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Whispers Of the Plains: Garry Schyman

Inbetween all of his project’s he’s been doing, Higher Plain Music was able to grab a very quick five minutes with Garry Schyman! In order to get there we had to attack a few people with the conductors stick (we would be sorry but we got the interview) but here’s what Garry had to say:

Firstly, the BioShock score was a mini masterpiece. What themes did you want to keep or change from the original and did you have any particular new direction you wanted to take the music in?

Thank you for that!  The idea was not to dramatically change the style of the music while making it a fresh and unique score.  As far as themes are concerned the opening of the main theme for BioShock 2 “Pairbond” starts with some material from the theme of the first game but quickly veers in a different direction.

I certainly didn’t want to reinvent the wheel for the second game but I didn’t want to retread it either (to use two wheel/tire analogies).  I think I achieved that and I certainly feel as good about the score for BioShock 2 as I did about the first game’s music.

Where do you start on a project like this thematically and in the song writing department?

First I have extensive discussions with the audio and creative directors on the project to understand what the project is really about under the hood.  I get all of the material I can get from the developer including a script, screenshots,  artwork and if the game is functioning I get gameplay captures to inspire me.  Then I start experimenting with ideas and if I like one I record it and send it to the audio director for a listen.  If they dig it I am off and running – and if not it’s back to the drawing board.

Were there any particular pieces that have a special place for you in the BioShock 2 Score?

Yes – I think the “Pairbond” theme (which is a very sad and beautiful duet between the solo violin and cello) is distinctive and not the kind of music you normally expect to hear in games.  “Big Sister On The Move” is a cue that I was not asked to write but which I thought would be very useful for the game so I just composed and recorded it with the orchestra.  They ended up using it a lot when you are in combat with a Big Sister.

“Out of The Airlock” is a very evocative piece and sort of a mini concerto for violin, cello and orchestra.  And in general the combat music is very intense and I hope interesting to listen to on it’s own.  I am proud of the entire score.

Were there any particular challenges to this soundtrack compared to others you have scored?

Well writing all of the intense combat music was just plain old hard work.  They are very complex pieces that were a challenge to keep interesting and intense all at the same time.

Getting the theme right was also a challenge and I went through a bunch of different ideas before we settled on Pairbond.  After that it went smoothly as I love writing in this style and I knew the style from the first game.

What do you find gets your creative juices flowing for a good session of composing?

A good old fashioned deadline! Seriously I need them otherwise I waste time. I have been writing music professionally for many years and I can just get up in the morning and get to work when I know I have to get something done.  Inspiration generally flows from perspiration as the old saying goes.

That said when I have a particularly challenging cue to write I will visualize finding the answer to what I need at night just before I doze off.  I find that really helps me and I usually have the answer when I start working in the morning.

Do you get the chance to be a gamer yourself? If so what type of games do you like to play?

You know I wasn’t a gamer until I started scoring games about five years ago.  Then I started playing the games I was working on and found them to be utterly fantastic.  I have added a few games that I did not work on as well.  I can’t say enough about Portal.  What an amazing game!

I also played World of Warcraft for a year and had a blast.  Leveled up to 58 and then just got too busy to mess around with it and dropped it.  Amazing game though.

I would say two of my favorites are BioShock and BioShock 2 (which I just finished).  I love spending time in Rapture!  and of course there are these really cool music cues that keep showing up that sound so familiar!

You also compose for TV and film too. Do you have to take a different approach to composing for those as opposed to composing for games? I’d imagine they both require a different style or mindset!

There are similarities and differences.  The most important thing that they share is that music has an emotional impact upon the viewer.   Some mystical magical thing happens when you combine visual images and music and it has a powerful affect on people – essentially that’s why composers like me are hired, to bring emotion and mood and magic to their production.

They differ in several respects – implementation being the most obvious.  Basically implementation of music with film was set about 80 years ago and has essentially not changed.  The music is composed to locked picture (well not always locked unfortunately) and is then mixed with the other sound elements and is never changed after that.   Whereas music for games has many implementation strategies and new ones are constantly being invented.  New technology is permitting the music to become more and more interactive.  This affects, to some extent anyways, how the music is composed.    Because the player’s actions will differ from person to person we try to make the music as interactive as possible to have the best affect on the player.

With film and television you compose to picture and this is quite challenging in it’s own way.  But it also makes it easy on the composer as you have constant feedback as to whether your music is working or not.  You also have the form for the music given to you by the action onscreen.  With games you do have in-game films to score but 90% of your work is not done to locked picture of any kind.    So depending on how far the developer has gotten on the project you may or may not have much to go by when you compose other than a verbal or written description of what is happening when the music is playing.  Also you may be asked to write in layers so that different layers can be brought in when something the player does triggers a change in the game (perhaps combat has started etc.).  In the best case the developer will capture gameplay and send you a movie of the gameplay that is occurring when the particular cue you are writing is playing.  But this is only a guide, as you are not catching anything with the music because the gameplay will rarely be precisely the same for any two players.

You’ve been busy with BioShock 2 and Dante’s Inferno and the release of your Viola Concerto. After at least having a day off rest, what’s next for Garry Schyman?

I have been very busy and I consider myself lucky to be busy doing something I love!  I have a couple of great gigs coming up and though I would love to tell you about them I cannot.  This industry is notoriously secretive.

We’d like to thank Garry Schyman for his time and effort to talk to us and wish him all the best with his next top secret project!

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