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Old 1st December 2016

Question: Clearly, reverb is a critical element of your mixes. Can you talk a bit about what sort of thought goes into selecting reverbs for the games you are working on? Is that typically your choice, or the choice of those working on the game’s sound design? What are some of your favorite reverbs (hardware or software)? And do you stack reverbs (i.e. individual instruments or buses w/ reverb feeding into reverb sends or 2bus reverb)?

Yeah, I LOVE reverb. But it's a very tricky thing since I don't like music that sounds too reverb-y...there's a very fine line to walk when using a lot of reverb (I try to use reverb a bit more selectively these days whereas on some earlier scores I used more than I would do today). A lot of engineers really don't like a lot of reverb and prefer me to bring the reverb in a separate stem for the mix, which I never do Why, so they can put plugin reverb on my music? I mostly use high-end reverbs such as the Lexicons 224X, Model 200, AKG BX20 Spring Tower, Eventide etc. I choose the reverb and base that choice on what type of track I am writing. For example, the State of Decay HD Survival Edition soundtrack is probably my biggest experiment with reverb to date. I had to tone it back a bit since I was going way out there with some of those tracks. In State of Decay you are literally playing in a decaying, rural environment. So I worked on bringing rustic elements to the sound and also something that sounds a bit like time has stood still since the 1950s and ‘60s. It's a town that the world forgot with references to a happier time. A track such as Trumbull Valley is a good example of the older hi-fi sound coming through like a controlled wall of reverb, mostly created with equipment from the 1970s.

State of Decay 2 trailer:

Question: In the past, you’ve acknowledged love for 70s and 80s analog synthesizers — specifically the CS80 and OBXA. We’re in the midst of what could be called a renaissance in hardware synthesizers — have you made use of many new synths? If so, care to name any that have stood out for you and where you’ve used them?

Well, I'm lucky that I have many analog synths such as the CS80, Prophet 10, VP330, Roland SH5 etc. and nothing really beats those as far as what they do. I do use the Elektron synths such as Analog Keys and Analog 4. Most of my new synths are in EuroRack format so if you’re looking at it from that perspective I use a lot of new synths too. My favorite Euro modules emulate analog sound such as the Livewire AFG.

Question: I’m a huge fan of the Hitman: Blood Money OST, so I have a few questions about that. What were some of the most important pieces of gear in use for that score?

Not a whole lot actually. It was a lot of live music so the non-live instruments often sounded like they were live in order to fit into the choir and orchestra direction. It was a really spontaneous score that was created from playing the game over and over. That's how I created the 4 Hitman scores and Freedom Fighters. Some of the analog synths I used for those scores were Oberheim OBXa and Roland Juno 60.

Question: You make some really awesome use of distortion, particularly on the percussion in “Day Light In New Orleans” and “Night Time in New Orleans.” What were you using to provide that distortion? Sherman Filterbank perhaps?

Wow, I can't even remember when I last heard that music - let me take a listen...Yeah back then I used the Sherman Filterbank a lot, so yeah that's the Sherman.

Question: Excellent sound design on “Hunter.” The pad sound that plays throughout that song (beginning at about 20 seconds) sounds so interesting to me. What are you using there? A new sound is introduced at about 3:55 (a droning, sort of Arctic wind type of sound) — how did you go about creating that sound?

I can't actually remember, sounds like it started out as a pad from a soft synth with some filtering and tweaking.

Question: How did you create the rhythmic scratching sound that begins at around 2:35 of “Action in Paris”? It sounds so exquisite through headphones and I’ve always wondered how you did that.

Wow, I am listening to Hitman music today Been a looooong time. So that scratchy stuff was done with lots of VST fx and some careful eq'ing to bring out interesting frequencies in the drums.

Question: Borderlands — When it comes to distorted guitars, such as those found on the Borderlands OSTs, what sort of processing are you using? Are you recording direct for more flexibility in mixing, or using amps and mics?

Most of the guitar performances are recorded with amps and mics. I then bring them into Cubase and start processing everything with analog hardware and VST fx. Each track uses a different setup of pedals. I like to record the live performance during the writing process. I find that it creates more variation in the performance and choice of pedals. If you record guitars for, say, 10 tracks at the same time, it often ends up sounding a bit similar, which is not a good thing for game scores, where small details make a big difference as gamers will sometimes hear that music 50 or 100 times. I always work on adding little details so there is new stuff to discover when hearing a track for the 10th time. That's the gamer in me that talks to me

Question: There is an instrument that appears throughout the Borderlands OST that sounds like it may be a heavily processed violin (or maybe I’m totally wrong). It appears at the beginning of the theme, for example. What is it and how are you treating it to make it sound so unusual and moving? Obviously the performance is huge part of it, but what else are you doing there?

Yeah the performance is a big part of it. It's actually a broken violin and we play drony chords on it. After that it's processed. I am not a purist in any way - I love processed sound. BUT I do everything I can to have the best source material before I start processing. When you play an old analog synth and start to process you can keep going and going. Do the same to a VST synth and it runs out of steam once a certain amount of processing occurs.

Question: The Assassin’s Creed 2 OST is so vast that it’s difficult to be specific in my questions. There is such a variety of sound — guitars, percussion, brass, strings, piano, vocals, synths/sound design, etc. I’ve often wondered while listening how you were able to guide so many different musicians toward your overall vision? Or did they perhaps guide you a bit? It’s hard to imagine, for example, what you came to the percussion ensemble with on songs like “Chariot Chase” and “Wetlands Combat”. Were there mockups in those cases? Whatever you had, they really ran with it and totally nailed incredible performances.

Thanks! Yes, I think that score is a good showcase of several of the different styles I write. Before Assassin’s Creed 2 I had never written anything even remotely close to Renaissance music so it was a great opportunity. The developers did not want an authentic period-sounding score, partly because they were concerned that it would be dull for a modern audience and that most gamers didn’t care about that kind of music style, which I agree with. We really wanted the sci-fi element of the Animus in there as well and I decided to try and incorporate the Animus feel into all of the music, a kind of electronic music mixed with historical music. I think it turned out to be an interesting style I created all of the electronic instruments and sounds and on tracks such as Chariot Chase we mixed live drums on top of the drums I played. That's how I like to do percussion and I often join in playing percussion with the live percussion performers. We recorded some percussion performances on Wetlands Combat and that’s where the track started. So it started with the live percussion and then I took those back to the studio and created a full track. The last element we recorded were the guitars.