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Zur Interview (07/01/2003)
we were given the opportunity to interview Inon Zur, whom the fans
of the Infinity Engine games should recognize as the composer of
the Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal and Icewind Dale II music.
Zur's other game music scores include Fallout Tactics, Star Trek:
Klingon Academy, Star Trek: New Worlds and more. Here is what we
tell us a bit about your background and how you got into the business.
was born in Israel and got my basic musical education there. In 1990 we
arrived to LA and I started studying in the Grove school of music. I studied
composition and orchestration, and later on I completed my education in
UCLA studying film scoring.
approximately 6 years for the Fox Family channel, composing over 300 TV
episodes for shows like Power Rangers, Beatle Borgs, Escaflowne, Big Guy
and Rusty, Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog and more. I also composed many
TV movies, among them Aupair, Aupair II and St. Patrick the Irish Legend.
In 1997 I composed the score for my first video game – Klingon Academy.
Since then I have composed many titles.
did you start writing music and what has spurred the interest?
started to compose music when I was 9 years old. Throughout my teenage
years I composed numerous songs and short compositions. I think that I
was encouraged strongly by my parents to be involved in music. I remember
listening to classical music since a very early age and singing a lot
with them. This is probably how it all started, and then later on I was
given all the tools that were needed to become a composer - piano lessons,
music theory and composition and lots of attention and support.
composers and musicians have influenced your work the most?
am very much influenced by composers from the “romantic era”
of classical music – 19th – 20th century composers. Specific
composers that are a big influence on my writing style are Prokofiev,
Stravinsky, Debusy and Ravel. I’m also influenced by jazz composers
and musicians like Gershwin and Bernstein. In film score I admire Williams
do you get your inspiration from?
can evolve from many unexpected things. I could hear some music that will
suddenly evoke a theme, I can hear some sounds that will evoke musical
rhythm, and I can have a conversation that will evoke a musical idea.
I have learned that you should keep your antennas constantly open and
your senses should be awake all the time in order to receive and process
musical messages and ideas. It is all the time in the air, you just need
to learn how to grab it.
does music composition process for a game start? Do you actually play
the game you are composing music for, or just work by screenshots &
the description of the atmosphere the developers want in a specific area?
do try to get every bit of information on the game before I start composing.
That means looking at videos taken from the game, looking at snapshots,
pictures and reading all the descriptions I can get from everybody involved
in the game. Establishing the musical style for the game is the hardest
task. Sometimes I will ask to play with the game or a similar game just
to get the feel of it.
you spend much more time on composing the main theme song for a game than
on other pieces?
the main title of the game is something you want to invest lots of time
in to make it really good and memorable. Many times this will be the one
you will spend the most time and effort on.
which extent do you work with a game's development team on the composition
of a soundtrack?
varies between each game. It depends upon how much the developers want
to be involved in every step of the process. Usually, though, the audio
supervisor will work with you and together you will produce a good and
satisfactory result, so the developers, (who are very busy with other
stuff) won’t have to mess with it too much. This way you save them
the extra work and let them only decide on crucial artistic issues.
do you feel has the mentality surrounding game music changed over the
feel that the gamers of today have much more expectations from the musical
score. That’s because the game engines got much better and allow
better sound quality, and also because many good composers have already
set high standards in previous games. Film music has also influenced games,
since many games are actually derived from films. I think that game developers
are defiantly searching for many new directions in music, and we, as composers
are trying to answer these challenges every time.
is your opinion on mp3s? Would you approve of people downloading your
game soundtracks, for example?
I’m not thrilled with this idea. First, the quality is not as good
as in the actual game or CD, so they are loosing part of the experience,
and the music is not being represented the way I’d like it to be.
Also, I think that the listeners and gamers should be aware that part
of paying respect to composer is to get his or her music the right way.
From the other side, I realize that it is very hard to get game music
without the game itself. There are very few games soundtracks that are
being offered to the consumers. I hope that this will change in the near
you retain copyrights to music pieces you create for games? I have noticed
that some composers re-use music written for games in movies (and vice
versa), for example.
legal issues and rules regarding music are in fact quite simple and are
agreed on contractually. Usually, the way it works is the company is buying
the music from you, so you are not permitted to reuse this music for a
different project. You, however, are retaining the right on the composition,
so the company is limited on the use of your music.
much competition is there in the field of game music composition? And
how much competition is there usually before a composer for a certain
game project is selected?
competition is quite big. Today, many composers are trying to get games,
and it is becoming more and more prestigious to be involved in these projects.
There are cases where the company is requesting you specifically. In that
case, and if you are free, there is no competition. In other cases you
are competing against other composers, and it is not easy at all.
are some of your favourite game soundtracks you have worked on and why?
is a very hard question. I put lots of work into any project and always
try to make it my best work. I do think that IWD II came out well and
has some interesting moments in it. So do Baldur’s Gate [Throne
of Bhaal] and Fallout Tactics. Nevertheless, Klingon Academy and Starfleet
Command are both projects that I’m very proud of. It all depends
on the individual’s taste in music.
sort of equipment do you use to compose your music?
using a midi system, combining samplers and synthesizers, all controlled
by a sequencing software on a Mac. My system is in fact a complete orchestra
simulator that allows me to compose freely for orchestra and sounds as
close as it could get to the real thing. The main sampler I’m using
is the PC based GIGASTUDIO, which is an extremely powerful sampler. Throughout
the years I have built my own sound library and I continue to add newer
and better sounds all the time.
type of games do you like to play the most?
a big fan of Star Trek and other space mission type games. As an officer
in the Israeli Army I can appreciate good shooting and flight maneuvering
missions, and I enjoy those quite a lot.
games and other music projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on Lionheart and have just started on a new major title
which I cannot reveal yet.