Article by Alyx Jones
The Animex International Festival of Animation and Computer Games takes place every year, bringing speakers and attendees from all over the world. This year the doors of Teesside Universiy open to the hundreds of guests waiting eagerly in the sunshine on a Monday morning for the week long event.
Austin Wintory is right at the head of the day, with his talk in the main lecture theatre, about how he doesn’t really know what he is doing! Reassuring as that sounds, there is plenty to take away from the day for composers, animators and students alike.
Austin talks a lot about the importance of the freedom to fail, and fail again. It’s interesting as Gareth Coker recently made the same point in his BAFTA Masterclass talk in London. Perhaps it’s becoming of more importance for studios to allow their collaborators space to experiment, get things wrong and not fear for the loss of their job (something that often is a reality for film/TV composers). He also talks about the process of pitching and that he goes out of his way to put himself into strange or unusual situations in order to aid his creativity.
He started out his games industry journey working on Flow. He played us his original pitch, that consisted of very organic, orchestral music and then the final project, of him experimenting with electronics and mixing, much closer to the familiar soundtrack that now exists within Flow.
Fast forward to Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Austin is pulling away from the traditional combat music and working with waltzes and murder ballads; again experimenting. He said his original pitch was too dissonant and tense but that he was able to give it another shot, being allowed to fail in this instance and adapt his approach.
His career really has an incredible amount of variation and it’s a wonderful thing to hear a composer embracing every turn and being versatile, creative and playful with opportunities that come along. Some composers, like the Hans Zimmers’ of our time, have a very trademark sound…you hear it, and you know it’s by them. Austin doesn’t quite have that, but proves that it’s not necessary and it doesn’t make your approach or career any less valid if you choose to explore across many genres and grow into different shapes and sounds, as it suits.
On the Monday evening of Animex, was Animex LIVE, a concert of music by Austin Wintory from many different game projects he’d worked on, and even slipped in some music by Jessica Curry! The concert was held at the Town Hall in Middlesborough, a gorgeous Grade II listed buildling, built in 1889 by architect George Gordon Hoskins. The Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, with a large percussion section including Vibraphone, Marimba, Timpani and Drum Kit, conducted by Austin Wintory, took us through the night of game music.
Austin Wintory divided the concert into three sections, Part one – “Main Themes”, Part two – “Experiments and Curiosity” and Part three – “Life Happens”. The concert began with a solo piano piece from the game Fl0w, the atmosphere was so still and quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. Then we were treated to music from Banner Saga, Horn, Monaco before a song by composer Jessica Curry was performed, from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The two have often referred to each other as musical soulmates. The second section contained a piece from The Gaming Life with guest vocals from tenor/cellist Jeremy Harbottle, as well as two murder ballads from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.
Austin then took a moment to explain how the third and final section was about a time in his life where lots of things had been very difficult and he had lost some people that were close to him, so he’d selected songs to reflect that. We had more music from Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, with the pieces: “For those we loved”, and “Underground” with vocals, followed by the wonderful female vocalist Charlotte Kitson, who came to sing on the Journey suite to take us to the end. You can see the full setlist here.
While Animex is primarily an event for Animators & Artists, this year there was some great audio content from Austin’s talk and the concert was a massive success. It is always great to attend live game music events, and if you’re nearer to London, Austin Wintory is at the Royal Albert Hall on the 29th May, and Playstation in Concert is the next day on the 30th May, for those more London based. Hopefully see you there!
You can also check out our interview with Austin at Animex:
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The Sound Architect