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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