May 3, 2013 11:00 AM | jeriaska
Austin Wintory, whose score for ThatGameCompany's Journey was nominated earlier this year for a Grammy Award, is among the most prolific composers working in independently developed games today. His swinging big band sounds for Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded and orchestral pieces for The Banner Saga were both realized through the support of Kickstarter funding campaigns run by game industry veterans.
Having just published the soundtrack to Monaco, Andy Schatz's Seamus McNally Prize-winning stealth game, the composer has paired the release with a full-length remix album. Contributing to Monaco's Gentleman's Private Collection are game cover artists including the rapper Mega Ran, Video Games Live guest performer Flute Link aka Laura Intravia, and ocarinist Cris Gale, who previously performed on the score to the iOS app HORN.
Journey saw a large volume of remixed content posted online, from arranged renditions of your music to fan artwork and cosplaying photos. What interested you in having remixing be more formally included in the presentation of the music of Monaco with the introduction of The Gentleman's Private Collection?
Austin Wintory: I never anticipated with Journey the extent to which people would be uploading fan art and various covers to their YouTube channels. Some of it was really elaborate and amazing. That aspect of the game wound up being the most meaningful part for me, to see the way that people incorporated it into their lives.
The Gentleman's Private Collection is an extension of the solo piano music I wrote for Monaco. While the game was scored for solo piano, (45 minutes of silent movie, ragtime-ish, old fashioned piano music,) the material itself struck me as being pretty malleable. I had met a bunch of these musicians, or came to know their work, and thought it would be fun to charge head-first into that notion of remixing and reinterpretation.
A lot of times I would send the music while it was still in progress and they would ask all these questions, looking for creative direction. For me that was the fun part, saying, "Absolutely whatever you feel is right, is right."
While I definitely produced the overall album and would give feedback on works in progress when asked, I didn't want to give too much creative direction. It was an attempt to have fun and push the music into new realms with people that inspire me, like Malukah, Peter Hollens, Chipzel, the Videri String Quartet, and Tina Guo, who I have a long working relationship with.
There's an assortment of musical styles to the Monaco Collection, from heavy metal and chip music to hip-hop and orchestral. Did you find it rewarding to hear such variety in the interpretations of your music?
Oh, absolutely. I intentionally chose people who would be bringing something that no one else would. Malukah is a perfect example. She is a composer in her own right, but in terms of the Skyrim and Halo covers that people know her for, she does that so beautifully. I said "That's what I'm imagining, but do whatever you want," so she wrote a singer-songwriter kind of rock ballad.
Viking Jesus I met at Video Games Live and we just immediately hit it off. We've been buddies ever since, and he was one of the first people I called. He had done a Journey cover as well, with dueling metal guitars. Here, diversity was very much part of the goal.
With your activity on social networking services like twitter and fanbridge, you are fostering an ongoing communication with your audience as you transition from one game score to the next. How does that interplay factor into your thinking about composing for games?
Something like the reaction to Journey, which so absurdly surpassed my expectations, may be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. I had felt this way for a long time, but Journey really clarified for me that the whole point behind my composing is knowing that there is a chance, though not a guarantee, that you might connect with someone in a meaningful way. That doesn't need to be a literal interpersonal connection.
The Gentleman's Private Collection is somewhat tangential to that, in that I'm connecting with fellow musicians. In so doing, it broadens the scope of the music of Monaco and widens its potential appeal. There may be someone out there interested in the kind of a capella jazz choir music that Peter Hollens did for the album, which creates an opportunity to connect with that person.
The indie games that are currently in development all belong to very different genres of gameplay. How do you approach that breadth of content in terms of your role as composer?
There are a ton of people out there who know me solely as the composer of Journey, though I've written a lot of music other than that, and the goal is to never repeat myself and always be kicking over new rocks.
I started on Monaco almost two years ago, because I remember you and I talking about it even before Journey's release. Very few projects have offered as dramatically as Monaco the chance to explore outside of my normal world. Leisure Suit Larry, again, is fantastically out of the ordinary. I feel lucky that there are people actually willing to hire me to do that.
Both Leisure Suit Larry and The Banner Saga were funded through Kickstarter, where you are relaying information about the score through project updates and on YouTube uploads. How does making the development process more transparent to backers influence the creation and reception of your music?
I'm a big fan of the Kickstarter concept. I do really love the community involvement. There is an interesting thing to it, though.
We did Alpha and Beta invitations to backers on Leisure Suit Larry, and a Larry fan uploaded the main theme to YouTube, saying, "Hey, check it out! Here's the new Larry theme that Austin did based on Al Lowe's original." I'm always in awe when people take the time to do something like that. But in this case, it wasn't the finished recording but a mock-up for the Alpha build. I had this moment of like trauma, this dirty laundry kind of feeling, because what they were hearing was not the finished product.
I really love involving people, but at the same time once you unleash something onto the internet you lose some degree of control. That was one side of crowdfunding that I felt we're still trying to figure out our relationship with. Subsequently, after we recorded with the big band, I was able to put my finished recording of that piece of music on SoundCloud.
Likewise with The Banner Saga, over a hundred thousand people have been playing the free multiplayer game, which is full of mock up orchestral tracks. Later we will be recording that live. There I kind of like the idea of lowering expectations, so that when we record with the orchestra it will amount to a more staggering change to the gameplay.