Game Theory: A-list Game composer Andy Brick
Molly Sheridan: I know that you conducted the concert in Europe of game music and I know that releasing CD soundtracks of this music is also a big industry. People that play the games want to listen to the music in their car. What’s your experience of how this music stands on its own since it is so much an integrated part of a multi-media package.
Andy Brick: I think that compared to other forms of commercial media it’s great if not better than anything offered. It’s a very interesting scenario because, unlike a film, you have a person who is physically engaged in a media that contains this music. When you’re watching a film and sitting in the audience you’re passive. When you’re sitting in front of a game, you’re like this [sits up straight with hands holding imaginary controller] or even like this [leans far forward] and a lot of times you’re like this [shakes imaginary controller violently] because somehow there’s this perception that the harder you push that button the better your success. But there’s a physical interaction that’s going on. And just as a musician has physical memory of a piece of music, people’s physical memories of playing the game are going to be connected to the music and the game play and the images that the artists have drawn. So there’s this very deep connection between the music and the game and the person who’s experiencing it. So I think there’s a deeper connection, deeper than any other media I’ve seen, between the audience and the music, and I think that’s why a lot of these soundtracks are gaining popularity.
Molly Sheridan: But say I’m sitting in that concert hall, but I’ve never played these games, am I going to enjoy the experience?
Andy Brick: I hope so. I think you would. The concert that we had last year, which was the first of its kind, was sold out. We sold out the Gewandhaus which is a very historic concert hall in Europe and they gave us a ten-minute standing ovation, and I know for a fact everyone wasn’t familiar with all of the music because there was music being premiered. Again it comes back to whether or not you happen to connect with the music. In the case of the people at the concert who were gamers, they connected on a physical as well as emotional level. I think for people who don’t have a game experience, it’s open to the world of whatever you consider to be good music and whether or not it appeals to you. I think it comes from a very emotional base because you’re evoking a human response in the music and so I think to that extent it’s very enjoyable.
With a lot of commercial media the composers who are writing for games today are faced with this line—where are things are no longer accessible to the listener and when they stop being accessible, is that acceptable? In most cases, it’s not. But accessibility is a pretty broadly defined word in the game business. We can do some pretty far out stuff. I think that anyone, if they were into orchestral music, would enjoy one of these concerts. It’s a pretty wild experience. There was this energy in the concert hall that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I had this sense of all these 17 to 35-year-olds’ enthusiasm just building throughout the evening, and when we hit the really big titles, like Final Fantasy, you could just feel this energy. The orchestra that we used, the Czech National Symphony, is a Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak kind of orchestra. During the concerts I was conducting and I was watching them. They were kind of shocked, and they fed upon the reaction that we were getting because most of them didn’t have any firsthand experience with this music. We kind of all went into this thinking, “Well, I wonder what is going to happen?” I was particularly a little bit nervous, “How is a guy or a girl who is used to sitting in front of a PlayStation going to react passively to this kind of music?” and it worked great. People really liked it.
Molly Sheridan: I haven’t wanted to drag you through your whole resume—you’ve done commercials, you’ve done Disney, and films and games. But looking back on those projects, which stand out to you as particularly artistically or even just financially satisfying? If I met you at some cocktail party, what anecdote might you be likely to tell me?
Andy Brick: Oh, God, I did this one film…this is a good story and this is really important for composers who want to be commercial. I won’t go into names and details but a number of years ago back I did a documentary film and I would write something and the direction I was getting was, “Simplify. Just make it simple.” This went back and forth for the first couple of scenes because everything I did, they would just say, “Simplify.” So at one point, just as kind of a joke, I did this little guitar line that was basically this [plays two notes back and forth slowly] for about a minute. Nothing but that. And sent it to the producer thinking, “Ok, at least we can find out what the boundaries are and then go from there.” And he got it and said, “That’s perfect.” So for the remainder of this film I had to figure out a way to keep myself engaged in the music when really the whole thing was just based off of these two notes. It’s hard as a composer when you feel like you have all these great ideas to just do this [plays two notes again].
It’s really important that, as a composer, you develop compositional abilities not only the way that your natural tendency is and not only try to achieve what you think is the best thing that you could possibly write, but try to achieve that same level of quality in things that you think might not be the best thing that you could write. Explore areas that you would never go to because they’re not your voice because at some point in time somebody’s going to ask you to do that. And I found my little thing in that score that inspired me and still get something interesting out of that. It’s happened to me over and over again where I look at a project, I get direction, and I say, “Well, that’s not how I compose, that’s just not the way I do it.” And then you have to adjust your thinking and say, “Well, yeah, I can make it the way that I do it, I just have to approach it from a different perspective,” and that’s really important.”
Molly Sheridan: Do you write “concert hall” music or music not driven to a specific project very often?
Andy Brick: No. I wish I did. I don’t. I’m booked right now writing music for projects all the way through December. I’ve got people waiting for me to finish one project so I can start on the next. I’m hoping that in 10 or 15 years from now I’ll be able to do nothing but write concert works but right now at this point in my life and in my career, I’m doing the commercial thing. And it’s fine. I’ve been so lucky because what I’m writing for commercial media is not far from what I’d be writing for a concert. It’s really close; it’s full orchestra stuff. I’ve been given some nice liberties so far with the companies that I’ve worked with where they’ve basically said, “Do whatever it is that you do,” and then they kind of reign you in or you get kind of crazy and they say, “Slow down,” but no, I don’t do a whole lot of concert works now. I wish I could. I’ve had a lot of my stuff performed in concert, but it’s all stuff that I’ve done for games.
Molly Sheridan: Any regrets that you’re not a theory professor somewhere and writing music in your after-class hours?
Andy Brick: A little bit. I wouldn’t call them regrets. I would have loved to be a music theory teacher. Music theory—I just love it. I guess I always wanted to write and I wanted to see if I could make a living writing and I think that was more important to me than being a music theory teacher. Certainly there are plenty of music theory teachers out there who write, and in a lot of the cases in academia from what I’ve seen it can be a fairly even split. I didn’t necessarily even want it to be a split so I don’t have regrets as far as career choices, I have regrets insofar as something that has really interested me in my life—music theory—I haven’t been able to spend as much time as maybe I would have liked to pursuing it. But if I were dedicated to just that then I would be in a different place. But here I am now, and I’m happy with that.