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Whispers of the Plains: Tom Salta on Red Steel 2 and Atlas Plug

Tom Salta has been a busy bee of late but we were able to tie him down for a few minutes inbetween composing for various soundtracks to have a quick discussion about two of his most recent works. This first part of the interview is regarding the fantastic Red Steel 2 music, which we will be campaigning for a full release off very soon! Here’s what Tom had to say:

Congratulations on making such a diverse soundtrack for Red Steel 2. What initially inspired you to mix the old western movies guitar styles with traditional Chinese instruments?

Thanks very much.  The initial direction came from the game and its developers and the unique fusion of these two worlds. The audio director at Ubisoft also had clear goals in mind for using the guitar as the main thread throughout the score. We discussed the idea of having distinctly Chinese and western instruments throughout the score.

Are their any particular challenges that come with mixing cultures and traditions when writing pieces for the soundtrack?

Absolutely. It took some experimentation to find ways to blend the authentically western and Chinese instruments to co-exist together in a way that felt natural.

Did you end up with any new favourite instruments coming away from making this soundtrack?

Yes, after a few difficult attempts, I’m now an expert Jaw Harp player {laughs}. But seriously, it was a lot of fun to have Min Xiao-Fen perform the Pipa the way she did.  You will probably never hear a Chinese Pipa played that way.  She was definitely jamming on that thing during the fight cues.

You’ve also scored for countless other games and films too. Do you have to approach the different types of media differently in order to score them?

Yes, very much so.  I find scoring for traditional “linear” music-to-picture (film, TV, etc.) much easier than game scores.  In linear MTP (including game cut-scenes to be fair), the picture, dialog and sound effects happen exactly the same way every time.  You can score to picture and know instantly if your idea is working or not. In games, the music can change unpredictably from one moment to the next and so you have to think in a non-linear way and anticipate how various parts might connect with each other.  This also means that most of the time you’re not scoring to a specific scene but instead scoring to the general mood of that scene.

Not one to have a rest, you’ve now released a solo album under the name “Atlas Plug”. It’s a curious name and I’m dying to know exactly what it means to you and how you came about naming yourself that.

You might notice that Atlas is my last name spelled backwards. We settled on “Plug” mainly because it just sounds good.  But if you read into it, it’s very appropriate because “plug” is the opposite of unplugged…and Atlas Plug is definitely not a live acoustic album. Also, plug is another word for promote.  And that’s one of the reasons I made this record.


What made you decide to create an album for yourself?

It was my final concerted effort to break into the games industry.  That’s part of the reasoning behind the title track, “2 Days or Die”… meaning it’s either got to work fast or it’s all over. But I knew it would work with a clear plan, and I had fifteen years of experience in the music industry to back me up.  When I decided I wanted to break into the games industry, I attended all the main industry conferences and observed everything and everyone.  I got the impression that composers trying to break in were a dime a dozen, but artists were perceived as being much cooler.  Not wanting to be perceived as just another newbie composer, I decided to brand myself as an artist and create an entire album of music perfectly suited for licensing in games, film and TV. This strategy ended up working out very well.  Before completing the album, my publisher immediately started getting licensed placements in games as well as TV and film trailers.

For those people whom haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, tell us a bit about it and what it means to you as an artist.

Atlas Plug is very special and personal to me.  It’s the first time I’ve ever embarked on a pure solo project and created a unique musical identity for myself as an artist. I have to say it was both daunting and exhilarating at the same time. It was an amazing experience putting the project together and incredibly gratifying to see how much it has resonated with so many people.

Most people say it’s an inspirational album to drive to or just to stir up the creative juices.  I’d call it high octane electronica with an orchestral twist.  One of the aspects I’m most happy about is that even after seven years, the album still sounds current.  In fact, you can hear the track “Halfway Till Bliss” in the most recent Toy Story 3 web trailer.  Never in a million years would I have imagined hearing Woody say “Reach for the Skies” over an Atlas Plug track.J

Finally, what else do you have in the pipeline that you can divulge!

I can finally say that I’ve scored the new Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands for Nintendo Wii, DS and Sony PSP. It’s a score I’m very excited about. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to score a Prince of Persia game and especially to write a score that allowed me to take a more artistic direction. The score has a sort of dream-like quality that evokes being alone in some far away land. It really takes you to another place.

And that’s exactly what we will be hoping to talk to Tom about again very shortly in the second part of the interview. Atlas Plug is available over at www.tomsalta.com

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