[Interview - Garry Schyman]

SoundtrackNet occasionally likes to take a peek at what is going on in other media, and so we took an opportunity to talk with composer Garry Schyman. Garry has just completed work on the zany alien-invasion game (in which you play the alien) Destroy All Humans, and we wanted to talk with him about his work on this project - which resulted in a rather unique and old-fashioned sci-fi score.

How did you get involved with Destroy All Humans?

Well the word serendipity comes to mind. It all started when my agent submitted my resume to the games publisher THQ. As it turned out an old friend, who was an executive there (Rachel DiPaola) whom I hadn't seen in years, saw my resume and urged the folks at THQ listen to my demo. The music person, Janae Pash, listened and heard a cue on my CD that seemed to be in the genre that Pandemic Studios (the developer) was looking for, which was in the style of Bernard Herrmann. Janae then forwarded my CD to Pandemic Studios in Brisbane Australia, where the game was being developed, and they were immediately interested because it was so close to the Bernard Herrmann style.

When I heard that I said, "Hey wait, I did a whole score in that style," so I then sent them additional music and they were sold well almost anyways. They then asked me to do a game specific demo, along with several other composers. In this case I declined because I felt that the music I had sent was so right on the mark. Well, in the end I got the gig. I really have to thank Josh Resnick, Andrew Goldman, Greg Borrud, Emily Ridgway and Janae Pash and all the other folks who worked on Destroy all Humans for creating such an amazing and novel game and for taking a chance with Garry Schyman as the composer. Every composer in town as they say wanted this game and I got it. So I consider myself very lucky here.

What is your musical background/training?

I studied music composition at USC where I graduated. Early on I got a job "ghosting" Mike Post and Peter Carpenter. At the time they had between four and five TV series running simultaneously and they had a crew of us helping them. That was awesome because I got to write a lot of music for an orchestra every week for several years. Since then I've learned the hard way - write lots and lots of music in many different styles under lots of pressure.

Are you a fan of 1950s horror sci-fi flicks? What prompted the Bernard Herrmann styling in the score?

Yes definitely, I grew up on those movies. I loved watching films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Mysterians, Invaders From Mars and on and on. I watched them all over and over. I remember the scores and can still hum some of the melodies.

The idea to use Hermann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still as a model came from the audio lead at Pandemic Studios in Brisbane Australia. Emily Ridgway was great to work with because she knows so much about music (she has a composition degree from the University). She temped the game with music from Bernard Hermann and it was the plan to request a score in that style from day one. As you may know Herrmann wrote the first sci-fi score using a Theremin in 1951 for The Day the Earth Stood Still and it's still the classic of the genre.

How do you write music for a computer game? What is your process?

Well every project is a little different. The game, its style and the way the developer implements sound and music is critical to how I approach a job. With Destroy All Humans I through composed each cue. Meaning each piece was a stand-alone composition delivered as stereo WAV files 60 minutes in all. I did not deliver separate stems or multiple tracks that could be added or subtracted as game play dictates. I composed music for each of five landing sites and each has three levels of energy from subtle tension and doom to highly energetic hunted music where the alien is battling earthlings. This approach really worked for DAH because the style of music I was writing (50's sci-fi) does not lend itself to adding and subtracting tracks. It would have been inauthentic if I had tried that and I really attempted to be as authentic as possible with the music. My approach to writing the score was to avoid playing the implied humor of the game. Instead I approached it as if it was 1954 and I was a working composer of that period and I was scoring a sci-fi movie. I played it dead serious but in the overblown style of that time. Subtle humor (or maybe not so subtle) comes out of this approach and it never seems forced or artificial.

Did you record it with an orchestra?

Yes. We had an orchestra for about a third of the sixty minutes of music. We decided to score the hunted or battle music because it's so hard to emulate a real orchestra with samples when the music is energetic and fast. It starts to sound like a big organ when samples play fast string parts etc.

We recorded right here in L.A at O'Henry studio with a 30 piece orchestra that was enhanced with orchestral samples. The orchestra sounds much bigger than it was because we did fill out the mixes and because our players here in L.A. are so amazingly good. We had triple A Hollywood players and because of that we recorded very quickly and smoothly.

What composers have inspired you the most?

Bela Bartok, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Mahler, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, Witold Lytoslovski, Marvin Hamlisch (just kidding).

Do you think that computer game music is becoming as competitive (if not more so) as film music, especially when considering the huge market that computer games have?

Computer game music is becoming more competitive than it has been though not yet as competitive as the film and TV music market. If you look at film and TV composer agents there are at least a dozen of them. But for games there's only one agent that is dominant and that's Bob Rice of Four Bars Intertainment. The industry is attracting talent because gaming has become a great place for composers to ply their trade. Budgets have increased and the products just get cooler and cooler to work on. Orchestral budgets are no longer unusual and perhaps the best news for a composer is that you are usually given plenty of time to write the score. That is really significant for me because it is so much more fun and the creativity is so much higher if you don't have to stay up all night for a week in a panic to write the music as often happens with films and television shows. Games are one of the most creative places to be right now and I am enjoying it immensely.

You've done a lot of work on Robin Cook television adaptations.... what kind of approach did you take to these medial thrillers?

Well the glib answer is one cue at a time. All three of those movies were very dark and had lots of twists and turns in their plots. With Mortal Fear I used a small orchestra and filled it out with synths and samples. The other two movies were mostly samples and synths filled out with a few live players.

I started each of those projects by writing a main title theme and one or two secondary themes that I used throughout the film. I am a very intuitive composer so when I write for film I react viscerally to each scene I am scoring and try to find how music can help the viewer get more deeply involved in the drama. Those scores were wall-to-wall music and my music helped the films maintain the proper level of eerie intrigue. The cool thing about Mortal Fear is that there is a love affair between two of the characters, so in addition to the scary music I got to write a beautiful and haunting love theme.

What would your dream project be?

Well I just finished a dream project with Destroy all Humans! What could be cooler than to write a 50's sci-fi score with a real orchestra? I am definitely looking to score more games that give me an opportunity to be creative and challenged. To that end I have recently signed with Bob Rice of Four Bars Intertainment. Bob's the only credible agent for game composers and I consider myself lucky to be working with him and his associate Brian DiDomenico. I just got back from E3 and some amazing games are being produced. The musical opportunities are fascinating and because the music needs to change with the game play it requires creative and thoughtful implementation. I love that challenge and want to push the musical envelope for games to make the game playing experience for the player better than ever. In the non-game arena I would love to score Pixar's next animated feature are you listening Steve jobs?

Destroy All Humans comes out for console game systems later this month. Special thanks to Ryan Keaveney for his assistance in arranging this interview