Assassins Creed composer Jesper Kyd talks soundtracks and Symphobia

Assassins Creed composer Jesper Kyd talks soundtracks and Symphobia

Probably best known for composing the music for the massively successful Hitman and Assassin´s Creed series of video games, Jesper Kyd is a prolific Danish-born musician and composer. His dark and moody soundtracks combine electronic, ambient and symphonic elements, adding real drama and feeling to the gaming experience. Jesper has composed the music for over 20 video games and received over 20 awards and nominations in his career, including a BAFTA in 2005 for Hitman: Contracts.

After hearing Jesper´s music and that he uses some of our virtual instruments, we tracked down Mr Kyd to ask him some questions about his work...

What initially got you into writing music for video games?

I received a Commodore 64 for Christmas when I was 13 years old and immediately became hooked on the great music for those games. It was the first time a computer or game console had a real analogue chip inside (I don´t think any computer had an analogue chip since). So the music was just wonderful - composers working on this machine really made the music stand out. And that was it for me - I was hooked. Around the same time, I got my first synth and started making music with synths and drum machines as well.

What would you say was your first big break and how did it come about?

Hitman was probably the first game where people in the industry really seemed to take notice. My previous scores for Genesis/Megadrive games such as Subterrania & Adventures Batman and Robin were embraced by the gamers and I still get emails about those scores. But I don´t think the industry really knew what to think of the music - it was very different from everything else. We made our own music program and I was able to use 6 channels of FM 44hz CD quality. So it was a bit like the C64 in a sense that there was this really amazing sound chip in the Sega Genesis/Megadrive. Most US games used Sega´s own sample playback music program which had a lo-fi kind of sound limited by the small amount of ram; the samples were very short in 22hz quality or less.

You have created soundtracks for both games and movies, what are the main differences in writing music for these mediums?

Well in movies you follow the film’s storyline and the lead of the director. It´s a big help getting to know the director. I often end up becoming friends with directors I work with. You really have to be able to get along and understand their vision. With games, you often work with an audio department and so it´s more of a professional working relationship that´s more geared towards meeting the demands of an entire team.

One of your most recent works was the music for Assassin´s Creed: Brotherhood which sounds amazing. Can you give us a brief summary of the processes you went through to complete this project?

I´m glad to hear you like the AC Brotherhood score :) After writing the score we did a lot of live recordings. We rented a big traditional church here in LA and fitted it with microphones. We recorded unusual sounds such as synchronized flag swinging which is an old traditional ceremony used in countries such as Italy. We also recorded an ultra-bass choir there, which is a choir focused on very low notes and bass tones. We had multiple live percussion sessions, including one at Glenwood Studios in Burbank, which was an unusual session because of the odd percussion methods and performances. The recording sessions were focused on giving the score an authentic Renaissance sound while pushing these traditional elements in new directions.

Do you use virtual instruments or sample libraries in your compositions at any stage and if so which ones and how do you use them?

I do use virtual instruments such as Spectrasonics Stylus RMX and Omnisphere, most of the Project Sam libraries such as the Symphobia Series. I also like Sample Logic Cinematic Guitars and Morphestra.

You have won numerous awards in your career, is there anyone that means more to you than the others?

The BAFTA holds a special place in my heart. I was up against mostly big, live orchestra recorded scores and to win with an electronic score for Hitman: Contracts was such a great surprise. Gamespot´s Music of the Year Award for Freedom Fighters was also a wonderful surprise.

What can we expect from Jesper Kyd in 2011?

There are several film, TV and video game projects but I can’t talk about them yet.