During his career, Gordy Haab has had the opportunity to compose for some of the most well-known video games, films, and television programs. Two of his most recent projects, Star Wars: Battlefront II and Star Wars: Battlefront brought his music to millions of gamers worldwide and his work on the first game led to “Music of the Year”, “Best Interactive Score”, and “Best Instrumental Score” awards at the 2016 GDC G.A.N.G. Awards. Haab’s work can also be heard in projects such as The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct game, the television series Scream Queens, and the film Kinect Star Wars: Duel.
Blast Magazine was fortunate enough to speak with Haab about his exposure to music composition and his work in one of the most well-known fictional universes.
Blast Magazine: During your career, you have had the opportunity to write music for some of today’s most well-known video games. What sparked your interest in composing for this type of media?
Gordy Haab: When I was six years old, my family thought it was interesting that I was unable to recall the names of characters in the film ET, but I was able to identify all of the characters’ musical themes. I would sing them or pick them out on my dad’s old guitar. From that age on, I journeyed into music composition. Ever since I had the opportunity to compose for Activision/AMC’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, I have enjoyed the challenge of composing for video games and I’m grateful that I now get to do that for my favorite franchise.
Blast Magazine: In addition to your work in the gaming sector, you have also written music for film and television. How, if at all, does your process differ for each of these endeavors?
Haab: In film and TV, music is composed to a fixed and finite timeline; the hero fights the bad guys for a few minutes, wins, and returns home. But in a video game, the timing and plotlines can constantly change and I need to factor in all possibilities in order to reflect that. It’s a bit like a “choose your own adventure” book set to music. For example, I’ll typically write battle scene music so that the entire piece can seamlessly repeat itself. But I’ll also incorporate transitions that would smoothly jump into alternate versions of the battle music when triggered. An example of this is if a player is three minutes into a battle and suddenly starts losing. This will trigger a transition to an alternate “losing” version of the music. Depending on whether the player wins or loses the battle, the last 10 seconds will play either a victory fanfare or a darker ending.
Blast Magazine: You have now scored both of the Star Wars: Battlefront games, Star Wars: Battlefront and Star Wars: Battlefront II. Both of these games take place in a universe with such a rich, deep character and music history. Did you draw on past versions of Star Wars stories when you created your music or did you prefer to approach it independently?
Haab: As a Star Wars fan myself, I know how much emotional attachment there is to the scores and musical themes of the franchise. When approaching a franchise that has such an impact on cinematic music, I feel a responsibility to score music that fans would instantly recognize while also taking advantage of new storylines and characters to put my own stamp on the Star Wars universe.
Blast Magazine: Star Wars: Battlefront II introduced players to a new character, Iden Versio. Portrayed by Janina Gavankar, Iden is a strong female pilot and soldier who plays an important role in the game. How did you decide what her unique musical theme would sound like?
Haab: Iden is definitely an important character to the game, so we wanted to create something that was powerful and dynamic but also something that was instantly recognizable and memorable. In order for themes to work, they need to be interesting, simple, and heard numerous times. The “Imperial March” theme is memorable because it’s a simple melody that plays numerous times throughout The Empire Strikes Back. I took this approach and scattered many variations of “Iden’s Theme” throughout the game. I made sure the melody itself was versatile enough to be played in many different styles and emotions, and did so in a way that felt musically natural.
Blast Magazine: How do you feel that your score for Star Wars: Battlefront II differs from the one you created for its predecessor, Star Wars: Battlefront?
Haab: The music of Star Wars: Battlefront was more rooted in the tone of the original trilogy, while I was able to spread out more for Star Wars: Battlefront II. New characters were introduced to the Star Wars universe, such as Iden, which gave me the opportunity to compose many new character themes and variations of each. Another major difference between the two scores was the inclusion of multiple eras from the Star Wars universe in the multiplayer side of the game. In addition to contributing my own voice through the themes of the new characters, I also drew inspiration from all of John Williams’ great scores from the films.
Blast Magazine: The score for Star Wars: Battlefront II was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. This was your second time working with them, the first being on Star Wars: Battlefront. What was that experience like for you?
Haab: Both times have been extremely memorable. This is the orchestra that recorded the original Star Wars scores, and in turn, was part of my inspiration to pursue composing in the first place. Seeing some of the most talented and incredible musicians in the world play something that I wrote for a franchise I deeply love has been nothing short of amazing and humbling.
Blast Magazine: Both of the Star Wars: Battlefront games are filled with a wide range of emotional moments and experiences. When you are trying to evoke certain feelings and reactions from the audience, are there specific instruments or sounds you turn to more often?
Haab: Certainly, although I’m always looking for ways to break from convention in this regard. But it’s difficult to argue with certain musical truths that have existed for hundreds of years. For example, a full string section can always bring a sense of hearty human emotion. Depending on the music itself, strings alone can give a feeling of longing, love, melancholy, or sorrow. The full brass section can offer complete awe and power. Trumpets alone – regality. French horns alone – nobility. I could go on forever on all the stereotypes and even longer on how every instrument of the orchestra can surprise us by breaking from its traditional role and lending completely different emotions from its more common savoir faire. This barely scratches the surface of what’s possible when you combine instruments. For example, a violin section playing a sweeping melody can feel light and airy but if you add a solo oboe to the violins playing the same melody, it’s suddenly darker and has a greater sense of weight and importance.
Blast Magazine: What do you think is something that people are unaware of when it comes to composing music?
Haab: The immediate thing that comes to mind is the writing pace for large projects. Not much can prepare aspiring composers for how much material needs to be generated in a short timeframe. I learned a lot about organization and being creative under pressure from early experiences in the industry.
Blast Magazine: What would be your best advice for an aspiring composer?
Haab: When I was studying at the University of Southern California, a mentor said to a room of composers hoping to break into the industry, “You’re all very good but 90% of you will fail. The 10% who will succeed will be the ones who didn’t leave [referring to “Hollywood”].” According to him, the 90% who fail would be the ones who convinced themselves it was too difficult or created excuses as to why it wasn’t in the cards for them. I took its meaning a bit more broadly as, “Do or do not. There is no try!”
In addition to that, I would say that all successful composers are lifelong students of music. Be true to whatever process works for you, but always be open to learning and growing your craft. The moment you stop learning, another composer has already surpassed you. Stay humble, and keep at it.