Tomb Raider Interview: Composing Music Fit For A Legend

By William Usher 2013-02-18 21:08:23 discussion comments
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Gaming Blend: I've been reading about this instrument you created for the soundtrack of Tomb Raider from the Forbes' interview, you mention that the idea was creating a new percussion sound...is that going to be one of the driving instruments behind Lara's theme? Sort of like the grungy guitar for Shank or the synths that originally shaped the first two Mass Effect games?

Jason Graves: Throughout most of the game, Lara’s theme is very quiet and internalized. As she grows as a person and her character arc is revealed, the music evolves and changes with her. However, the instruments performing Lara’s theme are always of the more traditional sense - usually a selection of flute, piano or strings. I wanted her theme to have a timeless quality and instant familiarity.

The sounds of the instrument were designed to be the exact opposite. The instrument represents the island and its inhabitants. The sounds are eerie, unrecognizable and very unsettling. However, they are all very organic in nature. I literally set a microphone up, tapped or bowed a specific area of the instrument and incorporated it into the score. I think this accomplishes a twofold task. Any sounds it makes are instantly unsettling and put you on the edge of your seat. But given the limited nature of timbres available, which is essentially no more than 5 or 6 different sounds, it is also instantly recognizable whenever it plays.

The glass bowls are the perfect example. There are only three of them, so there are really only 3 pitches available. Those 3 pitches represent the island as a character. As the story progresses, the island becomes more and more prominent. So the bowls are heard more and more frequently, culminating in a sonic battle of bowls versus more traditional instruments but in the beginning.



Gaming Blend: Regarding themes, it was mentioned in the previous interview that you were brought in early to score Tomb Raider so that the soundtrack would feel natural to the progress of the character and story. Did you use this opportunity to give Lara a theme that gamers might be humming for years to come or was it more about ensuring that the music was griping enough to help tell the story that's also taking place on screen?

Jason Graves: The easy answer to that question is “YES.” The new theme really had to accomplish both of those goals. From the beginning, I was very determined for Lara’s theme to not become fully developed until her character was fully developed. In the beginning of the game, her theme is not yet fully realized. It’s missing the signature notes that make it recognizable. It’s also stated very quietly and many times in the background of the rest of the score. Once Lara has decided what she must do to protect her friends, her theme begins assembling itself into the final, recognizable version. The instrumentation is also stronger, with bold brass and string sections instead of the previous tentative solo instruments.

Gaming Blend: Did you bring any of the sounds or similar cues from Dead Space into Tomb Raider? Sort of like a trademark cue, similar to how Mark Mancina used similar string variations in Fair Game and Bad Boys, or how Trevor Rabin had a similar sound in Armageddon and Gone in 60 Seconds.

Jason Graves: I eschew any previous associations with past scores. The most appealing thing to me about composing music is learning new things and trying something different. A perfect example of this would be the textural approach I took to music composition in the Dead Space games. Everything was recorded with large orchestra - 60 to 80 players total. I liked the idea of instilling some part of that textural, ambient, music-as-sound-design approach into Tomb Raider but wanted to keep the final result sounding fresh and new. So I recorded myself, as a single player, performing on many different world instruments and found objects in my backyard to create some new, interesting textures predicated upon the game’s environment.

Gaming Blend: Having worked on the score early in the game's production, have you had a lot of time to actually play the game itself, and do you have any favorite parts that you're allowed to talk about?

Jason Graves: Most definitely! I was given a developers kit with current builds of the game and could play through any of the levels as needed. Two of my favorite areas are the Scavengers den, which is at the very beginning of the game and the tower climb, which is somewhere in the middle. Their locations couldn’t be any more different and it was a lot of fun contrasting the two of them through music. The den is underground, dark and fairly intense. The SOS tower is literally the highest point on the island. And although it is quite a beautiful view, it has an underlying sense of danger as well. I’ll stop there and leave the rest for you to experience yourself!

Our thanks to Jason for providing such amazing insight into his work on Tomb Raider. You can check out more of his music for the game on Soundcloud or visit the Official Website to learn more about the game.
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