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Benny Oschmann
Christopher Stone
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Ian Livingstone
Jeremy Soule
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Richard Jacques
Jeremy Soule

Name:Jeremy Soule - Music in Games 1 (engl. Version)
Links: Jeremy Soule Homepage
Jeremy Soule - Music in Games 1 (engl. Version) (interview von yak)

Hi Jeremy, thank you very much that you are at our disposal for an interview, and with this we hope to sharpen the sense of the people to pay attention to the music in computer games a little bit. Therefore we addressed a master of this field in order to get to know a few things concerning the development towards orchestral music in computer games.

First I would like to ask you some biographical questions. How did you get towards "music" itself ?

I loved music from the day I was born. My father, a very disciplined music teacher, and mother, a talented graphic artist, recognized that and supported me all the way through. I'm told I used to come home from preschool with scribbled music scores!

Has your vocational training been orientated in a classical way ? Yes, I began studying counterpoint and composition at a very young age at the University level.

My education came primarily from private study with some of the best instructors and musicians in the country - Dr. Paul Paccione and Dr. Michael Campbell from Western Illinois University and Dr. William Smith, head of composition at the University of Washington.

Who are your favorite musicians in the classical field or in the field of film composers ?

Haydn and Mozart are two of my favorite classical composers. These days, I find myself listening to a lot of Baroque Era music. I don't much listen to music that is bombastic as I write a lot of that sort of thing in my days composing.

How did you get into the world of computer games?

I had a couple of early game consoles such as the Atari 2600. Even then, I thought games had the potential to create virtual environments. Later on, I became more of a PC game enthusiast and enjoyed playing Ultima Underworld along with adventure games from Lucas Arts. I never really thought about making a living in games. It just sort of happened to be the way I found an outlet for my music.

Do you play computer games yourself ? If yes, which are your favorites?

I'm spending a lot of time with beta software these days and have really enjoyed Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls from Bethesda. It's a beautiful game. I also can't get enough of Dungeon Siege. That game is simply amazing.

Which is the primary/fundamental difference between compositions of soundtracks for computer games, soundtracks for movies, or concert works?

Games are just about the hardest medium to score as they are often 3-D, nonlinear and fairly unpredictable. Movies are easy by comparison. In fact, I write about twice as fast when I'm writing for a movie as I do for ingame music. Concert works are a luxury for most composers to produce. I personally love the idea of creating music for music's sake. However, I find it difficult to find the time to produce works for orchestra halls. So many other composers, including John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, have this dilemma as well.

Your list of top-class game soundtracks is just impressive: Giants, Icewind Dale and currently the music of the Harry Potter game are amongst others the best one in orchestral computer soundtracks. How do you select your projects?

In general, I want to make sure that any project I'm involved with has a number of good attributes including great people, a first-rate design and scheduling serendipity.

How do you get your musical "mood" for the game, when do you get your inspiration, do you get a kind of script before? Is there some sort of prescription concerning the style of the soundtrack, be it a complete orchestra, electronics or choirs?

I compose from visuals. Other things are important too, but for me, what the game looks like influences how it sounds. How I arrive at the music differs for each project, but I greatly enjoy seeing the marriage of music and visuals.

Do you get prescriptions by the producers or do you have a free choice? Is the working method concerning computer games similar to those of the movie industries, regarding the usage of temp-tracks?

Some of my games have temp music. However, it's usually there just to give a ballpark figure to the feel of the music. I often will create sketches for the producers to hear in advance. This is a way for me to hone in on exactly what the producers and game require before going into a full production.

How much time do you have at your disposal for the development? Is the soundtrack not being created until the game is practically finished?

The timeline of composition for film and software is relatively similar. However, games are usually not finished until the last second. So, I don't necessarily have a "locked" picture to work with. This can be frustrating at times. I often tell game makers that music is "post-production" in every medium other than software--and for good reason! Music should always be the LAST thing that is done for a game. Why? Because music is a language that reflects the game. And if the game isn't close to being finished when the music is composed, the music itself will always sound unfinished. This is because a composer generally composes what's visually in front of him or her.

Are there restrictions on budget or is there for instance a possibility to let the soundtrack be played by a full orchestra, as it has already been the case with "Heart of Darkness" (Bruce Broughton) or "Outcast"?

Oh sure, game makers that hire orchestras are very brave indeed! This is why I put so much emphasis on being able to produce fine scores electronically. I love the orchestra, but for a lot of companies, it's just not economically feasible.

Which sort of technical equipment are used?

I use a myriad of Macs and PCs loaded with all sorts of software these days. My studio looks more like a networking room than a musician's space.

Which game would you have liked most to compose music for?

Sovereign was one of the most exhilarating projects for me as it gave me the chance to work with the largest orchestra ensemble of my career so far. Being in the orchestra hall brought about a very unique feeling. Although, I will say that every game I've worked on has brought special feelings and experiences.

Is there a consideration of techniques like EAX tone and MP3 during the creation of the soundtrack? Are there advantages, disadvantages of the use of MP3?

I rarely have to think about audio formats anymore. They all sound fairly good. Audio streams are here to stay. I don't anticipate seeing games going back to onboard synthesizers.

What about the future and capability of development concerning interactive music?

I'm keeping very abreast of the latest music technology for games and I can say the future is exciting.

How is it possible to change the soundtrack according to the present situation within the game without disturbing the fluency of the soundtrack or the composition, unless using the fade in/out method?

Game music will never work exactly like a movie. I often use crossfades and transition music. However, the good ole' crash edit works well even though the scene needs to change rapidly to make it work. A lot of people don't realize how abruptly the music changes in films! Listen to "the sixth sense" and you'll hear some very surprising turns. I don't think game soundtracks need to be a continuous symphony with no bumps or surprises. I think a lot of programmers would like to see music be controlled to the level that everything else in the game is. This is simply not necessary and really, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is how well the music is composed and how reasonably it is placed in the game.

How do you approach your composition? Are there games which are literally screaming for a take over of a certain "leitmotiv" (for instance the theme of Star Wars / Darth Vader or Indiana Jones) in order to imply a recognition of certain characters, or respectively to create tension, or is it still technological impossible to implement such issues, to integrate them interactively?

All games are different. Yet, I can say that with the proper design, what you're describing is possible and has been done in quite a few games to some degree. The more interactive a score is, however, the more demand it places on programming staff to pay attention to what the composer's intentions are. On short deadlines, this is very difficult to achieve.

In Japan games soundtracks gain a much higher value than in Europe (…or America?) which is visible at the publications of these soundtracks which partly are even played once more with a complete orchestra (Final Fantasy). Do you vision the future of game soundtracks to be a new way to bring modern, classical orientated music in public, or does it seem to remain a marginal appearance?

Game soundtracks will always be something for hobbyist to collect. It really isn't any different for many film soundtracks. However, if the record industry starts to work more cooperatively with the game industry, some day there will be a #1 hit song that was composed for a game--just as in films.

Did you receive prescriptions with regard to the composition of the harry potter game to orientate yourself by John William's original movie soundtrack ? The game ought to be completely identical with the movie, also concerning the graphics and scenarios in order to not produce any stylistic break. Was it the same with the kind/sort of music?

For Harry Potter, I simply had to guess what John Williams was going to do. I composed my score before he recorded his so naturally, I did my best to create some continuity to the film through anticipation.

Do you compose in a traditional manner? On the piano or the computer?

Both. I have a concert grand piano that I spend a lot of time playing and I often hand notate melodies and such. The computer is really comes into use in later stages.

You are put in charge to set blockbusters into music, like Dungeon Siege and Unreal 2.Is it possible to say anything about the musical direction/style of the games?

I can just say that I'm really happy with the work I've done on these games! Stay tuned...

An amount of people already call you the John Williams of computer soundtracks. Are you proud of this or does it rather restrict you in your work?

Well, what John Williams did for film scores is that he brought respectability back to orchestral methods of scoring movies. A lot of movies during the early Star Wars era were using cheesy 70's pop tunes for their scores. People have mostly forgotten these movies. The orchestra, however is a timeless medium. It's NEVER out of style. If anything, I hope my orchestral works in software survive the tests of time. Would you rather like to continue to set games into music or are movie soundtracks and concerts works more demanding to you? Movies are easier for me to score and provide a different creative experience. Yet, I plan to continue my game career for years. It's just too much fun!

Are there similar problems with mixing the soundtracks of the games with the sound effects as it is the case with movies and the sound effects there, or does the composer of game soundtracks get much more into contact with the section which is responsible for the effects, respectively is he literally involved in this process as well?

Yes. Anytime you have multiple elements of sound, there needs to be some coordination between them. I often serve as an audio director in games. I have experience in sound design and engineering issues. Music just happens to be my focus.

Can music pluck your heartstrings emotionally?

I've learned to separate my music from my own personal feelings. Otherwise, I'd go crazy writing this stuff all day.

Which of your work in the field of computer games are you most proud of?

I'm proud of every game I've worked on that has helped to make a difference in the overall entertainiment experience.

Thank you for your efforts and your time that you have been at our disposal and thank you very much for the interview.

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