The Halo 2: Original Soundtrack Volume Two CD features nearly 70 minutes of award-winning compositions by Bungie Studios' Audio Director Martin O'Donnell and his writing partner Michael Salvatori, the composers behind the best-selling Halo® 2: Original Soundtrack Volume One and Halo®: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack. The signature guitar sounds of revered rock guitarist Steve Vai also make an appearance and the album is produced by veteran music producer and Sumthing Else label founder Nile Rodgers. To coincide with the release of Halo 2 Volume Two we caught up with Bungie Audio Director and composer Martin O'Donnell to discuss his prog rock fetish and more!
M4G: Why did it take so long to get Volume 2 out?!
Martin O'Donnell: I actually finished the mix and mastering more than a year ago, but had some legal issues that needed to be ironed out before release. Those issues were beyond my control and I'm happy we can now get the CD in the hands of the fans.
M4G: How do you feel this volume compares with the first volume, given that they were compiled under different circumstances?
Martin O'Donnell: Every piece of music in Volume Two was used in Halo 2 somewhere, and all of the music was written by Mike Salvatori and myself. That wasn't the goal of the first volume, but was something we always knew we were going to do with volume 2. I guess I can't help prefering the second one a bit since it's more my baby.
M4G: The suite format for the second album is intended to deliver a story-telling experience. Was this "concept album" approach inspired in any way by your love of 70s/80s rock bands?
Martin O'Donnell: I'm probably still an old prog rock dinosour. Any soundtrack that contains original music will lend itself to a concept album because the music is composed to enhance an external experience. The overall story and atmosphere of Halo 2 is the inspiration for all this music, so this presentation makes sense. Some of the pieces when heard out of context wouldn't stand alone as well. Therefore I arranged them in suites for a more enjoyable listening experience.
M4G: The music of Halo continues to be celebrated in game music concerts. What do you think is the most important aspect of a game score to enable it to stand the test of time and stand on its own; is it primarily based on its association/relationship with the game or the memorable hook factor?
Martin O'Donnell: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt to be associated with a franchise like Halo. The fan base is amazing and the games themselves are great. My philosophy is that a memorable hook well never let you down. If you have the chance to connect it to a great game or movie - go for it. I also believe that good music will bring people to deeper emotional levels, give them context for the time they spend playing the game, and will stay with them long after they've finished playing. Hearing even a little of the music again can bring back many fond memories.
M4G: The score to Halo is some of the most memorable modern video game music. Why do you think this is the exception to the rule in today's games, since most of the recent game scores are not all that memorable?
Martin O'Donnell: Wow, thanks for the compliments. I have to say I've been hearing a lot of truly memorable scores lately, especially at some of the live game music concerts. Sometimes I think that composers are reticent to produce melodic music for games because they're being told that repetition will cause music to become annoying. For me the solution is to write lots of different kinds of music and to make certain that memorable music is not over-used. Composing and producing is only half of what makes the music succesful in a game. Implementation is the other half.
M4G: How would you describe the 'Marty O'Donnell sound'?
Martin O'Donnell: There are a lot of influences in there. Brahms, Stravinsky, Barber, Gentle Giant, Genesis, and of course don't forget Mike Salvatori. I was in an early music ensemble at USC and I also loved my counterpoint classes. Mike and I both wrote music for our own progressive rock bands back in the 70's. We wrote a lot of electronic music in the 80's, and scored many commercials and films in the 90's. Now we get to write music that we enjoy listening to.
M4G: Do you ever think about if and when you composed music for another game (not Halo related) that fans will expect more of the same style, or do you think the gaming audience is more accepting of change in direction?
Martin O'Donnell: It seems to me that the gaming audience will enjoy the same music that Mike and I enjoy. If I try to anticipate what the current popular style is I'll probably be about a decade behind anyway, so I'll try to compose the kind of music that seems right for each new project . Attempting to anticipate what fans are expecting will result in music that just ends up disappointing them.
M4G: Do you compose music in your spare time? What other styles of music do you like to write?
Martin O'Donnell: What is this concept "spare time"? Personally, I write more piano music than usually shows up in the Halo soundtracks.
M4G: Peter Jackson visited the Bungie offices not so long ago. How was that meeting and what did you talk about with regards to music? Was any indication given to how the film producers might employ your themes, and will you be involved?
Martin O'Donnell: Meeting Peter Jackson was amazing. He came up to Bungie Studios not long after King Kong released (we got to see it a week before everyone else did) and he seemed truly interested in our process for making games. He asked about how I approached writing music for the Halo games and how it was implemented. We didn't really talk about the movie plans and I don't have any idea what the producers are thinking about in regards to the score.
M4G: What is your current studio setup? Any upgrades or new toys that you've been playing with recently?
Martin O'Donnell: I've got some new stuff that I'm still getting used to. Giga Studio, Pro-Tools HD and a nice D-Command console will keep me busy for awhile. I'm also thinking about changing over to Logic Pro for all my sequencing. Jay and C Paul both have nice newly refurbished surround sound studios, too.
M4G: What tunes are currently in your iPod/disc player/car stereo?
Martin O'Donnell: I listen to a lot of talk radio when I'm in my car, but I recently picked up a CD by E.S. Posthumous that has some interesting tunes.
The Halo 2 Volume 2 Original Soundtrack is now available in stores. You can also purchase individual tracks, the complete album, and even Marty's stem mixes from Sumthing Digital.