Kinect Star Wars Composers Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster
Kinect: Star Wars was supposed to take players to a galaxy far, far away in ways unlike any other game. While the overall reviews were mixed, the game definitely had some high points, and some low ones – coincidently, the game’s music happened to fall into both categories. While many critics, fans, and Star Wars enthusiasts took a bit of exception to the Dance Central-inspired, Galactic Dance-Off mode, the rest of the game’s soundtrack was outstanding. It may have not been composed by the immortal John Williams, but two long-time Star Wars fans and franchise veterans, Gordy Haab and Kyle Newmaster, evoked the essence of the movies, while maintaining the fresh feel of the game. In case you missed out on the epic music from the game, never fear, you can give some of the best tracks a listen here while getting an inside scoop on the process that went into creating it straight from the composers themselves.
MTV Multiplayer: How influential has Star Wars been on your careers up until now?
Gordy: Star Wars has been very influential for me. It’s been my favorite film series since I was a kid and is also one of my favorite film scores. So being musically inclined as a child, it was hard not to be inspired by it. I believe many composers are affected by the music John Williams wrote for Star Wars. But I’m from a very fortunate generation – one whose childhood was essentially scored by this music. And such, it’s become not only a huge influence on my music, but ultimately a part of who I am.
Kyle: I grew up as a huge fan of Star Wars and of course the Star Wars soundtracks. The movies had a big impact on my life and definitely inspired me musically along the way. I would say that Star Wars was one of the main reasons I chose to become a composer in the first place! After moving to Los Angeles I focused on scoring more sci-fi related projects and looked to Star Wars fan films as an outlet for writing this type of music. I scored a couple of popular Star Wars fan films, “Forced Alliance” and “Ryan vs. Dorkman 2″ (RVD2). These films received great attention online and in the Star Wars community and the music from both fan films provided substantial orchestral material in this style of music for my demo. Also, RVD2 was the first time Gordy and I co-scored a film together, which led to me eventually working for Gordy on Star Wars The Old Republic and co-scoring Kinect: Star Wars. It was my initial passion for Star Wars that led me down this path so I can definitely say that Star Wars has had a big impact on my career opportunities.
MTV Multiplayer: What is it like to create a new soundtrack for a property that holds a huge place in the hearts of its fans?
Gordy: Exciting – and scary! Getting to live inside of the Star Wars universe that has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember is truly an honor and somewhat surreal. Much like my experience scoring Star Wars: The Old Republic and Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, in my score for Kinect: Star Wars I was able to compose in the style of the very music that inspired me to become a composer in the first place. I don’t know of too many composers who wouldn’t consider writing for Star Wars to be the pinnacle experience. On the other hand however, it’s quite intimidating as well. Not only did I have to pay homage to one of my favorite composers, but the task also carried the daunting awareness of a built-in audience of literally a billion Star Wars fans – kind of a scary thought!
Kyle: It’s an honor to write music for a Star Wars project, but also very intimidating. John Williams has written some of the best film music of all time for the Star Wars franchise and he’s a pretty tough act to follow! Also, I am one of those über-fans myself so I know first hand how critical fans can be of anything Star Wars related. As I wrote music for Kinect: Star Wars I constantly thought about what I would expect to hear as a Star Wars fan while playing the game. It was a balance of creating new musical material while keeping it in the Star Wars sound sonically. Overall, it was a lot of fun writing the music and hopefully the fans will feel it fits well into the Star Wars universe!
MTV Multiplayer: Was John Williams or George Lucas involved at all in the creation of the tracks for the game? How was it working with them?
Gordy: John Williams was not involved, other than being an inspiration to my work on the game. George Lucas is highly involved in everything that has to do with the Star Wars franchise. Which is what makes Star Wars so great…it’s his baby! Although I have met him a few times, his involvement usually filters through various departments at Lucasfilm and Lucasarts before getting to me. But, indirectly as it may be, it’s amazing working for him.
MTV Multiplayer: Was there any one section of the game that was more challenging to write for than the rest?
Gordy: Every section of the game had its own challenges. Podracing was challenging because of the fast paced music we had to write (lots of notes!). And Jedi Destiny was challenging because of the weight we knew it would carry in the game. But I’d say the most challenging mode for me was Rancor, because our directive was to make the music lighthearted, yet monstrous. And of course it had to live within the Star Wars sound even though there really isn’t much music in the original soundtrack fitting this description. To do this, I had to imagine how John Williams might approach such a challenge. The result was a playful take on Star Wars-meets-old school monster movie (King Kong, etc.). I’m very happy with how it came out, and despite the challenges we faced creating it, I think it’s the music in the game that’s most unique.
Kyle: Almost all of the music we wrote for Kinect: Star Wars was intense action music and typically action music is the hardest to write! So, overall most of the modes were challenging to write technically. However, conceptually the Rancor mode was probably the toughest to nail down. We needed to blend that rampaging monster sound with a little bit of comedy. We also wanted the music to take out some of the terror during that part of the game. Musically it was a like blending Bernard Hermann with early Danny Elfman. For additional inspiration, we also studied some of Williams’ comedic scores such as Home Alone or parts of Indiana Jones.
MTV Multiplayer: What were your first impressions of the Galactic Dance-Off mode?
Gordy: When I first heard about this mode, I thought it sounded hilarious, and I couldn’t wait to try it – in the privacy of my own home!
Kyle: My first impression was that it would be a big hit at parties! I know many people that would enjoy the dance-off mode!
MTV Multiplayer: If you could have created something for the Galactic Dance-Off what would it have been?
Gordy: Hmm, tough one. Perhaps an LMGAO song (“G” is for Galactic) Maybe, “I’m Chewy and I Know It” – with such lyrics as, “Wookiee, Wookiee, Wookiee, Wookiee, Wookiee…Yeah!” Then again, maybe It’s better for everyone if I just stick to orchestral music.
MTV Multiplayer: How does the creative process of crafting an orchestral score for a video games differ from crafting an orchestral score for a movie?
Gordy: For me the creative process is essentially the same. I still try to create themes that allow characters to develop and write music that enhances the user experience rather than calling too much attention to itself. The technical aspects are very different however. In film, the timing of the music is dictated by the timing of the picture. So the challenge is to build music within the framework of concrete time parameters. With games, one of the many technical challenges is to create music that can loop seamlessly. This is particularly tricky with music in the style of Star Wars, because the original music was created for a film. So in order to accompany the film, the timing of the music jumps sporadically and rarely stays in the same key for very long. As a simple example, if I start a piece of music in the key of C but end in the key of D, I have to figure out how to transition back to C before it loops back to the beginning, so it’s not jarring. Tougher than it sounds.
MTV Multiplayer: What is your favorite instrument to compose for?
Gordy: The orchestra. I hear the orchestra and the sum of all its parts as a homogenous sound, where no one instrument is more or less important than the next. That said, more often than not, the instrument that gets featured in my scores is the trombone and the french horn. Horns have an undeniably epic quality. And trombones have unmatched power. One trombone can reach decibel levels that rival a commercial airliner’s jet engine! Oh, and I play the trombone.
Kyle: As a trumpet player, you would think my answer would be writing for the brass, but my favorite section to write for is the strings. There are so many amazing colors and dynamic possibilities when writing for a string ensemble. Also, the larger the string ensemble, the greater the sonic possibilities. In the case of the London Symphony we had about 30 violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos and 6 basses. It was a powerful sound!
MTV Multiplayer: What is your favorite piece of the Star Wars franchise?
Gordy: Empire Strikes Back. No contest. But I really do love the entire series.
Kyle: I am a big fan of the original trilogy and The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the bunch. This would be followed at a close second by A New Hope. The Empire Strikes Back was one of the first movies I ever saw in the theatre and I remember waiting in a line that went around the block to see it when it opened. The anticipation leading up to the film’s release and the excitement of seeing it for the first time in the theatre is something I will never forget.
MTV Multiplayer: Does the music from any one Star Wars movie in particular stand out as an influence for Kinect: Star Wars, The Old Republic, or for you personally?
Gordy: For me, personally, Empire Strikes Back. For The Old Republic, the original three films. But the music for Kinect: Star Wars is probably more inspired by the prequels than anything. In fact it was our goal to match the sound of the prequels as best as possible. To accomplish this, we recorded the same orchestra in the same studio, using the exact same layout in the room, microphones, instrumentation, etc.
Kyle: With Kinect: Star Wars we chose to go with more of a prequel musical approach. John Williams’ sound definitely changed between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace. He still had that signature melodic approach, but his harmonic language and orchestration was a bit different from before. We studied and analyzed quite a bit of John Williams’ music to help get close to this sound. The orchestra was also recorded a bit differently for the prequels and we tried to match that sonically. It’s somewhat of a bigger orchestral sound and the close microphones are not as featured. However, there is quite a bit of original trilogy musical influence In Kinect: Star Wars as well. The Cloud City Pod Racing mode is a good example of this and contains some clear Empire Strikes Back musical quotes.
MTV Multiplayer: Are there any other video game franchises that you think could improve by being set to a full orchestral soundtrack?
Gordy: I’d love to re-score my favorite game, Q*Bert with a full orchestra. Imagine the overwhelming sense of doom the orchestra could create when Coily hatches from his purple egg and stomps on your head! Games are always striving to be more realistic and to come closer to the real human experience. Using live musicians is an excellent way to accomplish this. There’s an unmistakable organic quality to live music. It has always set great films apart from mediocre films. It’s exciting to see this trend in games, and it appears as though it’s here to stay!
Kyle: It seems to me that nowadays most of the big video game franchises that feature orchestral music on the score are being recorded with a live orchestra. I hope this trend continues so that high quality orchestral scores are always an important part of the video game experience!
MTV Multiplayer: Is there anything from the scores of the movies that you would change, or have approached differently yourselves?
Gordy: No. They define my childhood and I suppose I hold them too sacred. Now that said, had they never existed, and had I been asked to score the films – I’m sure I would have approached them differently. Knowing my typical aesthetic, they probably would have been darker in nature. But certainly not better – just different.
Kyle: It’s pretty hard to be critical in any way about the Star Wars scores. They’re such powerful soundtracks and I can’t really imagine the movies scored differently.
MTV Multiplayer: Putting Star Wars aside, are there other films or video games that have influenced you over the years?
Gordy: I’ve always been inspired by Hitchcock films and likely this is why I’ve always trended towards scoring horror and suspense films. Also, at a young age I was very taken by the score to E.T. In fact, it was this score that started my interest in writing music. When I was just 6 years old, I can recall figuring out all of the themes and melodies from the film on my dad’s guitar, long before I could even recall the names of the characters. As far as video games go, I recall being really impressed with Clint Bajakian’s score for Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb. I think it was the first time I really noticed a score for a game being recorded with an orchestra (although it was not the first). And it inspired me later when I was writing my score for Indiana Jones and the Staff Of Kings.
Kyle: I was a kid in the 80’s and there were so many epic films at that time that inspired me. E.T., the Indiana Jones Films, Star Trek, Close Encounters, The Goonies, etc. Most had really memorable scores as well. Musically I’ve also been really inspired by Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Planet of the Apes (1969). It has such a dark, haunting and uncomfortable sound, which really sets the tone for the movie. In the video game world I grew up a big fan of games playing a ton of the classic Nintendo, Sega, IBM and Atari games. Old School games like Double Dragon, Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda and Space Quest were some of my favorites. Actually, I probably shouldn’t forget to mention I think I learned most of my driving skills on driving games like Rad Racer. Scores weren’t as big of a deal back then though and nowadays it’s pretty amazing how epic video game scores have become. Some of my favorite video game scores are for Call of Duty, Lair and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.
MTV Multiplayer: Why do you think that the Star Wars soundtrack has stood the test of time so well?
Gordy: Melody. John Williams has a special talent for creating great themes for his film scores, and Star Wars is no exception. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it was attached to such a great film – one strong enough to strong the test of time as well. The depth in the stories and characters, combined with the great accompanying musical themes, is a recipe for success.
Kyle: I think the Star Wars music has stood the test of time because it is amazingly well crafted orchestral music with very memorable themes. Also, Williams’ music is very deep harmonically and in orchestration. Something new is heard each time in listening to the scores. Being attached to the most epic franchise of all time probably doesn’t hurt the music’s lasting impact either!
MTV Multiplayer: How did you approach The Old Republic and Kinect: Star Wars differently?
Gordy: Quite a bit of the music I wrote for Star Wars: The Old Republic was created to play underneath character dialog and story driven drama, so I approached it more from an emotional angle. Kinect: Star Wars is much more about action and excitement, battles, races and chases – so the music we wrote for this game was almost all high energy, fast-paced action music. Both brought their own challenges. But I think I can safely say that writing the music for Kinect: Star Wars was more challenging from a technical standpoint. Put simply, writing action music is hard! Add to that, a pretty short composing schedule – about 6 or 7 weeks to write 120 minutes of this type of music. Hence asking Kyle to join me in the task of creating this score. Together we were able to each separately tackle about an hour of music. This allowed us to spend the amount of time each cue in the game truly deserved in order to pay homage to our favorite films and their scores.