Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (Soundtrack) by Jesper Kyd at Amazon.com

 

 

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December 2010

 

Interview with Jesper Kyd
Under the Assassin's Hood

 

Started piano at age 8.

First started composing music on computers with at Commodore 64.

Became a member of Silents DK

Collaborator with Mikael Balle

Official Site

Composition Credits (Video Games)

Assassins Creed: Brotherhood
Assassin's Creed 2
Assassin's Creed
Unreal Tournament 3
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
The Chronicles of Spellborn
Hitman: Blood Money
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Hitman: Contracts
Freedom Fighters
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
Minority Report: The Video Game
MDK2: Armageddon
Hitman: Codename 47
MDK2
Reaction Quake 3


 

Composition Credits (Film

Rectified
Impulse
Sweet Insanity
Night All Day
Death of a Salewoman
PURE
Day Pass
Cycle


Awards

2006 MTV Video Music Awards Best Video Game Score

BAFTA 2005 Best Original Music Award (British Academy Award)

GameSpot 2003 Best Soundtrack of the Year Award

IGN 2004 Best Soundtrack Finalist

G.A.N.G. 2005 Hitman Contracts

G.A.N.G. 2004 Freedom Fighters

G.A.N.G. 2003 Hitman 2

 
 

 

 

 

 

Composer Jesper Kyd

"I have been given a lot of creative freedom on the [ASSASSIN'S CREED] games and that has resulted in a music style that has been carefully crafted with the optimal amount of drama and originality."

Jesper Kyd


COMPOSER JESPER KYD shares about his early career in video game music and being the man behind the music of the ASSASSIN'S CREED video game series.

MM -  Can you share with us how you first got into game music? Your musical roots are fairly organic in terms of the instruments you play, so how did you get from that beginning to the more digital world of audio for
media?

JESPER KYD - I loved playing the Commodore 64 as a kid and the music this little machine was able to produce was amazing. There is a real analog chip in there, the SID chip, and it has given birth to a whole new style of music. I don’t think you can say that about any other computer or console.

MM -  Before you became known for your work on the ASSASSIN'S CREED series, you were responsible for crafting the music for a different killer — in the HITMAN series. How did you get involved with that franchise?
 

Hitman Contracts - Music by Jesper Kyd


JESPER KYD - I was part owner of a game company in the 1990s called Zyrinx. Our games came out on the Sega Genesis, Saturn Saturn and PC and we also did some work on the 32X. There is a link about the history or Zyrinx here.  After Zyrinx was dissolved my friends went back to Denmark and founded IO Interactive and began work on Hitman Codename 47.

MM -  Tell us a bit about how you came to the eclectic and evocative musical palette that has become a defining element of those games?

JESPER KYD - I have been given a lot of creative freedom on the AC games and that has resulted in a music style that has been carefully crafted with the optimal amount of drama and originality. Obviously the inspiration for the music style comes from the games themselves. It was very clear to me from the moment I met the team on AC1 that this was not a game like others. The team put so much effort into creating a piece of art, a living world – inspired by historical events. The first game – taking place during The Third Crusade called for a tragic mood to the soundtrack. However, people were intensely spiritual during this time period and I wanted to capture that as well with tracks such as “Flight Over Jerusalem.”

MM -  Were there specific lessons learned over the course of the HITMAN games that helped you with ASSASSIN'S CREED? Would you have done anything differently if you could go back?

JESPER KYD - Well, the HITMAN music was written with the interior perspective of Agent 47 as well as matching the music to the elaborate locations. These days, the storyline in games have become more important and that would have a bigger influence on the music.

 

Jesper Kyd at the Assassin's Creed Recording Session



MM -  Focusing on the original ASSASSIN'S CREED to start with, what kind of direction did you receive to help guide your approach to the music? Did you have very specific guidelines or were you free to explore?

JESPER KYD - There were 3 main keywords I was working with - Tragic (the tragic events of the Crusades), War and Mysticism. As the music writing progressed it became clear to me that mysticism added such a unique flavor to the game that it became a very important element in the score. Mysticism also helped set the score’s mood and atmosphere even further apart from other games.

There is also the Animus side to the game which (though not featured that much in AC1) we still wanted to make clear for the player. The escape music was very much a collaborative effort with the team looking for something sci-fi during the escape scenes. In AC1 during the escape, this is where the Animus simulator is the most fragile or maxed out and the screen glitches the most etc. We wanted to emphasize this with music and so the sci-fi music is most apparent during these sequences. While the score is rooted in Middle Eastern ideas, I was very careful not to use actual Middle Eastern music scales (except for a couple of cues in Damascus). We didn’t want the score to be a traditional Middle Eastern sounding score.

MM -  The game is a fine balance between contemporary elements and the historic plot; were you worried that the two would conflict? Did you feel like it was part of your job to smooth them together with the music?

JESPER KYD - No I wasn’t worried about this. The team has always encouraged me to push the boundaries of what the contemporary sound of ASSASSIN'S CREED can be.

MM -  What is the balance of live vs. sampled instruments in the ASSASSIN'S CREED score? What kinds of processing techniques did you employ on the live elements?

JESPER KYD - In Brotherhood, 90% of the music is live. I primarily instruments that were around during the Renaissance for the AC Brotherhood score and then filtered these sounds with analog equipment and computers to make the score more contemporary and modern.

MM -  Could you give us some examples of the tools that you find yourself returning to again and again when producing music?

JESPER KYD - I use Cubase SX, Sound Forge, a lot of analog hardware – both effects and synths. I stay very close to analog and modular type electronic sounds which are often mixed low in the background. I like to create a thick, interesting sound – made of elements you can’t quite place or figure out how was done. I really get a lot of kicks coming up with unusual ways of processing sound and then using this process on a very traditional instrument such as a viola da gamba. This approach can be heard in subtle ways such as in the Desmond Miles track which features the viola da gamba.

MM -  Were you already fairly comfortable with ethnic musical styles or did you need to do research to inform the score? How "legitimate" are the world elements in the score in terms of historical accuracy?

JESPER KYD - My compositions are historically accurate when the game calls for it. There is a scene at a party in AC Brotherhood which consists of some purely period inspired music I wrote – used to give the feel of a real band playing. Also, I wrote a Tarantella called “Florence Tarantella” for the game which is written in the proper way a Tarantella should sound.

I am already fairly comfortable writing in different music scales. FREEDOM FIGHTERS was written with Russian scales, HITMAN 2 includes music written in Asian scales and select ASSASSIN'S CREED 1 tracks uses ancient Persian scales.

MM -  Did you make use of any particularly interesting or uncommon instruments in the score?

JESPER KYD - Well, AC Brotherhood uses a lot of uncommon musical instruments and ideas.  We recorded huge Renaissance flags swinging in synchronization. These flags were recorded in a big traditional church in LA with our own set of microphones. We also recorded all kinds of string-based instruments in the church as well as percussion and choir.

MM -  How much access did you have to the work-in-progress game as you were putting the score together? Do you typically prefer to have a lot of reference materials to work with or just work from descriptions?

JESPER KYD - I like to have access to a lot of material when it’s available. If no material is available, I can still write, however I will have to fill in a lot of the blanks myself and there’s more in-depth dialogue with the team.
 

Assassin's Creed II - Music by Jesper Kyd


MM -  When the sequel, ASSASSIN'S CREED II, came to be, how early were you brought in to start work on it? Did you know from the end of the first game that you'd be doing more for the series?

JESPER KYD - I think it was around early summer 2008 when I was brought onboard. I had around 15 months before the score needed to be done – around the same as for AC1.

MM -  Was the experience of working on the sequel similar to the first or did it feel like a totally new thing? Are there any shared elements between them?

JESPER KYD - The Brotherhood Theme from AC 1 is back in a new form and there is a dream sequence with some re-arranged music from AC 1. But that’s it, so it was a brand new score and a brand new sound. The contrast between the Middle East Third Crusade during the Middle Ages vs. The Italian Renaissance – the difference is massive.

MM -  In general, do you prefer working on brand new projects and exploring new creative directions each time or do you enjoy returning to franchises and expanding upon the work you've already done?

JESPER KYD - I love to go back and expand on the work. A good example is AC 2 vs. AC Brotherhood. The time period and location is the same, however I was able to really explore the time period by going back. Working on the ASSASSIN'S CREED titles doesn’t feel like working on a sequel because usually each game takes place in a different time period and setting.

MM -  In many ways, ASSASSIN'S CREED II seems like a project with a bigger scope — deeper plot, improved gameplay, larger environments — how did that grander scale affect your approach to the music?

JESPER KYD - I assume you are referring to AC1 vs. AC2. The AC1 primal mysticism had disappeared and a deeper, more elegant and refined mysticism emerged in AC2. After the success of AC1 the team really wanted to improve the AC experience and that is the result in AC2. Suddenly the buildings were taller, there was a night cycle, water became part of the experience, the dramatic storyline really made you identify with Ezio and his family. These are all improvements and so the game was becoming more epic and also more dramatic. The music needed to closely follow this development and so with that perspective I took on AC2.

MM -  Did you have more resources available to realize the sound of the sequel? More opportunities to use live musicians, for instance?

JESPER KYD - Yes, we had a live budget that allowed us to work with a Hollywood orchestra as well as world class solo performers etc.

MM -  Who was the spectacular singer you used for the main female vocal elements that show up throughout the score, and how did you decide that her voice was going to be a key element in the soundscape?

JESPER KYD - Her name is Melissa Kaplan and I have recorded with her on many occasions. She also sang on AC1 – the female Middle Eastern vocals. I know Melissa’s style very well and for the ASSASSIN'S CREED scores I wrote the female vocal parts with her in mind.

MM -  If the album releases are anything to go by, it seems as though there is a lot more music in ASSASSIN'S CREED II than in the original. Among all the music, do you have a favourite track that you're most proud of?

JESPER KYD - Actually, there is a bit more music in ASSASSIN'S CREED 1 than ASSASSIN'S CREED 2 – a full collection has never been released though.  Ezio’s Family really seem to connect with people and their feelings about Ezio. This track alone has almost 1 million plays on YouTube with over 5,000 comments. It’s like there is a small community attached to this song. Things like that really amaze me and what I take from that is that we must have done something right – that the track somehow extends people’s experience of Ezio outside of the game. And I think that’s the power of music. People could be at work listening to this track and it reminds them of the game and might make them go home after work and play the game again.

MM -  There are also more recognizable themes in the sequel: was that a conscious decision on your part? Is thematic or motivic writing something you consider integral to your style?

JESPER KYD - I go wherever the project takes me. It was clear to me that the events in Ezio’s life were life altering – this is the story of why Ezio became an Assassin. Drama doesn’t get more powerful than that and I knew we needed something really thematic for the scene where Ezio sees his brothers and father hanged. This event was the inspiration for “Ezio’s Family.”

 

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Music by Jesper Kyd



MM -  ASSASSIN'S CREED: BROTHERHOOD is a continuation of Ezio's story from the sequel rather than a completely independent storyline. Did that make things easier for you? What new challenges did Brotherhood present?

JESPER KYD - It did not make things easier. We had covered a lot of ground with AC2 and I wanted to make sure there were still interesting ideas to be added to the mix. So I thought a lot about how to continue the music style while pushing it further.

MM -  How did you attempt to raise the stakes and deliver the necessary cinematic quality in Brotherhood without compromising the musical identity you set up for ASSASSIN'S CREED II?

JESPER KYD - Well, I follow along the same path and pay attention to everything that was created musically for AC2. The Brotherhood score has to fit with this music in case a music track from AC2 is playing. So the idea was to expand on everything. There was not a lot of evil, operatic-sounding music in AC2 and that became one of the new styles to create – music for the Borgia family. I also wrote new music for the Present, The Apple Theme, Combat, Escape, Location music for Spain, the VR simulator etc. All the mission music is new to match with Ezio now being a Master Assassin.

MM -  Speaking of cinema, what are your feelings on the recent trend of film composers being called to score for games? Do you think it's a positive movement?

JESPER KYD - A good composer is a good composer and I think it’s about pushing the art form as far as possible, whatever the medium.

MM -  What is your history with film work? Do you enjoy it as much as game work? Do you seek out film work as actively?

JESPER KYD - I love working on both games and films. They require very different kinds of music approaches. I have written 7 film scores in a variety of genres.

MM -  Have you encountered any emerging composers whose work you particularly admire? What kind of traits do you look for when you listen to other peoples' work to decide if you like it or not?

JESPER KYD - I like music that surprises me – music where I can’t quite figure out how someone could possibly get an idea like that.

MM -  If you could offer one piece of advice each to budding game designers and emerging media composers, what would it be?

JESPER KYD - The quality of composing has become very high in video games so my advice is to keep working on your music. Then compare it to other composers that you like as far as mix, mastering, orchestration etc. See how your music holds up and work on parts that you feel are weak. It’s very important to have a clear understanding of the quality of music you write at any given time. To constantly try to improve yourself, to be honest with yourself and to constantly challenge yourself - that is one of the most important things for me.

 

 

Behind the Score:  Assassin's Creed

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