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Dan Licht Talks Silent Hill: Downpour (Interview)

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With the release of Silent Hill: Downpour slated for tomorrow, we’ve finally been able to catch some much sought after time with composer Dan Licht. Known best for his work on Showtime’s Dexter and for horror films including Hellraiser and Children of the Corn, Licht has been tapped to score Silent Hill: Downpour (and the upcoming Book of Memories) after the departure of series staple Akira Yamaoka.

Our discussion revolves around his preparation for scoring this Silent Hill title and his approach to this project as his first videogame. There are a few surprises inside, so let us know what you think. Having listened to the entire Downpour soundtrack, I have to say that I’m pretty impressed, but I’m looking forward to hearing what hardcore fans of the series think.

Hit the jump for our interview.

OSV: Hello Dan. Thank for taking the time to answer our questions about your work on Silent Hill: Downpour. We were hoping you could start by sharing just how you were approached to work on this project, and how you decided that you would take on the project.

Dan Licht: Konami, the game’s developer, approached my agent. They were interested in finding a composer who understood the dark elements of the game and who had a built in horror audience. With my previous work on Dexter, Thinner, and Children of the Corn, horror is my area of expertise.

OSV: The Silent Hill franchise has quite a musical legacy with composer Akira Yamaoka handling all previous titles in the series. Did this affect how you approached writing the game’s score? Have you listened to any of the past Silent Hill scores or played any of the games in the series for inspiration, or did you approach it as a completely new project?

Licht: I familiarized myself with the style and history of the previous Silent Hill themes and musical cues. I wanted this game to have the same flow as the previous games while adding my own signature sound. It was important for me to understand where the music was coming from, the overall story, and the use of the musical themes throughout the game. It was then that I was able to create new themes that were consistent with the game, but had my original touch.

OSV: How has this game’s focus on water played into what you’ve been writing for the game? Are there other distinct influences from the game that have found their way into your score?

Licht: The locations of the game were the main influences on the score. I did not use water as a direct influence. Aside from the mood of downpour being dark and introspective, it didn’t have a direct effect. I consciously excluded water influenced instruments, such as waterphones. I tried to create distinctive sounds for the different locations, particularly the Otherworld, by using industrial noise and choir samples.

OSV: Can you describe the differences you’ve encountered writing for different mediums such as film, television, and videogames? Are you scoring Downpour as you would a film, or have you approached it in a different way altogether?

Licht: Fundamentally they are very different approaches. For a film, you are hired for a certain amount of time, ranging from two weeks to six months. You create a particular sound for the film- creating themes, sound design and orchestration. For television, you create a theme that gets manipulated throughout the seasons, starting with a basic sound and building it. You are continually scoring each episode, trying to create familiarity with your audience as well as create new sounds that are exciting and thrilling.

Video games are entirely different. The sound design is the creation part. You’re not actually scoring a picture; you’re scoring what the players will encounter. You create different themes so that when there is a lull, for example when the player is deciding their next move, a new theme is integrated. It is constantly changing, therefore you’re really scoring anything that can happen.

OSV: I’m a huge fan of your work on Dexter. It seems as though, however, they implemented your music as more of a series of stingers that play for a short time to highlight a given mood, whereas the original pieces you wrote for the show were more fleshed out and substantial. Was this intentional, and are you involved with the implementation of your music in Silent Hill: Downpour? Will the game be featuring this ‘stinger’ approach, or will there be full-length pieces in the game?

Licht: For Dexter, I’ve written a main theme and several score pieces that the editors pull from in addition to new score and music cues. The first season of Dexter was the lightest on music, but as the show progressed, the music has become an intricate part of the show. I always try to write new pieces of music for Dexter, but I maintain key sounds that are familiar to the audience.

I prefer set pieces or cues, rather than stingers although for a show like Dexter they are good at heightening fear and anxiety. In Silent Hill, I scored full length pieces as well as musical cues for different areas of the game.

I’m not involved in the implementation of the music for Silent Hill. After composing a piece, if I feel it could be altered to better fit the scene I will change it. At the end of the day, the editors, directors and developers decide where they feel the music fits best for the overall experience of the game.

OSV: We’ve heard that you’ve collaborated with vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn on a few tracks for the game. Can you tell us how this came about and a little about the experience. Do you view vocal themes as important to your score for Silent Hill: Downpour?

Licht: For the score, I worked with vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn on a couple of tracks for the game and the album. She had done work with the game previously and I thought her voice would be an essential component to the score. I created choir sounds and implemented her voice throughout various areas of the game. I also co-wrote a song with my nephew, Jonathan for Mary to record. It will be on the Silent Hill: Book of Memories CD released this April.

OSV: What kinds of tools are you using to create the soundtrack, and has there been a specific instrument or piece of software that has been key in giving Downpour a distinct sound?

Licht: My goal with this video game was to create an interesting sound that is fitting for the scenes and enjoyed by the player. I used a combination of industrial sounds and ambiences with overly processed voices featuring guitar, mandolin, and strings. I created an industrial rhythm with acoustic instruments that are heavily processed to add to its already dark atmosphere.

OSV: How many minutes of music are you writing for the game, and is all of it featured on the soundtrack release that’s planned?

Licht: I wrote around 80 to 90 minutes of music for the game. There are going to be two albums for Silent Hill: Silent Hill: Downpour and Silent Hill Book of Memories. Downpour will be released the same day as the video game and Book of Memories will be released in April, both through Milan Records.

OSV: What would you like to say to your fans and fans of the Silent Hill franchise who may not be familiar with your music regarding your work on Silent Hill: Downpour? At this point in time, would you be interested in contributing to future Silent Hill titles if the opportunity presented itself?

Licht: I hope that all of the fans of Silent Hill and my current fan base enjoy the mood and atmosphere my score inspires the players to feel during game play. I hope the music becomes an essential component to their experience.

Absolutely I would be interested in contributing to future Silent Hill titles if the opportunity presented itself. It’s a great series that I feel honored to have contributed to.

OSV: Thank you for your time! We’re looking forward to hearing your music in the game.

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