Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Surveying Literature: Tom Hoover Keeping Score

Recently found Tom Hoover's Keeping Score.  The book is a collection of interviews with film, television, and game music composers.  What makes the timing of it perfect for me is that I've been thinking about starting a new blog series about game composers, so it's very cool to see these, which I'm encountering as the first scholarly recorded interviews with game music composers.  Part III of the the book, interviewing game music composers, contains six interviews.  I've pulled out a quote or two that stood out to me from each composer.

Seems that composers generally come into game projects at two points: right at the end of everything in a rush, or from the beginning when the game is in development phase.  The following quote presents the earlier as ideal.  Plus, I love the idea of games as being a haven for creativity.

Marty O' Donnell:  "The earlier the composer is exposed to the story, look, and feel of a game, the better...  I think the future is bright for game music.  Better technology, better composers, better music is happening each new year.  Games are a great place to be creative."

Reading these interviews reminded me that a video game is often a multi-media brand launch.  Movies, soundtracks, video games, toys, action cards, etc, are often all bundled together in a release.  Movie scores and game scores could be planned to have similar themes or could be very different because of differences in timing.  An interesting study might consider how film and game composers handle the same material differently and/or similarly.  Also, as women composers is one of my scholarly interests from back in my dissertation days, I'm excited to consider the possibility of highlighting female game composers in future blogs.

Winifred Phillips: "It has been my experience that the style of the upcoming film's score is a complete mystery to the developers, which means that I'm given freedom to create music for the game in a style that makes sense to me.... For the game to be ready in time to launch alongside the film, the music composition for the game must begin long before the film composer has written a single note."

As many similarities as folks naturally see between game music and film music, it's great to hear a composer voice the major differences between the genres and challenges in game music composition.

Inon Zur: "In games, [similarity to film music] is about 50 percent of it.  The other 50 percent are the different cues of the music in the game, because you'r enot writing music for a certain specific thought.  You write music for a level, a map, an area.  So let's say a minute and a half to a two minute sequence of music needs to serve an area where the player spends a good 45 minutes..... As a composer, you have to be very aware of the fat that the music has to serve a place where it wouldn't necessarily hit every point, sword hit, or gunshot.  It should... evoke certain emotions and describe what's going on in a general way.  The next tactic is how you compose in a way that you can take what you've composed and actually pull it apart, break it down to different stems, loops, and elements, and play them separately in particular spots so you won't feel that the music is repeating itself again and again."

While very early game music composers were likely to be engineers, technological sophistication, ease, and standardization have helped bridge the gap for classically trained musicians to more easily enter the field.

Cris Velasco: "When I graduated from high school, I had just started playing guitar, which was the only muisc I knew at the time.  I had a death metal band actually.... and then I took a music appreciation course.... that changed my life.  We were listening to the last movement of Mozart's 40th Symphony, and I had an epiphany in class that this is amazing and this is what I wanted to do with my life, which was kind of hilarious because I didn't even know how to read music.  I'm not sure if I had even been to the symphony at that point, but just something about that Mozart piece really spoke to me so profoundly that it did change my life."  

Earlier in the course of the blog, I remember being shocked that I could listen to complete soundtracks on YouTube, but not buy them on iTunes or Amazon.  As I'm studying game audio online, I'm learning that what's listed as a "complete soundtrack" online may be only a small portion of the game music.  Definitely, though, online is the best current way to connect with game audio.

Jesper Kyd: "The thing about it is that there are at least as many fans of videogame music as there are, I feel, for film music.  It's just that film music is much more visible; there's a promotional package behind it...  In games, sometimes a great score is never even promoted.  But in a videogame, the fans go inside the game, they rip out the music, and they spread it around on the Internet."

Finally, a reminder for me that my knowledge about video game music, no matter how classically I can hear it an analyze it, is incomplete without broadening my technological understanding of how the music is made in the games.  I wonder: what kind of audio systems do designers use?  Are there any that I come in contact with in my work: Ableton, ProTools, Logic?  Of course, the exact technologies are what allow for new game design to be innovative and constantly develop and improve, but are there programs that can prepare composers broadly for the job?

Jason Graves:  "Your knowledge of game audio technology need only be as deep and detailed as your desire to work in said field...  The more informed you are about the technology that will be placing your music in the game and triggering your music at the (hopefully) proper time, the better off you are as both a composer and part of the team."

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