Posts tagged ‘soundtrack’

March 2, 2014

ORIGINAL FILM SCORES

Tonight is Oscar night and people all over the world will be glued to their TV screens to see what the movie stars are wearing and who’ll take home the coveted Academy Awards.  But is anyone dying to know what Thomas Newman will wear?

Newman is one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Original Score, for the film “Saving Mr. Banks.”  Also nominated for Best Original Score are John Williams (“The Book Thief”), Steven Price (“Gravity”) Alexandre Desplat (“Philomena”), and William Butler and Owen Pallett (“Her”).

Film composers aren’t the most glamorous or visible celebrities at the Oscars.   Yet they play a critical role in setting and sustaining the mood of a great film.

In a completely unscientific survey, my wife asked some friends and family members to name movies that were especially memorable because of their original scores.  What famous film music excited or moved them and stuck in their minds after they finished watching these movies?

Not surprisingly, “Home Alone” was mentioned by more than one person.
The legendary John Williams composed the original score for “Home Alone” and I’ll speak more about this music in a moment.

“Ben-Hur” (with an original score by Miklos Rozsa) also received multiple mentions.

A few additional movies and composers named in this informal survey were “Braveheart” (James Horner), “Rob Roy” (Carter Burwell), “Rudy” (Jerry Goldsmith), “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (Ennio Morricone), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Danny Elfman), “Somewhere In Time” (John Barry), “Amelie” (Yann Tierson), “Polar Express” (Alan Silvestri), Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Nino Rota), “The Last of The Mohicans” (Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman), “King of Kings” (the aforementioned Miklos Rosza) and “Vertigo” (Bernard Herrmann).

Each of the people who responded to this question obviously had his or her own reasons for loving certain films and the music from those films.  But their enjoyment of these movies — and the lasting impressions that these movies made upon them — were undoubtedly influenced by the music that propelled the action and/or captured the emotions within the story.

Getting back to the subject of “Home Alone,” my wife’s niece found this quote from Wikipedia to go along with her nomination:

Home Alone is the soundtrack of the 1990 film of the same name. The score was composed by John Williams and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score; the film’s signature tune “Somewhere in my Memory” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
“Somewhere in my Memory” was actually written to “run alongside the film” by Williams.[citation needed] It can be heard in numerous sections of the film, either in full length or fragments, forming the backbone for the film’s soundtrack. “Somewhere in my Memory” is performed in many Christmas concerts in schools or professional orchestras and choirs alike across the globe.[citation needed]

It is common for successful film composers to use a main theme as the backbone for a film’s soundtrack, slightly altering the tempo, key or arrangement to coincide with what is happening in a particular scene.  That theme is what often runs through your mind, long after the movie had ended.

One of the strongest impressions that instrumental music can make on a person is when it is heard while watching a story unfold on the screen. Our minds process the visual presentation and events in the story, while our hearts react to the emotions that the music score imparts. When a great story, acting, cinematography and music score combine, it is long remembered in our hearts and minds and worthy of an Oscar.

Now let’s find out who the Academy has chosen for its highest musical honors.

Oscar

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December 30, 2012

UNUSED TUNES – THE STORY OF “QUARTET”

In my last blog post, I mentioned pieces of music that never get used. I was curious to take a listen to those bits, so I booted up my master music library and revisited some old tunes. There were a lot of tracks that I loved hearing again, but I realized that I have come a long way since they were written.

Then I came across “Quartet” which I originally wrote for Rise Of Nations. After nearly 10 years, the details are fuzzy as to exactly why the track never appeared in the game. But the process I have always followed is to put together a “temp track” so that the producers, game designers, etc. can listen to it before going into full production. That means that Quartet, as you hear it here, was composed, performed, mixed and mastered by me on a digital audio workstation (DAW). Essentially, a DAW is a computer system that’s sole purpose is music creation.

To be honest, Quartet did have a small and rather obscure part in Rise Of Legends. Although it is never heard in the game, it appeared as a bonus track on the original soundtrack (OST) released by Nile Rodgers’ Sumthing Else Records. As we were putting together the project, Nile suggested that we include bonus tracks. I had nine first pass music tracks that I composed for the game before we shifted musical direction. So those pieces were added to the DVD.

The Rise Of Nations OST was the first game soundtrack to be released on DVD with both stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. But being the first of anything can be dangerous. It proved to be more of a test for other game soundtracks. When the first run of this soundtrack was sold-out, there were no reprints made. There are only a couple thousand in existence, making them very rare.

So now that I’ve exposed one of my little bits that has been hidden away, I wonder if I can persuade other composers to contribute to the “Unused Symphony?”

 

November 17, 2012

EXPANDING YOUR REACH

To quote Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here …”

The same is true for composers whose work speaks within a larger project. Their names are usually buried at the end of the credits, which most people will never pay attention to. How many people actually stay in the theater to read the credits at the end of a movie or dig through documentation to find out who composed the music score for a game? Most people only remember whether they liked or disliked their entertainment experience.

So it always amazes me to hear from fans who actually care enough and take the time and energy to send me an e-mail or post a note on my blog, Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Getting to the point of having my music reach so many people has been a lifetime commitment, though. And every composer has his or her own path and learns different skills along the way.

I started out playing in school bands and rock bands. In college, I designed and co-built my first synthesizer, which enabled me to offer more diverse and unique shows. Exposure to this music was limited to those who came to my shows or heard my recordings on the radio.

I then moved on to being a product specialist/clinician for synthesizer manufacturers because of my knowledge of both music and technology. While it offered almost no exposure for my music, I learned a vast amount about music technology. That enabled me to start composing for games.

I never thought that my pinball games would expand my reach. But I uploaded a montage of my pinball music to YouTube recently. Much to my surprise, it is one of the more popular videos on my channel. It seems that there are fans of old school pinball music who love that Lo-Fi audio experience.

Because of my pinball experience, I was able to join FASA Interactive, creating music for the “MechWarrior 3” and “MechCommander” video games. Because of the success of those games, FASA Interactive was acquired by Microsoft Game Studios. That led to scoring the soundtracks for “MechWarrior 4” and its expansion packs, “Rise Of Nations” and a host of other smaller projects.

When I left Microsoft in 2003 to form my own music production company, it allowed me to score the soundtracks for “Rise Of Legends,” “Civilization Revolution,” “Defense Grid” and several small projects.

I am now a full time composer/sound designer at IGT, the largest manufacturer of slot machines in the world. My music is heard in casinos on five continents. I could have never gotten to this point without the notoriety I’ve gained by reaching out and seeking publicity throughout the years.

Beyond the body of work, I always made a conscious effort to keep my name out there through personal contact and writing published feature stories for newspapers, music trade magazines and game Web sites.

These days, it is a given that you need to have a Web presence. My Web site, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, blog and YouTube channel all contribute to creating publicity for my work and reaching a wider audience. While you may think that it’s not necessary to continue pursuing more visibility when you have a great job, quite the opposite is true.

Although I work for a large company now, all of my individual work contributes to the overall success of the company. When you work on creative teams, you are motivated by others on your team. If I know that a colleague has received patent awards or worked on world-class games, films and TV shows, etc., I am inspired to do my best work.

When you aspire to be a musician or a composer, exposure is key to building a fan base and a successful career. You will start small and you must never expect that the world will come knocking at your door just because you were the most talented kid in your school.

If you commit to a career in music, if you truly believe that you can withstand all the obstacles that will inevitably be thrown in your path, and know very deep in your heart that this is the only thing that you want to do for a career, you have a chance to succeed. Let the world know that you have something valuable to contribute by expanding your reach and making it easier for people to find your music.

August 11, 2012

UNSUNG HEROES OF “MECHWARRIOR 4: VENGEANCE”

To my amazement and delight, people from all over the world continue to contact me with questions and comments about my past projects, such as my original video game soundtrack for “MechWarrior 4: Vengeance.”

Developed by FASA Studio and published by Microsoft in 2000, this soundtrack is still appreciated by many avid gamers and others who’ve discovered tracks from “MechWarrior 4” on YouTube.

Although I composed the music and played keyboards and percussion for “MechWarrior 4,” the soundtrack would not have been the same without the following outstanding musicians:

• Concert Master: Simon James
• 1st Violin: Kyung Sun Chee, Tom Dziekonski, Simon James
• 2nd Violin: Linda Anderson, Jean W. Yablonsky
• 2nd Violin: Susan Guikis, Laurel Wells, Joe Gottesman
• Cello: Rajan Krishnaswami, Susan Williams, Virginia Dziekonski
• Bass Violin: Stephen Schermer
• Trombone: Peter Ellefson
• Bass Trombone: Stephen A. Fissel
• Trumpet: John Aigi Hurn, Charles Butler
• French Horn: Joseph Berger, Peter Moore
• Flute: Susan Telford
• English Horn: Dan L. Williams
• Guitar: Clifford Allen Garrett

The guitarist who performed on this soundtrack was a co-worker at Microsoft. The other talented musicians for “MechWarrior 4” were members of the Seattle-based Northwest Sinfonia. Members of this esteemed group have performed on a number of film soundtracks, major game titles and at the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s dazzling annual production of “The Nutcracker.” To work with musicians of this caliber, and to have them perform the music that I composed for “MechWarrior4: Vengeance” was a thrill and an honor.

Onstage or in the studio, the company you keep can make or break a project. Always strive to associate yourself with others who can elevate your efforts with their contributions.

May 30, 2012

THE FIRST 5.1 GAME SOUNDTRACK

My soundtrack for “Rise Of Nations” was the first game soundtrack album to be released in 5.1 surround sound on DVD. While I’m proud to have pioneered a first-of-its-kind product, surround sound never achieved its full potential with the mass audience. The DVD came and went fairly quickly and copies are now very rare. But the interesting part of this saga was how it was composed, how it even got released and who was responsible.

“Rise Of Nations” was developed by Big Huge Games (BHG) and published by Microsoft Game Studios (MGS). I was the audio lead for the game while I was still working for MGS. The original idea BHG had for the soundtrack was to license authentic World music. As I started to research the genre, I realized that while it was authentic, it didn’t seem to fit into the game. Soundtracks need to support the story line. When you have such diverse and sometimes very odd sounding music, it tends to overshadow the story instead of providing support.

So I went out on a limb and put together some musical sketches to pitch to the team. I was thankful when I was given the green light to create an original soundtrack. It could then be a single vision that wrangled different elements from world, cinematic and contemporary musical genres that supported the story line. I was also fortunate to have been given a budget that allowed me to hire some outstanding musicians from the Northwest Sinfonia.

Because the game was to be released on Windows for PCs, I mixed and mastered the music in stereo. After I delivered all the files, I had a few weeks before starting my next project and decided to do a surround mix. I thought that MGS might be interested in releasing that version as downloadable files to help market the game.

As I was looking for allies in the company to pursue that, I was invited to a meeting with Nile Rodgers, who had been pursuing a partnership with MGS to release soundtracks on his label Sumthing Else Records. For those who are unfamiliar with Nile’s work, he was a founding member, along with Bernard Edwards, of the legendary disco/funk band Chic, probably best known for the tune “Le Freak.” After achieving fame, in his own right, as a guitarist and songwriter, Nile went on to produce hits for artists ranging from Madonna and Mick Jagger to Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, B-52s and many more.

So I went to this meeting and I could scarcely believe that I was sitting across from this Hall of Fame-caliber musician and producer, pitching the release of my “Rise of Nations” soundtrack. As my portion of the meeting was winding up and my hopes were dwindling, a co-worker piped in and said, “What do you think we should do about the surround mix?” That comment was like someone lighting firecrackers on the table. Nile’s first reaction was – “Now, that’s cool!” After a burst of creative brainstorming, Nile was ready to release the first game soundtrack to ever be released in 5.1 surround sound on DVD. He executive-produced the album, was always supportive throughout the process and continues to be a friend to this day.

When something has never been done, you have no template to guide you. So I researched what was possible and not possible and what would enable people to play the soundtrack on their existing audio systems. We finally decided that a standard DVD format would allow both stereo and 5.1 surround mixes to be included on the soundtrack. Any standard DVD player could be used to hear the music without forcing people to have a DVD audio player or a full-blown 5.1 surround speaker system.

As I said, the album was short-lived. But it was an experience that I’ll never forget because it speaks volumes about the creative spirit of everyone who was involved. The game, as well as soundtrack, found a very devoted fan base that is still vibrant to this day. If you do a search on YouTube for the “Rise Of Nations” soundtrack, you will find a lot of music and very positive comments from gamers who really feel a connection to both the game and the soundtrack. Huge thanks to Nile Rodgers for backing “Rise of Nations” and to the loyal listeners who’ve kept this soundtrack alive.