This month we had a chance to talk with Inon Zur after he hosted the recent 2014 GANG BBQ. Inon has composed for an incredible array of games including Prince of Persia, Dragon Age, Fallout: New Vegas, Crysis, as well as many other titles (full bio here). We had the chance to talk about influences, conducting, gear and general game audio advice.
RS :Is there anything you wish you’d known when you first started in the game industry?
IZ: When I started everything was really primitive, but I wish I would know better the audio engines that were used those days… It would allow me to stretch all the capabilities of the music in the games to the maximum. The rest is just learning experience that you get to know and acquire in time.
RS: I was wondering who you would consider some of your musical influences and are there any particular composers you’ve learned specific things from?
IZ: I learned a LOT from earlier classical composers. From Bach to Prokofiev, Beethoven to Stravinsky, Brahms and Debussy.
Then come all the film composers like Williams, Goldsmith, Newman (Tom), Powell and many more. I’m trying to learn every day and listen to many styles and types of music to enrich my creativity.
Pop and rock are definitely in the influential arena as well. Beatles, Queen, Police, Genesis, Prince and many others.
And then comes jazz. I’m a diehard fun for jazz. Musicians like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and many more…
So you see – there is a lot to be influenced by and after that try to create your own style…
RS: One of the things that stands out to me about your music is the orchestration; it seems that many of your scores have some very distinct choices. What stage of the process do you make these decisions and how do you go about making them?
IZ: I think that all these decisions are made almost in the very beginning. I usually discuss the nature of the game and with it the appropriate music for it before I write the first note.
Yes, there are always development throughout the process, and especially if it is such a big game like FOT Vegas, but over all we try to determine the style and nature of the music from the get go and this way create a cohesive score.
RS: Do you conduct all of your own scores, and have you always? Do you think as a composer, conducting is a needed skill?
IZ: I am conducting all my sessions unless it is what we call a “remote session” – recording in some other part of the world while you are sitting comfortably in your own studio.
I started doing it quite early in my career and I am recommending it to all the young composers – this is a great way to bring your music to life – but you have to be good at it, since you don’t want to disrupt the orchestra more than help…
I don’t think that a conducting skill is absolutely a must for a composer – some composers choose to sit in the booth and let a professional conductor do it while they are listening in and commenting. I guess it is up to the individual composer to decide what works is best for him or her.
RS : I was wondering if you could explain your studio setup? After seeing it at the GANG BBQ it seems that you’ve got a highly refined, clean setup.
IZ: I’m using Cubase 7.5 with the new Mac Pro (trash can…) and Avid control surfaces.
I’m using several play along computers as my sample players, and using many libraries like Vienna, QL, Symphobia, Omnisphare and many other.
I do have some unique samples that I collected over the years but when it comes to traditional orchestra I always would like to record live if possible.
RS: Is there any other advice or wisdom you’d like to share with the GANG members?
IZ: First off – you are in the right place – composing for game is a fast growing profession and very much in demand, especially now when the hand held games are growing so much. The budgets are also varying a lot so you can definitely do projects as a beginning that other composers wouldn’t take because of the budget.
Keep on believing in yourself, try to find your own voice to separate you from the crowd, and never stop working.
Listen to others, network with others and be active on all ends. Being a professional composer means way more than just writing music. You need to know the politics behind the scene in the game company and communicate well with producers; you need to know the audio engine and how to interact with audio directors.