing to expect, plus everyone knows the story of Sinbad. For Bounty
Hunter I was working with the Developers Warthog quite a bit on a few
other projects so I knew a bit about the project before I got started,
but again there was no FMV.
40k: Fire Warrior the developer of the game decided to include music
in the game's cut scenes only. How did you think about that? A lost opportunity?
I think it works well as a game without it, and the in-game
sound design speaks for itself. But obviously I'm gonna say it would have
worked with it too (and I would have liked to have asked to write more!),
but who's to say it would have been any more effective... I guess we'll
As far as Fire Warrior is concerned, you provided the game
with your musical voice in the cut scenes only. Has this been a difficult
task, having in mind that you only had about 15 minutes to fill with your
musical ideas , compared to the 15+ hours of gameplay?
Yes - it would have been nice to develop the various
character themes a bit more - you only hear the Tau theme as a gentle
passive melody in the FMV, but in-game it would have had chance to take
that to a few different levels. Oh well - maybe if they ever do a sequel
Are you playing computer games yourself?
I do when I get time. Must confess I'm also a retro gamer
and love my Williams Robotron cabinet currently residing in my studio
live room - used to have a Defender too but it had to go when I bought
the piano down here into the cellar. I love a lot of the downloadable
and java games for the same reasons as they focus on the traditional gameplay
and largely ignore lavish 3d models, but I'm also realistic and realise
that things have to move on.
Which game would you have liked most to compose music for?
Would have been nice to do EA's Harry Potter - I was
a fan of the books and it was kinda frustrating doing the Lego version
as I couldn't go as dark as I would have liked to due to the target age
Soule did an excellent job though I have to say!
Which are your personal favorite games you play on the
computer or console?
Getting into Tron
2.0 at the moment - good score too - but I still love Carlos's original!
is pretty amazing but I guess they had enough time and money behind it
to make it work!
What are your future projects?
I've just started a feature film called "Team-One" -
low budget British Sci-Fi / Martial Arts movie (Martian Arts) which is
a lot of fun. I've been given freedom to go completely over the top with
huge orchestrations and big choirs - quite untypical for UK films but
I think it's going to work. On the game side there's not a lot I'm allowed
to talk about right now - I'm doing another project for the guys who did
Racing1&2 but can't be more specific. Also doing another film-game
licence for Fox which is looking like great fun - a real Silvestri inspired
score, but again it's not been officially announced. Also doing a project
for Sony which is another electronic/orchestral cross like Buffy was which
is always good fun. Also working with some guys from Zimmer's
Media Ventures on a UK library venture which has allowed me to write
and orchestrate for real orchestra for a change.
What do you think about the future and capability of development
concerning interactive music?
I was never a big fan of midi-based chip-music which
a lot of interactive music used in the past and as a rule turned down
midi-based formats like mod, directmusic etc, but things have moved on
and now the hardware's up to multi-streams of CD quality audio and tons
of memory available to audio I think the future's bright. However I don't
think it's the most important aspect of a good score though - I'd prefer
to hear segments of 1 minute well-constructed music than quick multi-segments
of 15second pieces joined together seemingly randomly. I'd much rather
play a game with a well composed non-interactive score than a badly-composed
interactive one, in the same way I'd rather hear a good midi-score than
a badly composed or performed real orchestra.
What is your most liked CD (Classical, Filmscore, Others)?
It changes regularly - but at the moment I'm enjoying
Herrmann's Vertigo, Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto, Air's Walkie Talkie,
and Muse's Absolution - is that varied enough?!
Which of your work in the field of computer games are you
most proud of?
Hmmm... still don't feel I've written that elusive perfect
score yet. I always like the current stuff I'm writing more than the old
projects as it's still fresh. For previous games - Lego's Harry Potter
had quite a nice melody but nobody bought the game! I liked the way the
cutscenes in Fire Warrior turned out too - although it did get drowned
out a bit by the big sound design (which I did myself and mixed too so
have no-one to blame!).
Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
Thanks for taking an interest!
Thank you very much for your time and this interview. We
hope to hear from you and your music again, soon.
Hope so too - thank you :)