Video Game Music Feature: Video game music journalist Alex Van Zelfden spends time with Richard Jacques, composer of the recent James Bond 007: Blood Stone. Read on to find out about this international man of "orchestry."
Forget the shaken martinis or flashy gadgets ? the bold, jazzy music of the franchise has done more to define the character of James Bond than practically anything else in the nearly fifty years since the films began. From the staple suspense to the spectacular showdowns, these striking scores have set the scenes with the signature swagger and style of the most significant spy series to date.
Like the actors who have portrayed 007 over the years (excluding George Lazenby, of course), the composers chosen to write for the films have been a select group, each bringing something unique to the series while still staying true to the image. From John Barry's classic scores with their brassy 60s sound to David Arnold's more contemporary entries that include electronic elements, the James Bond musical catalog has practically come to represent the essence of cool.
For James Bond 007: Blood Stone, that musical finesse is an important part of lending a lush cinematic air to the playing experience, and even though the project's composer Richard Jacques hadn't worked on the franchise before, it would be hard to find anyone else more uniquely qualified to fill that role. To find out what went into writing for such a legendary property, recording with a live orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studios, and everything in between, we spoke to the man himself.
The Man with the Golden Trombone
All Studio Photos are credited to Matt Eaton
Jacques grew up part of a musical family in a small British city in Kent not far from London. With both parents working as music teachers and his father composing as well, it's not too surprising that Jacques began studying piano at the age of five, trombone by the time he was seven, and later percussion and guitar too. In time, with an honors degree from the Royal Academy of Music, he soon was performing in orchestras, jazz bands, chamber ensembles, and even playing in bands and working as a DJ in his spare time.
But of course composition, orchestration, and music technology were major passions for Jacques as well. In the 1990s he got his start in the game industry working as a composer and later audio director at Sega's development studio in London, giving him the chance to write for titles like Headhunter, the first game to record the London Session Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. More recently as a free agent, he's contributed music to games like Mass Effect and Alice in Wonderland, as well as lending his orchestrating experience to projects like Video Games Live ? the popular concert tour that performs video game music with orchestras and choirs around the world.
But even with a career filled with such highlights, working on a new James Bond score is in a league of its own. ?Of course it would be most composers' dream to work on such a huge iconic franchise like Bond, and I was naturally very excited to be selected to score Blood Stone,? says Jacques. ?Music plays a very important role in the Bond series, so I knew that the music had to work perfectly with the game, but also sound very Bond-like. All in all, I couldn't wait to get started.?
Beyond the prestige of working on the franchise, though, the main appeal was his long-time appreciation of the series. ?I have been a huge fan of the movies since I was very young,? Jacques admits. ?I remember when I was a kid I had a watch that played the James Bond theme (which was one of the first watches at the time that could play music!). I also had models of the Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the Range Rover and horsebox from Octopussy. So yes, you could say I was certainly a big fan as a kid growing up.?
Stream "The Package" track as you read.
License to Thrill
Work on the music began in earnest in April of last year, with Jacques studying the game and meeting with the developers to decide the tone and placement of the music. ?The music clearly had to be very ?Bond' but also very much ?Daniel Craig's Bond', so we wanted to create a score that retained both the classic Bond sound, as well as keeping it fresh and contemporary,? he recalls. ?I was working closely with the audio director, producer and designers at the developer, and we began by identifying what types of cues (action, stealth, driving, etc.) were needed for the different sections of the game.?
?As the design of game was still growing and evolving, we created the main in-game score first,? Jacques continues. ?The story to Blood Stone has been written by veteran Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, and so we knew from an early standpoint that the game would feature a brilliant plot and new characters, as well as containing some superb action set pieces. We ended up with a cue sheet of every music cue, which incidentally went through 21 different versions during the development process and grew significantly in scope.?
Jacques also went all-out in his research in order to have a solid base to compose from. ?While we were in the planning stages, and before the composition process actually began, I watched most of the films again to refresh my memory (although I already knew them very well),? he notes. ?I also read some of the original novels including Casino Royale, as well as the more modern books such as Devil May Care (Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming). I also got some great research books such as The Art of Bond, the James Bond Encyclopedia, and For Your Eyes Only. I also played some of the previous Bond games, but knew many of them already.?
And of course, throughout the project he kept in close contact with the development team, absorbing all the material related to the game. ?I was fortunate to have a variety of material to work with, including everything from the game design document and full script, to concept artwork for the characters and locations, as well as QuickTime movie clips,? Jacques says. ?And I would often visit the developer to play the latest version of the game.?
For Your Ears Only
The music in Blood Stone takes a very thematic approach, at times representing the important characters in the story, at other times lending the exotic locales or events the appropriate flavor. ?The score is a combination of all of these elements,? Jacques agrees. ?For example, we have brand new themes for the key characters, but also the music is tailored (where appropriate) to certain locations that feature in the game, and this is achieved with some ethnic percussion and other ethnic instruments for the location. There are of course many other ?set piece' moments in the game which were scored appropriately, as well as stealth and driving sections.?
Just as importantly, the music is painstakingly designed to follow the gameplay as the action unfolds. ?The score is fully interactive and so most of the cues will react dynamically to what is happening in the game and what the player is doing at any given time,? notes Jacques. ?We used various combinations of interactive music approaches throughout the score, so some cues are using 4 or 5 layers of musical material. These are not only combinations of stem mixes but in many cases a particular music track will have at least 2 other variations for different intensities. These particular tracks have to be re-composed and re-orchestrated while retaining overall harmonic coherency, so they can be quite different in their approach.?
?The result is a very smooth and musical transition between different states and musical cues,? Jacques continues. ?There are also some time-specific sections which wait for player input and then trigger certain musical stings, as well as some proximity based cues which react to where the player is in a level or environment. We also have many cinematic sequences which were scored to picture.?
Since Blood Stone is its own story not connected with a film, Jacques' music is all original while still retaining a deliberate James Bond flavor that fits with the previous scores. The main theme in particular is unequivocal in its sense of purpose, letting players know exactly what kind of adventure is ahead. ?The main thematic material is derived from a theme I wrote during the demo process,? notes Jacques. ?It was the perfect fit for a Bond game and therefore made it into the score, largely untouched. So actually the main theme was created before the main scoring process.?
?There are of course other themes in the game, for some of the main characters, so I guess we have about four primary themes,? he continues. ?The main game theme and the theme for Joss Stone's character portray various elements of action, intrigue, and mystery, and they are woven throughout the score. One of my favorite cues takes place during an amazing speedboat chase at the beginning of the game. It is the first time you hear the main theme of the game in its entirety, and the gameplay is simply incredible and very ?Bond'. Even some of the development team, having heard this cue many times over a long development schedule, said that this is the perfect moment when the player really feels like they are James Bond.?
From England with Love
As the project progressed, the first batch of music was recorded in August of 2009 at Abbey Road Studios in London with live musicians ? the same studio and some of the same players used in previous James Bond film scores. The second half of the score was finished this year and recorded in June. ?The score to Blood Stone was all recorded with live instruments, and in total there were 87 musicians, including strings, brass, solo woodwinds, ethnic percussion, ethnic plucked instruments (bouzouki, santoor, etc.), live drums, guitar and bass,? notes Jacques. ?And of course there are various electronic and textural sounds used throughout the score as well.?
?In any James Bond score, the samples just would not have been able to handle the complex writing and extreme ranges of the instruments,? he says of the importance of recording top-notch players. ?Of course sample libraries are a great writing tool for any composer, but with the Blood Stone score, I knew I was really going to push the brass players (being a trombonist myself) and so I even had to edit some of the sample libraries to cater for the additional range that some of the ?A' list musicians can play. The score to Blood Stone is a very energetic score and I wanted to inject as much energy into the score and to the performance of the musicians.?
Interestingly, many of the orchestra sections were recorded separately to make the in-game interactivity and implementation smoother. ?The brass were all recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, we also had a 60 piece string section in Eastern Europe, and then various speciality percussion and ethnic instruments recorded at various studios in the UK,? explains Jacques. ?The drums were even recorded in a large night club in Brighton, UK, as it has amazing acoustics.?
Speaking of which, Jacques makes good use of ethnic and other solo instruments in addition to the orchestra to help lend the right feel to any given situation. ?I used some solo flute for some of the more stealthy sections, but I also used live ethnic percussion heavily throughout the score, particularly for the big action sections that play out in various exotic locations,? he explains. ?I was keen to achieve a very rhythmically driven score, especially for the high octane action moments in the game. The other ethnic instruments were used for certain ?scene setting' moments in some of the locations that Bond visits throughout the game. The electronic elements also are a very important aspect of the score, giving a very contemporary feel. Steve Ouimette (Guitar Hero) also did an amazing job on the guitar.?
Stream the "Turkish Delight" track as you read.
Tomorrow is Another Day With over 2.3 hours of classic Bond music written for the game, a soundtrack release is desperately needed, though there's no word either way yet and the possibility is looking pretty unlikely judging from the publisher's previous track record with game soundtracks. Still, one can hope. In the meantime, players of the game are definitely in for a treat on the musical side, and according to Jacques, the rest of the experience as well.
?I would have to say that all aspects made it an especially enjoyable project,? he enthuses. ?Bizarre Creations is an exceptionally talented developer, and publisher Activision really knows how to support the development process on a project of this scale. It was also amazing to be scoring some of the cinematic sequences while listening to the voices of Daniel Craig, Judy Dench and Joss Stone. Also the story is superb and contains everything the player would expect from a classic Bond game.?