Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get into the video game music business?
Hi – I am happy to greet you in cyberspace! I got into scoring videogames from my work on TAKEN, the epic 20 hour miniseries from Steven Spielberg. The people at Sony Online Entertainment heard my music and asked me to score EverQuest 2.
Let’s talk about Everquest 2. When and how did you get involved in the project?
I got involved early on, when there were just drawings and no gameplay to speak of. I would sit with the developers, and since I knew nothing about MMORPG’s, we would spend a lot of time talking about ideas and how it all might work.
How did you first start out writing the music? Could you tell us a bit about the writing process on Everquest 2?
There were vivid locations, many of which came from the original EverQuest – Freeport and Qeynos, and new ones as well. The developers would tell me what the place would be like, and what kind of gameplay would take place, and I would write away. There were no timings, so I really just dove into my imagination.
Are there any cues/musical passages in the score that you’re especially proud of?
You know, I kind of love Draffling Tower.
You’ve also written music for the Everquest 2 expansion pack Desert of Flames. What were your particular goals with the addon-score? Are you pleased with the end result?
We really wanted to create a different feel, one more based in Arabic cultures. So I drew from that music and instrumentation and created music. It was great fun to do it, and working with Arabic instruments was something I had done before, so it was familiar ground. I also scored several other expansions, as well as several EverQuest live expansions.
One of your latest assignments includes Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom. How did you approach the game musically and how much creative freedom were you given by the developers to find a unique and creative soundscape for the game?
For this game, we wanted to use a chorus, but not use a latin text. So I searched, and found an incredible text by Blind Harry called William Wallace – it turns out this text was the basis for the movie Braveheart. The text was in Middle Scots, a language not many of us understand, so I flew to England and met a brilliant scholar who was based at Oxford and she taught me what it all meant, and gave me the correct pronunciations, so I could teach the text to the chorus in Prague. We also had an orchestra on that one, and I am really proud of that score.
What can you tell us about your score to Kung Fu Panda 2 – The Videogame? How important was the original film score to your approach?
The original score was certainly a guide, but the needs of the game pretty quickly departed from that. I didn’t use any of the themes, but I love that score. And I hear the new one is wonderful too. I used a group of Chinese instruments, the great Karen Han on er-hu, M.B. Gordy playing every drum you can think of and Craig Stull on all Chinese strummed instruments, pipa, etc. So I had a lot of terrific sounds and world-class musicians to collaborate with.
Are you pleased that your scores are being discussed / compared with film scores? For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening?
I am of course happy that my music is considered cinematic, and I want it to have that sound for all the games I score. Games are a wonderful place for a composer to live. Music is so appreciated by the developers, and the players love it too, so I am not surprised when any composer wants to get involved – I did!!!
You’ve also written music for television and film. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
As you said, I do strive for a cinematic sound - but there is certainly more freedom in games – game music can play more of a foreground role than film or television music. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about creating emotion and drama in any medium.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
Very, very interactive with the player really participating in what the score does. Then music will really function more like it does in filmed media.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
Oddly, loops are hard. They are a necessary evil, but I look forward to them going away with more interactive software in place.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3 player right now?
So much – I listen to a lot of jazz, classic jazz mostly, but I am also totally obsessed with New Orleans Brass Bands like the Hot 8. I listen to a lot of classical music too, mostly 20 th Century modernism.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
I love my game projects, but I would have to say ASK YOUR MAMA, my concert music work that premiered at Carnegie Hall with Jessye Norman and The Roots.
What would be your dream project?
Making a film of ASK YOUR MAMA. No question there.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a score for a play for the Denver Center, teaching at UCLA, and composing and directing a large-scale orchestral work in collaboration with NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters. And a piece in honor of my teacher Milton Babbitt, and a violin piece and another piece for viola and guitar. And sleep training my son. Now that’s hard.
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
Well, no. I’m terrible at it. No hand eye coordination.
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.
Thanks so much!