Good to the Last Note ( Page 4 )

Interview with Westwood Composer Frank Klepacki

During my trip to Westwood Studios in Las Vegas to preview Command & Conquer: Renegade, I had a chance to interview Westwood's music composer, Frank Klepacki.

What is your official title at Westwood?

Senior composer, basically because I've been here ten years.

What games have you done the music for?

Just about all of them. Everything from Eye of the Beholder dating back to '91. I've done every Command & Conquer title, all the Lands of Lores, Kyrandias, Nox, all the Dunes....

You did the music for Dune II? That's good stuff.

Yep, old school.

Do you remember the music from the original Dune? I thought it was personally one of the best examples of computer game music out there. I'd never seen an Adlib used that way.

Yeah, the Cryo guys. It was really revolutionary for its time, I really dug it. I tried to kind of follow in their footsteps with Dune II. Actually I was very proud of Dune 2000 when we got the opportunity to remake the game, because I was like, "Ah, great! I get to turn this into non-blip stuff."

So I guess then, for Renegade, the goal was to sort of stick to that same Command & Conquer-type feel for music?

Well actually, for Renegade, I did something a little special, something more for the fans, which was to kind of revisit the original C&C; game-style of music. It's more retro and had some different flavors to it, but of course I kept a modern tone with it by remaking the songs with better sounds and different parts. I made them a little more elaborate and hipper, kind of up-to-date. But it's cool because when you're in Renegade, you get to see the C&C; universe from a first-person standpoint, so I wanted to compliment that with hearing the music from a new standpoint as well.

When you do your recording, is it all MIDI based, and then you sort of do different things with it?

It's a combination of MIDI and audio. I record all of the guitar stuff live and everything in this office is pretty much what I utilize, including guitar and bass (which I use from time to time). Most everything else is synth-based, but then there are times when I record a unique passage in audio format and then put that in as an audio track on top of the song.

What do you use as your mixing tools?

I mix directly to two-track DAT tape. Basically the final mix comes right out of the computer because I'm writing and mixing at the same time, all the time, so it's a little bit different of an approach. Rather than having Pro Tools where I can have everything line up into different tracks as audio, I just save everything as MIDI and audio, just the way I compose it. Then I just call it up on the mixing board, and I have snapshots of every mix that I've done.

What's the method you use when you're thinking about a specific theme for a game? Do you take the same route film composers would use?

For Westwood, the film route is quite relevant because we have all the cinematics that we score in-between gameplay, so I score those exactly as you would to film. I sit here literally with the video and go back forth with the keyboard and the timing of it and how I'm going to fit it all together. Eventually I come up with a song that works that way.

Do you prefer doing the hard-rock, techno stuff versus more orchestral music?

Not necessarily, it's just the way that the C&C; games in particular have lent themselves in terms of style. That's what I'm asked to do. It's not that I want to keep doing that same style, but the fans love it. When we released Tiberian Sun, we purposely went more ambient and moody with an orchestral score. We didn't really have anything that was that upbeat or that rocking. And all the fans said, "Hey, what happened to the music, man? We want more of the Red Alert!"

So it sounds like the fans do have a pretty large influence on the music?

Yeah, I mean, it's funny ... I get fan letters from all over the world, from random places, Korea, UK, Austria, Italy, Egypt....

Music sure is universal.

It speaks to everyone. The first time I started getting any sort of fan mail recognition, it was kind of different to me, because I didn't think computer game music would ever have that kind of an impact. I figured people would just think, "Oh yeah, that game has pretty cool music in it," but I didn't think anyone would actually want to get the soundtracks that Westwood has been producing. They seem to be doing pretty well.

In Japan especially, I've heard they even have orchestral concerts just for video game music.

Yeah, that was kind of a real eye-opener to see how crazy Japan is over that stuff. But I think it's cool though, because it just goes to show you that it's something that has substance to it, otherwise people wouldn't make such a big deal over it.

As a composer, what do you think will be the future for computer game music?

I just think that it's going to continue to improve in quality and continue to compete on a level with movies and TV. It's another medium to express yourself and provide entertainment. It's all about creating something that's a fun experience for someone, and that's what Westwood's always been great at doing, and I'm very proud to have been a part of it all this time.

The Adrenaline Vault would like to thank composer Frank Klepacki for the Interview. Look for Frank's music in the upcoming Westwood titles Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge and Command & Conquer: Renegade

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