Editor’s Note: Hey folks, here’s Matt’s conversation with famed composer Bear McCreary, famous for working on TV shows like The Walking Dead and BattleStar Galactica, along with Socom 4, which releases tomorrow. The transcript is below, but to get the full feel, you’re going to want to check out the audio here. and via the play button above this paragraph, it’s a great listen and you really get the whole feel of the piece. Like it? Hate it? Let us know, hopefully it’s the start of something brand new here at Blast –JS

Matt: Let’s start with SOCOM4. First off, I’m wondering –you’re composing music forSOCOM 4, correct?

Bear McCreary: Yes.

M: Or composed I should say, I guess you’re all done at this point?

B: Yes, I’ve been done for a year.

M: Oh, wow. So that’s a bit of a disconnect between finishing the music and gamedevelopment time.

B: Well, with a game as technically complex as SOCOM4, the implementation of themusic is probably as important as the composition of it. So, I needed to be donewell in advance so that they could take those recordings and implement them intothe game which is a pretty complicate process. I’ve done other games where we’vefinished a little closer to the final deadline and certainly, when you’re doing a film ora TV show, you’re finishing right at the end, but SOCOM4 is complex both musicallybut also technically. It really required a lot of time and energy on the part of thedevelopers so I needed to be done early.

M: There’s a couple things I want to talk about that you touched on there. First, didyou compose music just for the single player, for the multiplayer, both, co-op?

B: I composed everything. Anything you hear in SOCOM4, I wrote.

M: OK, then, if you wouldn’t mind just walking through –you touched on it a littlebit already- the creative process, how does that work? If you finished up a year inadvance of when the game is going to be released, there is obviously a lot moredevelopment time left finishing the game.

B: Yeah.

M: How exactly does that work then? Are they tossing you an early build of thegame, are you sitting down and just talking about ideas and going from there?

B: Well, you know, I was able to play an early build of the game but it wasn’t in anykind of format that I could take home. And, beyond that, it wasn’t even finished tothe point that it would be particularly helpful to me. What I found inspirational wasthe story, the characters, the location, the script, and the concept art. These are the
things that tell me what the game is about, what kind of story we’re telling. SOCOM4is a more narrative game than –I think- any other franchise to date and that’s whatreally drew me. That’s what really was appealing to me, being able to tell a cinematicstory and write character themes and do all of the things in a SOCOM game that I doin feature films and on television. So, the actual technicalities of how the game feelsand how it works –I had a pretty good idea of that because I’ve played through of allthe other SOCOM games.

M: Ok, so you’re a fan of the other [SOCOM] games too?

B: Sure, absolutely. I’m definitely a gamer. I’ve played through all the other games soI was familiar with the franchise already. I didn’t really need to play a lot of SOCOM4 to understand the basic mechanics of it, which is good because there wasn’t muchto play when I was writing.

M: Interesting. So, you’re getting an early build and you’re sitting down –but likeyou’ve said you’ve already got a good idea of all the games because you’ve playedbefore. It sounds like there’s a little bit of a, not necessarily a shift in direction in thisgame, but a little more fleshing out [of the single player]. The previous SOCOMs havereally focused heavily on multiplayer, and that’s not to say that they’re excludingthat because that’s obviously still very heavy in this game.

B: Yeah.

M: It sounds like a lot more work went into fleshing out that single playerexperience this time.

B: Oh, absolutely. The single player was my main focus. The single player is thething that I find more inspiring. Because, ultimately, music in a multiplayer gameis, ultimately, not as important. I don’t want to generalize, but what’s importantwhen you’re playing an online multiplayer game is that you’re able to hear whatyour teammates and enemies are doing. There’s a reason that they don’t blast outaction music over a football game. Athletes need to know what’s going on in theirsurroundings and in a similar way the music in a multiplayer environment –it’simportant to set the mood but, ultimately, it’s decorative. Music in a single playerstoryline -this is interesting to me. This is artistically challenging, this is creativelysatisfying. What happens in SOCOM4 that does not happen in previous SOCOMgames to this degree is that you really have characters. You have actual charactersthat learn and evolve and are forced to make difficult ethical decisions, moraldecisions. You have revelations, you have all the things that a good story needs tohave. Zipper Interactive and Sony really stepped up the game on motion captureand facial performances; they got great acting performances. You have a story hereand where there is a story you can write really interesting, narrative, thematicmusic and that’s what really drew me. The thing that’s fun about the single player SOCOM story is that the gameplay music itself, the music that is playing while you’re on missions, actually changes and evolves to reflect what the main character is learning, and thinking, and dealing with in the bigger picture of the story. I foundthat really challenging and also really fun. To be able to write music that is not justgeneric action music but writing action music that still tells us something about thestory. That’s something that you can do in a narrative single player storyline that’sreally exciting.

M: That sounds very interesting. You’re talking about the music changing, is thatsomething that is dynamically handled on the fly or you were given the shiftingpoints of the story and to compose to that.

B: The answer to all of your questions is “yes”. Let me address this in two sections.First of all, looking at the big picture, zoom out and look at the game as a whole.You have a story here. The music itself evolves over the course of the game so thatgenerally speaking, the music in the first third of the game sounds one way. Then,when the main character realizes certain things, or a new character is introduced,or the character is betrayed by someone -whatever happens- the music shifts. Then,later in the game when new information is revealed the music generally shifts.There’s this big-picture sense of a narrative arc, ok? So, music in the beginning,middle, and end, sounds –the actual sound of it and what it is emotionally saying isvery different. Now, if you zoom into a little microcosm -if you look at a mission byitself- the adaptability of that music is, I think, taken to an extreme. I generally don’tlike to say that this is the most adaptive game that has ever been made because Ihaven’t played every game that has ever been made. However, I think that SOCOM4is really pushing boundaries in terms of the adaptability of the music and in termsof how often it shifts based on player decisions. It shifts based on random factors,it shifts based on AI. I deliver music in so many different variations and so manydifferent layers and so many different combinations. Our goal was to create a gamethat you could play from beginning to end and you would, literally, never hearthe same piece of music played twice. I think we got really close to that, what I always called the “Holy Grail of videogame score”, would be a game score that never repeats.

M: Is there any game that has come close, in your mind, to that sort of level beforethat you would draw comparison to?

B: Like I said, I never say never, but no, I have never personally played a game –and Iplay a lot- that I felt did this as well as it could be done.

M: Have you seen the finished product? You’ve gotten to sit down and play andyou’re happy with because it seems like-

B: -honestly I have played a lot of the game. I haven’t played the whole game. Ican only comment as to where our mindset was, what our goals were. I’m surewe weren’t able to make it EVERYTHING that we wanted but our goal was pretty damn ambitious if I may say so. Our goal was to create the feeling that there isan orchestra in your living room and there is a conductor watching you play andthe conductor is changing things as you are playing and completely tailoring thatexperience to you. Second of all, if you do the exact same thing –if you die in a leveland you go back and you play again and you make the exact same movements- youstill won’t hear the same music. Now that’s something that I think is very exciting.

M: Definitely.

"Our goal was to create a game that you could play from beginning to end and you would, literally, never hear the same piece of music played twice."

B: I should touch on the reason. We didn’t just do this to make it exciting or to havesomething to do. The reason we did this is that I find that game music frequentlyviolates its primary function in terms of audience reaction. Game music is supposedto, nine times out of ten, make you feel tension, suspense, fear, panic, adrenaline,excitement, and one of these emotions. But, the more you hear it, the less effective itis at doing exactly that. And, ultimately, no matter how scary music inherently is, nomatter how dissonant, or fast, or aggressive, or spooky, once you’ve heard it threeor four times your brain categorizes it as something that’s familiar and it no longerhas that impact. You can see this happening in horror movies; you see it happeningin games; you see it happen in television. It’s just the way our brain is hardwired.Quite frankly, I think it goes back to our primordial caveman days. A sound thatis different out there in the woods is probably a lion that is going to eat you. Yourbrain automatically knows, pay attention to that. But then after awhile, if it justkeeps going and proves that it’s no threat your brain knows as a survival instinct,that’s not a threat. It’s like a car alarm outside your window, after five minutes youdon’t even hear it anymore. How does this apply to game music? I think the answeris obvious. The more that you hear something, the less scary it is. I think we can allthink of examples of games that we’ve been playing that had one piece of music forevery boss or one piece of music for most combat scenarios. After awhile, it’s notdoing what it needs to do. So, when we set out to do SOCOM4 we really decided toaddress this problem head on and try to make it so that in the game you’re hearingsomething different –subtly different. It doesn’t have to be a completely uniquepiece of music; it’s just a variation, an alternate orchestration. It’s something that’sdifferent every time so that your brain can’t relax, your brain can’t categorize it assomething it’s heard before. I think the reaction to that is that gamers are going tobe a little more on the edge of their seat because they’re not familiar with the music.I’m exciting about that and personally I think this is the future of videogame music.Whether or not we fully achieve it in SOCOM 4, this is where the industry is headingand, ultimately, where it needs to head to fully take advantage of the potential of themedium.

M: It sounds incredibly ambitious. As I’m sitting hear listening to you talk about it,I’m thinking if it’s pulled off it sounds like it would be fantastic. I also think, at theother end, if it’s a failed implementation, you could get just random, not working,incoherent music.

B: Exactly. That’s why when we were talking earlier about my finishing the musica year in advance -this is why because the implementation is almost as important.Yes, the music has to be good but if it’s implemented poorly it doesn’t matter. So, wewere really going for a combination of music that is written well, produced well, andimplemented well.

M: You’ve got me extremely curious about this thing now because I’m kind of atechnical guy so I’m going to keep stabbing down this road. I’m just wondering –andI also have a little bit of background in music too- I’m really curious, was this a fullsymphonic orchestra for the score?

B: Yes. In my music you don’t hear sampled instruments, you don’t hear mock-ups-it’s all real. On the score to SOCOM4 we had over 100 musicians and some reallyincredible ensembles. You’re going to hear, not only a full symphony orchestra,which you’ve heard in games before; that’s nothing new.

M: Sure.

B: But we’ve also got a live gammelon orchestra, a live tyko ensemble, and then agroup of about six or seven specialty soloists playing Asian instruments from allkinds of traditions including shakohachi, bansuri, bewa, koto, erhu, and really justan incredible array of Asian instrumentalists. All of these things combined withcustom electronics and analog synthesizers and there’s all of these different soundsthat combined to make the SOCOM4 score. So, ironically, to me, the symphonicorchestra that we had on every cue –that’s actually, to me, the least interesting partof the score. It’s epic, it’s huge, it’s lyrical, and it’s beautiful but, to me, it’s almostovershadowed by these incredible ethnic soloists and the gammelon orchestrawhich I had never heard in a videogame before.
M: I’m sorry, what’s gammelon?

B: Gammelon orchestra, it’s a Google search away but I’ll get you started. Agammelon orchestra is an ensemble from Southeast Asia. It originated in Bali andJava. It is a group of instrumentalists playing wooden and metallic, pitchedpercussion instruments. The closest analogy is like a marimba and xylephone inWestern music but it sounds nothing like that. The sound is very ethereal and verydreamy; it’s very hypnotic. They play very long patterns that repeat and change forvarious reasons. The whole philosophy behind gamelan music is very different fromWestern music. It’s not the kind of structural, sonata form-inspired classical –it’sreally more like Indian music. It almost lulls you into a trance. I took a gamelanorchestra and decided that, rather than use them to create these very peaceful,serene patterns, I would use them to signify violence and combat. So, you hear thesephrases that are really aggressive and foreign sounding. Ultimately, the thing thatmakes a gamelan orchestra unique to a Western audience is that the scale is not the12-note scale you hear when you run your hands up the piano keys. The notes are a different tuning. What happens is, the more you hear it, it kind of rewires your braininto thinking that that scale is normal. Then, when you start hearing a Westernpiano or Western orchestra that can start sounding dissonant just because the notesdon’t sound right. In combining these two things, I found it really heightened thetension. Just hearing notes in one scale superimposed over notes in another andcertain ones line up and others don’t -it’s just this absolutely unique sound. A hugepart of the SOCOM score, for me, was taking this very unique Asian ensemble, thegamelan, and combining it with a Western orchestra and seeing where I couldcombined them for effects that were pleasing, where I could combine them foreffects that were very dissonant and harsh and it creates a sound that is totallyunique. One of the things that is exciting is that it symbolizes the inherent narrativeconflict that’s happening in the game. In the game you have Western forces againstlocal, Southeast Asian guerrilla fighters. What better way to symbolize that than tohave a Western orchestra literally clashing with an indigenous ensemble? I thoughtthat the narrative, philosophical statement there was really exciting.

M: It sounds like you really lined this up with the story. It sounds like you also reallychallenged yourself and pushed yourself. Are these new instruments –have you hadexperience working with these types of ensembles before?

B: I had some. I think that experience is one of the reasons that Sony and Zipperhired me in the first place. I had done a lot of this on a TV series called BattlestarGalactica-

M: -sure, yeah-

B: -where I used a lot of taiko drumos, yeah, ok. So, that score was very world musicinfluenced. Among the influences that Battlestar Galactica had –there was a lot ofAsian instrumentation. The thing that made SOCOM exciting was that I was able toreally dive in and further research these sounds. The gamelan in particular –I hadnever worked with a gamelan for Battlestar. Just logistically to do that on a TV serieswould be impossible because a gamelan orchestra is like 30 people and truckloadsof instruments that need to be brought into a studio. It’s not practical. To be able toexplore that in a videogame where we had the budget to do that –of course that wasvery exciting for me. Also, just to address your other point about challenges. I findthat I basically only take on projects that I can challenge myself with. I don’t like todo the same thing twice. I like to challenge myself and if I find the project that willforce me to learn about a new style of music or a new instrument or just push mylimits as a composer and as a orchestrator, those are the projects that I’m drawn to.Those are the projects that I’m the most passionate about. I can think of almost nobetter example of that than SOCOM4 because SOCOM4 took everything I knew as anorchestral writer and as a writer of ethnic music and forced me to up my game onboth styles.

M: I was wondering about that because you seem to have –I’m going to stray just a little bit from SOCOM here and then we’ll come back- you seem to have a pretty diverse career. Obviously Battlestar Galactica is huge. Some other big TV shows like the Walking Dead and The Cape. You’ve done a fair share of movies and short filmsas well. I guess Dark Void was your first videogame, right, is that correct?

B: Yes.

"I think what is really going tosurprise people when the game ships is the emphasis on the single player and how good it is. The cinematics and the story telling, really, have been taken to a new levelin SOCOM4"

M: I was wondering how you got into that project and what the draw was for youthere. I don’t think -maybe this is happening more nowadays- I don’t see a lot ofcrossover in musicians from movies, television, over into the videogame realm.

B: I think you will see more crossover but that’s a different conversation. DarkVoid was a really exciting project and I highly encourage anybody who has heardBattlestar and has heard The Walking Dead and is enjoying what they’re hearingon SOCOM4 to check out the Dark Void album. That really was some of the mostambitious music I’d ever written. In many ways Dark Void opened the door tovideogames for me. Prior to that I hadn’t done any videogames. I grew up playingvideogames. I’ve been thinking about what I want videogame music to do since Iwas five years old. So, for me, it really wasn’t any question of moving from televisionto games or from television to movies. These are all mediums that I’ve always beeninterested in. Like I said when we first started talking, the thing that appealed tome in SOCOM and in Dark Void was the story and the setting and the ability to tellwhat is, ultimately, an emotional story. To be able to find that emotional core, that’swhat’s exciting to me. Ultimately, games, in that regard, are no different than film orTV. If a game had no story, it’s not something that I’m ultimately as interested in. I’mnot interested in writing action cues that don’t go anywhere or moody underscorethat has no narrative purpose. In that way, Dark Void and SOCOM4 are really just,to me, big movies that happen to have details of implementation that have to beremembered as you’re writing. Ultimately, in terms of the way I write characterthemes, the way I approach the integration of those themes into action cues isjust like Battlestar or Human Target or The Cape or, for that matter, Step Up 3D orWrong Turn 2. Any of these things that I’ve done, I always approach from the sameplace.

M: I actually wanted to ask you about what are the differences and some of thedifferent challenges that you see working between videogames, television, movies,and even live orchestra performances because I know you do some of that stuff too.

B: I don’t really see that much difference. Of all the things you cited, the one that isthe most different is working with a live ensemble. Being able to do some of that,being able to perform my music in front of an audience with the actual musicians who created it in the studio originally –that’s a whole other can of worms. It is so rewarding, it’s so exciting to be able to perform that music in front of an audienceand get that immediate, visceral reaction. It’s something that, when you create music for media, you’re deprived of. You don’t get to play a piece of music, create it with an instrument, and then immediately get that response from somebody. To me,that playing live, even thought it takes a lot of time and I don’t necessarily have a lotof time throughout the year to be able to do that, it’s something that I have done alot of and that I plan to continue doing because it’s that missing part of my musicallife. It’s that one part of my musical life that is not complete when I’m working in thestudio.

M: You’ve got to scratch that itch.

B: Exactly.

M: I want to jump back to, real quick again, because you’ve got me fascinated by thetechnical aspects of the dynamic music you were talking about. You’re talking aboutrecording this with a full orchestra and various ensembles. When you’re composing,are you just writing full, complete pieces and just integrating those and then they’rechopping them up to use in the dynamic or are you recording-

B: -no, no-

M: -phrases and parts of the song and then they’re mixing them?

B: It’s hard to explain. Honestly, it just depended on the various missions. Each one was approached a little differently. There is no general rule. Sometimes I wrote complete, or relatively complete, pieces but I would always make sure that they’rewritten and delivered in such a way that they could be easily reconfigured. Othertimes I was writing shorter -much shorter pieces. I don’t use the word phrases. To me, that approach in games creates music that just feels random. If you’re just writing a little phrase it’s not musical. That’s the balance that we tried to strike withSOCOM4. I had to write music in such a way that, technically, the developers had maximum control over it but not so much control that it would ultimately make themusic feel jagged or random because, again, it’s not enough that the music justchange. If your only goal is that the music adapts constantly –that’s actuallyrelatively easy. The challenge is you want to make it feel authentic. You want tomake it feel like there’s a composer writing for you while you’re playing the game.That required a lot of collaboration between me and the development team.Ultimately, the technical side of it was all on Sony and Zipper’s side. Mostly, my sideof it was dealing with the creative issues. With finding a way to make the shorterand the longer pieces and the various layers that acted as a foundation, to makethem all musically make sense. To make sure that they are written in such a waythat they are still telling a story, that they’re emotional, that they are communicatingthe feeling that I want the gamer to feel. But, also, I’m not so set in stone that –it hasto still function if it’s played back in different order, if it’s played back in differentlayers, if it’s played back in different combinations or if certain segments areremoved. It was a very complex process. When I say I finished a year ago –I startedthree years ago. This was two solid years of sketching and writing. We delivered the final cinematics about six or seven months ago so it as basically a three year processfor me and the development team to be able to pull off something this complex. I doalso think it’s worth mentioning that, when we first met, the developers and I satdown and we’re just talking about general ideas, general approaches we could use,and when I was asking them about how to do some of this stuff –when I’m workingwith a videogame development company I just start asking questions. Can we dothis? Can you do that? The answer to most of the questions was “no, but we’ll getback to you.” A few months later, the Sony guys –in particular the guy spearheadingthis who’s name was Monty Mudd and Keith Leary, at Sony- these two guys figuredout a way to make this possible. I do think that the uniqueness of the PlayStationhardware is a huge step in being able to do something that you can’t on an Xbox. On an Xbox you’ve got limitations in terms of storage. Right there, you’ve got a major bottleneck; you can only fit so many minutes of music on the disc. With SOCOM4 Idelivered nine hours of music for that game. That alone, right there, that’s almostthe complete single player missions right there and that’s not even accounting allthe adaptability and variation. I think there’s a lot of things coming together to makeSOCOM4 a unique experience for games.

M: You were touching a little bit there on working things out with the developersand I’m pretty interested in that. Obviously you were influenced because you’veplayed the previous SOCOM games -you talked about that a little bit- but I’mwondering when you are first meeting with these [development] guys, they’vegot their vision for their game, obviously, where they want to take it. Gameplay,graphics, even the full monty including your music and everything. Are they sittingdown and saying “this is the direction we’d like to see you take with the music” oris it like “here’s is our idea for the game, this is what we want to do with gameplay,what we want to do graphically, visually, all that -you run with it and make it work”.Where’s your leeway there?

B: I have been in every situation. I’ve been in ones where I had complete leeway; I’vebeen in ones where producers had very specific ideas. I think part of it is almosthard to remember because that early conversation was two-and-a-half, three yearsago now. I think that Sony, Zipper, and I really did meet in the middle. It was a reallyeven, 50-50 balance, because they knew a lot about what they wanted. They knewthat they wanted music that drew from local colors, [music] that drew fromSoutheast Asian sounds. They knew that they wanted some amount of orchestrabecause previous games had that and there’s grandness –a grandeur- withorchestral music that is very appealing. I brought a lot of detail into those ideas. Ok,we want to use Southeast Asian instruments. Well, which instruments and how dowe want to use them? Which instruments are going to signify certain characters andsignify certain events? How are we going to use the gamelan? How are we going touse the orchestra? There was an even bigger question. I felt very strongly that I didnot feel this game was the kind of epic, brass fanfare that the previous SOCOMgames had. This game was just a little more layered, narratively, a little more
complex. You’re talking about a multi-national force working together. There was anorchestral bombast in the previous games that was cool and appropriate but I didn’tthink it would work in SOCOM4. So, one of the bigger questions we had was “wheredo we use the orchestra and how do we use it?” You’re going to hear that theorchestra never really rises above the Asian instrumentation. There’s never reallymoments where it’s all orchestra. These were questions that you need the composerto really think about. These are problems that really only the composer can tackle. Itwas great being able to work with them because they did have a strong vision forwhat they wanted. That was helpful because then immediately we’re all on the samepage and almost in our first meeting start getting into the details. How are we goingto do this? How are we going to make it work?

M: You were talking about the multiplayer versus the single player. We’ve talked alot about the single player and the dynamics. You mentioned some of the problemswith music in multiplayer games. Your core focus, especially in a game like SOCOMwhere you’re very heavily team oriented, talking with your teammates is numerouno on the priority list.

B: Absolutely.

M: How do you balance that and try to still provide an interesting aural experience?

B: Let me put it this way -and this and this is not even discussing so much my approach on SOCOM specifically but just my philosophy in general. Your goals with multiplayer games are entirely different. Multiplayer games really are acompletely different animal. So, to create the vibe, to create the mood, really, the best opportunity you have –as goofy as this sounds- is the menu screen.

M: Yeah, I was just thinking that.

B: You know, loading music -a little piece of music that plays when you respawn andplays when you die or plays when an objective is completed. Outside of those coreareas, really, music is distracting an ultimately takes away from the collaborative,heightened reality that you need in a multiplayer game. In that regard it reallyis a very different experience than the kind of immersive, narrative experienceyou’re trying to create in a single player game. Ironically, even though it’s the sameengine, it’s the same graphics, it’s the same control when you’re playing SOCOM4multiplayer, musically, it was a whole different approach and, ultimately, was muchsimpler. All of the nuance that I’m talking about really applies to the single playernarrative.

M: As I’m sitting here listening to you talk about the single player versus themultiplayer and I’m thinking -because you’ve had this career where you’ve doneTV and movies- I was thinking coming into this that, man, it must kind of stink toactually deal with the music in the multiplayer where you’re dealing with people
talking over what you’ve got going on. Versus where, most people when they’replaying a single player game they’re sitting there silently and you maybe haveyour cut scenes where characters are speaking and interacting but, for the mostpart, your music can do your thing. But now that I’m thinking about this sittinghere listening to you talk, it almost seems like you’d be more at home with themultiplayer compared to TV because with TV you’ve got that dialogue going theentire time and you’re working around that.

B: Sure.

M: Do you think that maybe multiplayer is a little more similar to the other mediumsyou’ve worked in?

B: Ultimately, yes, what you’re saying is true. There’s always competitive dialoguein film or TV but, ultimately, it’s not similar in that it’s narrative music. Again, I thinkyou’re thinking too much about the specific. You’ve got your camera zoomed intoo far. You’ve got to zoom back and look at an episode of TV or even a series as abigger picture. The music needs to comment on that bigger picture and frequentlytelevision music does not but the best television music does. And, in that same way,you’re telling a story over a long period of time. So when you look at a specific scene,or in the case of a videogame a specific level or a specific cut scene, whatever, interms of the big picture, the long story, what do you want to say? And, in that regardvideogames are, to me, exactly like film and TV. Multiplayer does not have that.Multiplayer is not about getting from point A to point B. It’s not about followinga story, it’s about collaborating with your friends. It’s a much more interactiveenvironment but it’s not a narrative one. And that’s not to say that there aren’t multiplayer games that are like that -and there will be more in the future- but,generally speaking, they’re more about the microcosm of right now. Multiplayergames are about this thing that is happening right now. A single player game, like afilm or TV, is about what’s happening now in the bigger context of what happenedbefore and what’s going to happen next. I think that, ultimately, is where music hasa totally different function. I think if I could generalize it –and it’s funny, I’ve actuallynever really thought about this because no one else has even asked me about it- butI think that’s the biggest difference between those two. In multiplayer you’re dealingwith the instantaneous and in single player and in narrative media you are dealingwith the larger picture at all times. You’re always thinking about “well how does thispiece of music fit in with the last one and how does it lead into the next one.”

M: I’m very interested to see how this all plays about because SOCOM always seemsto be the multiplayer focus but I’m very intrigued by the nuance that you’re talkingabout.

B: I think players are going to see –the multiplayer beta is out, I’ve played it and it’sa lot of fun. The reviews have been really positive but I think what is really going tosurprise people when the game ships is the emphasis on the single player and how good it is. The cinematics and the story telling, really, have been taken to a new levelin SOCOM4. It’s not an afterthought at all; it’s been a priority from the beginning. Ithink fans of the franchise and gamers in general are just going to be thrilled.

M: I hope everyone’s got their patience on and doesn’t just go right to multiplayerand does take the time to experience that thing. That can always be a little bit ofa concern when you’re talking a game like that or Black Ops or any games wherepeople think of it as historically multiplayer

B: Yeah.

M: I want to jump around to a couple other things because I think we’ve really covered SOCOM4 pretty nicely. What got you started into or started in music composing? Obviously, if you wentto school that was probably your first big step in that direction but what was the precursor to that, your musical inspirations.

B: I’ve always wanted to write music for movies, and TV, and videogames. It’s literally all I’ve ever wanted to do.

M: Really? That’s amazing.

B: That’s it. When I was five years old I knew what I wanted to do. I startedcollecting soundtrack albums, first on cassette, and then replaced them all on CD. Iwas destined to either become a soundtrack nerd or a professional musician and inmy case I became both-

M: Was there a seminal –sorry to cut you off- was there a seminal experience whenyou were five years old, maybe something like Star Wars, where it just clicked foryou?

B: Was there one? There were so many that I can’t even count. The one that standsout in my memory as the most visceral was seeing Back to the Future and hearingAlan Silvestri’s score. That was the first time that I –I did not even know thatsoundtrack albums existed- so I snuck a tape recorder into the movie theatre. Theseare the beginning of my pirate bootlegging days. I snuck a little, kids-sized cassetterecorder in there and recorded it so that I could listen to the main titles and credits
at home. Then, a few months later I saw that, my God, people put music from movieson cassette tape? That was really the beginning of the end. By the time that I wassix or seven or eight, I would watch movies in the theatre or on video and I wouldturn to my parents and, before the credits even rolled, I would say “that sounds likeDanny Elfman, that sounds like John Williams, that sounds like Alan Silvestri.” Andthen, when I was in high school, my friends and I would all go see some stupid actionmovie and they would be talking about the set pieces or the hot chick and all I wouldtalk about it “did you hear that French horn solo Jerry Goldsmith wrote? Oh myGod, he took the scene and he turned it upside-down –that was so cool!” Stuff likethat, that’s all I ever thought about. In high school I started writing music. I startedwriting music a little earlier but really in high school is when I got super seriousabout it. I just wrote music after school and over the summers all the time; that’s allI did. Really, it was sort of inevitable because it’s all I ever thought about and all Iever wanted to do.

M: That’s awesome, you meet very few people who that straight arrow from thestart of their life to where they end up and I love hearing those stories.

B: Yeah, it is, it’s a little weird. But, at the same time I’ve literally never had thatconversation with myself: “well, what do I want to do?” There were times when Ithought about doing something else, maybe when I was a kid, but I just never took itthat serious. My grades were ok in other areas but especially by the time it becametime to apply to colleges I had, at that point, connected with Elmer Bernstein whois –was- one of the greatest film composers to have ever lived. I met him and justasked him, “where does one go to learn how to do this?” And he said “go to USC andmove down to L.A.” so that’s what I did. There were no backup plans. That’s how Iended up here.

M: Can you talk a little bit about that? Was that just a chance meeting with him?

"The thing that’s fun about the single player SOCOM story is that the gameplay music itself, the music that is playing while you’re on missions, actually changes and evolves to reflect what the main character is learning, and thinking, and dealing with in the bigger picture of the story."


B: Basically it was. I was 16 and I was awarded the student of the month honor forthe local rotary club. This is a thing for kids who had high GPAs –it was just resumefodder. It was just something you could put on your college application. So, they didthis presentation and they said, “he wants to study film music. His heroes are DannyElfman, Elmer Berstein, Bernard Hermann –whatever.” So this guy comes up to meand he says that he’s actually friends with Elmer Bernstein who, as it turns out, kepta sailboat in the town that I grew up in because it was the last town on the waterbefore you hit Vancouver, British Columbia. So, he would take his sail boat up everysummer and he actually knew this guy and through him he sent a recording of someof the pieces I had been writing and, ultimately, the next time Elmer was in town,Elmer met with me. Then I began a long –seven or eight year- relationship where hetook me under his wing and taught me the tools of the trade and gave me my firstprofessional job. He really had a huge impact on me both creatively and personally.This was a guy –it’s hard to put into words how much this guy’s music meant to mebefore I even met him. So, to be able to work with him –for example one summer I worked in his studio archiving his materials, which are now actually housed at aspecial collection at the USC library. These were scores and manuscripts and pressclippings and he had all of this stuff in boxes but it wasn’t organized by year or byproject. So I would go through and I would find a score but you couldn’t see whatproject it was from so I would sit there and read the hand-written orchestralsketches and have to figure out “oh, that’s To Kill a Mockingbird, ok, that goes inwith the To Kill a Mockingbird pile or that’s The Great Escape or The MagnificentSeven.” At the end of the day he would come into the studio and help me figure outall of the stuff that I couldn’t figure out on my own. Now, put that in the context ofmusical and historical education –there is nothing more valuable than that kind ofone-on-one experience with a composer but also with that history. I was able toread these sketches and see what The Magnificent Seven looked like before anyonehad ever heard it. This is what it looked like when it came out of his brain. This is anamazing experience for me. Another summer I re-orchestrated a film that he did, a1968 film called Kings of the Sun, starring Yul Brener. This film at the time had beenlost –no one had put it on TV and it wasn’t on DVD. The scores had been destroyed,the tapes had been destroyed; there was nothing left but his hand-written sketchesSo, I re-orchestrated it from scratch and he was in the final recording sessions of hislife, re-recorded it and it’s out on CD now. He also, in the final years of his life, heplayed this concert suite that I had orchestrated in concerts around the world. Sothat, again, was just an incredible learning experience.

M: That sounds incredible. So, did he help you –I feel like I have to ask at least oneBattlestar Galactica question or readers are going to call me an idiot for not evenbringing it up- did he kind of get you into that?

B: No, not at all.

M: How did that happen?

B: With Battlestar, I was working for and with Richard Gibbs who was the composer of the mini-series. I worked with him as his assistant. When he worked on Battlestarthere was a huge amount of material to generate in an incredibly short period oftime. So, I contributed to some of the percussion cues and some of the action cueswhile Richard was writing a lot of the thematic material. Ultimately, when the showwent to series, Richard wasn’t able to stick around because he had a lot of featurefilms going on at the time. He is a feature film composer. So, it just made sense thatthey’d give me a shot at it and the rest is history.

M: When you were getting into that did you have any idea how special that projectwould end up being, ultimately?

B: Absolutely. The first episode that I scored myself was the first episode of the firstseason.

M: Yeah, ‘33’? That episode is insane.

B: As I’m watching this –and I was watching a rough cut with incomplete visualeffects and a temp score- but I knew that this was something special. I felt that wayabout the min-series as well but, really, it was seeing ‘33’ when I realized that theseries was going to –not only be as good as the mini-series- but really was going tobe even better and take it to a whole other level. Absolutely, that was crystal clearfrom a very early stage.

M: Yeah, that first episode has got to be one of the best first episodes of anytelevision series, ever. What a great start right?

B: Absolutely. It also sends a strong statement that it’s not going to back down fromthe mini-series and that it’s only going to get better.

M: I also think Battlestar –you were talking about how with television, a lot ofshows, maybe it’s an afterthought with music- and I think Battlestar especially wasalways highly recognized for having outstanding music-

B: If I could make a general statement about Battlestar, the thing that it did that hassince influenced my thinking on all television series –most television series wantthe music to create a sound and then remain in the background and do not changethat sound. The idea is that once you establish what the show sounds like younever change it so that everybody knows what show they’re watching. Battlestarreally wanted to do something different. The show evolved, the show changed, thecharacters changed. It was very much based on large story arcs. I had no choice butto evolve the music as well. In the early stages I don’t I could have ever –I knew theshow would be a hit but I had no idea how far the music would go. I really didn’t.It was a long, incremental process of realizing this character is changing. Adama isbecoming more of a caring, father figure; he’s not just the stern military commander.Here’s one episode where I can bring in some bagpipes. And then suddenly, nowthat I have bagpipes I guess I can continue to use them and we start bringing ina little orchestra. We start bringing in more Japanese instruments, more MiddleEastern instruments. Now some rock and roll –just a taste of it. Now we haveheavy metal Bob Dylan! Now we can do that. Now there’s an Italian aria and nowthere’s Armenian music. It just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger until bythe end, the final season –especially the final episodes- is this huge swashbuckling,thematic, orchestral, lyrical symphony basically. It’s a symphonic experience, theabsolute antithesis of the philosophy of the first episode and, yet, it all fit. It wasa natural musical journey. Ever since then, whenever I take on a series, I look forthose opportunities to evolve and change and you hear it. Although, to be fair, I don’tknow that any show will ever have a score that evolves and adapts in the ways thatBattlestar did. Especially for fans that got to the end and saw what happened withthe music in particular in the fourth season –it was not even just a score anymore.It really entered into the world of the characters in such a literal and figurative way – I don’t think anyone had done that before and I don’t know that anyone ever will.It was very bizarre. But, it was super exciting. What an incredible opportunity for ayoung musician to take part in.

M: Definitely. Ok, so we only have one or two more minutes left. I want to hit somequick lightning round questions with you real quick if you don’t mind.

B: Sure.

M: What’s the most fulfilling project you’ve ever worked on?

B: Fulfilling, oh my God?

M: At the end of the day, favorite -most fulfilling.

B: I almost don’t think that I could pick that but if I had to pick one I would probably guess Battlestar Galactica only because it was six years of my life.

M: What would be your dream project to work on? Something that no one has doneyet but if you could score anything, what would it be?

B: Boy, you’ve got some tough ones. I don’t know, maybe a live-action, bad ass,gothic, serious, Mega Man movie.

M: [laughing] I think-

B: Like, Mega Man Begins.

M: Call Nolan up, he’d probably love to that.

B: Let’s do it, man.

M: What’s next for you after SOCOM?
B: Well, I’m working on The Walking Dead season two. I’m looking forward to coming back with that. I think it’s going to be even better. Hopefully the music willget to even be more spooky and creepy. It’s just a really exciting musical experienceto be able to play around with the story. I’m also doing a movie called Knights ofBadassdom which is as awesome as it sounds like it would be. That comes out laterin the year and it’s got songs and score that I’ve done for it. Otherwise, I’m alsoworking on some soundtrack album stuff at the moment. I’m hoping to put out analbum for The Cape in the next couple of months and then the next thing that I’mgoing to work on –because fans are really bugging me about it -is a soundtrackalbum for the full season of Caprica which has some great music in it and deservesto be released.

M: Awesome. And, very last but not least -if you just want to talk for one minute- I saw that you’re involved with the Play for Japan: The Album and I didn’t know if you
maybe wanted to mention that and what you’re doing for that.
B: Well, it’s a little too early to mention what I’m doing but I can say that I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to use my talents for good and to be able to contribute to acause that is as worthy as this. And, also, just on a side and personal note, to be ableto collaborate on this project with Matsuto and Uematsu and the guys that wrotethe music that I grew up listening to when I played video games is very exciting. So,when they asked me to be involved I leapt at the opportunity.

M: Is that going to be something looking for new music from you there?

B: I think it’s still too early to know; we’re still figuring it out. Definitely keep aneye out on their website and my blog in the coming weeks and once we know whatwe’re doing we will let everybody know.

M: Great, that sounds really, really good. [various administrative stuff]. Well, again,thank you so much for your time. It was really a pleasure talking to you and I really,really enjoyed it.

B: You bet, thanks!

About The Author

Matthew Root is a Blast Games correspondent. You can find him on Twitter @Matthew_Root.

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