Working In Games - The Composer/Conductor with Eimear Noone
Eimear Noone's CV features World of Warcraft, the Zelda Symphony, Video Games Live and Diablo III to name but a few... and that's only the game related side.
Taken from a much longer interview (which can be read here: Eimear Noone Interview - The Irish Queen of Games Music) Eimear shared a glimpse in to the creative process for games music and gave us some advice for those considering a career in the industry.
What got you into composing for games?
“Initially it was by accident. It purely stems from a love of the orchestra and orchestral music, so it was basically going to be wherever that took me. Then I suddenly went “my god, this is amazing!” The first time I orchestrated for a game, it was the first World of Warcraft. I was involved in some choral arrangement for Metal Gear Solid, which when I was working on it, I didn’t even know I was working on a game. So when I was in the studio, when I saw the cinematic for World of Warcraft, it just blew my mind.
We’d been a Nintendo house, with Zelda and Mario and everything, but when I saw the cinematic in the studio for the first World of Warcraft, Jason Hayes is the composer on it, I just couldn’t believe it. I was there in the studio, looking up at the monitors going “Oh my god, this is so beautiful.” I don’t think any of us at the time realised, I mean we knew it was important work, the whole Warcraft project was really amazing, but World of Warcraft , I don’t think any of us knew what it was going to do worldwide. I knew in the studio, Jason wrote some iconic themes and it was just jaw dropping.
From there I was working in movies and working on classical performances – Los Angeles Ballet, Repertoire and everything – because I’m a purely classically trained musician. So after doing some films and everything like that, I was giving a master class on conducting for the Society of Composers and Lyricists in Hollywood, and the new audio director for Blizzard, Russel Brower, was in the audience and he hired me to come back into the fold, because they’d had a changeover, and conduct.
The next one I did was Starcraft II, so I’ve done every major orchestral score for them since, and it’s just been fantastic. So, finally after conducting for them for years, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, my husband and co-producer on the Dublin International Games Music Festival, we were both invited to write on World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor independently of each other. It was just fantastic, it was a really really inspiring experience. We were given this stunning artwork to basically draw forth our interpretation of that artwork, what should the sound be that accompanies this incredible Tolkien-esque environment.
Then along the way I became the face of the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda and did almost between 70 and 80 performances of the Zelda Symphony around the world and recorded the 25th Anniversary album for Nintendo that came out with Skyward Sword. We did the first ever 3D footage of a symphony orchestra for the 3DS, which was a kick because it was only available for download on the 3DS, so it gave me a great buzz thinking of all the Nintendo fans downloading the orchestra. So that was really really fun and we performed all over the world with Zelda, I mean it was Sydney Opera House, Madison Square Garden, Royal Philharmonic and Kennedy Centre, it was just crazy, the fans were incredibly good to us.
And then back to Blizzard again. I just recorded a score for Sony called The Tomorrow Children and I tour a lot with Video Games Live too.
So, it’s just been so much fun and I’ve become a much bigger gamer myself through being part of the industry and surrounded by these incredibly passionate artists. I really think that video games are the pop art of our generation, it’s just too complex and all consuming to be anything other than art as far as I’m concerned, both on a musical level and I mean the writing behind it – Chris Metzen, the Creative Director at Blizzard is a stunning creative mind – our producers and directors, our cinematics directors are credible artists in their own right, it’s just been a great ride. It’s been fantastic and I couldn’t be involved with a more supportive and rewarding fanbase, it’s just not possible.
In terms of Warlords of Draenor, at what point does the music enter into the creative process?
This one was a very collaborative experience. We did something very unusual in that we were just given some 2D art and we had a group of concept recording sessions where each composer went away and we looked at all the artwork and went towards whichever environment spoke to us the most.
Shadowmoon Valley spoke to me a lot because there’s all this sort of Celtic style symbology in there and things that reminded me of ogham writing, Celtic spirals and things like that. Even some of the writing inside of that environment reminded me of the Millenium Spire in Dublin, so I was very much drawn towards that. Then our audio director, Russel Brower, he’s so intuitive and he really wants us to be our individual artistic selves so he kinda would see us going towards a certain direction and he knows all our personalities very well and we’re all very compatible with each other but very different, and he let us go with it. His musical direction was “I want you to tell me a story through the music” and that’s like the best gift you can give any creative.
So we all went away to our little dark holes with this artwork and came out with what the artists’ work drew from each of us. And it was so interesting to be in the recording session and hearing what everyone else had come up with. Russell’s devious plan also was to have each of us by hearing what we’d come up with in isolation, bringing us into an environment where we’d heard what all the other composers had done and mixing it up a bit and then we went away and all created something that was a little bit influenced by everybody else as well. And then Russell’s job, not only as a composer himself but as the audio director, is to gently guide us towards certain environments in the game and then if he thinks “y’know you may have intended to go in this direction, but I think that really works better over here” or maybe “I want you to work with this person and come up with something for this,” he’s very very good at that and he’s known for it.
We’re very spoiled at Blizzard as well to have him and to have Chris Metzen and to have the people that we work with. They give us free reign to come up with something different, and it’s OK. The other thing is we feel safe if you step a little too much over the line in one direction or if you trip and fall, that’s OK because you might go out on a limb and create something incredible the next time. Draenor was an incredibly creatively stretching experience, and I’m grateful for that.
And once the music is created, is that fed back into the other creative departments?
When we do the concept sessions, first thing we do is create mock-ups in our sequencers, the mock-ups aren’t whole, they’re just creating a kind of a vibe and then we’ll go and write the whole orchestral and choral piece. They aren’t always whole, for the cinematics they will be because there’s a lot of precision editing involved but for the in-game music they may not be.
The artists, designers, writers and everybody will be listening to what we’ve done in the concept sessions, they’ll be given that to producers, directors and everybody. And then that becomes a whole collaborative loop and then Russell can come back to all of us and say “this is going down really well, people are really reacting to this” and he can lead us in a certain direction very subtly, based on what people are feeling.
It starts with the concept, with the stories, the writing, the artwork and it’s constantly evolving and constantly there are different levels of collaboration going on. It’s quite a unique way of doing things and Blizzard is known for pushing the creative boundaries of gaming and I take that on very seriously as well. It’s very exciting.
How did you feel about composing for the interactivity of games, where your score has to respond to the player’s actions and status?
I think that all through music history, composers have been excited to be part of collaborative media, be that ballet or opera or a play, so this is another of those environments and the challenges of what’s physically going on can be limiting and limitations are a help at times, because there’s so much you can do it’s overwhelming when there are no limits at all. Sit in front of a blank page and do anything you want, no limits, and there’s nothing more daunting, but when you start out with a set of parameters set, that you have to stay with these rules and inside of this, that’s actually incredibly freeing creatively and there’s so much we can do with that.
Knowing how the engine works, what’s triggering what, that helps us to get excited about those limitations. I’m not using the word limitation as a negative at all, I’m looking at it as a tool actually. I use that as a positive to cut down the feeling of being overwhelmed by too many possibilities. I find, like a lot of artists have found, that limitations are creatively freeing.
What advice would you give to someone out there who wants to compose for games?
Well first of all, know going in that you’re stepping into one of the most competitive environments that exists, and I’m talking about composing for media in general. Arm yourself to the teeth with skills, I mean compositional skills, orchestrational skills, technological skills, everything, you can’t have enough at your finger tips. H Know your games. Be a gamer absolutely and then once you have your skills together, hone who you are as an artist and an individual.
It’s great to play homage to other composers, you learn a lot by doing it, every composer through music history has done it, I mean Bach walked a hundred miles to hear Buxtehude play the organ, that’s the same tradition. Listen to other composers work and writing things down is a great way to learn, but hone who you are as an individual artist, that’s what will get you really noticed. And then go and meet people. For this [iDIG Music Festival] our hope is that bringing all these people to Ireland creates opportunities for game music people, for performers, for the game music industry in general, because we’re hoping that as the years go on to bring more producers, directors , developers along as well as the composers and audio directors. We want business to happen organically in a creative way in a really fun environment where everyone is having a great time. We want people who can benefit from this to benefit from it.
We’ve a very all inclusive ethos and philosophy about this festival, which is why we choose the National Youth Orchestra. This is an incredible body of young artists, a national treasure and we want to expose those young musicians to the best that the game music industry has to offer in terms of the music and the individual composers and performers themselves, and we also want our audience to see gamers in the orchestra, what a difference that’s going to make, because most of the orchestra will be gamers.
One thing I know about gamers is they want authenticity and this is as authentic as it gets, coming from inside not only our industry but inside a very small group of composers and performers and we’re the ones out there doing it every day. Promoters keep saying to us “why don’t you do this in London or New York” but we’re like “well you’ve missed the whole purpose, to do something different for Ireland” so this is going to be as authentic as it gets. And like I said, Video Games Live, the original longest running show of games music that exists, they have given the premiere of practically every live performance of video game music that’s performed live, it’s crazy, so we want the audience to have the authentic experience.
You can read the full interview here: Eimear Noone Interview - The Irish Queen of Games Music