Assassin's Creed Symphony Interview - Composer Jesper Kyd on why you should see your favourite game soundtracks performed live

We talk with the man behind the scores of Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed II, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and Assassin's Creed Valhalla about what goes into making an AC soundtrack, how it feels to have his music performed in front of a live audience by an orchestra, and what other game soundtracks deserve similar treatment.

Audio transcription

"Hello everyone and welcome back to Gamereactor.
Today we have a really special interview for you because I'm here with Jesper, the, well I don't want to say the composer of Assassin's Creed because that kind of brings Jesper down to just one specific role."

"Jesper's done so many amazing things in the video game space and the entertainment space, composed so many different iconic soundtracks from some of your favourite games, but we're here to talk about Assassin's Creed in particular for the simple reason that the Assassin's Creed Symphony is back and doing more shows around the world."

"Now, with that being the case Jesper, talking about the symphony and having your music played by a full orchestra at these sort of iconic venues around the world in front of a live audience, did you ever really imagine that your music would be performed like that?
Definitely not. I mean, I have been writing symphonic music since 2002, you know, and so once you do that, you do kind of start thinking, well, maybe we need to play this again."

"So, and you know, there has been video game concerts that I've been part of for many years now, but I never imagined that it would get to the level that it is now, that we can do, you know, so many concerts and that there's so much interest in these concerts and that we're able to sell these concerts out.
And it's just fantastic. It seems like video game music is really, there's really a lot of talk about it these days."

"Yeah, it's definitely, it's something that should be celebrated because, you know, people always tend to lean towards the interactive side of video games, but there's so much more, so many other parts that make up a video game that should be celebrated, including the soundtrack.
And talking about Assassin's Creed and the symphony that's coming up, you know, you've done so many different Assassin's Creed soundtracks throughout the years."

"How do you go about creating and starting the process of designing a soundtrack for a new Assassin's Creed game?
Well, I mean, you start getting into the setting and the time period and figure out what is this approach going to be.
Like the approach for Assassin's Creed, you know, one was very different from two and even, you know, Valhalla."

"It's just such a different, you know, and so it's not just the settings that I need to get into.
It's also the approach of the writing. Like, for example, Assassin's Creed 1, even though we worked with a great music professor who performed some beautiful, amazing ethnic performances, it is a very electronic based score at the same time."

"It wasn't thought out as something that was going to be performed in a symphony hall, for example, or even with a live orchestra. It was a very different approach.
And something like Assassin's Creed 2 lends itself much better to a live performance with an orchestra because, of course, we went and recorded it with an orchestra."

"So there's all these different takes that I've taken.
And then with Valhalla, you know, I performed all the instruments myself.
And I'd never done that before. And it was all live instruments.
The entire score is based on live instruments as the foundation."

"And then I would go and produce and treat and tweak, you know, these sounds and kind of bring them somewhere else.
But they were all grounded in live performance.
And I think that really made a big difference to also grounding the soundtrack with the game.
Because the game is really gritty and grounded and realistic and all take place outdoors in these huge open environments."

"It feels like, you know, it feels like you can almost feel the cold when you're playing these environments.
And that was needed to show up in the music, which is very different when you're working on Assassin's Creed 2 or many of the other Assassin's Creed I've done because the cities were much more the highlight.
You know, you're walking around the cities."

"And so that's a totally different feeling when you're in a city and there's people everywhere and it's just full of life.
That's not the same as these open vast spaces, you know.
And you mentioned there then that, you know, Assassin's Creed I, the soundtrack was mainly more electronic focused.
It wasn't necessarily designed with a full symphonic orchestra in mind."

"So how did you go about adjusting the soundtrack so that it should and can be performed in front of a live symphonic orchestra or by a live symphonic orchestra in front of a live audience?
How did you go about that process?
Yeah, I mean, that's a great question."

"I was not involved with the arrangement for the Assassin's Creed World Tour.
That is something that they went and arranged on their own.
When I perform music from my catalog, like I have my own suites of music that I work on.
So, for example, we have an SCS Family Suite that I work very closely on with my orchestrator."

"So, you know, and I don't have a suite for Assassin's Creed I, but I should make one.
Maybe that's in the cards, you know, for now.
The Assassin's Creed World Tour is the one that performs all the Assassin's Creed music.

"And what is it like as well, having your song sort of composed and performed in front of a live audience at these massive venues?
It must be massively gratifying for you to see your music performed in such a way.
It is.
I just really like being in the room with people who love video games."

"There's like an electric, you know, atmosphere in there and you can really feel it.
There is some kind of electricity there that's hard to describe.
I think it comes from the intensity of the audience and how much they love what they are hearing.
And they can relate to the music."

"They've maybe heard it hundreds of times before if it's from some of their favorite games.
It makes a big difference.
And I think the orchestra, everyone involved, feels it too.
And I think that's one of the reasons that video game concerts are becoming so popular."

"It's really breathing new life into these concerts and these beautiful opera houses around the world.
With an excitement that perhaps they haven't seen for a while.
Or perhaps they haven't seen that type of audience.
Because it's not just young people, but there's also a lot of young people."

"And it can be a challenge to get young people to get into an opera house.
Listening to music that was composed hundreds of years ago that they don't really have a relationship to.
Do you think as well that the Assassin's Creed World Tour and these live concerts that we're seeing pop up more frequently.
Do you think they are having a beneficial effect on raising awareness for just how complex and magnificent video game soundtracks generally are?
I mean absolutely. It's a celebration of video game music."

"And I think that's what everybody takes out of it.
I think it's hard to put numbers on the benefits.
I think it's about building brand awareness as well.
The brands that are portrayed in these concerts are ever-growing."

"And some of them make it into Hollywood as well.
These brands just keep growing and growing.
And we've seen all the success that Hollywood is having with video game properties right now.
It's really, really very fascinating."

"Now you've done a variety of different soundtracks for Assassin's Creed games throughout the years.
Is there any particular one that stands out as your favourite?
Like the one that you're most proud of doing?
Well I mean that's hard to say."

"I have this philosophy that my latest score is my favourite score.
Because I try to really go for it on every one of my scores.
And I pick my projects very carefully.
But of course Assassin's Creed 2."

"We knew we had something very special.
You could just feel it within the team.
There was just something really special happening.
That I feel we were aware of before the game was ever released."

"I want to say it was a huge surprise that the game was that successful.
But at the same time I kind of felt like we were...
I don't know. I look at that game and I was like...
I would have been surprised if people didn't like that game."

"Because I just thought it was absolutely amazing what they were doing.
And it shows up in the music as well.
The amount of creative freedom I had on Assassin's Creed 2.
After working on 1."

"They basically gave me just...
The trust had been built.
So at that time I had an immense amount of creative freedom.
And I really just went with it."

"Nothing helped me back on that one.
Not that anything helped me back on the first one.
We had to figure out what everything had to sound like.
So there was a lot of work that was spent."

"In trying to figure out how the animus influenced the world.
The game was being built as I was working on the music.
And the team was still changing things.
And still didn't quite know what this game was."

"So the second one was much more clear.
What everything should be.
So it took all those things away.
And I could just concentrate on using my instincts to write."

"Because now I knew what the game was.
You've done a variety of different soundtracks as well.
Not just for Assassin's Creed.
But for a variety of different games."

"Is there any other soundtrack or game score that you've created.
That you think deserves a treatment similar to Assassin's Creed.
Getting with this world tour that it's doing?
That's a good question."

"It would be fun to do a Hitman world tour.
I love working with Warhammer.
That's so much fun.
I also really enjoy State of Decay."

"Working with that franchise is a lot of fun.
And of course Borderlands is a blast.
There's a lot of different things in there.
Talking about the world tour as well."

"What's something that you would say to fans to encourage them to go?
If they haven't already booked their tickets.
If they're on the fence about going.
What's something you would say to encourage them to attend?
I'd say come sit in a symphony hall full of gamers."

"Love Assassin's Creed as much as you do.
Let's celebrate Assassin's Creed together.
And all the wonderful music that's been composed.
With a big symphony orchestra."

"A choir in a most amazing venue.
There's a final question then Jesper.
What's next for you?
You've done a lot of different Assassin's Creed things in the past."

"You've done a lot of different soundtracks in the past.
When can we expect to see you next in the composer's chair?
Will it have a shadowy theme to it potentially?
There's a new Assassin's Creed game coming out."

"Will you be involved in that?
I can't talk about shadows.
It's not something I can talk about.
I can say there's a lot of music coming out that I'm working on."

"And I'm very early with several projects right now.
It's such a joy to be involved so early on.
You really get to see how the whole thing is built.
And why decisions are made."

"And why the game is going in this direction and not that direction.
It makes it easier to compose the score.
And also make it fit the game even better.
I'm also excited about working much more on film these days."

"There's so much that I've learned working on film.
That I'm bringing back to my game scores.
I continue to do a lot of work with symphony concerts around the world.
That's a blast."

"I like the idea of a Hitman concert.
I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for that one.
Because it sounds exciting.
Jesper, thanks a lot for speaking with me today."

"It's been a pleasure.
Go watch these shows.
Go down to your local concert hall.
If it's showing the Assassin's Creed World Tour."

"Check it out.
Experience what it's like to sit in a symphonic hall like that.
And listen to these great soundtracks.
With a bunch of gamers who all experience and enjoy the same things as you."

"This has been a Game Rector interview.
We'll see you on the next one.
Take care everyone."





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