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Bioshock Q & A

Composer Garry Schyman talks music, soundtracks and... the A-Team?

Sometimes, it's the little things that help a game come together. The direction of the cutscenes, the fluid animation, the booming sound effects of the weapons... and the soundtrack. But how do they get made? OXM sat down with Garry Schyman, Bioshock's music composer, to get some answers and find out what makes Bioshock's soundtrack so special. Check out garryschyman.com for more examples of his work.

What was the process of composing music for Bioshock? Are you shown game footage and told to write music for it? How does it work?
GS: It varied depending on which part of the game I was working with. In some instances I did receive game footage and wrote using it as a sort of backdrop to my music. The scripted events (similar to cinematics) were not ready when I was writing the score so I had to work with detailed descriptions of the events and their timing.

Bioshock has the look of 'old' America, like 1930's Chicago. Was there any pressure to write music to match that era?
GS: I was given a lot of freedom to come up with something cool for the game. The only pressure I felt was internal - to come up with something very unique and fitting for the project. That said I ended up working in various styles of music from the early and mid 20th Century, which is when Rapture (the underwater city) was theoretically built. Some of the score has elements that sound like popular music of that era. There is also licensed music from that era that is in the game.

How do you think Bioshock's music will stand out from music seen in other games?
GS: Well one thing for sure, no one will ever say that my score for the game is generic! The music I wrote for BioShock is very different from other game scores. I developed a whole new style of composition by combining various techniques of 20th century music. The result is something that I am very proud of because I think the music stands on its own while supporting the game in a very cool way. The project is so unique and different looking that it supported a very unusual approach. I am really very lucky because I have been hired to score some very distinctive games. It makes the writing process so much more interesting for me. For instance I was asked to write a "classical" piano piece that is written by a fictional character in the game. If you're familiar with BioShock then you will know that this is a world populated by artists, writers and musicians - and this piece was to sound as if it were to be written by one of these fictional characters. I ended writing in the style of late Rachmaninoff for the cue and it is a complex and interesting piece of music that plays a critical role in one of the scripted events. There are really very few opportunities for a composer to write such music for film or games.

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How is music in videogames seen within the industry compared to music in films? It seems videogames have a tendency to rely on licensed music, for example.
GS: Well films, TV and video games all use lots of licensed music - so I am not sure there is a big difference in that sense. There are many similarities and many differences as well. Films and TV are completely linear and never change once the edit is locked. So the music is meant to fit the picture perfectly. Gameplay is not linear and often needs to be dynamic. That really changes the way you write.

How much of a challenge is it to write music for different sections of the game? For example, one section could see the player involved in an intense action sequence, another could see the player looking around for the door to progress through the game.
GS: That's what I am hired to do - be versatile and frankly it would get boring if I just wrote the same piece of music over and over. It's not really a challenge for me because that's what I am trained and love doing. Sometimes I am asked to write some music that I have never attempted before, but I have a pretty good ear so I go out to Amoeba Records here in Hollywood and buy a few CDs in the style and after a few minutes of listening I get what it's all about and can write the cue.

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