The animated “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost” will be out later this month on DVD and Blu-ray to provide viewers with a little backstory on the hotheaded James Vega who spends much of “Mass Effect 3” busting Commander Shepherd’s chops. But according to “Mass Effect” composers Joshua Mosley and David Kates, there’s more to the character than that–something they were able to explore in the soundtrack they put together for the first animated release for the RPG.
Kates is a series veteran, having worked on both the first and second “Mass Effect” games while Mosley–whose work can be found in “Splosion Man”–is new to the franchise. Both men have clear visions about the sounds of the “Mass Effect” universe and spoke answered a few questions for MTV Multiplayer about their work bringing that sound to animation. You can also check out previews from the “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost” soundtrack below.
MTV Multiplayer: Could you give our readers a little bit of your musical background?
Joshua Mosley: I grew up in a very musical family. My mother was and still is a jazz vocalist and vocal coach. My grandfather (on my mother’s side) was a professional bassist and arranger who played with the likes of Tony Bennett, Lou Armstrong, and Peggy Lee. So many strong musical influences as a kid. I started playing piano at a very young age and then picked up the trumpet at the age of twelve. At eighteen I fell in love with writing and producing songs and writing film cues. I connected with a writing partner friend of mine and started pursuing clients for scoring projects. After a year of decent success I went on to study under Hummie Mann at the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program in Seattle, Washington.
David Kates: Hey guys, Happy Holidays to you and everyone onboard checking us out. Let’s hope this is an awesome year for all of us!
I grew up studying classical piano, became interested in Jazz and played in bands for some time back in Philly, where I grew up. As a teenager I was turned on to progressive rock groups like Genesis, Yes, KingCrimson, Gentle Giant, and fell in love with what was going on in their music. When I came out to LA in the ‘80s I played the club circuit as keyboard player while I was studying film scoring at UCLA. I studied composition and orchestration with some very special mentors. I feel very blessed to be doing what I’m doing.
Multiplayer: What, to your mind, describes the musical landscape of “Mass Effect?”
Mosley: The music of “Mass Effect” is a beautiful dance between the electronic and symphonic worlds. The musical landscape of “Mass Effect: Paragon Lost” will definitely feel familiar in regard to the electronic textures that we all love from the Mass Effect game scores. It also has a heavy symphonic weight to it which lends well to broadening and enhancing the cinematic landscape of the “Mass Effect” universe.
Kates: When Jack [Wall], Sam [Hulick], Jimmy [Hinson] and I chatted about our approach to the score for “Mass Effect 2,” we knew we wanted it to have a retro electronic feel that incorporated orchestral elements. We listened and studied Vangelis’ score to “Blade Runner” as well as albums by Tangerine Dream and even Holst’s “The Planets.” I was also very influenced by Wendy Carlos’ score to “TRON” because I had previously written an orchestral arrangement, “TRON Suite” for Video Games Live. In “Mass Effect 2,” the entire Garrus level is based on Wendy’s musical language from her score.
Multiplayer: Was it important for Vega to have his own theme—similar to how there’s a particular piece of music we associate with Shepherd?
Mosley: Absolutely. From the moment we read the script we both agreed that we wanted to speak to Vega’s internal struggle and his humanity. I think that Vega’s theme definitely helps define that throughout the film.
Kates: Without a doubt! One of our purposes with this movie is to clarify who Vega is, particularly because he’s a bit misunderstood as a result of his role in “Mass Effect 3.” Joshua and I created themes and variations of those themes to bring out nuances in James Vega’s personality. We learn in “Paragon Lost” how complex, loyal, tormented, and emotional he is, and what a great leading character he is, too. Hopefully our score brings that out.
Multiplayer: The music for “Mass Effect” is already pretty cinematic. To what degree were you hoping to differentiate the score for “Paragon Lost” (or even match what came before in the game)?
Mosley: The music for the “Mass Effect” games was very cinematic. It wasn’t so much about hoping to differentiate the score for “Paragon Lost” but to further expand and evolve it cinematically and thematically. I feel it will still fit into the collection of the previous scores for the video games quite well.
Kates: The beauty of scoring a movie is that you have the opportunity to develop music throughout the story. This is one of the limitations, or at least challenges of scoring games. Our thematic material really grows and tells a story. When done well, I think that’s the beauty of the medium, and it will automatically differentiate it from the games. I also think that Joshua, the newest member of the “Mass Effect” composing family, initiated some very exciting new ideas to how the universe is perceived and I’m certain everyone is really going to dig that. It influenced me a lot, and my writing in this score.
Multiplayer: Along the same lines, you’re exploring a “lost” chapter in “Mass Effect” history. Did that give you any leeway in how you wanted it to sound?
Mosley: Yes, Definitely. Although “Paragon Lost” takes place within the same “Mass Effect” universe, it is a completely new branch off of the storyline that everyone is familiar with. So when writing the “Paragon Lost Theme,” I definitely approached that with the psychology of loss itself – a story lost, loved ones lost, humanity lost and a people lost. There are some great emotional moments. You will also get a sense of the internal struggle, redemption and courage of Vega.
Kates: I don’t think the “lost chapter” element was a defining motivation for us. In a perfect world, we would hope that there is a continuity between our approach for the anime and the games, and even with the “shocking” experience some will have adjusting their brains in order to view a “Mass Effect” story in the form of anime; it all ought to feel part of a continuing, and developing story.
Multiplayer: What kind of instrumentation can fans look forward to in “Paragon Lost?” The same orchestral/synth mix or something else?
Mosley: The fans can look forward to some of the familiar ‘80s electronic sound as well as the big orchestral sound. We definitely further explored the symphonic colors. They mix together well.
Kates: There is a terrific blend of retro synths and the sound of the symphony orchestra that is consistent with the other properties, and Joshua and I have taken that a step further with some our own musical shenanigans.
Multiplayer: What else are you working on?
Mosley: I recently finished work on two national commercials for Avon and the New York Stock Exchange. I am currently in talks on a few major projects that I am not able to discuss yet, and will be starting work on a new feature film in January 2013.
Kates: I am putting the finishing touches on an operetta than I’ve been composing over the past year, based on the biblical character Miriam. The subject matter is about gossiping, and the damage that happens to relationships when our words hurt those we love. It’s a story of friendships gone sour, and even though we may ask for forgiveness, it doesn’t always mean it will be accepted. There will be a performance in late January, and we’re beginning rehearsals now.
“Mass Effect: Paragon Lost” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on December 28th from FUNimation.
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