Interview with Rod Abernethy

Let’s start with the latest, RAGE! This is an exciting project, can you describe how you got involved, how long you’ve been working on this, and some of the people, either on the design team or audio team that you’ve been working with to find the musical RAGE aesthetic.

I was very aware of RAGE before Christian Antkow, audio lead for RAGE, called me and asked if I’d like to compose. It’s been about 2 1//2 years now since then, and a great experience working with Christian, Tim Willits/creative director, Matt Hooper/design director and the entire id team.

And for this music did you work with live musicians/orchestras, or was there a different approach for this music? Were there sounds, or instruments that you relied on to create the RAGE sound?

I love working with live musicians and orchestra but RAGE was a more personal journey for me. Christian gave me the freedom to explore my ideas and experiment to find the best feel and mood for the gameplay. My approach to composing RAGE was not that different than my norm, but I used a lot of new software like East West’s The Dark Side and Rob Papen’s virtual collection that includes Punch, Blue and Predator. I played a lot of electric and acoustic guitar, recorded live into pedals and into Digital Performer using just about every virtual guitar sim you can think of.

iD tech is well known for pushing the graphics to new levels, and I’m curious if there were any interesting audio tools within that engine you were able to take advantage of in implementing the music.

All I can say about the audio engine for RAGE is that it’s name is Christian Antkow! (laughs) Christian worked magic with my scores and implementing them into gameplay. His sound design is also pretty damn awesome.

So you’ve been creating game music for some time now, could you describe how you got started? Was this always a goal of yours, or did you sort of ‘happen’ into the game music world? Have you worked in other areas of the game industry or in game audio, or has it always been game scoring? and how different is it for a composer these days to get into writing game music, than it was when you started? any new advantages or disadvantages?

I started writing music in high school and it’s been downhill ever since! (laughs). Seriously, I started in my teens, went to school to learn composition and orchestration and then played in a lot of bands. I recorded at some great studios around the world, worked with some great names such as Paul Rothchild and David Lord. After tiring of the road, I started to get more into studio work and composed for commercials and corporate events…it paid the rent but wasn’t really satisfying. Then I found video games! I’m still scoring for TV and commercials, but most of my time is spent composing for games, I love it! Finding work composing in any medium is challenging, it takes a lot of persistence and perseverance to sustain a career. And having an understanding spouse is really helpful (laughs).

Your bio says that you’re out in North Carolina…really? Do you find it difficult to be away from some of the music/game hubs (LA, SF, Austin etc) in order to keep up the networking? Do you have some good strategies for dealing with that? I often hear of young composers/game audio students talking of moving closer to the work, but is this as necessary these days as it once was?

I think the key to any profession like being a composer is that you must travel well and travel often. Get out there…show yourself and your talent. Make calls, meet people, go to conferences, visit developers on their turf. The trick is not to make too many calls and send too many emails to the same person:) Spending a lot of time on the road performing has helped me in thinking “outside the box”, I love going to GDC, E3, AES and other trades shows and visiting people.

Do you have some favorite games, or even game music moments in any titles of the last few years that stand out to you?

I’m really fond of the Dead City level in RAGE, musically and visually. RAGE overall is the best looking game I’ve ever seen. Another favorite game of mine is Dead Head Fred…it’s a quirky zombie game that I loved scoring, I got to stretch on that one.

What are some strategies you use to find the core elements of a game soundtrack as you begin the process? What helps you find that in the beginning, is it the artwork, talking to the game designers, spending time with the audio team?

Caffeine is a great start (laughs). Beginning the process of composing is really a matter of sitting down, looking at artwork and video, reading over whatever notes I’ve got on a specific track and turning off the phone ringer. Focusing and spanking the muse into action. I’ll never get tired of it, I love it.

Any upcoming projects that you can discuss?

I’m afraid I can’t talk about them. In the meantime, enjoy the music for RAGE and thanks for the interview! for more info about Rod.

Interview written/edited by Dren McDonald exclusively for