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November 21, 2008

 

Composer Sean Murray
Guerrilla Scorefare

 

 

Biography

Grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. and currently still resides in the southern California area.

Started composing for film and television at age 19.

Is son of actor, Don Murray.

Began composing for student films from the Brooks Institute of Film School.

Official Web Site
 

Composition Credits (Games)

Call of Duty:
World at War


True Crime:
New York City

True Crime:
Streets of L.A.


Composition Credits (Film)

Hidden Camera
Reflections
Gangs of the Dead
The Lost
Unnatural Causes
Earthstorm
Breathe!
THE Deal
Descent
Crusader
Art Heist



Composition Credits (TV)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (series)

God, The Devil and Bob
(NBC series)

Knots Landing (Featured Songs)


The Savage Dragon
(USA series)

Women, Stories of Passion (Showtime Series)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composer Sean Murray

"We knew we were going to have to stay within the expectation of Call of Duty (that we needed to have some big bold, orchestra), but there wasn't anyone telling me that I couldn't throw a big, fat, oberheim synth underneath it!"

Sean Murray


After the mega-hit CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE, developer TREYARCH returns the franchise to World War II in CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR.  We speak with composer SEAN MURRAY about his genre-bending score, the ideas behind the divergences from the norm and his special connection to both the game's setting and recording in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

  5 Exclusive Tracks from Call of Duty: World at War
 

 

All Music Used by Permission

 

Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War (Treyarch)

Composer Sean Murray in studio

Composer Sean Murray in studio

Emilie Bernstein and Sean Murray

Emilie Bernstein (Orchestrator) and composer Sean Murray at Prague recording sessions.

Recording with the Prague Philharmonic

Prague Philharmonic recording sessions

   
   

CC: How did growing up in and around Hollywood affect your choice to become a music composer?

SEAN MURRAY: It's really sort of fun because when I was about five, I picked up a guitar instead of piano lessons.  I just knew from that young age that I wanted to be a musician, but then my father (DON MURRAY) did a very interesting movie in Hawaii (he took us all there when we were little kids and we lived there for six months).  The movie was about FATHER DAMIEN who was a leper-priest. It was always really fun hanging out on the sets and was one of my favorite things about my dad being in the movie business. Once we got back to New York, he'd go into the city to see how the score was going and he'd bring home a cassette tape of the score mocked up on a Moog synthesizer. So I really got into that and learned the themes on the piano. And I thought, "I love these themes. I love the fact that these were in the movie." That got me to start listening to movie music. Then he brought home the orchestral score and I thought, "Wow. That's what I want to do."

CC: Who have been your biggest influences?

SEAN MURRAY: My dad also gave a start to a guy that really made a pretty big mark in his own right named, BRAD FIEDEL, who wrote TERMINATOR.  Also, there was Jaws by John Williams. You can't be a little kid and not be affected by that theme. As a kid, we used to always play S.W.A.T. and so the theme song was always running around in my head. And I was able to meet Barry DeVorzon and became one of my mentors when we lived in Santa Barabara (CA). He wrote "Nadia's Theme" the theme song for S.W.A.T., and SIMON AND SIMON. When I met him, he was doing the score for a cool sci-fi television show called "V." He had all his synthesizers set up in his house and I'd go over and hang out and would learn from him.

CC: How did you come to Call of Duty: World at War? You've worked on a couple of Activision games. Was that the connection?

SEAN MURRAY: That was totally the connection. I did TRUE CRIMES: STREETS OF L.A. and then TRUE CRIMES: NEW YORK CITY. Brian Tuey, who is the head of TreyArch's audio team, worked with me on TRUE CRIMES: L.A., which I totally loved. I had never done a video game before that. Then, we worked on TRUE CRIMES: STREETS: NEW YORK CITY. After he worked on CALL OF DUTY 3 and was moving onto CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR, Brian called me in and talked with me on how we could approach it and wanted to talk about what sort of new vibe we could bring to World War II.

CC: That must have been a big challenge as the WWII FPS has been done ad nauseam.

SEAN MURRAY: Yes and that was the risk, after MODERN WARFARE, to go back to World War II. That was a big risk that they took, but I felt compelled by it. First of all, I had very strong personal relationships with people directly involved with World War II: my father-in-law and another close friend-to-the-family. World War II has always been of real great interest to me and I know a lot about the history of it. Knowing that they were going to do the Pacific campaign was really interesting to me as well. I really loved the fact that they would be tackling Okinawa and Peleliu.

CC: So what was the conversation like between you and the developers, knowing that there is a certain expectation when it comes to WWII first-person-shooters and the music associated with it?

SEAN MURRAY: Before we even talked about the music, the thing we talked about first was the "mindset of the player" the combat world: the Pacific theatre and the Berlin theatre. And we talked about these two things in two different languages. The interesting thing about the Pacific campaign was the psychological stand-point as well as the historical. This was a new type of warfare for the United States. We'd never been embroiled in this insane, brutal, guerrilla-stye of warfare. So the idea that Treyarch wanted to get across was that this was an "alien world." This was unlike anything Americans had ever seen. It was going to be an "alien" form of combat and "alien" settings: jungle atmospheres. We wanted to make that a very poignant part of the music: the surprise of the guerrilla tactics, the heat, the sweat, the torn-apart landscapes, burned out trees, burned out jungle, booby traps and fox holes.  So we start off with the campaign with your patriotic, triumphant sort of themes, but it gets very ambient, strange and weird. You almost try and get those alien landscapes within the music through the sound design I built into it.

CC: It's an interesting balance between the symphonic elements, the cultural instruments like the balalaika for Russia and the taiko drums for Japan. How did you manage that balance between cultural, the classical, WWII sort of music, and the more electronic/industrial feel?

SEAN MURRAY: Before we go to Europe, let's look at the Pacific. As I mentioned, what I wanted to do in the Pacific was to translate the alien world and this new form of warfare. The way I tried to do this was to have a constant dialogue between the Americans and the Japanese; using the brass and trumpets signifying America and then the taiko drums and shakuhachi's come in. So it's a constant dialogue back and forth as the warfare gets more intense. It was a fighting dialogue - a screaming back and forth. We'll have sections in the music that was triumphant and we'll have the trumpets going. But even with the trumpets, I did a lot of effects with them. I had the trumpet player blow wild notes, do trills, and ascendis, and things like that - almost is if he's grunting or screaming in the midst of warfare. Occasionally, I'll put in a little grungy guitar to give it a little percussive and rhythmic elements.

CC: Talk a little bit more about your infusing of the guitar and other synthesized elements into this dialogue.

SEAN MURRAY: The whole point in the music was to make it fun and exciting for the gameplayer. As we starting going along, the more risks that I took and the more interesting soundscapes and synth sounds that I used, the more people responded to it. We had a lot of testers who were really tripping on the music. They helped encourage getting a little more wild. That totally lifted the restrictions on my palette. We knew we were going to have to stay within the expectation of Call of Duty (that we needed to have some big bold, orchestra), but there wasn't anyone telling me that I couldn't throw a big, fat, oberheim synth underneath it! (Laughs.)

CC: Playing through the game myself, it took me a while to become cognizant of the music because the game is so visceral. Most of the World War II games, up to this point, were not as gritty, or "in your face" as this. Because of how you have meshed some of the more contemporary elements, your score has that same visceral sort of punch that the imagery has.

SEAN MURRAY: Yes. You're in the time period and we have themes that fit, the American bravado of that time period, but then the imagery of the game is so incredible you just want to enhance that with music using whatever tools you need to. What was so neat was that I had my own dev-kit, so whenever they laid in some new music I could monitor it and tailor it for each scene. So I was intrinsically involved in that too.

CC: So you were involved in the mixing?

SEAN MURRAY: Yes. That was one of our main focuses. I mixed everything. Every single cue, I mixed against the production sound from that area where music would be featured. So I had all the guns, the atmospheres and background.  As a result, I really had a great opportunity to optimize my mixes for each level of gameplay.

CC: That would certainly have advantages for you and the final score.

SEAN MURRAY: Yes. It was interesting that, as we were going along, we found what worked best for different scenes. We found that if we used too much ambience or too much reverb with the orchestral elements that it would actually soak up a lot of the overall ambience of the game itself.  In light of that, we let the orchestra be a little drier than you normally would. That gave the sound guys a tremendous amount of flexibility when taking my tracks and tweaking them or adding ambience to fit their backgrounds.

CC: So what was your approach to the European theatre?

SEAN MURRAY: We wanted to get the sweaty, brute force out of the Pacific Campaign, but for the Russians in Germany, the specific goal was to translate a very patriotic beginning, where the soldier has this optimism and expectations of valor, and how the viciousness of warfare turned them into monsters. Again we start off with the more traditional thematic ideas with the use of the balalaikas and Russian choir. Now, as they get out of Seelow and into Berlin, they start doing more and more vicious things to the Germans, even the civilians. The music, then, captures this degradation. The way we accomplished this was to lift the restraints of orchestration and style, so we could go anywhere a maddening psyche would take us.  As we approach Berlin, I use a female voice (Jane Runnalls). She has an incredible voice and she is the German siren that taunts the Russian soldiers. As they get more and more depraved things become a little more industrial at times, more atmospheric and even trance-like with some of the rhythmic textures.

CC: Now you've written a lot of music for this game. Can you pick some favorite pieces?

SEAN MURRAY: In the Pacific theatre, there is a cut called "Trenches" that I like. That's one of the bigger themes; one of our patriotic pieces, but I also love the cut entitled "Torture." It's just a simple cue, but it was nice as it had a nice live ambience with the orchestra. The played that piece live and I just did a few overdubs. We had the superball in that piece, which is when you roll a superball on a drum-head or on a gong. It gives you a weird, bendy-like sound.

CC: Recording this in Prague had special meaning for you.

SEAN MURRAY: Yes. My father-in-law, who was a World War II veteran, was from Prague. He was there when the Nazi's marched in and took over Czechoslovakia. He escaped the Nazi's and went and fought with the French. When the French were defeated, he escaped, by row boat, to Britain to become a tank commander with the British Army...and came back to kick the crap out of the Nazi's. So I always wanted to go to Prague and see the city of my father-in-law's birth, heart-break and turmoil. So to get to record a World War II score there in that city had special meaning to me.

CC: You worked with Emilie Bernstein, daughter of Elmer Bernstein, on this project in Prague.

SEAN MURRAY: Yes. She was my orchestrator. I've known her since just after high school. Her father was a friend of my dad's and he encouraged me when I was doing student films. So when I got the chance to work on CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR, I was able to afford and hire EMILIE BERNSTEIN. It was great working with her as she had never worked with someone who composes on synthesizers. She, of course, orchestrated most of her father's scores even up to his last one. So it became a very organic thing to have her do the orchestration. We also got to record in the same hall that ELMER BERNSTEIN did his last recording in - The Smeckie Studio in Prague.

CC: Call of Duty has a pretty strong tradition including its music. Of course composer MICHAEL GIACCHINO's name is associated with the franchise, but there's also GRAEME REVELL, HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS, STEVE BARTON, and JOEL GOLDSMITH. What, if any, pressure did coming into that music tradition place on you?

SEAN MURRAY: I know Graeme Revell and like him a lot, but I didn't listen to any of the music from the previous games. Actually, there was one clip I listened to from CALL OF DUTY 2, which was GRAEME (Revell)'s. I listened to it for a couple of minutes; watching in context of the gameplay that someone had posted on YouTube. I just didn't really want to be influenced by what anyone else had previously done. Early on, I did go and watch some of my favorite war movies like THE GUNS OF NAVARRONE and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (even though there wasn't much music in that) and that was it.

CC: There's already talk of CALL OF DUTY 6, if it were offered to you and you accepted, what would you like to bring, given your experience now on CALL OF DUTY 5, with you to the project?

SEAN MURRAY: Well, I'd bring the fact that I've now done one now (laughs), but I'd actually approach it very differently. I try to do it psychologically from the gameplay and what the intentions of the game producers are. So I'd probably throw out everything I did in this last one and start fresh.

CC: Thanks so much for your time today.

Brotherhood of Duty:  The Music of Brothers in Arms and Call of Duty: World at War

 

 


 

More Interviews

   

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Sean Callery (2014)
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Tom Salta (2013)

Jesper Kyd (2012)
Kim Planert (2012)
Robert Duncan (2012)
Sam Hulick (2011)
Alan Menken (2010)

Mark Griskey (2010)
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Sean Williams(2010)

Jamie Christopherson (2010)
Tomoya Kishi & Marika Suzuki (2010)

Clinton Shorter (2009)
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Ed Lima and Duncan Watt (2009)
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John Ottman (2008)
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Miho Nomura (2008)
Mark Griskey (2008)
Harry Gregson-Williams (2008)
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Ramin Djawadi (2008)
E.S. Posthumus (2008)
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Christopher Lennertz (2006)
Harry Gregson-Williams (2005)
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James Dooley (2007)
Jesper Kyd (2007)
Garry Schyman (2007)
David Robidoux (2007)
Scott Glasgow (2007)
Tyler Bates (2007)
Jamie Christopherson (2007)
Mychael Danna (2007)
 
Howard Shore (2006)
Trevor Rabin  (2006)
John Debney
Greg Edmonson
Christopher Lennertz (2003)
Erik Lundborg
Ron Jones
Edward Shearmur
Christopher Lennertz (2002)
Thad Spencer
Don Davis (2001)
Hans Zimmer
Conrad Pope
Michael Giacchino
Don Davis (1999)
Jeff Rona (1999)

 

   

 


   

 

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