February 15, 2007 - The music featured in videogames has come a long way since the digitized 8-bit clinks and bleeps of old. These days it's not uncommon for a full-fledged orchestra to be utilized in the creation of an immersive and enthralling score for a videogame.
It is also no longer that uncommon for a well-known Hollywood composer to try his (or her) hand at composing a rich sonic tapestry for everything from an RPG to a first-person shooter. Such is the case with John Debney who up until this point in his career is best known for lacing such high profile silver screen projects as Sin City, The Passion of The Christ, End Of Days, and too many others to recount here, with his signature sound that mixes grandiose orchestral themes with strange and often exotic instrumentation and vocals to create sweeping pastiches of aural pleasure.
Debney managed to put Hollywood on hold for a moment and dove headfirst into the realm of videogame composition for Sony's action/adventure epic Lair. While Debney is well-known amongst the Hollywood set, this was his first foray into the musical world of console gaming. Sadly, unlike the epic nature of Lair, the way Debney landed the gig as lead composer on the game was pretty routine. "My agent happened to be at some function and was talking to someone from Sony about videogames and then a few days later he received a phone call from Sony. They wanted to talk about whether or not he would consider putting the idea of scoring a videogame in front of his film composer clients. So I get a phone call from my agent asking 'Would you be interested in working on a videogame?' I said 'Sure, tell me about it.' The more I learned about Lair and the idea behind it and the idea of pushing the envelope, it really interested me. So I took a couple of meetings with the Sony creative team and I liked them very much. I was really struck by the idea that they had, which was to create music that was really very cinematic in approach and that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. They were also interested in creating very specific themes for the different characters. So, in a way, it was very much like doing a film for me in that I created themes and then once those themes were approved sort of extrapolating from them and going from there."
As seemingly "routine" as Debney's hiring process may have been, when it came to recording the score he didn't cut any corners. "To give you an idea, we have eight full CDs of material," he says. "We recorded for three days in London at Abbey Road Studios with a 90-piece orchestra. It was quite an ambitious undertaking."
A Large part of the ambitious nature of the project came with getting a little more creative freedom than he is usually accustomed to on a film project. "I would say I was probably given more [creative freedom on this project]", muses Debney. "That's one of the things that really appealed to me. With film, it's obviously also a creative process, but sometimes in films you get a lot of people who have a lot of opinions and you have to serve the director first, but you have to listen to all the other opinions, as well. With Lair I obviously had to listen to the director's ideas and work with those, but it was liberating in that they let me write different lengths of music. I didn't have to adhere really strictly to like 'This has to be 2-minutes and 3-seconds exactly.' So I could write a piece of music that would be maybe 4-minutes or 5-minutes and go through a lot of different variations. In that way I would say that there was more creative freedom than you're given on a film. Also just the scope of the game, which lent itself to more themes than usually a normal film would have. In Lair I had six or seven main themes that we used a lot. That's a lot of themes compared to your normal film."