One of the most celebrated composers within the video game space is Jesper Kyd. His work is impeccable and his talent unquestionable. He's been around since the dawn of the Commodore 64 and has his name attached to such lauded and commercially successful franchises such as Assassin's Creed, Hitman, Darksiders II and Borderlands to name a few. We had a chance to pursue a few questions about his career in the industry, why he wasn't part of the Hitman movie and a little bit of advice for breaking into the music scene. Check it out below.
Gaming Blend: Huge fan of your music here. First, I have to know what inspired the unique and original themes for the Assassin's Creed games? Especially with songs like "Jerusalem", "Earth" and "Ezio's Family"....the music is now synonymous to the series and once you hear it you know it's Assassin's Creed.
Jesper Kyd: Each of those themes were written for a specific event, place, character, or time period. It’s very unusual to be a part of a game series that changes the time period or location for each new entry and in that sense I was able to explore the music styles that became the sound of Assassin’s Creed.
Gaming Blend: Following up on the last question, I noticed that each of your soundtracks in various games seem to have their very own identity. Borderlands is nothing like Hitman which is nothing like Freedom Fighters, and Darksiders II stands apart as its own beast. It's not like anyone can easily just pick out a song and say "Oh that's Jesper Kyd." Sort of like how Harry Gregson-Williams, John Williams, Steve Jablonsky or Hans Zimmer have very noticeable music flares that they carry with them in most films. Do you purposefully aim to avoid reusing trademark sounds or does it just happen organically with each project you work on?
Jesper Kyd: That’s interesting as I often get comments from people saying how they can recognize my music in different projects. I always aim to create a unique score to suit each game or franchise, with my own style, however I like to keep it fresh by composing for different genres. I think some composers work in the same genre so their music can start to sound similar. When I work in the same genre I prefer to take a different approach for each project.
Gaming Blend: Speaking of film....The Hitman movie...so there were two things I was really looking forward to with that film when it was first announced: that Jason Statham would be the Hitman and that you would be scoring the soundtrack. I found out Statham turned down the role, but I went and saw the film anyways, first being excited when I heard 'Ave Maria' early on in the movie, which was sort of the overlaying theme of Hitman: Blood Money but then later I found out the music was actually scored by Geof Zanelli. Nothing against Zanelli, but I think the movie would have been a lot more epic with your iconic Hitman themes. What exactly happened?
Jesper Kyd: After watching the movie it was clear to me that they weren’t trying to make a Hitman movie; it feels more like The Bourne Identity than Hitman.
Gaming Blend: Will your music make an appearance in Hitman: Absolution?
Jesper Kyd: No, I wasn’t approached to score Absolution.
Gaming Blend: Regarding transitions in music...early in your career there was a reliance on modulated/synthetic/electronic sounds and now there’s choirs and orchestras, etc. Over time with bigger budgets and access to more instruments, did you seek out the more grand musical arrangements, choirs, and orchestrated ensembles or was it something you felt was simply necessary to suit the theme of the project?
Jesper Kyd: When writing music for games today, vs. 15 years ago, we have to be able to compete with film and TV. The Sega Genesis didn’t try and compete with TV and film because it simply couldn’t and the music I wrote for those titles was written with a mindset of getting the best possible music out of that machine.
These days we can push things further by adding live performances and the limitations of the past consoles are basically gone from a musical stand point. So now that there are no limits to music quality, developers and gamers are also expecting high production values from top titles. The reason I started hiring orchestras 10 years ago, starting with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, was to get the more cinematic sound which a live orchestra and choir can greatly help you achieve.
Gaming Blend: Out of all the soundtracks you've worked on, which game soundtrack was your favorite to score and which track was your favorite?
Jesper Kyd: The last score I wrote is usually my favorite, so I don’t really have a favorite score or song. I had the most fun working on Darksiders II and Assassin’s Creed II.
Gaming Blend: I don't think we ask this enough, but when you have time what's some of your favorite games to play and are there any composers within the game industry that you have as a personal favorite?
Jesper Kyd: I don’t really have a favorite composer in the game industry – my favorite composers are Jerry Goldsmith, Vangelis and Stravinsky.
I love first person shooters on PC and on consoles I like to play open-world games such as GTA and Assassin’s Creed.
Gaming Blend: What sort of advice would you give for musicians possibly looking to get started in the game music business and do you find that it's easier or harder working in the business since the Commodore 64 days?
Jesper Kyd: Oh, it’s much harder these days which is only natural since development teams have grown from a handful of people to as many as 500 people on some games. You didn’t see games on buses and game trailers in movie theaters back then - things have really changed.
I think it’s important to find your own voice musically. Remember that the style of music that is popular right now might not be popular by the time you have learned to master that music style. So always stay true to yourself and the kind of music you enjoy listening to and working on.
Our thanks to Jesper Kyd for answering the questions. You can learn more about Jesper and his music over at his Official Website.