David Kates

- Neopets
- orchestrations for video game music live concerts
- various movies and television programs

Official website


David Kates is a composer for film and television who is starting to write music for games. Just recently, he has orchestrated scores for the "video game music live"-concerts. We asked him about his latest projects, the future of video game music and how he came to compose music in the first place.

Hi David, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. One of your latest projects is the score to the Sony game Neopets. How would you describe the score and what aspect of it are you most proud of?

As a way of getting my feet wet into writing for games, composer Jack Wall hired me to write a series of “cinematics” for this version of NEOPETS: Darkest Faerie. Although Sony halted production, I had already scored about ten cues.

Cinematics, of course, are the segments of a game that are non-interactive and filmic: moments designed to give the player(s) insights and information for a storyline. Coming from a film and t.v. composing background it was a very natural role for me. The score is distinctly symphonic with an ancient feel…..larger than life. I was also able to dig into my background in animation music to add humorous musical punctuations. I’m very proud of how well the underscores live with these dialogue driven segments, and brings them to life. It’s easy to see how the ability to score picture effectively is an asset, now that games are becoming so much more like features.


You’ve also been working as an orchestrator for game composers Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico for the “video game music live”-concerts. Did you enjoy that experience and are you planning to work on future game music concerts?

Jack and Tommy hired me to transcribe and orchestrate three movements from the score of the classic sci-fi movie and game TRON. Composed by Wendy Carlos in the early eighties, she performed her own music on synthesizers and there was no score available for our reference. I’ll never forget Jack sending me an mp3 of the music saying, “Dave, I know you can do this.” Let me tell you, this is some tough music. There were many nights I listened over and over to no more than two measures at a time knowing this was virtually impossible. And soon it started to reveal itself. Wendy’s musical and spiritual philosophy was so evident in her writing, and I grew so much from her just by doing the takedown. I used to hate takedowns, now I suggest that every young composer find a score that moves them and do a takedown. It’ll blow your mind! After I finished the transcription, orchestration seemed like a party, and then I got to partake in the rehearsals and premier concert of Video Games Live at the Hollywood Bowl with The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Jack and Tommy are unbelievable.

In terms of the future, I’m shooting for one of my original scores to make it into the concert series.


You’ve scored a great variety of movie and TV spots. How would you compare movie and game scoring? Where do you see the challenge and fascination of writing music for video games?

We’re seeing some great scores being composed for games that clearly have their influence firmly rooted in a film scoring style. Gary Shyman’s “Destroy All Humans,” Marty O’ Donnell’s “Halo,” Jack Wall’s “Myst” scores and “Jade Empire” clearly demonstrate how thematic music can be developed in games. As I continue to learn though, I am more aware that game music is quite different in how it is implemented. The composer has to work closely with the designers to make sure that what you are creating and eventually delivering is able to serve the game’s technological needs.

The fascination for me is to create the ultimate interactive dramatic experience. Dramatic music is at its best when it is felt, but does not distract. As more and more people get into playing games, the subject matters will become broader, and musical styles will expand. This opens up such awesome opportunities for creating entertainment. I find that very exciting.


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?

There is a distinct curiosity about exploring new frontiers both aesthetic and business. The game world offers an opportunity to creatively break free of the narrow parameters that often defines television and film today. I think the experimental possibilities of game music and its implementation is wildly enticing, and many of us see it as a chance to stretch out. That should take nothing away from the fact that the film business will continue to take note of game composers, and are recognizing their influence on a major sector of the ticket buying public. They’ll continue to formulate that games and game music is part of a growing culture that can be identified, advertised to and eventually cashed in on.


Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

I foresee positive developments. More artists will recognize the creative potential in games, and in return, developers will respond by creating more diverse platforms for them to participate in. The big challenge will be how to handle the massive supply of composers that we’ll see over the next decade wanting to do games. The creative community can handle that, but we’ll have to learn how to co-exist with one another and understand more about healthy business practices. Organizations like G.A.N.G. will be more essential than ever. Still, the overall potential of games is astounding. Games will continue to win more of a market share than ever before. I also think that the idea of games will continue to be more palatable to those who have considered it a fringe pastime. Developers will begin to brainstorm ways of reaching a broader demographic, and this will give way to an even richer library of titles that will influence more lives. The educational potential of the technology is also mind blowing, and deserves being tapped.


What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?

The late Jerry Goldsmith is certainly at the top. His natural ability to dramatize and emotionally affect picture was astounding. I admire so many composers including Thomas Newman, John Williams, Shirley Walker, and the late Elmer Bernstein, to name a few. I also love the books written by Henry Mancini (Sounds and Scores) and John Cacavas (Arranging and Orchestration).

You could call it the “curse of the eclectic.” In my CD player is a collection of film scores from the early days at Warner Brothers. I’m doing a takedown of Korngold’s theme from the movie Kings Row (1942). Yesterday, it was Beck’s Midnight Vultures. In my Playstation 2 is Sly Cooper ……can’t get enough of Sly Cooper.


What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

Tales from the Ramayana (ImagineAsia). This animated program shown in Europe was about the life and adventures of the legendary mythological Hindu character. I combined Southeast Asian/Indian influences with symphonic western music. The show was fashioned after a video game style, and I think it was the first project that made me think about checking out games.


What would be your dream project?

An action adventure/espionage game, with different levels of emotional complexities, that combines symphonic and classic rock elements, and an opportunity to develop a dramatic storyline. Some killer battle scenes would be fun.


What are you currently working on?

I continue to write for my music library which is represented by Pump Audio in New York . My tracks are continually being marketed all over the tube, which has been very cool. Meanwhile, I’m being presented for game demos. After completing Video Games Live, Jack Wall introduced me to the amazing Bob Rice who’s now my manager. Our goal is to get that dream project game and kick some serious you know what!


Do you play PC or console games yourself?

I’ve been through a bunch of the classics, on my Playstation 2, and just getting into PC games like the Myst series and Dungeon Siege II.


Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?

I think that’ll do it. Oliver, this is an awesome forum. Thanks for your interest. Keep up the work, man!