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Christopher Stone


Name:Christopher Stone - about Music, Games and Dragon's Lair
Links: composerchrisstone.com
Links: Don Bluth Homepage
Christopher Stone´s Studio
Christopher Stone
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)
Phantasm 4
Talespin
Christopher Stone - about Music, Games and Dragon's Lair (interview von yak)

Twenty years 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.

Joining the 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 disk game.

Don Bluth 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 without music?

Try to imagine, what would happen:

The shark 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."

Christopher 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 Channel.

 


Hello Christopher, 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 family, Carter 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: consistency.

From a technical point of view, is it easier to produce sophisticated loops using electronically produced music rather than live orchestra?

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 game?

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, NAB, NAMM, 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.

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" and "Sibelius" 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 via computer?

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 music?

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 music.

We already have game-scores by Filmcomposer like Bruce Broughton, Elia Cmiral, Craig Safan, and Harry Gregson-Williams. Do you think other Hollywood composer might join the list?

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 idea?

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 ask for?

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?

CHRIS:

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 of?

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?

CHRIS:

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 EMT 120's.

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. Two Royers.

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 end credits.

CHRIS: Now that's a dedicated listener! What can I say, "TaleSpin" 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 soon again.

CHRIS: Thanks



Soundtrack Sample "Dragon's Lair 3D" - Track 1 (48 kps) oder (96 kps
Soundtrack Sample "Dragon's Lair 3D" - Track 2 (48 kps) oder (96 kps)



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



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