Award-winning composer Winifred Phillips has been keeping busy. Besides contributing to or providing soundtracks for a handful of licensed game titles, she’s also worked on “God of War,” had tracks in “LittleBigPlanet” and its sequel, and most recently, composed the soundtrack for Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation,” for the vita.
Ms. Phillips’ work on that game’s soundtrack has just earned her yet another award, this time from Hollywood Music in Media. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work on “Liberation,” bringing music to 18th century New Orleans, and finding the sound for the series’ first female heroine.
MTV Multiplayer: First off, could you give our readers a little background on your career?
Winifred Phillips: My first job as a composer was for the Radio Tales series for National Public Radio. Radio Tales consisted of dramatic adaptations of classic stories and novels, predominantly in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror. For this series, I composed music for such stories as Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine,” and “Jason and the Argonauts,” among many others. It was a terrific period of growth and development for me, since the series demanded such a large amount of music. It was also the first time I worked with award-winning producer Winnie Waldron, who had created the Radio Tales series and served as its host, producer and script-editor. In 2004, I had the opportunity to join the “God of War” music team as a composer for the project, and I asked Winnie to come with me and produce my music for video games. We’ve been working together ever since.
Multiplayer: And how did you end up working on “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation?”
Phillips: I’d had a good ongoing relationship with Ubisoft, and we’d had several discussions about possible opportunities for me to compose music for their projects, but Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was the first chance to bring those conversations to fruition. Ubisoft let me know that the project was in need of a composer. I competed for the job and was selected to create music for the game. I was very excited to be writing music for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and as I learned more about Liberation my excitement grew. Aveline’s unique background and personality were very inspiring, and gave me the opportunity to compose in musical genres that had not been explored in the franchise before.
Multiplayer: Working with the Ubisoft team, what kind of vision did they have for the game’s soundtrack?
Phillips: The Ubisoft team had emphasized the importance of “contrast” in the overall game. Aveline’s daily life was characterized by enormous contrasts, from the wealthy upper echelons of New Orleans society, to the desperation of the shanty towns and slums, to the hazards and adventures of the docks and in the surrounding Bayou. Aveline navigated a world filled with sharp contrasts, and the musical score needed to emphasize this. I looked for opportunities to musically emphasize the great variety of distinctly different experiences that were be found in the New Orleans of the time period.
Multiplayer: When composing, to what degree were you having to deal with the near future and past sounds the game demanded?
Phillips: The “Assassin’s Creed” franchise is built upon the premise that modern people can use a fantastic device known as the Animus to relive the lives of historical figures. With this in mind, it was always important for me to weave a musical thread through the score that references the technological marvel of the Animus. I used synthesizers in limited, targeted ways that provided a subtle hint of hi-tech gloss without pulling gamers out of Aveline’s adventure. I also employed edgy rhythms for modern drums in order to instill a sense of contemporary urgency. Otherwise, I kept the score focused on the past, using instruments that would evoke the time period.
Multiplayer: What kinds of points of reference were you given when composing for the game?
Phillips: The Liberation team discussed their ideas for the musical score with me, and pointed me towards a few pieces of music that demonstrated uses of some period instruments and some musical techniques that they admired. This gave me a general idea of the kind of music that the team envisioned for their game. They had pointed me toward some African musical styles and European musical styles, but it remained for me to find some way to blend the two and make them complimentary to the action in the game. I also had to construct musical themes and develop a palette of instruments that would work well together and suggest the historical time period and location.
Multiplayer: Looking at Aveline, were there any particular pieces or styles of music that immediately came to mind when working on the soundtrack?
Phillips: I thought about the idea of ’contrast’ a lot when working on music for Aveline. Her life is characterized by the contrast between the world her mother came from, and the one her father inhabits. I listened to a lot of Baroque and African music. These two genres could not be more dissimilar. The complex rhythms, bright melodies and vibrantly open harmonic structure of African music is in direct opposition to the understated elegance of Baroque melodies and the sophistication of Baroque harmonic progressions. Experimenting with these two forms and finding ways to make them work together was one of the most satisfying aspects of composing music for this project.
Multiplayer: Were there any particular challenges for composing for a handheld platform? Typically you might be fighting with the small speakers on portable consoles.
Phillips: For the most part, I composed the score for “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation” without thinking about any handheld restrictions. For such an epic game with such high production values, I think most gamers will want to play the game with headphones, to maximize their immersion. However, I worked with the team at Ubisoft to make a few small alterations to some of the stereo positioning of instruments, to take into account those gamers who will be using the Vita’s speakers.
Multiplayer: What are you working on next?
Phillips: I’m not allowed to talk about that right now, but I’m looking forward to revealing my next project in the near future.
“Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation” is available now on the PS Vita. The soundtrack is available to download through Ubisoft Music. You can follow Ms. Phillips’ work on her site.
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