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January 26, 2008


Composers Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen
Splinter Cell: Composition



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Composer Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen

"For a game like SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION, it takes a far more tricky approach - simply because of the three layers of music and having to have them interact with each other seamlessly and at any given moment."

Kaveh Cohen

Tracksounds is able to get both composers Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen on the line for quick chat regarding their upcoming score for the much-anticipated SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION video game, as well as the new TV animated-series, WOLVERINE and the X-MEN.  The co-composers also talk about their library of trailer music entitiled FULL TILT and Kaveh Cohen's score for the 2007 Audio Book of the Year, THE BIBLE EXPERIENCE. (Published February 13, 2008)

  Interview: PAGE 1 | PAGE 2
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All Music Used by Permission



SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION:  is scheduled to release on Xbox 360 and Windows PC in April of 2008

SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION:  is scheduled to release on Xbox 360 and Windows PC in April of 2008


Composer Kaveh Cohen in studio - where the magic happens.

Composer Kaveh Cohen in studio - where the magic happens.


Composer Michael Nielsen in his studio with Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher on screen.

Composer Michael Nielsen in his studio with Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher on screen.


  Interview: PAGE 1 | PAGE 2

CC: Because the SPLINTER CELL series already has a pretty rich music tradition with JESPER KYD, AMON TOBIN and LALO SCHIFIRIN contributing to previous games, did that place any additional pressure upon you as you were writing for SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION?

MICHAEL NIELSEN: I didn't feel any and we certainly didn't have any of that sort of pressure placed upon us by Ubisoft. I think that's because this game is a bit of a left-turn for the franchise. They wanted to re-invent the franchise and wanted to take it in a much more cinematic direction and point of view than it had in the past. They were really looking for us to bring everything that we could to the project rather than copy something else. They wanted something fresh and brand new.

CC: Now is the music found in the trailer for the game indicative of what the final score will be?

KAVEH COHEN: Somewhat. The trailer music was actually cut from some early in-game music that was written. All of that music has since been replaced by the Hollywood studio symphony.

MICHAEL NIELSEN: Yes. That music is cut together from one of the maps. That was the first piece of music that we wrote for the game, so it set the tone. Would you agree with that, Kaveh?

KAVEH COHEN: Yes...I'd say, for the most part, it does have that sort of vibe. There are moments here that may vary a bit from that, but there is always a core tone and direction for the score. There are moments here and there where we do go a little bit "left field" with different instrumentation or a different texture.

CC: Now the game-play of SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION is different from the previous games, in that it has a bit of an ASSASSIN'S CREED element where you can free-roam a bit more throughout each map. How did this effect the way you approached the writing process?

MICHAEL NIELSEN: It definitely is a far more open playing field that it has been in the past. Before you were sort of on "rails" where you were given a mission to get to a certain place and then you were out. This time you can choose your levels in almost a random order. And within the game as well, you can choose to play it in a stealth perspective or an action perspective. It's really wide open and, in that respect, is like ASSASSIN'S CREED. We really had to take a lot of care in how our levels interacted. For each of the maps we would write three layers. They would each be the same exact length and the exact tempo and were all related pieces of music. Layer one would be low, set the tone and level of tension. The next layer would be a "high tension" and the last layer would be full-on "action." At any given time, depending upon what is going on in the game and what the player is doing, those layers can cross fade in and out of each other. In the end, you get a very score-like response and reaction with the music. When it's working at its best, it's seamless.

CC: That must greatly increase the amount of time it takes you to compose.

KAVEH COHEN: It's quite a departure from scoring film, television or trailers. For those genres, you have only one piece of music playing through a given scene. For a game like SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION, it takes a far more tricky approach - simply because of the three layers of music and having to have them interact with each other seamlessly and at any given moment. The computer is actually playing all three levels of music at the same time and it is crossfading between the three depending upon what's happening on screen. So it is triple the work.

MICHAEL NIELSEN: And we didn't write infinite-length cues. There is stuff that ranges from one minute to a couple minutes of music and it will have to loop. We had to take special care that the music didn't become annoying if the player is on a specific level for a very long time. And it had to feel like the music doesn't actually loop. So you have the challenge of transitioning between the three layers and in addition to the challenge of looping.

CC: So it must be even more difficult to write and orchestrate music, performed by a live orchestra that intends to be looped than if you were simply using electronic instrumentation.

KAVEH COHEN: In the early stages, we had to keep in mind that the electronic portions we were writing would eventually be performed by an orchestra. It's definitely easier to loop a sampled string section, when it comes to fades and what not, than it is the same piece when its recorded live. But we had all of that in mind right from the beginning - that we would be replacing all of our electronic mock-ups with the live orchestra. That helped us quite a bit.

MICHAEL NIELSEN: The biggest part was getting "it" in the writing - where there is a loop point.

CC: Now SPLINTER CELL: CONVICTION has been pushed back to November of this year. Could any of the work they are doing to the game now affect you having to re-write and/or re-record?

KAVEH COHEN: I don't think there will be any rewriting involved but there might more writing involved. Our contribution as it stands isn't really complete, so we are on a little bit of a hiatus. We are going to be writing more material for the game. That which we've already done has been substantial, but now we are just waiting to see what has been added to the game.

CC: Do you anticipate a release of the game's score?

MICHAEL NIELSEN: Everyone is shooting for that.

KAVEH COHEN: I'd certainly like to.

MICHAEL NIELSEN: The trick to making a good soundtrack release is, structuring it to be the best listening experience possible. Since what we originally wrote was more for a subliminal experience with loops and crossfading, there will be some work that needs to be done.  Still, everyone is really happy with the music thus far and really passionate about it, so everyone is pulling for a soundtrack release.


Continue the interview (Page 2)

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