|Christopher Stone´s Studio|
|Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, Julie Eisenhower, Christopher Stone|
|A Man and his Car|
|Composing the Score|
|The Stupids (CD Cover Artwork)|
|Civil War Journal (CD Cover Artwork)|
|Christopher Stone - about Music, Games and Dragon's Lair (interview von yak)|
ago, we went on journey never experienced before - We met evil
sorcerers, fierce dragons, mad lizards, moving platforms, dangerous whirlpools,
and dark knights, with only one goal, to find the beloved princess.
forces of talent, animation, storytelling, voice characterisation and
music were responsible for the birth of a new kind of arcade game, "Dragon's
Lair. " It was the first interactive movie in game history; the laser
took us by the hand and we were able to share the adventures of "Dirk
the Daring." "Dragon's Lair" was also a tremendous success, and has arguably
become THE classic interactive video arcade game of all time.
What's a movie
Try to imagine,
what would happen:
would never have been alive without John
William's striking heartbeats in "Jaws." Taking a shower without Bernhard
Herrmann's Music to "Psycho" wouldn't have been very horrifying. A
journey with the USS Enterprise wouldn't have been that exiting or out
of this world without Jerry
Goldsmith's elegant themes. "The Magnificent Seven" wouldn't have
been so magnificent without Elmer
Bernstein's western music. And some people say that "Titanic" would
not sink without James Horner
Now that we've
had the chance to speak with Don Bluth (read
our Interview) regarding his films and games, we raise the baton once
again to speak with the composer of the new arcade game, "Dragon's Lair
3D." It is my privilege talk today with composer Christopher Stone, who
was the genius behind the music of the original "Dragon's Lair" arcade
game, and the new "Dragon's Lair 3D."
Stone has composed music for motion pictures including, "Ticks", "Fist
of The Northstar", "The Stupids" (CD's published by Intrada), "Phantasm II/III & IV", "Felix The Cat the Movie", and "DNA".
Chris also composed music for TV Shows such as: "Walker
Texas Ranger", Disney's "Talespin", "Treasure Island", "Honey I Shrunk
the Kids", and "Swamp Thing". He also composed music for Imax
Features and over two hundred documentaries for the History
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?
CHRIS: My parents, Andrew and Virginia Stone, were filmmakers.
When we lived in London in 1965, I started writing music for their movies.
Later, when we returned to the States, I finished my music education,
and I began writing for other people.
Did you receive classical training?
CHRIS: Yes, for many years I studied conducting and composition
privately with Ivan Boutnikoff, the conductor for the "Ballet Ruse de
Monte Carlo," and formerly the conductor for the Czar of Russia's own
private orchestra. I studied piano with Sergei Tarnovsky, best known for
his coaching of Vladimir
Horowitz. I also attended a summer session with Nadia
Boulanger in Fountainebleau, France. I then finished my formal music
training in Vienna, at the Hochschule
für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Wien.
Why did you study in Vienna?
CHRIS: I went to Vienna in the early seventies because
it was where Ivan Boutnikoff conducted. I'm very glad I did, because the
musical experience of going to concerts night after night for only two
shillings was the best music education I could have. The best part was
that the professional musicians and visiting orchestras were very eager
to talk to the students about music. Our best classrooms were in the Grinzing
wine bars at 2:00 AM, getting drunk with musicians wearing tails after
a concert. Students and professionals had a bond - they helped us understand
how music worked in the real world. At a party one night, I spoke to Leonard
Bernstein. I asked him why he stopped writing music. He told me that
the critics ripped him apart when he wrote music, but they loved him when
he conducted. "Writing is too painful," he told me. Ever since that moment,
I never looked down on any form of music or any form of composer - it
was education like this that kept me in Vienna.
Who are your favourite musicians in the classical field,
or in the field of film composers?
CHRIS: I like to listen the type of music that I generally
don't write. I've reached the age where I have ceded control of the radio
to my kids, so I listen to a lot of Eminem, Chrystal Method and classic
Heavy Metal. I also tend to listen to film composers that I don't, in
any way, sound like. My favourite film composers are the entire Newman
Burwell, and Rachel
Portman. I don't really have any current favourites in the classical
field. One of the hazards of writing music all day is that, at the end
of the day, the last thing I want to hear is more music. I write in a
classical style, so I especially don't want to hear classical music for
fun. Here's a little known fact about composers: If a composer hears music
that's better than he could have written, then he's bummed that he didn't
write it. If a composer hears music that's worse than he could have written,
then he's bummed that he didn't get the job. So, many composers hate listening
to music. It's probably about the basic competitiveness that lives in
all of us.
In 1983 you composed orchestral music for a video game
during a time when most young gamers weren't even born. So, you must have
been the first composer to deliver orchestral music for a video game,
back in 1983. Did you feel as though you were taking part in whole new
experiences or was it similar to writing for film or TV?
CHRIS: Technically, game music is very similar to writing
library music, only library music doesn't always have to loop. All music
in video games has to loop back to the beginning so that it can play endlessly.
The trick is to write something interesting while riding the fine line
between predictable repetition, and memorable thematic development. In
this respect writing for games is very different from anything else. Game
music requires different moods to be segregated into separate pieces (loops).
Writing captivating music that must have only one mood is probably the
most difficult aspect of writing for video games.
When composing for the first arcade game, did you feel
that something very special and groundbreaking was in the making?
CHRIS: I really had no idea that my music was one day
going to be a part of something in the Smithsonian
Institute in Washington -- the phenomenon caught me by total surprise.
I knew it was going to be a very special game, because I knew that Don
and Gary created the best possible animation. But the game's historical
significance went completely over my head.
What did you feel after you got the chance to compose the
music for the new game? Was it like meeting an old friend?
CHRIS: Yes, it was like visiting my old school, and sitting
down at my desk while taking the same test I took in 1983 - only this
time the technical challenges were greater. Thankfully, I also had a much
more sophisticated studio with which to meet those challenges.
Dragon's Lair 3D is now fully interactive. What are the
difficulties in composing for the new game? In the first one you knew
the time scale of each scene and you could compose, in sync, with the
on-screen-action. In the new game it's necessary to change the music quite
often, never knowing what the player will do next. In the game, the music
changes its themes flawlessly. Keeping in mind, that you had to produce
musical loops and themes, how did you obtain such good results?
CHRIS: I created every loop with a loud hit on the downbeat
of the first bar. As long as you have a percussive hit on the downbeat,
you can cut from anything to anything. In addition, Each loop has identical
volume levels, so when the game cuts from one loop to the next, you don't
detect a change in volume. Finally, each loop has the same amount of reverb;
an abrupt change in "wet' or "dry" reverb is a dead give-away. Overall,
I did my best to ensure seamless cuts by following the basic rule of engineering:
From a technical point of view, is it easier to produce
sophisticated loops using electronically produced music rather than live
CHRIS: Using sampled instruments helps to make better
loops because I can alter a single sampled instrument without affecting
any other track. Live orchestra has multiple microphones that bleed into
each other. Sampled instruments are recorded one at a time, which makes
it easier to match levels when looping.
Did you have any problem combining your musical ideas/themes,
with the idea that at any second something different could happen in the
CHRIS: I had no problem combining ideas, because as
I mentioned earlier, I created a loud hit on the front of every loop.
However, I had to be very careful in capturing the correct mood of each
game level so that each level has its own theme. Timing isn't really a
function of the music as it relates to conventional scoring. Music timing,
in the game context, relates more to the overall mood than action. It's
the sound effects that are blended with the score that make the music
appear to follow the action. I tried to place high and low points in the
loops so that, periodically, the music matches the action, but this is
pure serendipity. Basically, if the sound effects are loud enough, and
the music fits the mood of the scene enough, then the player assumes that
the score is timed to picture.
Composer Richard Jaques once said in our interview,
"Film composers don't comprehend the technological challenges involved
in writing music for games". (Hearing and playing Dragon's Lair 3D he
might have to rethink this :-)) What do you think about his statement?
CHRIS: The game industry, as a society, doesn't publish
standards and conventions information to the general public. (If they
do, I couldn't find any.) In sharp contrast, the audio/video and music
societies such as AES,
and SMPTE, publish
easily obtainable papers on audio/ video standards and conventions every
month. It's not surprising that film composers don't understand the technological
challenges of writing for video games.
Was it a difficult task for you to get "interactive" and
change the music according to the situation on screen, or was it more
a job done by the sound editor, working with your cues? How much were
you involved in the technical process of placing the music into the game?
CHRIS: This decision was more or less a collective effort.
This project lasted for almost a year, and there were several revisions.
So, when a piece of music stopped working properly, I wrote something
else, until eventually we had everything we needed. It's practically impossible
to predict all the musical needs in advance, so I kept writing until it
was done. The production team physically did the actual cutting in of
The music to Dragon's Lair 3D sounds very much like a
big orchestra. In fact you used only a few musicians and the rest was
produced with sampled instruments. How did you make it sound so close
to a big orchestra?
CHRIS: I recorded most of the samples myself in various
parts of the world, so most of my samples are custom made, which helps.
But the real reason why my electronic scores sound realistic is because
I perform each instrument with dynamic feel in real-time. To do this technically,
I perform with two MIDI foot pedals under my keyboard. My right pedal
controls volume, which I move slightly during performance; it gives my
music breath and dynamics. My left pedal controls timbre (sound colour),
which activates the low pass filters that are built into my samplers.
This second MIDI pedal allows me to create an instrument that not only
gets louder, but also brighter as the music intensifies. Loudness is not
just a function of volume; it's equally a function of timbre. These two
pedals are continuously varied in conjunction with my MIDI keyboard, which
is how I accomplish realistic performances.
Did you orchestrate your music by yourself?
CHRIS: Yes, I stopped using orchestrators several years
ago. I own multiple samplers, which allows me to have all my orchestral
sounds available at once. Having the entire orchestra available in real-time
makes it easy for me to orchestrate on my MIDI sequencer. I also use "Finale"
for printing my live session scores by first converting my MIDI sequences
into printable music.
How did you start composing the music for "Dragon's Lair?
Did you read the script before starting?
CHRIS: I first read the script, then I started writing
some theme outlines. But the real work didn't begin until I had a full
video sketch of the entire game to watch.
About your working method. Directorr John
Landis ("An American Werewolf in London", "Blues Brothers", "Kentucky
Fried Movie", "Trading Places") once said, that you work extensively with
electronic equipment and that you deliver an almost perfect preview of
the score, before actually recording it with an orchestra. Was this your
usual working method?
CHRIS: I create complete sampled mock-ups of the entire
score before I go to the recording stage. I spend as much time as needed
with the director, going over orchestration changes before the session.
My mock-ups are not sketches or plain demos; they are full on orchestrations
and performances with every detail realised that the live orchestra will
be playing. As a result, changes are rarely demanded of me during the
actual recording session. This allows me to spend more time working on
dynamics and feel with the orchestra, rather than dealing with frustrating
fixes on the podium.
What do you feel when your notes come to life when played
by a full orchestra?
CHRIS: For one thing I'm always concerned about time,
so whenever I get too enthralled, I have to almost ignore my excitement,
which is terribly distracting when conducting. But as any composer will
tell you, hearing you music performed by a real orchestra is very similar
to holding your child in your arms for the first time.
Do you compose in a traditional manner? On the piano or
CHRIS: I stopped using the piano to write with about
fifteen years ago; the MIDI sequencer is truly my medium. I miss piano
and paper somethimes, because of the intimacy, but I can't go back. I'm
spoiled by the immediate gratification of electronic scores.
You compose music for live action and for animated films.
Most composers say that composing for animated films is much more difficult,
and the needs are totally different.
CHRIS: All action in animation looks time-compressed
compared to normal movies. A five-second-fistfight scene in a real movie
translates to about two seconds in animation. As a result, the animation
composer has about five times as many changes to write than the TV or
film composer. This is unless, one scores a Don Bluth movie, which IS
a real-time movie only animated.
What do you think about the future and capability of development
concerning interactive music?
CHRIS: I think the next step will be the addition of
more virtual audio channels. A loop could then be recorded in various
keys, which are then synchronised to the same tempo and start point. What
this would do, is allow the game to continuously flow back and forth between
loops as the player wins or looses. The music could step up, for instance,
when he is winning, or step down when he is loosing. This future capability
would allow the video game to sound as though it was actually scored to
match the player's every move. One can do something close to this today,
only there aren't enough audio tracks and there's no universal way to
synchronise multiple loops.
You did a tremendous job in transporting the atmosphere
of the old game into the new 3D Version. It is a marvellous full orchestral
fantasy action adventure score. It ranks high on my all time favourites
game soundtracks. What about a possible CD-Audio Release?
CHRIS: Yes, everyone connected with Dragon's Lair is
very interested in the CD. There was some talk about it months ago; I'll
look into it again.
Do you think that game-music in the future will get more
popular? Legendary Film-Composer Alfred
Newman once said, that the new concert hall for classical music was
found in the film theatre. Can the computer game be the next step for
contemporary classical orientated music? Could it be a chance to reach
new audiences, especially young once and wake their interest in orchestral
CHRIS: I especially like the fact that video games can
promote rock music and classical music together in the same game. This
rarely happens in films and TV. The video gamer is more accustomed to
eclectic styles of music; everything from Irish Rock to Baroque. In many
ways, the video gamer is a more rounded listener, which means that the
future of all music looks pretty bright in video games, including classical
We already have game-scores by Filmcomposer like Bruce
Safan, and Harry
Gregson-Williams. Do you think other Hollywood composer might join
CHRIS: Absolutely. Composers are always looking for new
markets, new ways to share their ideas with the public.
When starting the new game, a very funny thing happened.
The player heard the musicians tuning their instruments. Was this your
CHRIS: No, this was the producer's idea. He though it
would be funny to put an orchestral tune-up at the beginning because the
score sounds so real. I liked the idea too, so I literally recorded every
single sampled instrument 100 times until I had an entire orchestra. Each
instrument, including every violin, is playing a different note. It took
me about a day to make it, but it was fun.
At the end of "Dragon's Lair 3D" we hear a song along with
a music video. Was this your idea and do you want to enter the MTV charts?
CHRIS: Again, this was the producer's idea. As for MTV,
why not, stranger things have happened ;)
Do you play computer games yourself?
CHRIS: Yes, I especially like older games such as "Hydro
Thunder." I like skill oriented games, and games that transport me to
a world that I'd visit if I could.
Are you involved in the planned Dragon's Lair Motion picture?
CHRIS: There has been talk of my doing the score, so
I certainly hope it will come true; it's going to be an amazing story.
It will have everything from mystical to monstrous, and it will be created
by the best animation team in the world . . . What more could a composer
I hope you will continue composing for video games. What
are your future projects in TV/Movie or interactive games?
CHRIS: Working on "Dragon's Lair" and "Dragon's Lair
3-D" was a great experience for me. If another video game came along,
I'd certainly consider it. Doing the music to a video game impresses my
son a a lot more than other types of composing!
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the
TV/ film composer today?
CHRIS: Royalties, which represent fifty percent of a
composer's income, are at stake because more and more production companies
and networks are only hiring composers that will sign over their royalties
to them. To make matters worse, the record industry, which is at the top
of the music food chain, is in shambles because of piracy over the Internet.
These are fiscal challenges. Creatively, the greatest challenge to the
TV/film composer is the temp score. The temp score is background music
cobbled together by a music editor from bits and pieces of other composer's
works. It gives the film editor something to cut to. It allows the director,
producer and network executives to view a more finished sounding show.
Unfortunately, many people become wedded to the temp score after hearing
it over and over. They find it hard to accept any other score. This greatly
impacts the creativity of the composer of the real score.
What do you think is the future of film and TV scoring,
and how does it relate to video games?
CHRIS: I think more and more film scores will be made
by rock groups and collective composers in the future, because it is more
cost effective to do so. The temp score has become not just a guide for
the composer, but a creative mandate that one must imitate short of copyright
infringement. The film and TV industry does this because of creative control.
If the composer copies the tried and true temp score, then nothing bad
can happen - no surprises. If you look at it purely from a monetary standpoint,
it makes financial sense to do this. Take the best of every composer and
create a smorgasbord. I think that all creative decisions in future scoring
will be based entirely on economics, and video games will most likely
follow suit. I predict that the future of all scoring will one day be
done by dozens of composers per project.
Has computer technology changed the relationship between
the director and the composer?
CHRIS: Today's director has more creative control over
the score because he can hear what it really sounded like BEFORE going
to the recording session. The most significant change in the composer/
director relationship is that the director acts more like a record producer.
Not all directors choose to get this involved with the music, but the
technology is there.
Downloading music for free off the Internet has become
common practice. How does this impact the film and TV composer's future?
CHRIS: The record industry accounts for about 40% of
the annual royalties collected by ASCAP
and BMI. Believe it
or not, the remaining 60% comes from the TV and film industry. Both songwriters
and TV/ film composers belong to the same royalty collection affiliations,
such as ASCAP or BMI. This collective annuity, gathered by each of these
organizations, is thrown into a single gigantic collection pot. Every
quarter the money is, more or less, evenly distributed among all its songwriter
and TV/film composers. If either the TV or the record industry suffer
financial loss, we all suffer. So, in reality, the Internet piracy of
every rap artist affects me directly. It is very possible that if Internet
piracy isn't stopped soon, there could be a catastrophic collapse of the
entire music industry.
How do you select your projects?
1) The people I work with.
2) The people I work with.
3) Other reasons.
Perhaps this is an unfair question, because it is like
choosing your favourite child, but which of your works are you most proud
CHRIS: I like the music I wrote for the KPM
library the best, because it wasn't a copy of a temp score, and it
was truly written from my heart with no picture influence.
If you could have chosen, what movie would you have most
liked to have scored?
CHRIS: "The Matrix"
What technical Equipment do you use?
Computers: Three Mac G3's, for "StudioVision." & four
"888 ProTools I/O's" One G4 for "Logic" and Motu 2408 & Motu 24 I/O. Two
Imac's for "Sibelius" & "Finale."
Samplers: Four PC's running GigaStudio. Four Emu 6400's.
One Roland 760, and One Kurswiel 2500RS. Emu Proteus, 1,2,3.
Synths: One Korg SR, one Korg Trtiton Rack, one Korg
M1, one Roland JV-2080. One ddrum4. And Yamaha RM-50.
Mixers: Six-Beringer 48/24 Eurodesks.
Reverbs: One Lexicon 480L, one Lexicon 300, and three
Monitors: Three JBL theater monitors behind a 20' Stuart
screen. Three JVC LCD projectors. (All computers are projected on the
screen along with video picture.)
Microphones: Neuman: Three M-50's, two M-49's, six Km-56's,
two Km-53's, two Km-54's. Two AKG C-12's, two RCA 44, and two RCA 77.
Mike Preamps: 3 Martech's and five API.
Beside your love for music it seems, you have affection
to cars. You restored a 1949 Packard Victoria Convertible over the last
10 years. Do you like the timeless classic design or what was the reason?
CHRIS: Everyone needs a hobby. I need to get away from
my work and concentrate on my hobbies; otherwise I obsess and get too
close to my music and loose objectivity. I've always loved cars, and I
like to drive. My family likes the car too, so we take family drives in
the countryside. Being a composer is a bit like working in a submarine
all alone -- hobbies keep me human.
You produced your music both with computer and with live
orchestras; which do you prefer? With computer you have 100% control of
your work and you can change, add and fix little things without problem.
But recording with live orchestra you have limited time/sessions to record
in and this makes changes very difficult. What are the technical pros
and cons of both methods (not the cost or the different sound)?
CHRIS: At the end of a project, the live orchestra's
technical troubles remain back in the studio - you leave and that's the
end of it. With electronic scoring, you live with your equipment day and
night. The technical nuisances with electronics are smaller, but they
never leave you after the score is over. Live orchestra is a bit like
coping alone at with your baby for a few months, but he eventually grows
up and leaves home. Electronics is a bit more like the mother-in-law that
requires never ending maintenance. If I could, I would always use live
orchestra - there is no substitute.
You conducted American and European Orchestras. Are there
differences in interpreting the music?
CHRIS: I can hear "spoken" accents in the way people
play. For instance, when I recorded a typical western cowboy score in
London, it came out sounding a bit like Elgar. Elgar performed in the
USA sounds a bit like Copeland. Besides the cultural differences, the
Hollywood recording orchestras use French horns made of nickel, not brass.
These instruments are called, Conn H-D's. Their sound is warm and these
horns are slightly easier to play, but to me they sound muddy. The brass
horns, played by the European orchestras, have much more edge; more powerful
sound - I prefer their power when I really need them to carry the melody
(my main title music to "The Stupids" points this out.) Also, the European
string sections set-up their instruments for warmer, more section-oriented
sound. The Hollywood string sections set-up their instruments for playing
more like individual soloists: brighter and louder. Many American composers
comment on how much they prefer the London string sound compared to the
Hollywood string sound: the London string sound is smoother but not as
loud. Also, the British recording halls sound better, more ambient. The
American recording stages are too dry, and too dead. If you want to record
a score that's very percussive, however, then you are better off in the
US. The "wet" London halls are great for strings and brass, but they are
problematic for tight sounding percussion - the natural ambience adds
too much delay and makes the percussion section sound as though they aren't
playing in proper time.
You composed some ballet music. Are there any further plans
(e.g. a concert)?
CHRIS: I don't have any immediate plans, but I wouldn't
rule out the possibility of doing some ballet with my performing group
in the future.
What is your most liked CD (Classical, Film score, Others)?
CHRIS: My favorite orchestral piece is "Holst's Planets."
My favorite film score is "Big Country." Not the most sophisticated choices
perhaps, but they're still my favorites. I think these pieces are kind
of like your first love. You may go on to meet many other interesting
women, but you can never forget your first love!
Disney films always pay great homage to their underscore.
What was it like to join the ranks of the great Hollywood composers on
a Disney project? It must be a good feeling to know that kids are whistling
and humming your themes; this is a thing my nephew always does :) He likes
music as much as I do, and he'll only shut off the TV after hearing the
CHRIS: Now that's a dedicated listener! What can I say,
was a fantastic project. What composer wouldn't be gratified by a child's
intrigued response to his music?
Is there anything you want to say to our readers?
CHRIS: Please allow your grandchildren to hear new music
as you have been able to do. If you love your favorite composer's music,
then show it by buying, not downloading for free, his commercially available
CD off the Internet. The future of music is up to you.
Thank you very much for your time, for this interview and
for your beautiful music, Christopher. We hope to hear you and your music
Soundtrack Sample "Dragon's
Lair 3D" - Track 1 (48 kps) oder (96
Soundtrack Sample "Dragon's
Lair 3D" - Track 2 (48 kps) oder (96
|Picture copyrights by Don Bluth, Intrada, Disney, Dragonstone,
MGM/UA, Music copyrights by Christopher Stone with friendly permisson
by Don Bluth, Christopher Stone, Rick Dyer, all rights reserved