Right now, you’re probably best known for your score to Thief. How did you approach scoring Thief from a textural and contextual point of view?
At the very beginning of the process we were adamant that we wanted a theme for the main character Garrett and that once we had found that, it would become the DNA carried over by most of the other music cues in the game. Contextually, the setting of the game takes place in a rather dark and shadowy environment and that would dictate the kind of sounds, melody, harmony and orchestration that we would use. Extensive use of electronic music was manipulated to darken the tones and add grittiness to the sound.
The Thief series historically doesn’t give many opportunities for a typically rhythmic action music type approach, so how do you approach writing the more atmospheric type cues. Are they whole self-contained pieces or several smaller loop-able cues that can be interchanged at will?
The way we approached the atmosphere cues in the game was done in a way so that we would not feel like it is looped. We had a whole bunch of self-contained atmospheric cues of different lengths that were, as you say, interchangeable. The audio engine would trigger them randomly while the player wanders in the map undetected to sort of create the mood but not give a direct feedback to the player unless he is detected or something happens.
Fans of the original PC Thief series are very protective of its heritage – were you aware of this going in and did you go back and look at the soundtracks for the first three games to get inspiration?
This is an interesting question. As you may suspect, while working on the soundtrack I was well aware of the heritage of the Thief franchise although I was not myself a Thief fan. It was very important for me to pay attention to that aspect of the game, the signature of the music and its role as being a character in itself. I did watch many walkthroughs on the internet to get the essence of what it was musically… but I could not ignore what was asked of me by Eidos Montreal and what I thought would be a good score for the new franchise. Ultimately it became a hybrid score that would sometimes please Eidos, sometimes myself and other times the old fans.
Did you have a chance to talk to Eric Brosius at all during the process?
Unfortunately not, although I asked him to be friends on Linkedin and he agreed 😉 That said, it went through my mind to contact Eric and invite him as a guest musician to add some guitars and ambience but it didn’t happen; I was also concerned about being perceived as someone who would just hire Eric for the sole sake of getting the seal of approval of the old franchise fans. I am a non-competitive composer who likes to collaborate and ultimately, I think it would have been fun to do it. I also wanted to invite Gary Numan as a guest musician.
You also recently scored the film The Lady in Number 6 – the documentary about the world’s oldest holocaust survivor and pianist – Alice Herz Sommer. What was your inspiration for the score?
In a way it was easy since a 108 year old lady playing the piano commands a soft, classical and very interior theme. I opted for the piano with a simple melody that carries her fragility and also a lot of souvenirs. My music had to carry a classical signature since it would interweave with musical excerpts from the classical répertoire… a humbling task.
Looking to the future, do you want to go down the road of focusing on video game scores, film scores, or a mixture of both and why?
As you may know, Thief was my very first video game experience and I have to say that although the adaptation was important, it also made me discover a whole new world of possibilities in terms of music styles and also the whole idea of interactivity. I believe I would be just as happy working on a feature or a video game or documentary.
Get up, prepare breakfast for my 3 year old son, then work, fiddle, work, study score, work, procrastinate, work, suffer and work, procrastinate, work…
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
I would definitely finish my studies and try as much as I can to stay away from work and even turn down film scoring offers until I’m done with the academic aspect of my life. But if the goal is ultimately to get film scoring work, it’s almost impossible to turn it down. I didn’t.
Can you recommend any useful books on composition/mastering/business etc. that you’ve read and enjoyed?
Although there are numerous books out there, very few approach music composition the way my own composition teacher Alan Belkin does and his teaching is also available online for free.
A book I also recommend, when you feel frustrated in your career and wonder how this business works, is called “Knowing the Score.”
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
The extinguisher ?