Maybe you’ve seen the name Nicole Brady and just can’t remember where. Maybe you’ve never seen it. Therein lays the conundrum. Orchestration is a pretty thankless job; all the work they pour in to help elevate the music they work on often gets credited to the original composer, and even most fans don’t give the role much thought.
At GDC 2011, however, I was able to catch up with Nicole Brady, who worked extensively with the Eminence Symphony Orchestra when it was first established as well as being Hitoshi Sakimoto’s go-to orchestrator for projects like the Valkyria Chronicles series, Romeo x Juliet, and others.
Find out who she is and why what she does is so important after the jump!
Let’s start from the beginning and ask the obvious question: “How did she get into videogame orchestration at such a young age?” As it turns out, Nicole Brady attended the Sydney Conservatory of Music where she studied piano performance and orchestration. She had a number of friends working in the film and videogame industries and naturally got involved, starting with projects like George of the Jungle in 2001 and John Debney’s Snow Dogs score.
In her pre-conservatory program, however, at the age of 14, she met a young man named Hiroaki Yura who was looking to create a program of videogame music to be performed live, and having heard that Brady was a promising orchestrator, he asked her to help out. This was, of course, the first A Night in Fantasia concert in the early 2000s, and while the show was in what Brady calls “A weird hall not made for concert music,” there was a big turn out, paving the way for the future of the Eminence Symphony Orchestra where Brady would act as the lead orchestrator.
At the time, Brady was in her teens, so how could she possibly be confident in assuming such a role? It seems like a lot of work to take our favorite 8-bit and 16-bit soundtracks and turn them into something suited for an orchestra, but Brady credits her sense of perfect pitch for the phenomenon.
Interestingly enough, Brady was not at the time and is still not much of a gamer. She’s been exposed to a lot of the music through the concerts, but never really got sucked in like the rest of us. She definitely appreciates the medium, but seems to be a bigger fan of film score. I prodded her about her favorite game score, and she mentioned really enjoying the Dead Space soundtrack for “[bringing] modern music in to make it different.”
This led right into our age-old debate about context. I noted that the Dead Space soundtrack was very much suited to listening in-game, to which Brady commented, “I like listening to that soundtrack on its own. It depends on your preference, maybe you would just hear it as underscore otherwise,” and “If the music is really great, it’s going to serve both purposes.”
So, how did the Hitoshi Sakimoto connection come about? Through Eminence, of course. After working together on arrangements of his work on the Passions chamber music album from Eminence, the two hit it off in 2006 when he was looking for an orchestrator and a pianist to work on Romeo x Juliet animated TV series, recorded by Eminence Symphony. After the project, Brady became his go-to orchestrator for a variety of projects. They recorded with the Eminence Symphony subsequent work on Valkyria Chronicles and Deltora Quest. In 2008 when Sakimoto was looking for a place to record an orchestra for the Valkyria Chronicles animated TV series, he was on a budget and was going to record in Prague as Aniplex was based there. In 2008, Brady left the Eminence Symphony Orchestra to see the world, working on Valkyria Chronicles 2 and Arcadia Saga.
In terms of her role, she was responsible for organizing the recording sessions and figuring out what performers were needed as well as cleaning up and orchestrating Sakimoto’s MIDI mockups. Sometimes she had to create additional melodies, and other times she simply finished off Sakimoto’s existing ideas. This was done for all the live pieces, which usually encompassed the main theme and cinematics, as was the case for Tekken 6.
We talked a lot about the Valkyria Chronicles series, since that’s what Sakimoto has been working on lately. Her most memorable experience from her work on the franchise was the team’s return to Sydney for Valkyria Chronicles 3 where they recorded the Sydney Scoring Orchestra, who generally do all the big Hollywood soundtracks in Sydney. She noted that this was memorable, and the recording came out really nice. Regarding the flamenco guitar work that really adds a lot of color to the game’s main theme, Brady revealed that this element was added back in Japan after the orchestral recording, which amazed me given how vital the guitar work was to the piece.
For Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, she came on board to orchestrate the main themes to be performed once again by the Sydney Scoring Orchestra. She laughed, commenting that the main theme sounds kind of like an Australian beer commercial, so she thinks everyone involved enjoyed that aspect.
If you’re curious, her favorite score by Sakimoto and Basiscape is Muramasa, as she loved the visuals and the traditional Japanese sounds.
Brady also enjoyed her compositional debut in 2010 with Sneeze Me Away. This was created for a Korean animation that is being distributed all over the world. The animator, who is Australian, asked her to come on board after hearing some of her past orchestration, and she was even able to record a live orchestra in Vienna for the score. She agreed when I commented that it must have been nice to finally be in the spotlight after working so many years in the shadows as an orchestrator.
Since then, she’s composed for a variety of other films. She’s now based out of New York where she’s studying with a scholarship and working with 2 other people in a start-up studio working on TV and film called Studio Closh. They are now trying to break into videogames. The group is comprised of Brady, Tim Starnes who worked on the Lord of the Rings movies as the music editor, and Elias Constantopedos.
I asked Brady to sum up what an orchestrator does, to give us a sales pitch of sorts as to why the work she does is important. She responded:
“Well, as much as I love Sakimoto, and he does great things with MIDI and he’s actually a pretty good orchestrator too. But if you can imagine those themes, like the Valkyria Chronicles 2 theme that you love, were done in MIDI, they would sound kind of flat. To make them sound alive, you need to have to develop a relationship with this live thing. An orchestrator will come in and make that theme have a live sound and make it a lot more special.”
We wrapped up with some insights into how composers work alongside their orchestration and editing teams. I had to ask if composers out there were literally banging out melodies on their Casio keyboards and handing them over to their orchestration teams to “bring to life.” Brady assured me that this was not the case, and that when composers bring in their mockups to sync with film footage, it actually needs to be in near-final condition.
I noted that over the years I felt composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo have come to rely on orchestrators to get that live quality sound that we all expect, and that I feel like I’m not getting pure Uematsu and Kondo anymore. Brady acknowledged this sentiment, but noted that the composer was still responsible for the blueprint, without which nobody could create anything.
We ended by talking about what Brady is working on next. She noted that she caught a glimpse of Limbo at GDC, and was admiring the sound design, which she believes is taking over the industry. She believes the industry moving in a direction where big melodies are less important, and overall mood is key.
In any case, we can expect to hear great things from her in the future in both orchestration and composition, and you can bet we’ll see her involved with more games in the future.Tags: Eminence, Eminence Symphony Orchestra, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Interviews, Nicole Brady, Orchestration, SEGA, Valkyria Chronicles, Videogame