Interview with Raphael Gesqua - Fade to Black soundtrack composer
Interview with Raphael Gesqua - Fade to Black soundtrack composer
Greetings, Raphael. You are working in game industry about 17 years. This is a very long period of time, we are surely can call you big pro, but how this all got started?
Well, at the real beginning, I started to “compose” some music back in the early eighties, on C64 and Amstrad CPC. At this time, you also had to be a little coder, at least in old basic language, if you wanted to make any sound with a computer ;-) I remember I also made some little games for fun, back at this era (I wish I could recover the tapes and floppy discs, as souvenirs)
But I really “started” in 1988-89 on the Commodore Amiga, when I discovered the great art of tracking, with “Soundtracker”, created by Karsten Obarski, of course, and also “Sound FX” from “Linel Software”, if I do remember well.
I started making simple “conversions” of well known original movies soundtracks, and then began to try something from my twisted mind ;-)
People and friends around me began to push me in that way, telling me that I may have some little talent. Even if I always had been a real music addicted person, I didn’t consider I may have some kind of talent, and never planned to try to be a composer in some way…
However, there was at least one way to get one’s art well spread over the computer world, and that’s what they (and still) called the computer demo scene.
Indeed, I decided one day to try my luck in some “big” demos, as I was invited to by coders who had listened to my work during a “coder gathering”. That was in 1990. And right after, I was directly put at first place of what was called the “Eurocharts”, a top 10 demo scene graphic artists, coders…and musicians. I remember staying number one during over seven month without interruption, as the handle of “Audiomonster”. I was informed of that point by a musician friend of mine, back at this time :) That was pretty surprising…and pleasant, for sure,-)
But this was not enough to give me faith enough in my work, and I still didn’t try to make music become my job. But a friend of mine, which I’ll never thank enough, decided, one day, to take some floppy discs containing Amiga music “modules” from myself, and to go and meet some famous editors like Ocean Software, and Delphine Software International. And guess what ? Some days later, they were calling me, and thus began my career. That’s as simple as this…
I’m not saying I wouldn’t have become a professional composer without that, I surely would have tried later, at least, but we’ll never know for sure…(Jonathan (it’s is name) my friend, if you read me, I send you my best regards, buddy !)
We have feeling that tells us – you didn’t want to be composer when you were at age of 5. But, somehow this is happened. Maybe you can bring some light on this clue? :)
Not as simple, in fact. When I was 3-5 years old, I remember (yes, I do, thrust me, because I even have some souvenirs from 1974, although I was only 2 years old ! (mind is a total mystery) !)
So, when I was 3-5 years old, as I was saying, I was always singing (in my head, of course) some weird melodies when I was alone, without really knowing where they came from, but I still had the need to create some, and that need never left me, as you can see. It’s just a matter of “when” fate decided to push me up a bit, and let me not anymore only dream of it, but do it…
The only lacking thing to achieve my music composing goal, was the tool. No matter it would be any real instruments or not.
By the way, when I think of the time I was still at school, in the late eighties, I remember lots of afternoons where I wasn’t going to college ONLY to play videogames (shame on me), and especially some videogames from Delphine Software International (“Bio Challenge”, “Future Wars”, “Cruise for a Corpse”, “Out of this World”etc)…And I also remember myself dreaming about lucky composers who had the golden chance to compose music for such great games…So, can you imagine what I could feel when, a couple of years later, I was called by Paul Cuisset, creator of those titles and later “Flashback”, “Fade to Black”, “Moto Racer”, to come and work with him, on next Delphine’s titles ? Believe me, it took me several days to realize what was happening to me !
You are most known for your orchestral-like score for Fade to Black, successor of the legendary Flashback. This score was released in 1996 and it was one of the first game soundtracks ever released on cd! How it was to work on such big title? It was long ago, but maybe you can remember some interesting facts from creation of this soundtrack?
Well, “Fade to Black” was a great adventure, a great moment of my career, for many reasons.
First, as I’m also a videogame addict since about 30 years, just imagine what I felt when Paul Cuisset showed me for the first time a demo prototype of the game, back in 1994, just before the release of the “Playstation”.
Indeed, “Fade to Black” was the first game ever to include moving cameras, and set the basis for what became then a standard (just have a look on what existed before, and you will see “Fade to Black” really was a precursor in that domain)
By the way, at the 1995 E3, Steven Spielberg himself expressed his admiration for the game, and even wanted to produce a movie from the game, but not only him, guys from other great Hollywood studios came to Delphine Software for the same reasons, and a “Fade to Black” movie has one time been on schedule.
Also, “Fade to Black’, as you said, allowed me to be one of the first videogame music composers to have his soundtrack released (1996 - Sony Music – Delphine Records), also a dream that came true, and a great pride.
Finally, “Fade to Black” was as great success as “Flashback”, around 1 million pieces were sold, which was huge in 1995.
To create “Fade to Black” soundtrack (music and sound effects), I remember using an Amiga 1200 (yes!), using “Octamed” connected with MIDI to a Macintosh Power PC with Digidesigns Sample Cells cards, Roland S-760 sampler, and Akaï S3200 sampler…all connected to the good old Amiga :)
I just couldn’t do without tracking, and I still do ! (even if I also can use “conventional” sequencers as Cubase etc)
And “Fade to Black” also were my first real try in making sound effects for a video game.
I also made some horrible humans and monsters screams with my voice, and even replace a French tagline, the one from the Morph, in the introduction of the game, in the “New Alcatraz” penitentiary. The reason is that after we had recorded this text, at Delphine Studios in Paris, Paul Cuisset was not totally satisfied with the way the French actor had done it.
And as he had often heard myself joking/speaking “morph-like”, he asked me to try it. I laughed, did it for fun, and…he put it in the game, in place of the original performance (which was very good, though)…That was pretty funny…
Guess what ?…Protracker, simply :)
Delphine’s coders where very opened to musicians various ways of work (Hi my friend Benoit Aron, if you read me ;-))
In general, tell us about difference of working with music in early 90s and present time?
Well, computer assisted music has so much evolved ! At this time; when you wanted to produce some “professional” music, you had to get the help of very expensive studios, you had no choice ! And that’s what Delphine Software/Records offered me for “Fade to Black” and later “Moto Racer” (with the help of real and great guitar and saxophone players)
The great point is that today, you can compose/produce your music with a single computer which you could even buy on a supermarket for less than 500 dollars. Believe me, any computer assisted composer from the 80’s-90’s would have dreamed of what we can have, today !
And more, so many free sequencers, plugins etc allow you even not to spend lots of money for making music…
Finally, today more than ever, only talent can make difference for young composers to emerge.
But on the other side, there’s some vicious point, as it also makes others, less talented artists, hope they will be professionals, and even say it on their Myspace or Facebook :)
Today, you can see people who never worked on any professional project, saying “Film and/or videogames music composer”…But this business is far from being so easy, and they learn it with hard pain, unfortunately…They may not forget that music is a matter of talent, of course, and a little touch of luck, but ALSO of very hard work and perseverance. You have to go and meet people, create real (and sincere !) relationships with directors, game designers, producers…Otherwise, they surely won’t fall from the sky to your desk…
And when you finally manage to build some CV, that’s when you can call yourself a professional composer : someone who lives from and ONLY from his art…Very simple, after all…
What instruments can you use? What hard ‘n soft are you using now?
I can’t really say I’m a musician, as I’ve never been much interested in playing my music. What I just love is composing (and orchestrating, of course) music, I have so much respect for real musicians to pretend to be one. And honestly, seeing real musicians playing a symphonic score you composed, right in front of you, put tears in your eyes, and that’s a part of my life I’m leaving right now, and that I will never forget…So, I prefer to let them do their great job, and stay in my place, as a simple composer…But I may try to improve myself in that way, modestly, once a day, if I have some time…
What can you say about your methods of creation music? Teach us you secret techniques! :)
You want to know a secret ? OK:)…
Let’ see...What sequencer do you think I’m using, nowadays ?
Cubase ? Logic ? Reason ? Protools ? Cakewalk ?
Well, well, well…In fact,… none of them…I proudly use (and will keep on using) “Modplug Tracker” (“Open MPT”)…
Yes, I know I may be the only one people on earth using it for games and movies, but that’s absolutely no reason for me to stop.
Besides, with VST compatibility, and such intuitive conception, I don’t see any reason for me to stop using “tracking” sequencers, and precisely “ModPlug”, as I can do all I want with it, at least all things I could with others (believe me, I know what I’m talking about, I tried them all :))
Beware: I definitely don’t say “Modplug” is better than other music sequencers, but in any case, that’s the one I’m the more comfortable with. And after all, that’s all I’m asking.
Your current music almost unknown for common game music fan due to projects that are no so popular or just made for children. Do you plan to return “big time”?
Yes. Pretty huge budget games I may compose music for, are on their way right now, and their development should begin in 2009.
And at the time I’m writing this sentence, I’m working with a symphonic orchestra for the first time in my career (a “requiem” for a well produced short movie soundtrack, with about 60 chords and 20 musicians), and I will for sure call them back for a future game and/or movie ;-)
But you know, the reason I stopped working on AAA titles (except “Horse Life” WII and PC versions (Original music, coming this Christmas, Paris streets and subway are full of "Horse Life" giant posters, and the TV spot can be seen on TV and movie theaters, at the moment)) is that in France, since several years, game companies mostly produce low budget games, after sort of a “crisis” in 2001-2002.
And you may know, for some reasons I won’t tell right here, it’s been nearly impossible for french music composers to work on some french blockbusters nowadays…And French blockbusters are really… few…If I wanna concentrate myself on blockbusters, I would have to change my life, moving to the USA or Japan, leaving my family, friends, relatives etc…No way…That’s a bit sad, as I’d love to work on a USA or Japanese game, as a really huge videogames addict…
However, for having worked of AAA titles as “Fade to Black”, “Mister Nutz”, “Shaq Fu”, or “Moto Racer”, I can certainly tell you that it is very refreshing, on the other hand, to work on lots of little games on a little time, because you never get bored of working for sometimes two years on the same title, which is very annoying and exhausting, believe me…
And besides, in 2007, a mid-budget Nintendo DS game (“Glory Days 2” from Eidos/Ghostlight, developed by “OdeniStudio”) allowed me to be twice nominated on the big IGN, for best original score and best use of sound for the Nintendo DS, next to “Zelda, Phantom Hourglas”, that made me pretty proud and happy ;-)
Also we heard you are hacking into movie section. How do you think, is this a true, that every game composer wants to write music for movies and movie composers early or later trying to compose music for games? :)
Well, for sure, videogames music composer mostly hope to become movies composers, and I understand them, for sure.
However, as far as I’m concerned, I will NEVER stop composing music for videogames, even if, one day, movies soundtracks become as important in quantity as videogames in my schedule…
The reason is quite simple, I just LOVE videogames, and think that videogame and movies soundtracks are two different jobs, with their own rules.
It’s a mistake to think that movies composers can easily pass to videogames, and invertly.
From my modest point of view, movies soundtracks are much easier than videogames soundtracks, as they are totally linear, and don’t require any knowledge in format technologies (different kind of machines for different kind of sequencers, sound types, etc) or ability to work with little memory (MIDI musics for SNES,MEGADRIVE back in time/GBA,DS, or mobile phones today). Movie composing is“only” a talent and culture matter…
As for movies composers, there are two kinds: those who came to videogames very early because they had great artistic interest in doing so (like, we could say, Michael Giacchino, great composer I discovered in “The Lost World” in 1997, on Playstation), and others, that totally rejected and underestimated videogames musics back in time, and finally came to it because they became one of the biggest world businesses$$$$$…Hum, I won’t say any name, this time, I don’t want to lack courtesy.
Where did you get inspirations? This is consequence of our favorite question “Did you write music under alcohol/drugs?” :)
Listening to other composers has always been my musical school, as a total autodidact.
As I always say, my favorite all times composer is John Williams, I’ll never say enough how much his music counted in my life, and really leaded me to get the vital need for composing for videogames and movies !
I wrote many pieces of music under alcoholic state, when I was really younger, but only released one, for a demo-party invitation, called “X-Mas Melo(n)dy”…
I also made some parts of “Fade to Black” album without having slept for about 120 hours ! (indeed, the conceptions of this album was really hard, with too little time of studio hire, and over 70 minutes, though, of music!)
And as anyone knows, being not sleeping for too long makes you become in the same state as if you had drunk 10 glasses of vodka…
Imagine the future is now… How the game music will evolve? We are sure you have some versions of this funny process, share your thoughts!:)
I can at least tell you what I HOPE game musics will turn into, in my country.
Indeed, when I can see so much CD releases of videogames soundtracks in the USA and Japan, where there are really seriously taken, there is a lot of road to reach the same situation in France and Europe, where music still is too often underestimated, treated as the nearly useless part of the game, whereas I think it does about 50% of the final feeling, even if the player isn’t aware of it, when he plays a game…
That is precisely why I’ll try to release soundtracks for my future “big budget” projects, helping to let other european composers to see their music recorded on CD/internet albums, and contribute to make people have a more mature look on videogames soundtracks.
Recent success of the “Videogames Live Concerts” from Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, are a solid proof of the very long path videogames musics have achieved, until today.
What groups and performers do you like the most? With whom of them would you like to work together?
Well, I’m not a big fan of groups, but there are some I really enjoyed back in time, like “Toto”, “U2”, “Police”, “Dire Straits”, “Eurythmics” (I know, they all sound very old ;-)).
Today, I must say I think there is a dramatic lack of new melodies in music in general (pop, etc), and movies especially…I’m not sure it’s a tendance or a general lack of talent, but I’m sure of one thing: I just hope it will change !
About musicians, I really admire: Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty, (jazz violin), Hélène Grimaud, Michel Petrucciani (piano), and so many others…I hope I’ll have the chance to work with one of those I admire, some day…
What can you advise to beginner composers?
As I said before, never think producers will come to you at the beginning, you always have to do the first step, at least until you become “fame” enough not to have to…
Also, don’t hesitate to move around all places dealing with videogames (E3, etc), go and directly visit studios, show enthusiasm for your passion, develop your own network (don’t hesitate to use myspace, facebook etc)
And never, never loose faith, it’s a really hard business, but if I had given up at bad moments in my career (and there surely have been some), I wouldn’t be speaking here, right now .
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on several (confidential, sorry) games, among them a new license on Nintendo DS, a great platform/puzzle fresh and colorful “Nintendo cute style”summer game, for which I’m doing the music (I even “sing” in it ;-)), the voices and part of the sound effects…It’ll be released on next summer…
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Well,to all beginning artists : don’t let sharks eat you, otherwise there will probably not be anymore creators, in this world, and only stupid, powerful and greedy money addict jerks will remain left…
To everybody: eat and drink music without moderation…but don’t forget to pay the artists you like, instead of stealing them on the net…Just a matter of respect…
Last but not least, if you want to know more about my work, be very welcome to visit me at MySpace
THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR TAKING TIME READING ME !!!
Thanks for your time!