INTERVIEW WITH AUDIO TRACK CHAIR, JOHN BROOMHALL, ON GAME AUDIO (AND JAZZ) IN BUZZING BRIGHTON

SO YOU’VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH DEVELOP RIGHT FROM THE GET-GO?

That’s right! Time flies and I find it hard to believe that twelve whole years have passed since I introduced the very first Develop in Brighton Audio Track and welcomed Marty O’Donnell as our keynote speaker.  Sun, sea and sunshine in buzzing Brighton, UK.  All good.  Since then it’s been an absolute honour, year on year, to curate and host the day’s content for the organisers, Tandem Events. 

TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LAST TWELVE YEARS…

Reflecting back, there are so many great memories: the excitement of Jason Page and the PS3 audio tech design team unveiling their brand new technology; a spontaneous round of applause to Rockst*r Alastair MacGregor’s incredible tech demos - and you could have heard a pin drop when Paul Moore and re-recording mixer legend Tom Johnson discussed the story-telling power of sound; then there was the fire alarm actually going off but my thinking it was a sound effect from the next Powerpoint I was testing (the entire conference ended up on the street opposite the beach for 45 minutes); Martin Stig Andersen blowing minds with his demos of INSIDE long before the game shipped – (one delegate commented ‘I may as well give up now!’); renowned composer Jessica Curry and Dan Pinchbeck on their creative process; Jason Graves sparky presentation on interactive music; Adele Cutting on dialogue and conveying character and emotion through audio; The Last Of Us’s Phil Kovats on everything; Tommy Tallarico on even more; Richard Jacques and James Hannigan’s music masterclasses; Lydia Andrew on the sonics of Victorian London and aiding player navigation and story through sound; the entire RARE audio team rocking up to speak en masse; esteemed orchestrator and conductor Allan Wilson putting on an oven mitt to bring out his conductor’s baton claiming it was the most dangerous weapon in the music world – ‘you can wreak havoc with it’; Pinewood’s Glen Gathard on Alien foley; not to mention the numerous luminaries from DICE, Sony’s Creative Services Group and Microsoft who have all made fantastic contributions - way too many to mention.  And not forgetting the thought-provoking and sometimes hilarious customary Open Mic sessions where everyone can join the conversation somewhat oiled by complimentary cold beer (not sure who’s idea that was, but good job). 

WE HEARD THOSE SESSIONS CAN EXTEND ON INTO THE EVENING…?!

Yup!  The thing is, I think there’s this great sense that here’s a body of people with shared interests and great passion for what they do that really wants to congregate and chew the cud - together.  And they don’t quit. As moderator, and with hotel staff getting twitchy, I’ve often felt guilty closing it down even though we’re way over time because people are obviously so up for it.  They want to talk, bounce ideas around, argue, concur, question, enquire of their colleagues. 

I guess Develop in Brighton brings home that the world of game audio is genuinely a community of the like-minded who look out for and encourage each other, freely sharing expertise and experience. It seems to me something quite singular about this particular game development discipline.  I think the Develop Audio Track translates that affinity and collegiate vibe to an actual in-person gathering where people find they know each other already from their online discussions. I love it. 

HOW WAS THIS YEAR’S LINE-UP?

Fantastic, stellar! A brilliant line-up – both VIP speakers and high profile Open Mic guests.  I want to send each and every one of them a shout-out and a massive thank you – they were all absolutely excellent and the delegate feedback on what they delivered has been awesome.  Here’s the thing - when you have great content married with great presentation skills and truly media-rich talks, you get that phenomenon where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  It’s like magic.

AND THAT REALLY HAS AN IMPACT, RIGHT?

For sure – actually I was particularly struck by a quote from one of this year’s speakers who said that the very substance of what he was talking about this year was directly influenced by what he heard one of our previous keynote speakers, Guy Whitmore, discuss maybe four or so years before.   To me that’s very cool.  And maybe it’s that kind of thing that helps explain why over twelve years this audio track has been characterised by such a collegiate atmosphere and time after time our speakers exhibit willingness to share freely and deeply from their experiences - what they’ve learned and how it can help you and me.  And not just the good bits but also the not-so-good things and how they overcame them - so we don’t have to.  Superb, really.

HOW DO YOU GET TO SPEAK AT THE AUDIO TRACK AND WHAT KIND OF CONTENT DO YOU LOOK FOR?

There is a submissions process during the year but, for the most part, our speakers over the last twelve years have been specifically invited because we believe they have something really interesting to offer.  And for my part, I’m always encouraging and trying to steer speakers and their talks away from kind of simple ‘show and tell’ and more what you can learn from what they did. It’s like yeah we know the result of what you did is cool, that’s why you’re here - what we wanna know is how you got there, what went right, what went wrong, what challenges really rocked you and how you overcame them…  so that’s really my vibe personally about this whole thing. Give us that game audio goodness.  Drinking in the collected wisdom of a gathering of game audio’s most noted luminaries, I know I’m always going to take away some amazing production revelation or approach I’ve never thought of, to apply to my own projects.  And I’m always deeply inspired by the pioneering creativity and technical ingenuity our speakers demonstrate.  This year was no exception.

In an often highly competitive world, it’s impressive and heartening how people are willing to share their experiences like this.  Maybe that’s because many speakers of latter years have benefitted by being in the audience themselves previously.  What goes around comes around.  Anyway, once again this year another great roster of speakers and guests have all helped foster that rare and precious generosity of spirit in the dissemination of ideas, advice, lessons learned and future visions. 

AND THERE’S PLENTY GOING ON OUT-OF-HOURS RIGHT?  A LITTLE BIRD TOLD US ABOUT A JAM SESSION…???

Hah, you got me on the covert jam session.  So yeah there’s a ton of parties and a big game audio meet-up in one of the local pubs which is great – except it’s the night before the Audio Track so we’ve learned over the years not to start our audio day too early LOL. 

And yeah I had a highly enjoyable jam session with G.A.N.G’s very own Paul Lipson.  I play jazz piano/keyboards and Paul has some lovely jazz guitar chops.  This was a little unfinished business for us because three or four years ago when I was working on Forza for Nick Wiswell (Turn 10) I was recording with Paul at Skywalker Sound and late one night after four days of keyboard withdrawal, I jumped on the Bosendorfer and started playing some grooves and old jazz standards.  Paul was like – ‘oh man, gotta find a guitar, let’s play’, but despite searching high and low – remember this is Skywalker scoring stage – he couldn’t find a guitar anywhere.  Frustrating but quite funny in hindsight.  So finally… we were at last able to sit down in my hotel room at the Develop conference, play a few tunes and improvise the afternoon away - it was super-fun.

AH YES, THE JAZZ – NOT SO LONG AGO YOU REBOOTED YOUR MID-90s JAZZY, FUNKY TRANSPORT TYCOON SCORE RIGHT? YOU STILL MAKING VIDEOGAME JAZZ?

Whenever I get the chance, hell yes – funk, jazz, soul, gospel grooves – kind of my first love.  It was wonderful to go back and update/reboot/reimagine that Transport Tycoon music with live players and today’s tech in the face of all the hacked unofficial midi versions out there on YouTube – actually I did some before and after edits – Sound Blaster FM into new band versions – quite the transformation - you can check them out here - https://soundcloud.com/johnbroomhallmusic

I’m very glad to say more of loosely that kind of thing is in the offing with what I’m writing and recording for Kevin Beimers over at Italic Pig for his rather cool (and already award-winning!) casual game Mona Lisa.  Definitely got my funk on for that gig.

WHAT’S INCOMING FOR JOHN BROOMHALL?

It’s all go and I’m thankful - and it’s kinda back to my music roots in many ways.  Playing lots of live jazz.  Two exciting videogame music projects incoming, one being a particularly interesting collaboration with some music & audio guys who I have huge respect for and the other project is taking me back to a star developer I worked with back in the days of DOS on a game that became an absolute cult classic.   I can’t wait!  Collaborations are something I’m doing and enjoying more and more – and I love it…  when someone specifically wants a dollop of my distinct music/creative vibe or just my solo piano skills – combining that with someone else’s vibe and complimentary skillset can lead to interesting, innovative results.  And it can be a lot of fun.  Again, you kind of get that ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts’ thing going on. 

Also, another key collaborator, Pete Letton, and I were signed to a record label based over here in London a few months ago to produce an EP of our contemporary jazz meets EDM which is just mastered and due for release around the end of the year on vinyl and digital.  Tell you more when I can.  Meanwhile, it won’t be that long before we’re starting to plan the next Develop Conference!

GOOD LUCK WITH ALL THAT AND THANKS FOR TALKING TO US – ONE FINAL THING - WHAT ABOUT GAME MUSIC CONNECT?!

Ooh.  Now I’m on the spot.  Well I’ll just say three words okay?  Watch this space! Exciting plans afoot.  (Okay, that’s six words).  Anyway, thanks for your good wishes and thanks for having me - it’s been a pleasure and again, thanks to all our fantastic audio track speakers and guests.  See you next year!

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