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Interview with Jack Wall - Myst IV Composer
By Jennifer Miller – Just Adventure +

Jack WallJA: Hello Mr. Wall! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions for Just Adventure. I just recently started playing Revelation and I am ecstatic about the music I have heard thus far. I am a huge fan of the Exile soundtrack (it’s always with me on roadtrips) and I was thrilled to hear that you were at the helm of this project.

Thanks so much – and it’s a pleasure to be talking to you!

JA: I have been impressed with the level of communication you have kept with the AVIDs in the Myst world. Were/are you a fan of the series?

Oh yeah – I’ve been a big fan since the beginning. The story I always have to tell is that back in 1994 when I was producing records, I bought an Apple SE30 (I think it was called…) and a friend of mine handed me a CD and said “you gotta play this game!”. I popped it in and couldn’t stop playing it until it was finished. The one thing that held my attention the most, aside from the stunning visuals, was the music. I thought – “now this is the future of music!”. I was just as happy when Riven came out in 1998.

JA: You draw on such an amazing background, working on projects with musicians such as David Bowie and John Cale of the Velvet Underground. How did these influence your musical choices when working on the soundtrack for Revelation?

Well, for clarity, I never worked with David Bowie. (JA: My mistake!) I did engineer the soundtrack to Basquiat, which starred David Bowie and Dennis Hopper. John on the other hand, I did work quite a bit with. He was a big influence on me becoming a composer in the first place. Very inspiring guy – that one! John is very inventive. He always works hard to get the results he’s looking for. I think that I certainly took that from him as well. I went way further with this score (for better or worse!) than most because it’s important to me to always find a new sound or approach to what I do. I think that in this score, I definitely challenged myself a great deal. I’ve written things I’ve never written or even contemplated before. Basically I stretched for this one.

JA: I felt that Exile’s soundtrack had a very North African, Mediterranean feel to it, while Revelation takes it’s cues from Southeastern Europe. What influences your decisions for a certain “sound” within a game?

Jack WallWow, very astute! I can see you’re really paying attention. :) Well, it has to do with 2 things mainly – the story and the fact that it’s Myst - which gives me permission to do things musically that Western ears are somewhat less accustomed to; actually, to do things I’m less accustomed to, but very interested in. I poured over the story in the very beginning of the production and found what I thought to be the emotional or tonal center of the game. From there I made some assumptions about what I thought that center would sound like and began to formulate the instrumental palette for the game around that. It just so happened that the Eastern European influences that I loved in the early ‘90’s was a really good starting place.

JA: I traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia in 2000 and spent some time working with musicians at the Bratislava Conservatory. I was astounded by the rich musical heritage in the city, between the works of native composers such as Smetana to traditional folk song. How did being in that city and working with the Slovak Radio Orchestra effect your compositions?

You probably know more about that than I, but walking around the new part of the city where we stayed – I came across Franz Liszt’s house! I guess this area of the world used to be part of Hungary? Very cool. By the time I got to Bratislava, of course, my compositions were complete – I just needed to record them. But, the musicians were great, very nice and they seemed genuinely interested in the music. A couple of them came up to me afterwards and told me how much they enjoyed playing it. I was really writing to them back in LA – knowing that I would be in Eastern Europe, I really did try to have a hint of that influence in there. So I guess in answer to your questions, I think we influenced each other to some degree.

Jack WallJA: Did Robyn Miller (Myst, Riven) influence your work at all? I could swear I hear that familiar Myst theme quoted in places!

Oh absolutely! I reuse bits and pieces of what he started all over the place. For Revelation, since the brothers return to the story, I reused Sirrus’ Cache and Achenar’s Cache. And also Atrus’ theme from Riven makes an appearance both in Exile and Revelation. Revelation has the first full orchestral version of Atrus’ Theme which I expanded out to what I thought might be a natural length. I think it’s around 6:30 or so.

JA: Having just traveled to the Ages of Tomahna and Spire within Revelation, I’ve already discovered great contrasts in the music, with Tomahna’s warmer instrumentation and Spire’s heavy, sad harmonies. What can I expect in Haven and Serenia?

Haven is a jungle. ‘nuff said! Serenia is all about a female choir. I’d hate to spoil any more for you because it’s tied to the story.

JA: Your soundtracks have such a cinematic quality to them. I’ve made many fans of your Exile soundtrack before they have even seen the game, yet they can get an idea of how the game will progress just by listening to the musical story you’ve written. How much did you know about Revelation before you set down to construct its score?

Jack WallAs much as I possibly can. It is important to me to get totally engrossed as far as possible before laying down a single note. For Exile, I read all 3 books, replayed Myst and Riven, read the new story line and spent days just listening to the soundtracks and taking copious notes to try find the important themes that I might want to carry forward. Revelation was the same – although I’d already played the games and read the books. In mid-November, the Revelation soundtrack will be released and you’ll see that I laid it out in a specific order which more or less follows the story line. It’s just the form that makes the most sense to me for the soundtrack.

JA: I’m sure it was a treat for all to hear the choral aspect of the Main Theme return in Revelation. Before you used the Narani language to illustrate the theme for Exile. Would that be D’ni we’re hearing this time around in the Revelation theme? And can you translate for us?

I just expanded on the Narani language – it’s dialect that this is related to Serenia, called Serani. I’ll be posting the lyrics and translations about the time the soundtrack gets released in November on my website www.jackwall.net. I have a special journal I’ve been keeping there for Myst IV.

Jack WallJA: It was amazing to hear Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack for Uru, and as a huge fan, I was doubly spoiled to hear him again in Revelation. Do you think this will be a lasting partnership between the Myst-world’s composers and Mr. Gabriel?

I really don’t know. I think that Peter enjoyed working on this project. It was certainly great meeting him and discussing his role in the game. Great guy, Peter. I’ve just always loved everything he’s ever done.

JA: I saw that you’re working with BioWare on a new RPG project. What else is coming up for you so that we all can listen out?

I’m pretty flat out on that right now. It’s called Jade Empire. Lots of Chinese instrumentation and large orchestral flavors in it. I’m really excited by that as well. Also, I’m working on Rise of the Kasai for Sony. It’s the sequel to Mark of Kri. I love the tribal, percussive qualities in that one as well.

JA: Thank you so much for your time and speaking with Just Adventure +. I wish you all the best in the upcoming weeks as Revelation hits shelves all across the globe.

Thanks so much, Jennifer – it was a pleasure speaking with you.


For more information on Jack Wall, visit www.jackwall.net. For purchase information on the soundtrack CDs for all the Myst games visit the Goods page at CyanWorlds.