Sam Hughes speaks with composer, Matthew Carl Earl about his career so far, his band Xanthochroid, working on Moonlight Blade and more. Matthew is a diverse multi-instrumentalist, composer, and sound designer, Matthew joined Hexany Audio in 2014 with a diverse musical and engineering skill set. Having credits on numerous games, trailers, films, and records, Matthew has made a name for himself as a highly innovative composer and music producer.
Thanks for joining us Matthew, great to speak with you!
Hey Sam, thanks for having me!
Before we discuss your current projects, how did you first get into writing music, and what directed you more towards games than other mediums?
Well, I guess it started when I was around 5 or 6. My mother was teaching me piano at the time, but to be honest, I hated it when I was a kid. That being said, I sure didn’t hate video games. Ever since my parents got me my N64 I was sold.
I started taking serious interest in music during middle school and by my freshman year of high school I was pretty convinced I was going to have some sort of career in music. As for why video games; honestly, it just seemed like the natural order of things. I thought film was cool, but writing for video games was really the dream goal.
You have been in the band Xanthochroid for a long time. Does your work in the band influence your composing work at all?
Absolutely. My work with the band was where a lot of my growth as a composer, musician, and music producer came from. Writing for Xanthochroid actually feels quite similar to writing for games. We still have to draw from our lore and stick to our established themes and such. Though, one of the main differences being, we could pretty much do whatever we wanted.
What has been your most challenging project so far?
I had some pretty wild deadlines for some cutscenes earlier this year (2017) for Moonlight Blade. Though, the really tough thing about them was not the time, it was the fact that we had no visuals yet. We had only a script (that was in Chinese) with some rough timings and sync points laid out. It was actually kind of fun being freed from the visuals, but also pretty challenging.
Check out a sample of Matthew’s work here:
How about the proudest?
Anytime one of my projects is released I get my fill of pride, but every project is different. “Moonlight Blade” has always been one I really love the music overall and am proud of my work. I also did a good amount of music for a crazy popular MOBA game that was just released in the US called “Arena of Valor.” I was pretty stoked on the Christmas themed music I got to write for that one.
What are the main sources of your inspiration, and how do you try to maintain creativity?
The more I know about a certain IP, the better. Art and story will almost always have ideas flying around in my head. But sometimes the creativity becomes something of habit. When you sit down every single day writing new music it becomes second nature to keep doing it.
That being said. I do have an ungodly amount of crumby voice recordings in my phone. Whenever an idea or melody comes into my head I’ll sing or say it into my phone and then tag it so I can always pull from there if I’m struggling for ideas.
What other composers have strongly influenced your musical career?
Neal Acree was actually one of the first working composers I had the pleasure of meeting and I bugged him with a ton with random questions when I was starting my career. I was also a big fan of his work on the Blizzard stuff.
In addition, there are tons of composers, living and deceased, that have influenced my music; John Williams, John Powell, Giacomo Puccini, Henry Purcell, John Rutter, Eric Whitacre to name a few, and a truck load of metal bands, especially Moonsorrow and Dimmu Borgir.
You’ve worked on various projects, including games and game trailers. How does working on trailers differ to the usual composition for games?
Well, with the average trailer being about 1 – 2 minutes long and games ranging from 2- 200 hours, you have quite a bit less time for development. It is really important to be able to grab the viewer’s attention right away. Which is actually a difficult thing now because most trailers are so “in-your-face.” A lot of trailers are now trying something on the more subtle end to great effect as it almost demands respect from the viewer making the whole experience more memorable.
You’ve worked on some great projects such as, Arena of Valor, Moonlight Blade: Moonlight Over the Sea, King of Chaos and Iron Knight. How do you create a unique sound for each game?
We have a process on the sound side of our company where we pick 3 words to describe a game and then base all the design off of that. I try to stick to a similar concept with music, but often it actually ends up being an instrumental or harmonic palate that makes a game sound like itself.
There also is the challenge of trying to find a single “thing” that can almost brand the game. For example; In Moonlight Blade it’s the traditional Chinese instruments played over lots of extended and suspended chords. In Iron Knight it’s the Mongolian Throat Singing and distorted guitars.
Would you say there is a particular style you flourish most in?
I’ve always really liked writing anything with lots of beautiful tension and resolution but with just a tinge of evil. Especially with choir. The kind of music that gives you nasty bad/sad feelings inside yet still feels reverent if that makes any sense.
Is there a genre you haven’t written in yet, that you would most like to explore next?
I think it would be an interesting challenge to score an entire game with a very small set of instruments. Like a woodwind quartet or a chorus. Though usually it’s finding the music for the game and not the game for the music.
Lastly, a fun question for you. If you could hang out with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be?
Oh man, I’ve always wanted to go back in time and show someone like JS Bach metal, jazz, dubstep and other wild contemporary genres. I’m just dying to know their opinions and if they would try to burn me as a witch.
Matthew Carl Earl
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