Film, Game Music, Music Production

A Conversation With Timothy Wynn: Composer, Conductor, Commander, Conqueror, and Mars Separatist

October 1, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook A Conversation With Timothy Wynn: Composer, Conductor, Commander, Conqueror, and Mars Separatiston Twitter

One of the biggest surprises in the gaming universe this year came hammering along this summer in the form of THQ’s sandbox-styled actioner, Red Faction: Guerrilla. In fact, this weeks marks the release of the third downloadable content package some five months after its initial release. Not only is it widely regarded as one of the best games of this year, but here at OSV we’re quite confident it’s one of the strongest soundtracks as well.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with Timothy Wynn, the game’s cinematics composer. As you may already know, I am quite the fan of this soundtrack and was quite curious to hear the genesis of this score and its process. Click the jump to find out the very interesting tidbits behind the genesis of the score, how Wynn conducted it himself, and how he lovingly punched my technical musical prowess right in the balls (yes, I deserved it, but he later agreed with me… sort of. You’ll just have to read on.)

When asked about the beginnings of the score (as well as throughout most of the conversation), Wynn credited THQ/Volition for giving him a lot of time to prepare the score. “I was definitely able to see video caps of some of the gameplay – and I got the theme down about 8 months before recording at Skywalker Sound… [but before that] I had all the back story, all the materials about the lore. The good thing about having so much lead time is that there are really no notes. I basically got ‘first it’s hopeless, then hopeful, and then [SPOILER WARNING] triumphant’.” He even added later, “There was no temp track or anything like that. I had a lot of time to play around with ideas before anything really happened.” He went on to explain that the game developers felt that this game was very different from the other Red Faction games and that drawing inspiration from the two previous outings would be incongruous to Red Faction: Guerrilla. Wynn disagreed. “The first thing I did was play through the first two Red Faction games – no, it does relate. It may visually change, but the mining struggle is there.” Of the latest outing, Wynn added: “I felt the struggle wasn’t going to be over [when the game ended]. It kind of reminds me of the first Star Wars. ‘You thought the Death Star was done,’ and nope, it’s back. And that’s the whole harmonic ‘Defiance’ theme – going from major to minor. That’s it right there: the struggle. It’s very simple – nothing Earth-shattering.”

From his beginnings at USC as a composition major, Wynn experienced a great classical influence. Working with such greats as Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith, Wynn credits Goldsmith’s works in particular for the rhythmic complexity found in his own work – Red Faction included. I mentioned in my review that I was particularly intrigued by this rhythmic intensity and unconventional sound and asked him about my own particular analysis of the piece.

“Am I right? Isn’t that part in 13/8?” I asked assuredly.

“No,” he answered.

“Really?!” my shattered musical ego responded.

“Yeah, when I read that [in the review] I was really happy that you thought I was writing something that complicated. I just would hate to conduct in that meter.” Later on, however, he said he believed the part may have been written in changing meters of 6/8 and 7/8 (which is essentially 13/8 – add the two together), but I suspect he didn’t want me to feel bad for failing all my music theory and ear-training professors. It worked.

My biggest complaint about the soundtrack within the context of the game was that I wanted to hear it more! (note: My review of the soundtrack was done with an audio recording as well as the Xbox 360 version. I have found that the PlayStation 3 version seems to bring the sound more to the foreground). Where one would expect a composer to agree whole-heartedly, Wynn politely disagreed. “It always happens in the last second when you have a ton of time even – that there’s a crunch. We recorded in October and they were still working on the cinematics four months later. There were some splits I wasn’t as thrilled with that I addressed but in the end I was very pleased with how it came out.”

Wynn was very passionate when talking about the vulgarity of some styles of scoring – even his own. That is to say, a blatant turn of the score coinciding with a blatant action on the screen. “When I was younger, everything would land on the money in every cut. If you watch – I always say – John Williams – say Star Wars – there isn’t a hard hit in the whole movie. To me, that’s more natural. I’ll fix something that makes sense but I won’t change tempo fifty times in a piece… if something has to come a few frames late, it doesn’t bother me. It’s better than something stilted and all over the place just to hit three frames earlier.”

As a general rule, I don’t like to compare a composer’s work to another composer outside of a review. But, with this style, I couldn’t help but tell Wynn, composer of other great games like Commander and Conquer 3, that some aspects of this piece – from a production standpoint – have a similar feel to a Steve Jablonsky or Hans Zimmer score. “It was definitely in that vein and I made a conscious effort not to use a lot of woodwinds. The reason why the sound works well with this sort of genre, is it fits with the computer/technology aspect of it. That’s definitely an element. But, it’s definitely not a conscious effort to sound like them. If anyone, I feel closer to a James Newton Howard, and even [Elmer] Bernstein a bit… I definitely aspire to be more on that [melodic] side of things.” One of Wynn’s most influential moments came early on his school career when Elmer Bernstein said to the class, “’You guys are all as talented as me. Only I’ve been doing it longer.’ That really stuck with me. He gave me the confidence at an early age that I can do it as much as he could.” Not only was Wynn’s influence at school strictly from his teachers. He and USC classmate, Christopher Lennertz, have formed a production company, Sonic Fuel.

As I asked with ‘Splosion Man’s Josh Mosley, many gamers feel that game music’s glory days are behind us. Wynn thinks otherwise. “I think [game music] is getting better and better and because the budgets are there to have the great players. If that’s the golden age, that’s what we’re fighting to break out of now. Every A-list composer has done a game or two – we’re trying to break out of the mold. ‘Oh, you do game music?’ (mockingly) – that used to be a bad thing. Now, on the whole I think everything is better. The problem is, the games that want to take a new direction – there’s less risk-taking. Someone will say, ‘Oh, I want a Conan score’, and ‘Hey, have you heard this cue before’, and I’ll say ‘yeah’ (annoyed). I definitely think it’s the case that a lot of higher-ups will fall in love with a certain sound. You’re not really breaking the mold unless some of these games that are off the wall – God bless them if they come up with a score that is only Quintet for Winds. It’ll be great if that happens, but I’m not holding my breath for that to score a first-person shooter like Halo.” He punctuated it clearly by saying, “I think the golden age is now.”

As for what’s next for Timothy Wynn, he is scoring the film, To Save a Life, and an unnamed EA Game. Unfortunately, like most things in the gaming/show business, it’s very hush-hush. Even still, we are excited to hear more of the same high-quality work from Timothy Wynn.

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