Interview: Composer Jesper Kyd, 'Metal Hurlant Chronicles,' And the Sounds of Sci-Fi

Composer Jesper Kyd has an lengthy list of credits that includes games, film, and television. This BAFTA winner (he picked up a trophy for his Hitman score for IO Interactive), is also an MTV VMA nominee who is responsible for the soundtracks of the previous Assassin's Creed titles for Ubisoft, along with Vigil Games' August release of Darksiders II.

Kyd recently worked in television a bit by composing the music for the upcoming live-action Heavy Metal series, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, directed by Guillaume Lubrano. The series follows the format of the long-running comic series, operating as an anthology with a mix of sci-fi and fantasy stories told in 26-minute episodes.

We recently spoke to Kyd by e-mail about his work with the series as well as his history of video game music composition and the winding road that got him into the composing business.

MTV Geek: When you were first offered the Metal Hurlant gig, what was your first thought? How familiar were you with the comics?

Jesper Kyd: I’ve worked with the director Guillaume Lubrano on his previous projects and I’m a huge fan of Heavy Metal magazine which I grew up with as a kid and still like to read. The stories are really out there and very original, intelligent and well-crafted. The art of Moebius (he is my favorite comic book artist) goes so much beyond what people expect from comics. He has a style that is entirely unique and I think he set the bar as far as quality. I love how he mixed aspects from spirituality to morality, subtle hints of real world central themes. I think it gives his stories a lasting appeal. Guillaume’s vision for adapting these stories is to treat each episode like a mini movie.

Geek: Was there a particular set of sounds that you associated with the series right off the bat?

Kyd: Not really, since each episode is very different. In the same tradition as shows like Twilight Zone and Tales From the Crypt, each episode has its own musical style. So I’m creating different sounds to enhance each episode. We looked at what we could try to retain between the episodes, the ending is always a huge twist, so the ending music is where there is some common ground.

Geek: Given that the show is an anthology, is it more of a challenge or an opportunity coming up with music for each episode?

Kyd: It’s an opportunity to come up with different sounds for each episode, and a lot of fun to be challenged every episode. It’s also a lot of work because you can’t reuse the same music styles outside of the occasional endings. One moment I might be enhancing a scene with a romantic, dreamy futuristic music style and then in another I’m scoring a scene that takes place in the 1920s. I love working with various music styles under one big concept that ties all of it together.

Geek: Tell us a little about one of your favorite episodes and what you were able to do with your music.

Kyd: I really like the “Pledge of Anya” episode featuring Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner). Music-wise it’s a hypnotic and ritualistic style with live acoustic instruments and vocal performances.

Geek: How did you get your start?

Kyd: In my late teens I got my start working in video games being part owner of a developer where I was responsible for all the music. My first big break was the Hitman series, as well as scoring BioWare’s MDK2, and that led to scoring Assassin’s Creed. Every scoring project has led to another with increasing opportunities across all the entertainment genres. Since then I have written over 40 scores for games, film and TV.

Geek: You were the composer for all of the Assassin’s Creed games to date. Can we expect to hear your music in AC3?

Kyd: I have several projects to be announced.

Geek: Could you walk us through your process for defining the overall sound for a series or game?

Kyd: The first thing I look for is to identify the tone of the project. I elaborate on that tone and work to form a complete picture and then I work on the foundation for the music style. I do a lot of pre-writing and experimentation before I lock in the defined music style. Then I write the themes, the melodies and various moods. Sometimes the themes come first and I re-work these into a full score – that happens mostly with film and TV projects.

Geek: Game development can sometimes be notoriously unstable in terms of what will or won’t ship in the final product. What game do you feel got your complete (or as complete as possible) score in there.

Kyd: Most of the projects I’ve worked on feature the vast majority of music in the final release. Since games take so long to develop and have such vast stories even if a particular cue wasn’t an exact fit in one part of the game, I’m often able to re-work that cue into a certain situation in the game elsewhere. We are not asked to write 30 hours of music for a game that takes 30 hours to complete, but since the games are so big, the more music the better.

I recently wrote almost 3 hours of music for Darksiders II which is all in the final version of the game. If for some reason a track is not used in the game, it could also end up on the soundtrack release and still be associated with the project.

Geek: Finally, what do you listen to when you’re not composing?

Kyd: I like artists such as Royksopp, Pink Floyd and Vangelis. I also listen to a lot of film scores and classical music.

You can hear samples of Kyd's music on his site. He'll also be participating in the Metal Hurlant Chronicles panel on Saturday the 16th at San Diego Comic-Con.

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