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Interview: Greg Edmonson (‘Uncharted’ OST)

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Greg EdmonsonBack in mid-November, after finishing part 2 of my review of the various versions of “Nate’s Theme,” I decided to send an e-mail to its composer, Greg Edmonson, because I really wanted to talk to him about his works.  I hadn’t heard from him and followed up, but still found no response in my inbox.

A month after my first inquiry, having given up on the interview, I found myself randomly wondering whether or not spam message get forwarded to one’s main e-mail account from his or her secondary ones (I have many e-mail addresses that route to a singular one).  So, I logged into one of those accounts and looked in the spam box.  Sure enough, spam messages don’t get forwarded.  Sure enough, there was an e-mail from Greg the day after I sent him my first inquiry that read: “Hi Greg, I would be honored to do this… Let me know… I will put it in my book!!”

Yes, he even used two exclamation points.  Talk about facepalm.

I frantically typed up an apology letter and added him to my safe-senders list.  Not too long after that, I got another e-mail from him and we both agreed to get back in touch after the start of the new year, yadda yadda, then I interviewed him on Valentine’s Day.  Now that I’m finally done doing a basic clean-up of the audio of the interview, I present it to you, dear readers!  But first, a post-preface preface:

Firefly OST picI knew that Greg would be great to interview because I had already heard an interview of him a couple of years back.  From the get-go, Greg was just as I had expected him to be: someone who is very amicable, passionate about his work, and someone who has a lot to say and naturally goes into a lot of detail while speaking.  You’ll notice in the interview that I really don’t ask too many questions, and some of the questions I do ask are just me reacting to his narrative.

He is also someone who is very gracious, thankful for what being a composer has afforded him.  He gives credit where credit is due, and when he talks about having opportunities that seem to come with the territory of being in the position that he is as a film and game composer, you can tell that he has not lost the sense of wonderment that one might have when they first get to do the things that he has been able to do and accomplish.

Because of Greg’s great personality, I think that you’ll enjoy listening to the interview as much as I enjoyed giving it.  It’s certainly a long one, but Greg makes it sail by easily.  Sorry ahead of time for the random noises of my chair creaking, my loud laughter, and the technical malfunctions that you might hear.  Also, we jump around a bit during the interview, but I tried my best to break it down below: More

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Review: “Nate’s Theme” (‘Uncharted’ OST), Part II

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In case you missed it, here’s Part I of the review!

 

Getting right into it, “Nate’s Theme 2.0” sounds completely different from its predecessor right off the bat, and it’s not due to bitrate or quality of the audio file (trust me, I went and listened to a handful of files to make absolutely sure).


 

The first big reason for this difference is that, unless my ears are failing me, the theme in Drake’s Fortune is recorded using electronic samples while the one in Among Thieves is done so by recording actual live instrumentalists (it could be that Edmonson simply uses much higher-quality samples, too, though—sometimes it’s really hard to distinguish between the two).  The second reason, which ties into the first, is that everything is just crisper.  From the deadened reverb to the sharper articulations around all the instruments, each note played comes out very cleanly.

The difference in the effect of the newfound crispness is especially striking in the brass.  Every entrance by those instruments is very clear and commanding; every line pushes that feel of excitement and adventure just a bit more.  It’s not just the articulations and production that adds to it either—listen to how much more, for a lack of a better word, “brassy” the section sounds.  Instead of the timbre of the section being straight and clean, Edmonson made sure that the brass got a little dirty this time around.

One will notice the percussion a bit more, as well.  Along with the reasons in the first paragraph, its place in the audio mix is much nicer.  One would not likely doubt its importance in “1.0” – it does, as you have read and heard, set the table for the rest of the tune –, but in “2.0” it makes its presence known from beginning to end and continues to replicate that energy felt in the first phrase.  Listen to the difference from 0:29 to 0:33 and how the entrance of the suspended cymbal rings so much more clearly than before.  That’s the stuff.

Speaking of the drive of the percussion, there is a new element in the mix of “2.0” that you might have noticed.  Through 0:40, there is a hit on beat 2 of every measure—it sounds like it might be a ride cymbal.  The hits just reinforce the percussion in the beginning, but then, whether you noticed it or not, when 1:09 kicks the tune back into gear, the cymbal creates even more energy by hitting on both beats 2 and 4.  As it was for me at first, you may have only just felt the effect subconsciously for the first few listens; however, the effect is very much alive if you’re listening.  While it might not sound like a huge difference on paper, Edmonson’s writing of the part in this manner was completely deliberate, and it’s as I always like to say: the Art lies in the details.

Let’s quickly check out some other places that Edmonson made minor tweaks that were not tweaked again in the third version of the tune:

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VGM Review #7: “Nate’s Theme” (‘Uncharted’ OST), Part I

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Last December (erhm, not quite a year yet!) I had my first media encounter with composer Greg Edmonson via GamesRadar’s SoundRadar podcast.  Edmonson was a fantastic interviewee, offering a lot of valuable insight to his approach to writing music for the Uncharted series.  His attitude and ideas had made me want to check his stuff out and subsequently blog about him.

Flash forward to two days ago, when I finally started to write down a list of topics that I need to blog about.  Edmonson was a no-brainer for the list: I enjoyed his interview, I’ve liked what I heard from him, and he’s a modern composer of a critically acclaimed game soundtrack.  He was such a no-brainer, in fact, that I immediately chose to review some of his work, namely the Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception OST.

It was upon beginning my listening that I came across “Nate’s Theme” (naturally, as it is the main theme of the game itself).  The interesting thing about this tune is that there are three iterations of it—Edmonson composed the theme originally for the first game and has revisited it each time he has worked on a new Uncharted title.  I love this concept.

I think that, as a composer, one can almost always find places where more can be tweaked, which is why I talk about having simply to close the door on projects.  As there are infinite possibilities in regards to tweaking in a tune, one can drive him or herself mad trying to revise and revise to make a perfect product—that is why one has to know when to say, “okay, I’m finished and am moving on.”  However, that doesn’t mean that one cannot or should not go back and critically listen to a composition after spending time away from it.  Sometimes taking a step back gives one the most objective viewpoint.  The Uncharted titles were released in two-year intervals, and somewhere within those two-year gaps Edmonson found the time to take that step back and revamp his work.

The good news: his labor was well worth it.

I’m going to talk about what sets each version of “Nate’s Theme” apart from the others, but before I get into those specifics (which will come in a post in the next few days), I’d like to talk a little about the tune in general.  Here’s version 1.0:

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SoundRadar Interview with Greg Edmonson

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I just checked out GamesRadar.com’s new VGM podcast, “SoundRadar,” through its WordPress page.  So far there are only two episodes, the first being with Greg Edmonson, who scored the Uncharted games as well as Joss Whedon’s Firefly, and the second with Brian Tyler of Modern Warfare 3 “fame.”   I have my own opinions on the music of each game (reviewing those two for the blog are on my to-do list), but regardless, it’s interesting to hear the composers talk.  Greg Edmonson’s interview was especially excellent because he seemed very excited to talk about his work in detail and give the listener some very interesting inside information.  It was a joy listening to a very passionate and genuine-sounding guy.

Some topics Greg covers:

– How the game industry is treating “ambiance” vs. “melodic content.”  He talks about how at first he wished to write more melodically for Uncharted but was instructed not to do so, and how only later did he have more freedom to write less ambient music.  I can rant about how… “disturbing” I think the trend towards less melodic VGM is, but I’ll save that–Greg luckily was able to liberate his music and create some great melodies after the first game in the series, showing in turn that even with games becoming more cinematic there is still plenty of room for VGM’s trademark: great melodies.

– The differences in the timelines and compositional process within the video game industry and the film industry.

– How he decided to characterize and convey the environments of the Uncharted games musically.  One of most interesting things he says lies in this topic.  He reveals that, while he used ethnic instruments that are native to the environments for which he was writing, he decided to use the native instruments as “colors” rather than trying to make “ethnic music.”  I think this idea of his is very powerful, and it’s something that I certainly will keep in mind as I continue writing.

Enjoy the episode!  I would love to hear what else people found interesting, and if there are any topics that the reader would like to discuss, please feel free to comment and I’ll be happy to share my thoughts.