Jesper Kyd: Embracing the Darkside

An Interview with Jesper Kyd by Richard Buxton
Originally published @ Tracksounds: The Film Music Experience
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor Christopher Coleman

Composer Jesper Kyd talks about taking the musical reigns for the Darksiders franchise with his score for DARKSIDERS II, its unique challenges, and finding inspiration for scoring death, hell, and heaven.

DARKSIDERS II marks your debut in the series. How did you get involved in the franchise?
I was approached by the team to come up with some music ideas for re-booting the soundtrack – the team really liked my ideas and I was hired to score the game.

How long have you been working on the music for the game?
The entire process was about a year.

From the oppression of FREEDOM FIGHTERS, to the exoticism of the ASSASSIN’S CREED series, you have been continually lauded for your ability to lend a game’s universe a sense of authenticity while simultaneously maintaining your own distinctive voice. How significant is the world and back-story of a video game when deciding to take on new projects such as DARKSIDERS II?
It’s really important. Whether it is a modern urban environment or a specific historical time period – I really dive into the world and work on finding interesting ways to express these types of different worlds. It’s not just about the story when scoring a game – it’s also about taking what’s there in the game world and bringing it out to the surface. I really love digging deep and sometimes I bring things out with music that do not really fit at first glance, but from a gamer’s perspective it makes complete sense. For example, “Flight over Venice” or “Venice Rooftops” from Assassin’s Creed II might not be the music you would expect to play during flight or running scenes – but this music is intertwined with Ezio’s Theme (“Ezio’s Family”) and gives a sense of vulnerability and realism instead of making everything epic-sounding. I never looked at Ezio as an epic character, more of a man who has endured a profound loss which gives birth to a deeply rooted quest to destroy the Templars. Throughout the 3 Ezio Assassin’s Creed games, I worked on reminding the player about his troubled past; the emotion or sadness that the music touches on reminds the player of what happened to him and why Ezio does what he does. This is a film scoring technique which I have been employing in many of my scores.

Having composed for two of the world’s most significant game franchises in HITMAN and ASSASSIN’S CREED, do you find that being able to revisit games multiple times provides you with greater room for expression?
Yes and no. There is more pressure to re-invent because it makes no sense to have the same type of score over and over. Yet, it makes it easier since the scores are always progressing and so I just keep moving things forward while retaining parts of what has been established; retaining parts that make sense to keep in order to maintain a signature sound.

How have you approached DARKSIDERS II in regards to the first installment? Did the music from the first game serve as inspiration for your music in the second, or was it a case of going in entirely fresh?
Vigil and THQ were very clear that they wanted something new and fresh. In fact, they did not want it to sound like a traditional fantasy orchestral score.

In the first game, players took control of the character “War”, whereas in DARKSIDERS II players will take on the role of his brother “Death”. Is there a specific musical voice that you have given the character?
The Darksiders II score is not a character score such as Assassin’s Creed. The world of Darksiders II is so extreme, so pushed to the max that we wanted the different worlds to be the voices of the score. You go from Heaven to Hell and Earth and everywhere in-between. The contrasts are extreme. The first realm has thematic elements scored to the character Death, but it’s atypical for the rest of the game.

Were there any points during the project that you sought inspiration from outside source material?
I studied Celtic music for the Makers Realm but didn’t listen to any specific music for inspiration for the score.

Games such as DARKSIDERS II, ASSASSIN’S CREED, and FREEDOM FIGHTERS have all featured, to various degrees, open world mechanics that are core to the gameplay and overall experience. What challenges and opportunities does a system such as this present as opposed to a more linear and scripted one?
A linear scripted game can benefit from having things sound more scripted on the music side as well – in this aspect it’s almost like scoring a movie. However, open world games such as Assassin’s Creed are very different from scoring a movie.

How has your experience scoring DARKSIDERS II differed from game projects in recent years?
I was encouraged to really push the music for certain realms in Darksiders II. One of the great things about working in the fantasy genre is that the world is not real – it’s imagined and who is to say how things should sound if you really went to Hell, for example. Who’s to say that Hell has to sound this way or that way so there can be a lot of freedom involved when working on these types of scores.


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