Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?
I was really lucky actually with the way things turned out. Personally I’m not a big games player so after studying for a Music Technology MSc at the University of York , composing music for games was not an obvious progression. Millennium Interactive based in Cambridge advertised a position in their audio department, but I didn’t actually see the advert – a course colleague did and applied himself. Shortly after that he decided to buy a house in Surrey and so when he was asked to go for interview, he declined and asked me if I wanted to go instead. I did, I got it and that was how I got into it!
You and Andrew Barnabas form a composing team. How does composing in a team work? What are the advantages/disadvantages when working in a team?
Yes, it is unusual but works surprisingly well for both of us. Barn likes to work with melody and I like to work more with harmony and chord progressions. We both come from different musical backgrounds, bringing something different to the table.
The obvious disadvantage is if we don’t agree on the approach we should take for a particular project. This happens rarely though because it is seldom exclusively our decision. We often have the involvement of Directors and Producers who have a clear idea of how they want the project to develop.
On the plus side, if one of us is suffering a creative block, the other can often add to the composition and provide a much needed spark to kick start the creative process again. With there being two of us, when we get very busy and the workload is enormous, we can multi task and work independently. As all of our music is performed live, it doesn’t matter if the mix of our mock-ups sounds inconsistent; the final recording process irons out that particular problem.
You are most famous for your score for Primal. How did you get involved in that project?
As they say, it’s who you know in this industry!! Barn and I used to run the audio department at Sony Cambridge up until we set up Bob and Barn Ltd in June 2001. Thankfully, the relationship didn’t take too much of a dent when we left and they asked us to still score the game which we were delighted to do.
How would you describe the score and what aspect of it are you most proud of?
The score is split into 4 distinct sounds to identify the 4 main areas of Primal. Solum being a primitive area we decided to give it a signature sound of Col Legno which is where the string section play the instrument with the back of the bow giving a pitched / percussive sound. It sounds very primitive! Aquis had big, lush, flowing melodies and rich harmonic textures. Aetha was a level all about oppression and class distinction so we decided that we would opt for a melancholy sound featuring the solo violin in much the same way that Schindler’s List does. Finally Volca had a volcanic feel so we decided to distinguish it with a slightly middle Eastern sound and feel. The thing I’m most proud of is Jen Meets Arella (track 5 on the CD) as it was the first theme that we wrote (in fact it was originally scored not for orchestra but for rock band with a solo cello!) It was strong melodically and harmonically and stayed with us throughout the 2 year development of the game score.
Did you enjoy working with a real orchestra? How much does the overall composing process differ when using a live orchestra as opposed to a sampled score?
We both enjoyed it immensely! It’s incredible to hear your musical ideas realised with the help of so many other specialists along the way. Nic Raine our orchestrator, Jan Holtzner the recording engineer, and of course not forgetting each and every musician!
The main difference is through the division of labour. Prior to this our job was to compose it, orchestrate it, record it, master it and pretty much do everything to it! We are left to focus on 1 area now – the composition. That means that we have specialists involved in all the other areas, bringing in their talents in order to raise the quality bar much higher than was possible when we were handling all aspects of the musical production.
The Primal soundtrack has been released by Silva Screen Records. Are you planning to release your future scores as well?
We always hoped that we would continue the trend of releasing soundtracks but it is difficult to convince record labels that it is a viable proposition because it is early days for it as a consumer product. I believe that in years to come we could be competing with film scores for unit sales but as yet we’re not even close. Until then we will continue to use persuasive means with developers and record labels in order to keep the industry moving forward.
You’ve also worked on the kung-fu game Kung-Fu Chaos. I’ve read on your website that finding the right style for the soundtrack was one of the most difficult aspects of the score. How would you describe the final style in the game and what have you learned from that difficulty in terms of methodologies?
Yes it was tricky. I’d describe the final result as a fusion between disco, funk and oriental music. The music on the initial levels drew more from the oriental sound and the score evolved throughout until it was almost pure disco for the last level.
You meet all kinds of developers, ones that have clear direction from the start, and others that want us to provide it. And of course you get all levels in between. Each has it’s own relative problems. The former is sometimes very hard to please because they have strong creative ideas. The latter is difficult because it is hard to establish exactly what is needed if you aren’t on the same wavelength.
We had additional problems on Kung Fu Chaos in that there was place holder audio already in the game when we arrived there. Stylistically it was very left field of what was required but it did set a precedent because the game had been played like this for long enough for it to have established itself in the minds of the developers.
We’ve learned that the best approach is to play as much existing music as possible to developers so that you’re not writing test tracks which are time consuming. It’s actually possible to play the game along with this ‘source’ music to get a feel for tempo and rhythm. Does it give the right desired effect?
One of your first projects is Medievil 2. What can you tell us about that score?
Well actually, MediEvil 1 was our first project – we scored the whole series. Chris Sorrell, the brains behind the game, had a clear idea of what it should sound like musically. He wanted it to have a Danny Elfman feel (‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ and ‘Batman Returns’.)
I personally really enjoyed writing this style of orchestral music because I feel that a lot of the character lies within the chord progressions and harmonies used. We also had to experiment heavily with how we orchestrated the music because Elfman’s music tends to be very complex from an orchestration standpoint. You only have to listen to the theme from the Simpsons to realise that.
You’ve also scored a great variety of movie and TV spots. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
Working in film and TV is satisfying for different reasons. The picture we work with is totally linear and so it gives us much more scope to synchronise our music very accurately with the action on screen and make sure that the music is much more tailored to each nuance. In terms of production schedules etc we have equally little time to get the scores written in all cases :) Of course, at the top of the tree in film, the production values are astronomical, but I’d say that your average game score competes quite admirably budget wise with a decent sized TV / film production and with the onset of next generation consoles just around the corner, that figure will undoubtedly rise further.
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?
Actually any comparison of our music with film for us is an enormous compliment. We have strived to echo the skill and quality of film music and if people pick up on that we’re always elated.
In answer to the second part of your question: Budgets! Well not purely that, but things must have taken a big shift upwards because the likes of the names you list above aren’t working for a packet of crisps and a pint of lager! That said, it is important to remember that these composers made their names in a field that is related but not the same as ours. They can write great orchestra music, but they don’t really have much of a handle on the interactive part of games and how to deal with it. This probably explains why they’re currently being used mainly for the creation of themes (as well as to keep the price down of course. :) )
It’s more than just down to finances though. I think that a lot of the stigma attached to games is slowly being eroded and a worldwide respect for it as a medium is gradually being earned. I think that these forward looking composers can see that video gaming has become an enormous industry in its own right and can not be overlooked any longer. This can only improve with the next generation of consoles about to be launched. As the creative boundaries become broader, perhaps we’ll see an influx of other film talent in different areas, such as sound design?
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
Can’t you ask me something easier like, what is my favourite colour or my middle name or something? :) I do see a convergence of media as a likely event. And I think with that, there will be less of a distinction between film / TV and game composers. Perhaps the distinction will be more about who composes for linear media and who composes for non-linear media? Games will no longer be the poor cousin to film but perhaps more a bonefide twin.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
The most difficult task for me is usually deciding how to deal with the interactive aspect of the music. In some cases, this is not difficult as the game does not demand a highly interactive score. In others, the success of the audio in the project depends on it!
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?
I grew up listening to rock music – some of the most cheesy and clichéd stuff you can imagine. That said, the music could be quite complex at times and I learned much about harmony and chord progressions listening to that.
Now I’m listening to pop music, rock music – you name it actually. Of course, I get a lot of my musical influences listening to film scores. My favourite composers include James Newton Howard (6 th Sense and Peter Pan), Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future and Forest Gump) and of course, John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, ET.)
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
That’s a tough question to answer. I loved working on the early MediEvil series but probably more for nostalgic reasons. Game development was quite different back then. I really enjoyed working on the German feature film we did last year because of the diversity of music we were required to write as well as the travelling we had to do.
At the moment, I think my favourite project has been MediEvil PSP because Sony just ‘get it’ when it comes to production values. We weren’t rushed in the recording process and things didn’t seem quite so rushed during the compositional phase, which is probably as much a testament to the game’s producer Piers Jackson’s skills as anything. It was the culmination of seven years work for us, revisiting old themes from MediEvil 1 as well as having the chance to write new material – all being expertly performed by the Prague Philharmonic. This was how the original music was intended to be heard, and now it has finally happened seven years later.
What would be your dream project?
My dream project? Well probably a game that gets made into a film and becomes an on-going license that’s as big as Star Wars. Or course, we would always have to score the music on both projects!! That would be rather splendid!
What are you currently working on?
We’ve set up a ring tone business specialising in music for film and TV called Protones.net. We’re currently in the process of re-branding and promoting the site. Alongside this we are about to make a big announcement with our sister company Side – can’t say any more about that at this stage. Watch this space. We’re also planning more car recordings for another PSP title due for release next year. Actually, I didn’t realise just how busy we were!
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
As I said earlier, I’m not really a big games player myself. I’m more into sport. Barn likes to get stuck into games though, but I’ll leave it for you to ask him about that!
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
No :) My fingers are about to fall off as it is!
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.
Thanks and the same to you!!