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Music from Myst III: Exile - The Evolution of a Videogame Soundtrack
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Music from Myst III: Exile - The Evolution of a Videogame Soundtrack


January 11, 2002 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Preparation

The first thing I did to prepare myself for this score, was immerse myself in everything Myst. I re-played both games, read all three novels, and gave Robyn Miller a jingle. Once he gave me permission to do my own thing, I must say that a heavy burden suddenly disappeared!

I was hired in January of 2000 but I really wouldn't have much work to do until April, just prior to E3, where I scored a trailer to show the game. Therefore, for the first three months, I read the three novels and the Presto design document, listened to the soundtracks and played the games in my spare time. This was time well spent. It gave me a chance to steep myself in the series and put myself in the right frame of mind. This is a real testament to the idea of hiring a composer very early in the process. But also, I was partly motivated by fear at this point; fear of turning out a lousy score! I had lots of time to put ideas on my dictaphone and begin to develop some thematic material — again, over a long period.

I realized early on that I'd want to compose a wholly original score to reflect the fact that this was an entirely new game with six new ages. However, I also wanted to make sure that there were some invisible lines of connection with Robyn's scores so that it was clear we were working on a sequel in concert with Cyan's groundbreaking games. I listened intently to the Myst and Riven soundtracks and found that, story-wise, the only character that had a true melody associated with it was Atrus'. That would be the thematic thread I used to connect Myst III with the rest of the series.

The novels were an inspiration. The level of detail in the back-story is just awesome. Cyan has totally created these parallel worlds down to the most intricate detail. I wanted the score to reflect this effort.

I realized early on that I'd want to compose a wholly original score to reflect the fact that this was an entirely new game with six new ages.

Lastly, in the preparation, I wanted to make sure I had a unique instrumental palette with real people playing these instruments. There have been many fine electronic scores done for video games and movies for that matter. But when you bring warm bodies into the recording studio and you hand them their parts and they begin to play, it always sounds better than the electronic demo of the same music. It has that "X" factor. It feels real; it feels fresh and alive. The players bring something new and multidimensional to the music that one person simply cannot originate on his or her own. The composer is the visionary, but the players become the conduit to the sublime. Once you watch the players in the studio, and then hear the final mix, it's hard to justify making music any other way. Not that electronic instruments are bad, I just think it's important to use the best of both the electronic world and the real-musician-playing world to get the finest results.

Production

Orchestral Music
Early on, Dan Irish, Greg Uhler and Phil Saunders of Presto, and I agreed to use the orchestra for the cinematics in the game. I began receiving QuickTime movies about the 2nd week of September. There would be 14 cinematics to score and the recording date was set for December 4, 2000. Once you set the date, you've spent the money, so it had to go off without a hitch. I think that this necessity helped in it's own way to keep the entire production on schedule. These cinematics simply had to be done on time, set in stone to the orchestra's timetable.

The process was that I would score the scene with rudimentary notes from Phil and Greg. I would mock up the orchestra with samples and synths and do a rough mix of it. I'd then convert it to an MP3 and FTP it to Presto. Within 24 hours, Phil and Greg would do a review and then we'd have a conference call. Always there were back-story points that needed clarification and I would need to adjust the tone here and there to really marry the score to the story. Later that same day, I'd send a revision and we would then go through the same process until all three of us were satisfied that the music was truly helping the storyline come across.

As each musical cue was completed with Presto, I would spend a few hours honing the orchestration of it. Then I sent a midi file of that basic orchestration to my Orchestrater, Steve Zuckerman. Steve and I would then go back and forth with a conductor score. Steve's incredible gift as an Orchestrater is making 51 players sound like 75 and making difficult passages easily playable. After all, I had 4 hours to get 23 ½ minutes of finished music recorded - including rehearsal time. They need to be able to play each piece perfectly the second or third time through — no small task, but a always a wonder to observe!

My talent in the orchestration process was arguing with Steve about the way he was changing, say, my cello part in order to make it so they could play it that second or third time. "But I want it this way Steve — you know, the way I wrote it!" Sometimes I won, sometimes I lost. Steve was fair and extremely knowledgeable. However, if I won, it's because he let me win. I can tell you this: The end result speaks for itself — we got our 23 ½ minutes of music done in 4 hours, and it sounds pretty damn good, if I do say so!
When the conductor score was completed, one copy went to me, one to my music coordinator, Audrey DeRoche, and one to the copyist, Ross DeRoche. I studied the score and rehearsed the conducting part with my ongoing coach, Brad Keimach, while Audrey built a session database so she could organize and run the session with precision timing. Ross copied and categorized all of the parts for the recording date.

For every single cue, I had pre-laid tracks of electronic instruments and recorded percussion that I had to prepare for the session on DA88. I conferred with my recording engineer in Seattle, Steve Smith about putting down the proper click and SMPTE time code for the session. Next to the click, I also recorded a vocal measure count so it would be impossible to get lost while conducting.

• The Recording Sessions. December 4, 2000 will always be one of those days you will never, ever forget. And I'm not just talking about me. Everyone at the session, outside of a few musicians perhaps, simply couldn't believe how great an experience this was. Everyone from Ubisoft and Presto that was witness to these 4 hours came up to me either during or afterwards and said something to the effect that this totally changed their perspective about music in games. Wow.
It was unfortunate that I still had a choir session to do and that none of them outside of Audrey, Steve Zuckerman, and Steve Smith would make it.

The choir session happened a week later at a studio in Los Angeles called Sound Chamber. Two years prior, I heard a group of eight singers perform at a concert and they sounded like 30. Their choir director was Phil Smith and I simply had to track him down. When I found him, he was incredibly excited about the project. He found all the original singers except for one and put them together on one of the most fun days I've ever had in the studio. These people could sing anything and turn on a dime. Because they were so flexible, I changed parts right on the stand for them and they would sing them perfectly the very first time. It was simply amazing. For every part, I overdubbed the eight of them three more times for the big choir sound that is on the CD and in the game. We got all 14 cues done in 6 hours. They were fantastic musicians.


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