Composer Stephen Harwood Jr is best known for
his critically acclaimed orchestral score for Brothers In Arms: Road To
Hill 30. Specializing in orchestral and modern orchestral-synth hybrid
composition for games and film/tv, he is also an accomplished producer,
arranger and performer with experience across a variety of styles
including jazz and electronic dance music. Stephen holds a Master of Music
in Studio Jazz Writing from the University of Miami (Florida). His clients
include Gearbox Software, Large Animal Games, Greensboro Symphony
Orchestra and U-Phonic Records.
I remember listening to my dad's rock 'n' roll records: Poison Ivy,
Chantilly Lace, Great Balls of Fire, Hound Dog, Tutti Frutti, etc. We had
a Mickey Mouse record player. The particular mental-picture that comes to
my mind when I read this question was probably "taken" around age 4.
Sometimes I am convinced that I remember playing this little Playskool
xylophone before I could walk... but I don't think that "memory" ever
surfaced until I saw a picture of myself doing that. I'd like to add that
the first memory I have of feeling the power of music to draw people
together comes from a Christmas season, probably around age 5 or 6. We had
this one record with all these great recordings of holiday music - I would
put it on and turn it up because I liked the way it made the house (read:
the family) feel; the sound of it seemed to bring a warm glow throughout.
2. Who has had the greatest impact on your music?
I have had great teachers, mentors, and wonderful friends and fellow
travelers - many, many sources of inspiration and support. But beyond all
of them I must say that my dad has had the greatest impact. Though he
himself is not an instrumentalist nor vocalist, he is undeniably a
musician. There is an electric, child-like joy that comes through him when
he's listening to the music that he loves - snapping his fingers,
shuffling up and back, singing every word - all with totally happenin'
time!. It makes all those around him smile. Mom can sing - beautiful
voice, close harmony on the fly... but man, Dad's got rhythm! Whether
writing or playing, for me time is king; I learned time from my dad. And
the greatest bit is that he wasn't even trying to teach it.
3. How did you come to work in the film / video game music industry?
My first gig as a video game composer was on Brothers In Arms: Road To
Hill 30. David McGarry (then Audio Producer at Gearbox) and I knew each
other from Virginia Tech and had stayed in touch, IM-ing once in a while.
One day I saw him online and decided to say, 'hi.' It was one of those
things where I might just as easily have chosen to keep to myself, leaving
a full Buddy List alone to get into whatever else was on my agenda that
day. But boy, am I glad I decided to ask what was up with him! Turns out
that what was up was that he was looking for a composer for BIA:RTH30 and
was willing to give me a shot. What a break!!!
4. What film or game scores have had the greatest impact on you?
The Thin Red Line (Hans Zimmer, 1998). The cinematography is incredible,
but I also "watch" this movie with my ears. Really, the way the story is
told with minimal dialogue is phenomenal and this is made possible by the
way the picture and the music work together. It was while watching this
film that I first became seriously interested in writing for picture and
began daydreaming about an opportunity to be a part of, to bring my
contribution to, such a successful marriage of the many elements (sight,
sound, story, et al.) and their respective disciplines.
5. What is your current hardware / software configuration for composing?
I work primarily in Cubase (8-core MacPro), though I choose to use Logic
or Digital Performer on certain projects. As a saxophonist I gig mostly on
tenor but strongly prefer one horn over the others for a particular
tune or style, e.g. bossa on tenor but salsa on alto. As a composer I
relate to my tools in the same way: Cubase is the default but I will turn
to Logic or D.P. when it feels right.
6. What other musical genres influence you?
All of them, really. I don't mean to be glib, but I really do believe
there are only two types of music: the stuff that rocks and the stuff that
doesn't (understand that as I use the term here, Bach and Debussy both
"rock" with much authority!). That said, however, I draw principally from
the Baroque and Impressionistic styles, plus Bjork, Tricky, and Radiohead.
7. What is your personal motto or favorite quotation?
To thine own self be true.
(continued at right)
Used by Permission
Brothers in Arms: The Road to Hill 30 Review by Christopher Coleman
In 2005, the World War II shooter was a somewhat of a crossroads. The
franchise that put this sub-genre on the map, MEDAL OF HONOR, had started
to wane a bit. After four solid efforts along with their associated
expansion packs, the series moved to the Pacific theatre but found
gaming-seas much rougher than the terrains of Western Europe. Gamers had
migrated over to the CALL OF DUTY franchise, which, by 2004, had
established itself as the new king of this brand of first-person-shooter
games. Then, just as CALL OF DUTY was beginning its own momentary
down-turn, along came a upstart franchise from developers, GEARBOX. Their
first entry of the fledgling franchise, BROTHERS IN ARMS: ROAD TO HILL 30,
would bring an even higher reality to the World War II gaming experience.
Squad based tactics and missions with even greater historical accuracy
were the foundations of this new shooter. The BROTHERS IN ARMS series
would make its initial landing on the platform-beaches of the PC,
Playstation 2, and Xbox, going head to head with the two established
powers in the industry and helming the pen and baton for the first wave
was composer STEPHEN HARWOOD, JR.
What made the MEDAL OF HONOR and CALL OF DUTY games so successful, at
least in part, were their engaging storylines, the attention to detail,
and the segments of history that were gleaned while playing through.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: ROAD TO HILL 30 also makes the most of these same
elements but pushes them to a new level; thereby, making room for itself
in a sub-genre of gaming that was well monopolized by the other two
franchises. What also separated the game from its competition was its
intuitive command system. This was no "run and gun" gameplay. Specific
squad based tactics had to be employed to successfully accomplish each
mission - giving the player a much different experience than they may have
been used to. In the first-game of this franchise, gamers get to play
missions of the 502nd Parachute Infantry from the famed 101st Airborne
Division in all of its heroically brutal and unsanitized reality. The feel
of the game is essentially a game-version of the popular mini-series, BAND
OF BROTHERS. Although we follow the victories and defeats of a different
regiment, the emotional experience and gritty reality is similar...even
down to the musical experience.
I haven't worked on one yet but I think I'd love to be on an MMORPG... a
BIG one with tons of characters and stories and environments - all needing
musical interpretation and support - with more content being added and
evolving all the time. It would be fantastic to dive deep into a world
like that and just give myself over to it completely, indefinitely. I
guess that might be no different at first from any other type of project,
but I'm focused here on the time factor; MMO games are different in the
way they can evolve AFTER they release. It would be so cool to have
feedback from and be in dialogue with players who have spent many
man-months in-world DURING the development of new and updated content.
This scenario I think would provide the closest analog to playing in a
jazz combo for a live audience in a small, tightly-packed club, an
experience that, when it goes well, can be better than anything! Here is
an ongoing, real-time give-and-take between the members of the band and
the audience. Not only does the band have the power and intent to effect
the audience emotionally, but the audience is there intending to also
participate, to become truly involved in the music; via it's emotional
response the audience can effect the band in return, sometimes influencing
what tune is called next and most certainly how that tune is approached by
the players... That's how the magic stuff happens.