Whispers of the Plains: Winifred Phillips on the Making of Spore Hero’s Soundtrack

WinifredPhillipsWinifred Phillip’s latest soundtrack “Spore Hero” was released this week and we gave it two thumbs up! We were lucky enough to get to ask a few questions about her processes when writing a soundtrack and you can read them below…

When you first started work on the Spore Hero Soundtrack, how did you manage to find the music concept that finished up with? There is definitely a very specific style to the music.

My music producer Winnie Waldron and I spent a lot of time thinking about what musical style would best suit Spore Hero.  Since the game is set in the primitive ‘creature stage’ of the Spore evolutionary timeline, it made sense to employ musical techniques that were evocative of an ancient world.  The landscape of Spore Hero is also a very friendly place, so the music needed to reflect that.  But, while keeping all this in mind, Winnie and I knew that the creature creator was at the heart of the game.  It allows the player to constantly reconfigure the anatomy of his or her character, adding levels of complexity that turn a previously simple creature into a more capable and heroic adventurer.  Winnie and I focused on the idea of evolution and increasing intricacy as a central theme for the music of the game.  The music of Spore Hero begins in a very cheerful and primitive place, and then introduces more sophistication and magnitude as the game progresses.

You used some fantastic instruments in the soundtrack – did you have any favourites that you placed in a song anywhere.

I had a great time experimenting with instrumentation that I hadn’t had an opportunity to use before.  A favorite instrument on this project was actually a bowl full of water – it could produce some amazing sounds.  I had a lot of fun with percussion in this project.  Rainstick had this great tribal quality that I liked a lot.  For some tracks I used a plastic jug in the drum section.  The flexatone was super for adding quirkiness and humor.  Also, I loved the spring drum for those rumbling sounds it can make.

Had you played the original Spore game previously and if so did it have any influence on how your soundtrack for the sequel was formed?

When we found out we were going to be working on this project, my music producer Winnie Waldron and I started playing the original Spore game right away.  Our takeaway was that musical content in the creature stage of the PC game is pretty sparse.  This works well for the simulation-style experience that Spore PC offers, but the Spore Hero development team at EA wanted the music in their game to be persistent and knitted continuously into the experience.  So Winnie and I had to develop a completely new approach.

Your musical scores are always very cinematic and fluid instead of being a straight hook-repeat-second hook-repeat style. Is that something you purposely do and do you think writing in a rigid style requires a different type of musical ability to your more fluid style?

I think it’s good to be comfortable writing in traditional song form, which is something I’ve done for a number of my projects.  But song form has a fairly static feel; it expresses a particular mood or state of mind and then re-expresses that state, maybe in a heightened way towards the end.  It doesn’t morph and change very much, and when you’re playing a videogame, things are likely to be changing pretty rapidly.  Song form tends to feel pasted on top of the action, rather than integrated into the experience.  Lately in my composition work I’ve been using gestural techniques – in which the music creates a sense of movement reminiscent of a pair of hands gesturing during a conversation.  I’ll combine that with more thematic, melody-based composition, and the rhythmic structures that I’ve always experimented with.  I think that the Spore Hero soundtrack has some of the most aggressively rhythmic composition work that I’ve done so far.

As always Winnie Waldron worked with you as producer. Were there any particular problems or goals Winnie had for this specific soundtrack?

The Spore Hero project was challenging in a lot of ways.  I was very fortunate to have such a talented and inspired music producer working at my side.  Winnie Waldron contributed immeasurably to all aspects of the creative process during work on Spore Hero, but I’d say that continuity was one of her biggest goals.  She wanted the music of the entire game to feel well knitted together with a consistent style, which was a difficult task to achieve.  The game jumps quickly between picturesque exploration, comedic minigames and epic combat.  Creating a musical structure that could support all three activities and still feel unified was a daunting task.  Winnie’s vigilance and artistic vision kept the score within the framework of a cohesive style, and I’m very grateful to her for that.

A lot of the tracks on Spore Hero have so many different things going on at once – how on Earth do you start to score things on such a huge scale?

I had to start simple.  Some of the tracks were written for piano first.  That gave me the opportunity to create all the counterpoint and gesture lines in a sort of laboratory setting.  I could experiment and see if things worked before I expanded the instrumentation.

Will you be involved in any more Spore related music in the future (if you’re allowed to say) or if not, after having a nice rest of course, what’s next for Winifred Phillips?

All I can say is that I’m looking forward to the next big challenge, and I’m very excited about the future!

HPG would like to thank Winifred Phillips for her time and insight – and it looks like another big projects on its way!


Categories: composer, instruments, interview, music, opinions, orchestral, producer, scores, VGM, whispers of the plains


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8 Comments on “Whispers of the Plains: Winifred Phillips on the Making of Spore Hero’s Soundtrack”

  1. Andrei Campi
    November 8, 2017 at 9:53 pm #

    Spore Hero OST review:

    Well, uhm, what to say… she is a genious!
    In fact, with this soundtrack, most times just close your eyes and imagine ancientness while making you transported by melodies seeking each other in a fun and heartwarming game: you see all those fun and yet calm and pacific creatures roaming around you, battling you and socialising with you.
    Especially the battle themes, in which your body will warm up and your brain is all absorbed in all these tribal melodies.

    So, even before playing, you see the SporeWard: a masterpiece of calm and yet heavy melodies that can transport you in the ancientness of the universe, from which you don’t want to go away ever more.
    After that let thyself be transported by the heroic and yet serene Hero Theme!
    Feel the power of tribal force and the destiny awaits you in this still pristine planet.
    So, you begin your journey: initally, you’ll see the synopsis, accompanied by the Home World; and what’s fun is that this track follows so well what the cutscene is showing us, underlining the events without being too invasive and with a definitely beginning note a la The Land Before Time, going then to a more dark them when your nemesis appear, and then, oh well…
    Just one thing: Mejee: the tone is so fit with him, cheerful and yet a bit dumb, taking you safe with his new acquired powers.
    Then it’s the turn of a good Sporable theme, though, I have to say, a so long them for just breaking your egg maybe it was not so fit.
    But, if you enjoy staying in your egg, be prepared to be transported into a good scape of the planet’s Mushroom Valley by a delicate run-up of primitive sounds.
    So, you finally break your egg, and you are hit by all those marvellous colours of the Valley and, of course, by the music: a mix of Asian and African notes, all, as usual, seeking for each other in a very fun game.
    While you Sporeexplore, the special guest for me are the flutes: the fit greatly and add that Asian touch never too invasively.
    So, while roaming about, you’ll fell like all those creatures are playing a fun game with you and yourself is having a great time in the Valley, while at the same time staring at the beautiful landscape and, why not, having a fruit snack, eh eh.
    But, soon, you’ll have to learn how to combat: now! It’s showtime for your claws with an awesome Beats Brawl!
    Espee won’t stand a chance against your claws and your biting mouth young hero!
    But, of course, he won’t be only one: so be prepared to warm you up often with this theme, while dodging perilous bombing shells or hatred charging.
    Then there’s the Haven: though dwelled by that “old coockie”, which is the Sage, you the same feel the ancientness (yeah, ancientness: this soundtrack is for ancientness addicted) of the Ancient Grounds calmly but reflective (maybe because of the presence of the Idol), roaming so tranquil in this so green grass and swimming in beautiful water pools.
    After this, you’ll hear a bit of a Spore Zone, but your opponent wants you beaten up: it’ time for your Nemesis to close with you.
    But you don’t give up: during this battle, you begin to understand his strategy and begin also to strike him back for good! But he is resistant, and so you go on, while feeling he can be a truly menace for a while, when he wants you really dead: dodging, biting, charging, jumping and kicking is all what both he and you can do.
    At the end, though, you are more determined and defeat him.
    So, here again the Spore Zone, which begins with a pretty said note, but soon it becomes a bit mysterious and sad tone, while after a bit becoming more adventurous: you walk in these ancient (I suppose) Moonlite Stoneway grounds with other nice water pools and giant spaces, while after a bit again becoming more calm but pressing for a while, letting you being absorbed by the pretty obscure but awesome caves, obviously with that little touching Asian accent.
    But in the caves lure the Tubertongue Plants: it’s time to get past them all with a pressing and pumped Sporaging: you avoid their tongues heroically but hardly.
    Then you can reach, after other adventures, the Moonlit Caverns, with another mysterious and pressing theme: Creepy Things are happening there, and you’re about to stop them all.
    Phew, you’re almost done, but before you have to face other combats: now we are talking about a Monster Mayhem, the best theme when battling “common” (eh, they still are whimsical and kind after all) creatures: here your body really gets into the mayhem: with all those spouting and kicking, you’re having hard time with them, but this track will make you believe in yourself more and make you feel you are really in the arena with your opponent.
    After that, you have to help a cute king in the Mushroom Grove with a bit Oriental Wanderment, in which you can feel the atmosphere seen in the Grove with a nice feeling of freshness, calm and quietness all together, all while exploring this fantastic Grove surrounded by so many trees you can actually picnic in it.
    So, technically you’re done, but if you are so addicted to secondary missions, why not helping Boldyrok, a Kazamiope tribe member with his trouble?
    So, be prepared to some Evolvable action!
    Dodge perilous bright stones (I suppose) while almost “racing” to save a cute ugly monster from a red crystal: the action is both heard and seen, and oh boy if it’s heard so well, feeling like a race for saving in general, like in those American films in which a potential hero must save the day.
    So, going further, the action and the sounds go further too, going more and more pressing.
    But while doing all of this, do not forget to get better your Sporabilities young hero: this time, the theme is the most Asiatic ever heard in the game, feeling like you have to think of your hero but at the same time it makes you relaxed about what to do next.
    Also, while destroying the red crystals, you’ll meet the infamous little (and cute, I have to say) Critters: little demons ready to bite you without stopping.
    But you won’t see them initially: a bit of mystery and then, BOOM, all the sudden they pop in front of you: be ready to kick these tiny beasts for good!
    Phew, young hero, after the Creature Beach, you face him: Zarkhator… it’s time… for the Hero Theme! Now the Wright’s God of War style seem to see the light: in this theme, you hear sacrifice and epic, all packed so greatly, so that your heart pulses and you feel you must accomplish thy duty.
    But, it’s not over yet: after managing to keep Zarkhator not so close to the Brain, you must face him once again after the Heart: it’s time to declare him Spore War! Now Kratos would be so proud of you, young hero: here the so epic theme! Feel like the ultimate battle between Ying and Yang, Light and Obscurity, you and Zarkhator, Blue and Red are battling to decide the destiny of a single planet, but at the same of all your friends: the Sage trusts you so much you cannot lose… kick! Spout! Spin-kick! Fly and use all what you learnt from all the inhabitants: after some time, the theme goes so epic you feel not a single planet, but the entire galaxy is to be saved! And be prepared for the very end of it: you’ll nerves will be so tensed.

    So, that’s my review: it may seem a bit, eh, sentimental, but I couldn’t do diversely, especially since I think review are to be done by who like or hate the things they are reviewing, so that the thing will be objective but also with the true objectivity.
    Hence, I hope you all enjoyed this 🙂

    • Andrei Campi
      November 8, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

      Sorry, when I wrote Wright, I meant Phillips: I know Wright is the creator of Spore.
      Sorry, it was not intentional, eh

    • November 8, 2017 at 10:46 pm #

      Wowzers! Comment of the year right there Andrei – thanks for taking the time to write it 🙂

      • Andrei Campi
        November 8, 2017 at 10:51 pm #

        Oh, thank you so much for having the time to read it 🙂
        And, well, it’s the comment for a decade, hahaha, since I maybe a bit exaggerated, but I really wanted to write about the art of the game, and I don’t know the why I wrote so much without thinking XD

        • Andrei Campi
          November 8, 2017 at 11:01 pm #

          And, I do think behind it there was a lot of work and thinking: all the developers seemed so happy and sincere while speaking about this game, so I appreciate people with this kind of mood.
          Oh, if you saw some mistake in all the giant comment, make me notice, since I am not a native English speaker, please


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