GZ Interview: Ali and Any Given Sunday Composer scores the music for Lineage II
“Ali” and “Any Given Sunday” Composer scores the music for Lineage II
When it comes to music composing, Bill Brown is the man! He’s done everything you can imagine – movies, games, TV shows and even operating systems.
When you need a package delivered immediately, you call FedEx. When you need to take someone out, you call a hitman. And when you need a great musical score for your new film, game or TV project, you call Bill Brown.
In addition to big movies like Ali, Any Given Sunday and Finding Forrester, Bill Brown has composed stellar music for dozens of games, including:
Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War
Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Command & Conquer: Generals
The Sum of All Fears
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon - Desert Siege
Rogue Spear - Black Thorn
James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire (additional music)
Clive Barker's Undying
That is only a small sampling of the work Bill has done. Soon you will hear his music in Lineage II: The Chaotic Chronicle and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Athena Sword.
To learn more about the man behind some of gaming’s best soundtracks, GameZone sat down to speak with Bill about his work, his creativity, his upcoming projects and more.
When writing music, do you try and put yourself inside the shoes of the characters of each story? I personally have no idea how you are able to create such an amazing sound, and I would love to know as much about what you do as possible.
Bill Brown: I’m very conscious of how the different parts of a story might be connected as I’m working – in subtle ways – in ways that might not be obvious at first glance. When I create a score, I try to connect with the project as a whole and communicate musically in a way that brings something that is not already present to the overall picture – and at the same time supports what is there. Sometimes that means really understanding what a character or multiple characters are going through on all levels, and how that relates to the story. And sometimes it has more to do with the story itself and how that plays out.
Sometimes it’s more about supporting the action, or communicating an exotic location in musical terms. For instance, with Lineage II there are themes that are derived from a race of characters (like the Dark Elves for instance) and what they are going through. And then there are themes that are created to communicate atmosphere or unique location – like vast dungeons, or a town or country village for instance. Each has its own sound, its own personality – its own story, just as a character would. Hopefully, by the time all is said and done, these themes all have a feeling of continuity – so you can feel a connection between them. It’s not always as easy to connect with a character in writing for games because the character usually becomes defined as the game unfolds through game play – and I’m most times writing as the game is being created. I usually work with narrative from the game design, the story behind the game play, and any images or game builds that are available to me. It’s freeing as well because I can bring my own experience to the project and add a dimension to it that might not have been there. Ultimately, that is why I am hired.
What kind of music did the developers ask you to compose for Lineage II? Was there a specific sound that they were looking for?
BB: When we first sat down to talk about the music, it became clear the L2 team at NCSoft was interested in a new direction for Lineage II. I found out the head producer, An Yong Jin, has been a big fan of mine for some time, and that made the process a little easier for us – because there was already a sense of trust there that I could do the job well. I worked on some initial ideas, more for myself which didn’t really stick – so we talked more about influences and direction and after that dialog – I hit it dead on. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to land on the essence of the project, musically speaking. Music can really change the experience. It can enhance it, or it can take away from it depending on a lot of different factors. I’m hearing a lot of feedback from the Lineage II beta from players saying they feel like they are in the middle of a feature film – that it feels really exciting and dramatic to them – which just happens to be what we were going for on this one. You should have seen An Yong Jin on the first day of recording up in Seattle… He had stayed up half the night listening to the music stems I brought up with me from LA. He was in his element for sure – having a blast up there with us, but I remember he was pretty tired out by that evening when we went out for a big celebration dinner with the crew… :)
Are you ever given the freedom to compose anything you want for a project?
BB: The producer or director of the project usually has some idea of what he/she is looking for. I’ve experienced just about every variation you could imagine – from having to reproduce the temp track for the client to having total creative freedom. I’ve gotten a lot out of both scenarios actually, and I’m sure that won’t change – there will always be some kind of balance between the two if I continue to write music to serve another medium well. It’s all about collaboration – and sometimes, that collaboration is as simple as, “Hey Bill, check out this movie (/game/etc.) – do your thing man – we have about five weeks…” I’m grateful that I have already established trust in so many of my director/producer relationships at this point in my career. I think that comes from the fact that it is my intention to grow and learn in everything I do. Mastery is heart (enthusiasm is another way of saying ‘heart’), practice and patience. The freedom simply comes from dedication to self-mastery, or what I’ve heard referred to as ‘life mastery’.
When not writing music, Bill likes to vacation in Alaska.
Are you a hardcore gamer?
BB: I wouldn’t say hardcore exactly. I’ve been playing since I was six or seven – since Atari’s ‘Space Invaders’ essentially, and I’ve played off and on all my life. Recently, I have a lot of knowledge of what is going on in games – because it is my business to know – and I have had less time to play, especially with all of the games and films I’ve been writing music for these past years!
Are some games more difficult to compose music for than others? You listen to the soundtracks of Rainbow Six and Command & Conquer: Generals and find a vast difference between the two; Rainbow Six is more intense, while C&C is more action-oriented. Then you watch Any Given Sunday and hear another unique collection of songs. Were any of these projects more challenging than the others?
BB: For me, every project has a certain amount of challenge to it – which is fantastic. The inspiration sometimes comes in the form of challenge. The opportunity for me is to have something new happen, to stretch my own boundaries – to do something I haven’t done before. That is where the growth is – in the learning. It’s like other parts of life – like relationships for instance. Relationships are about co-creation, change and being present in the moment, and if we’re really awake, not about expectations. So I try to approach every project without expectations. So that when everything just happens to fall together – magic can happen in any moment. Each project seems to take on it’s own life once the essence is captured – and I guess that is what you are hearing in each one of the projects you mentioned.
What was it like writing music for Michael Mann's critically acclaimed flick, Ali?
BB: It was truly amazing. I came in towards the end of the post-production process. They were already mixing the film. I sat down with Michael Mann and watched the final reel of the film. This was the first I had heard of the film – and there was Will Smith doing a really wonderful job playing Ali – and all the vastness of Michael’s movies – what a trip it was to talk with him about it and share my impressions and input on the process. I came on to do a string arrangement for the very end of the film – over the Salif Keita tune “Tomorrow.” I walked away from our first meeting with Michael’s words, “This is the end of a two-and-a-half hour film, this has to be really big – this has to be huge!” echoing through my head. I remember joking with him about just playing more notes – more notes should do the trick! Anyway, I got back to the studio from Sony and worked that night and came back the next day with my take on it. They loved it – began to plop it in the mix and then I hear from the music editor that the three minutes before that sequence just aren’t working and would I take a stab at it? Well… needless to say, the rest is history. You can hear the cue on my website, http://billbrownmusic.com/musicFTV1.htm…or in the film if you have the DVD… :)
When and where did your career as a music composer begin? Games? Movies? TV?
BB: I would say TV was my entrée into the profession – commercials and documentaries – things along those lines in New York City. I really began to hone my craft with games in 1996 – starting with "Trespasser: The Lost World" for DreamWorks, and “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.” Getting that first demo for Rainbow Six was an excellent example of not having any expectations and then boom! Hello music for games!
Did you spend a lot of time playing music when you were a child?
BB: A lot would be an understatement. I don’t remember a day going by that I didn’t play the piano or spend hours listening – especially after I saw Star Wars for the first time, and the tenth, and the twentieth… Man, I was hooked – so hooked.
How many instruments do you play?
BB: About 20, give or take twelve.
Which was instrument was the hardest to learn? Which was the easiest?
BB: Piano is my principle instrument – so I’ve put the most hours into that one. From there I would have to say percussion – because I’ve spent so much of my life with a passion for percussion. Guitar has just been a fun thing for me – I’ve studied a few times, but just enough to get by (like with those flamenco parts in Raven Shield). I played some brass when I was in High School as well. I’ve studied the orchestra long enough that I have a pretty decent handle on ranges, articulations and phrasing for most instruments. Being a vocalist really helps as well.
Seen here: Bill Brown conducting music for Windows XP
If you could work with any writer, director, composer, etc., who would it be and why?
BB: Want to know who I feel I “should” be working with right now? David Fincher. If there is one director who I feel totally simpatico with – and I would love to collaborate with – it’s David. If you listen to my music – and then think of his films, “Seven”, “The Game”, “Fight Club”, “Panic Room”, or “Alien3” – how perfect of a collaboration would that be? I’m going to give him a call right now… :) Seriously, if anyone out there knows my music and knows David – please hook us up now – it’s time! When I think about it, I realize there are so many incredibly talented people in this world that I would love to work with – and that I have already worked with as well!
Before I worked on “Finding Forrester” I would definitely have said, “I would love to work with Gus Van Sant!” Now I can say I would love to work with Gus on a full feature score… :) I would also love to work with the Wachowski Brothers. I find their attention to detail and artistry in storytelling to be masterful, meaningful and always enjoyable. Those are all traits I aspire to in my work, and I really appreciate them in each of these masters. Robert Zemeckis has always been a favorite of mine. “Forrest Gump” and “Contact” being two of my all time films and film scores to date. Of course, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas… I did briefly have the opportunity to work with Spielberg (Executive Producer) on “Trespasser: The Lost World” – and I would surely enjoy the opportunity to do so again – anytime. I feel Steven’s work speaks from and to the soul, and its impact resonates throughout the human experience in healing and meaningful ways. Not to mention his films are always quite a thrill. George Lucas has produced and directed some of the most enjoyable movies I have ever sat in a dark theatre and gotten lost in – who could forget that first time seeing Harrison Ford running from that huge rock in “Raiders” (George Executive Produced on the Indiana Jones trilogy of course) – or running from those Storm Troopers in “Star Wars”! (Harrison was always very effective while running…)
Rob Reiner comes to mind as someone that creates from his heart in a way that has always resonated with me. His films “Stand by Me,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “The American President” are still some of my favorites to this day, and I really appreciate his awareness of how films can make a difference in the world. I guess these are some of the works that have really spoken to me in some way over the years. (There are so many others of course.) Michael Cristofer has been a favorite of mine for a while now, and his artful, collaborative direction on “Original Sin” was really stunning. I would love the opportunity to work with him – I really get what he is going for in his work – it’s this poetic, elegant, dense, rich tapestry of emotions he is creating. That is inside me – I want that. I’m following his career closely… Hey, if you know him – tell Michael to give me a call as well!
As someone who has had a lot of success in the entertainment industry, we're all curious to know which composers you personally love. Which ones inspired you to become a composer and create memorable soundtracks of your own?
BB: I’ve had many favorites over the years and the list is always expanding. I’m a big fan of film music... Bernard Hermann, Tom Newman, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, James Newton-Howard, and Howard Shore are some of my favorites. I feel Peter Gabriel has created some very original music for film and in general as well. The Dust Brothers have created some cool electronic stuff to picture – since I’m into that aspect of composition as well. Minimalists like Berg and John Adams as well as impressionistic composers like Ravel and Debussy also have inspired my process. Some of my favorite “classical” concert composers include R. Vaughn Williams, Paul Hindemith, Stravinski and Roy Harris.
Bill poses for the camera at E3 with SoundeluxDMG’s Amanda Wyatt and Redstorm’s Deke Waters.
Is music composing very time-consuming? How much time do you need to write a song?
BB: It depends on where I am in the process – as I was saying earlier, once the essence is captured, composing can go pretty quickly. Depending on how much orchestration I’m doing, I can write anywhere from two to four or more minutes per day. Generally, the bigger/more complex the orchestration, be it live or electronic, the more time it takes.
What is your number-one goal with listeners of your music?
BB: To surprise them, but do it in a way that feels like they knew what was coming – and it was just what they wanted.
Are there any musical genres that you would like to tackle, but haven't been given the opportunity?
BB: I’m actually doing that now, but I can’t go into details quite yet. It’s cool though – I think you’ll dig it. I would say I am open to explore and re-explore every genre – because there is always a new way each can be approached.
After Lineage II, what games and/or movies will you begin composing music for?
BB: Other than the one I can’t talk about yet, I’ll be working on new movies for “Rainbow Six 3” Xbox, “Ghost Recon: Island Thunder” PS2, and I’m getting back to “Trinity” with Gray Matter Studios this week – that’s going to be a fun score… very dark… and complex. I have a couple of films that are coming into place for 2004 right now as well… no one has signed on those yet – so my schedule is still open in case David calls… ;)
Thank you for your time.
BB: Thanks for the great questions! This was fun.
For more information on Bill Brown, visit: http://billbrownmusic.com