Interview: Composer Brian Reitzell (Red Faction: Armageddon, 30 Days Of Night)

Bloody-Disgusting has scored an exclusive interview with composer Brian Reitzell (30 Days of Night, Stranger Than Fiction). Next week will see Brian’s music released in the THQ video game Red Faction: Armageddon. After the jump, you can read our interview with Brian where we discuss some of his composing tactics, his approach towards scoring horror, and also what his favorite beverage is while he composes!

brianreitzell
Photo Credit: David Slade

First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to do this interview for Bloody-Disgusting. I’m a big fan of your work!
My pleasure, thanks for the interest!
Very soon, gamers will have the opportunity to hear your music in Red Faction: Armageddon. Can you tell me a bit about how you came aboard the project and what composing for a video game is like?
I believe I was asked to do the score because of my work on the film “30 Days of Night”. I am constantly searching out new musical paths and was intrigued with the idea of doing a video game. I liked the premise of the game and the Martian landscape really appealed to me. I have wanted to try my hand at a sci-fi film but Hollywood hasn’t been able to come up with anything quite as interesting as “Red Faction”. Composing the score was quite complicated especially in the beginning. Getting my head around what we needed to deliver was tricky. There is a great deal of psychology that goes into the music. For the gameplay we had to create modular music that could play infinitely and still hit all the right emotions. I make music by playing instruments live so the modular process posed some real challenges for me. I don’t like things like loops or click tracks or computer grids. I like music to be alive and those devices sterilize the music which makes it too soft for my ears. Once we figured out how to deliver the music technically and satisfy ourselves musically it became pretty easy going. I had a friend come in to the studio and play the game while we played music live to help see what things would work. The ultimate challenge for me personally is to try to do something I have never done or heard before. I like to create new sounds and new methods of making music every day. With “Red Faction” every mission was approached with a new concept for recording the music both in terms of the instrumentation as well as the process of composing and recording. In many ways scoring a video game is the perfect medium for someone like me.
Listening to the music, I heard a lot of interesting textures that I don’t often hear in scores these days. Was there a conscious decision to steer away from traditional instruments in favor of a particular “sound scape”?
There is always the decision to create something unique. My job really is to put someone in an alternate reality. There is so much baggage that can come from familiar sounds and instrumentation, connections to things that I want to avoid. None of us have actually gone to Mars to fight alien creatures so we have to create what that might sound and feel like. I assure you it would be a new and strange reality for anybody so the music had to be as such. I love textural music. I love multi dimensional music. I love sonic soundscapes that can put you in another world just by putting on a record. I used to be a chef and there are great similarities in composing and cooking the way that I do. There is great complexity in making a sauce with 3 or 4 different kinds of peppers for example and that is what we do with music. When we use electronics we tend to use analog hardware and synthesis which is so much more alive sounding. “Red Faction” has tons of modular analog synthesis combined with rich objects such as bronze, wood and animal skin. I’m a percussionist first so any physical object is considered a sound source to me. All the strings were creating by bowing on my 100 year old piano with horse hair and fishing line, we never use any third party sample libraries – that would be like eating a TV dinner. We create everything from scratch, it’s all handmade music.
In the piece, “The Cavern”, there were several instruments and sounds that conjured up images of living creatures that sounded very Earth-like, yet with a subtle alien aura about them. Was this intentional or one of those moments where things just came together and clicked?
It was both intentional and something that just clicked. That was the last mission that we did and I was looking for something new to do. I decided to try to create all the music out of wood with the exception of a bass drum, even though it’s made out of wood it has bits of metal and a calf skin head on it so I guess I cheated a little. Everything else you hear comes from me playing on pieces of wood. Drumming on slabs of wood, bowing wooden chop sticks, scraping the side of a wooden box, etc… I then processed the sounds to give them more sci-fi dimension using distortion, tremolo, ring modulators and various effects. The aliens seemed like giant insects to me and the wood sounds generated that insect quality. I have studied insect recordings before and their frequency range is phenomenal! There is a musician named Mira Calix that made an entire record with insects and a sampler and that always fascinated me. She had the backing of a Swiss Natural History Museum so she had these amazing insects from all over the world in separate glass boxes with a microphone on each box and a mixer. I think she even did concerts! I didn’t have any exotic insects around so I had to make my own.
Red Faction: Armageddon looks like it has some strong horror elements to it. Considering that you also composed the music for 30 Days of Night, what would you say is different about composing with the intent to instill fear and dread into the audience than, say, your work on Stranger Than Fiction or Friday Night Lights?
These are all very different projects that share one thing really, they are all emotional works. Fear is a very strong emotion and to create it you need to make music that is obviously quite dissonant and intense. When creating horror music I like to further the emotional intensity by incorporating sounds that are unfamiliar so as to not distract from how completely fucked the situation is on screen. It’s all adrenalin and survival instinct which is such an electrical rush of blood through your veins. These projects take a lot out of me because I believe the best way to create scary intense music is to play the instrument like my life depends on it. I also don’t like to over think a scene in a horror movie. I like to spend most of the time developing a sound set and then sit down in front of the picture and react to what is happening to the protagonist. This is often done in one rather exhausting take that I then build upon. Having both the element of fear and the newness of the scene in my performance feels genuine to me. Creating an atmosphere that is unsettling and unexpected is very different then something like Friday Night Lights which was more like creating the sound of a West Texas high school sunset. To score that style of film was more conventional in the actual writing of the music but by bringing in the band Explosions In The Sky to work with me I was still able to do something that had it’s own unique sound or rather what I thought triumph and sadness in West Texas felt like to me.
If you were to imagine horror music as a character in a film, how would you describe that character?
A dark looming badass, unhinged psychotic animal with a death wish!
Silly question: What is your favorite beverage while you are composing?
I love that unsweetened Japanese green tea. My little fridge is always stocked with it.
Do you have a favorite tone or instrument?
Impossible question to answer. Nothing really beats a great piano, though I must say the sound of the ocean, trains and birds are all contenders. I also love Gamelan instruments. Bronze creates the most complex wave forms. Playing even softly on some of those gongs and such can really spilt your head open in a beautiful way.
What, if you can tell me, are some upcoming projects you will be working on?
I’m currently writing and recording some old school reggae and dub music for a film. It has been extremely fun and challenging to do it authentically. Truly a unique style of music. We are doing it all live to analogue tape. After that I will be doing music for a film installation by a UK artist named Elizabeth Price. It’s entitled “West Hinder” and will play in art galleries instead of multiplexes so that should be interesting. I did the music for a TV pilot called “Awake” which will air in January. I have a film opening this weekend called “Beginners”. I also recently completed a kind of instrumental rock music record. I selfishly wanted to make music to listen to while driving. It’s a kind of automusic where the structure is more along the lines of traveling from one place to another rather than going back and forth from verse to chorus to verse, etc… I did a song or two in between film projects so it’s taken me a couple of years to finish it but it’s finally done.
Make sure to pick up your copy of Red Faction: Armageddon for Xbox 360, PS3 or PC on Tuesday! You can also order the soundtrack off iTunes