Interview: Talking Journey's majestic music with Grammy nominated Austin Wintory
It's no surprise that the folks at thatgamecompany are having one heck of a year Ever since they released the long-awaited PlayStation Network game Journey a few months back, it's gained nothing but critical acclaim and huge attention from fans. Now, it's racking up end of the year awards – well-deserved ones, at that.
Although the biggest surprise has to be the sensational music within the game, provided by composer Austin Wintory. Not only is Austin's work winning awards in our field, but it's also the first video game score to be nominated for a Grammy.
We had a chance to catch up with Austin in an interview, talking about the music that went into the game, as well as what's next…
First of all, how did you get on board with the Journey project?
I had previously collaborated with thatgamecompany on flOW, and so I already knew them. I had play tested Flower even, and had been able to see that development first-hand, even though I didn’t actually work on it. So when it was finished, and they were getting ready to start on Journey, we started talking and I really connected with the material. Almost immediately we were off and running and I worked on it the full 3 years of its development.
Upon looking at the first footage from the game, did you get an idea of what kind of soundtrack to put together? What kind of tone were you going for?
I started working on it before there was any footage or playable prototypes. So it was a real joy because I was able to help set the tone for the game almost as equally as the game was providing me with a style guide. And the idea from the beginning was exactly what, I hope, players are getting from it: a poignant, lonesome quality that builds to a pretty strong emotional catharsis. It took a long time to feel like we’d really nailed that emotional arc, but it was the goal from day one.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when putting together the game's music? Were there segments that you had to cut out because they were too strong, or not strong enough?
Truthfully all of it was very difficult. There’s almost never just one straightforward emotion taking place. It’s always a mix, and getting that just right was a lot of constant revision. But without question the ending, the finale, was the hardest. It had to be the payoff for the entire experience and so I re-wrote it far more times than anything else. Tons of music got cut wholesale before arriving at what’s in there now.
Did you get a chance to work with any favorite instruments over the course of composing this soundtrack? Or was the experience as a whole just worthwhile in itself?
Well those aren’t exclusive of each other! I absolutely love the cello but even more so, I love the way Tina Guo plays it. So writing for her was, as it had been many times prior, an absolute dream. But overall the game is so special, and I’m in such awe of thatgamecompany, that it wouldn’t have mattered what style we aimed for – the experience was pure magic.
You've been nominated for a Grammy, the first nod ever being given to a video game composer. How does it feel?
It’s still pretty surreal. Being nominated alongside John Williams is a lifelong dream that I never actually considered to be realistic. So that side of it has been the most overwhelming. But I am also excited that this might cast a light on some of the incredible work being done by my colleagues, because honestly they’re equally deserving.
Are there any other soundtracks you enjoyed listening to this year? Any particular favorites that stand out?
Probably my single favorite game score of this year is Jessica Curry’s Dear Esther. There have been a ton of wonderful scores in the indie sphere, but for me hers sits at the top. I consider her a dear friend and overall inspiring human being, along with her husband Dan Pinchbeck. Without a doubt her score to Machine for Pigs is most anticipated forthcoming score.
How thrilled would you be if your music became a consistent feature on a tour, like Video Games Live?
You should’ve asked me that back in June! I’ve been honored that Tommy Tallarico has programmed Journey on a couple dozen VGL performances so far. I conducted the premiered in Los Angeles, and it’s been done subsequently all through Canada, the US and South America. I also conducted their performance in Brazil! Next up is January 5th in Austin, TX where I’ll again be conducting. It’s an absolute blast.
Congrats on the Spike Video Game Awards win, by the way. How many end-of-year honors does that give you now?
It’s been quite a few. I feel really blessed by the whole thing. None of it feels “deserved” but it’s immensely exciting nonetheless! The VGA’s were a very fun night, and it was pretty crazy getting a shout-out from Samuel L. Jackson!
Finally, what's next for you, or can you not say yet?
I’m deep into a wonderful game called The Banner Saga, and also wrapping up the final details on this fantastic indie called Monaco. Both will be out in 2013. I’ve also just started on the remake of Leisure Suit Larry, which is sort of a dream job! There are others a well, but as you sort of predicted, I can’t get into those just yet!