[Interview - Jesper Kyd]

Danish composer Jesper Kyd is quickly becoming a heavily sought-out name when it comes to computer game scores.† He wrote tense music for the Hitman computer game series, as well as rousing anthemic music for Freedom Fighters.† Now he's starting to branch out into film and television, and SoundtrackNet talked with Jesper about his work.

What got you started with scoring for computer games?

After being part of the European Demo Scene, my friends and I started a game company called Zyrinx. I had written music for a couple of game companies already, creating music for the Amiga computer system. With Zyrinx we focused on creating games for the Sega Genesis (console video game system) and our first game (Subterranea) was sold to Sega. That's when we all moved from Denmark to the U.S.

How did you first get involved with the Hitman franchise?

My friends from Zyrinx returned to Denmark and started the company IO Interactive (creators of the Hitman series and Freedom Fighters). I decided to remain in the U.S. and launched my own studio in Manhattan. IO's first game was Hitman: Codename 47 and we still continue to work together today.

How have you grown as a composer through the Hitman games?

The Hitman games have given me the opportunity to experiment and explore a wide range of music ideas which some other games, and especially films, often do not allow. Composition and style-wise, I think the Hitman scores have become increasingly diverse and I continue to experiment and come up with new ideas for the series.

From a technical perspective, I design the interactive music system, together with the developers. Each of the Hitman games features a more advanced, interactive music system. I also design when and where the music is placed in the game. The interactive component of music in games is critical for creating a immersive experience.

What is your musical approach when scoring a game? Do you write themes first, and build it out from there?

It really depends on the project. If multiple themes are needed, it sometimes makes sense to create these first. Other times it's easier to write a lot of material, until the feel and music style has been established and agreed upon. Then you will have a better understanding about what kind of main theme will best fit the title.

You also scored the Minority Report computer game - did you have any inspiration from John Williams' score, or was yours completely independent from that?

I was asked to write a completely different type of score, so I did not draw any inspiration from the music in the film. The video game Minority Report features constant action, so a much more upbeat, almost frenetic electronic score was required, as opposed to the movieís thriller style approach.

You had a big "Red Army choir" sound for your score to Freedom Fighters - what kind of research did you do for that score?

I researched Russian music scales and specifically what makes Russian music so unique. †The history of the Soviet Union and the Cold War conflict were also major contributing influences.

Not many people know this but I wrote the Freedom Fighters score in Manhattan right after 9/11. It was quite a strange time writing music for a story about a foreign power invading Manhattan.

I spent a lot of my time just playing the game to get a real, in-depth sense of the experiences that I needed to dramatize. I probably spent way too much time playing the game, but I just loved the fact that you could become a freedom fighter and help free New York City from an invading army.

You also just did music for two other franchises: Robotech and Splinter Cell. Are you continuing the musical style established with the previous games, or doing something completely new for them? What is your take on the franchises?

Again, for Robotech: Invasion I was asked to create a new sound that was far removed from the previous titles, so I produced a modern, high-tech electronic score mixed with a large choir. It was a great experience composing for an epic, sci-fi setting.

For Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, I wrote additional in-game music and music for all the cinematics (directed by Andy Davis). For the in-game tracks I had to be careful that the music would work together with the rest of the soundtrack. The in-game music tracks written by Amon are very percussive and realistic sounding, whereas my tracks are more atmospheric and melody-driven. The cinematics are closer to what you might experience in a Hollywood action movie.

Music from Hitman was performed live in a concert at a German games convention last year - do you have any plans to adapt any of your other game scores to be performed live?

At the European release party of Hitman: Contracts, I performed the score in a DJ set. That was a lot of fun playing at an S&M and slaughterhouse theme club! There are other live performances in the works, but I can't talk about these yet.

Do you have any plans to branch out into feature films or television here in the USA?

I really enjoy writing for both - interactive and linear - mediums. Writing the score for the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory cinematics was a blast - director Andy Davis (Collateral Damage, The Fugitive) did a superb job. Iím currently scoring a horror movie called Stranger and weíre in discussions about doing more films.

Do you think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should recognize computer games, much like how BAFTA did?

Eventually they will. Now that more Hollywood film composers are writing music for video games, it makes sense that the Academy recognizes music for games.

What are you working on now?

In addition to Stranger, Iím currently implementing the music for Hitman: Blood Money which is due out this fall. These are the only projects I can mention right now but ask me again at the end of the summer and we should be able to talk some more!

The soundtracks to Hitman: Codename 47 and Hitman 2: Silent Assassin are available as a special two-disc release by La-La Land Records.† For more information on Hitman: Blood Money, check out the official website.

Special thanks to Greg O'Connor-Read and Michael Gerhard for their help with this interview.