Red Stewart chats with composer Gordy Haab…
Gordy Haab is an American composer that has been working in the film, television, and video game industry since the early-2000s. Last year, he had the honor of scoring the EA’s published game Star Wars: Battlefront II. Flickering Myth had the chance to speak with him, and I in turn had the privilege to conduct it.
In an interview with the LA Times, you described the Original Trilogy’s music as having a distinct sound from the Prequel Trilogy’s, the OT being more thematic and characters having their own leitmotifs versus the PT frequently jumping around between the different sections of the orchestra. Assuming you have seen The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I was wondering how you would describe the sequel trilogy’s music.
Of course I’ve seen them both multiple times! There are many similarities in their approach with regards to leitmotifs. But I’d say their scores lean more heavily on short motifs rather than full-blown character themes. I feel this is a more modern approach that accompanies a faster-paced storytelling and editing style (think “Kylo Ren’s Theme” which is just 5 notes).
I was wondering if John Williams’s score for The Force Awakens had any influence on you for Battlefront II. Obviously when you were composing the music for Battlefront 1, you did it before the movie had come out, but with Battlefront II you have had time to see the film.
In a roundabout way, yes. The motific approach and general sonic approach to The Force Awakens’ music is actually more in line with my natural musical aesthetic. So after hearing it, I was surprised by how many similarities there were to the score I had already written for Battlefront I, which, as you mention, was written long before the release of TFA. Knowing that this approach was now “officially” part of John Williams’ canon allowed me to take the reins off and allow even more of my own aesthetic through in the Battlefront II score.
When you were doing the first Battlefront, was there any conscious desire on your part to incorporate aspects of the original Battlefront games’ music within the reboot, or pay homage to it in some capacity? Or did you decide from the get-go that you were going to do your own thing independent of the previous titles?
It was decided that I would write a completely original score, with brand new themes, etc., which could live perfectly alongside the music from the Original Trilogy. So it was less about paying homage to the original Battlefront (which exclusively used music from John Williams) than it was about paying homage to the original score. Since we also used the original recordings from the OT throughout the game, it was important that what I write be brand new and bespoke to Battlefront, specifically. So we were branding the game and giving it its own sound. Dice likened the task to composing ‘the B-side to Williams’s original score’.
IMDB lists Jesse Harlin as not only the sole composer of Battlefront II (2005) but also a contributor to the music of Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game that you composed the main OST for. Did you meet him by any chance in the recording studio, or were you too busy/on completely different schedules to encounter and talk to him? Or is IMDB simply wrong and Harlin didn’t have anything to do with the music for The Old Republic.
Jesse Harlin is one of my dearest friends. He actually didn’t compose original music for Battlefront II (2005) but rather, was at the helm at LucasArts at the time and music edited all of the original John Williams tracks to fit the game. He was, however, one of five lead composers on The Old Republic, along with Mark Griskey, Lennie Moore, Wilbert Roget, and me. Jesse and I went to college together, and he’s actually responsible for hiring me to score my first video game, Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings!
“Iden’s Theme” was conceived for the game’s first original, canonical character. I have a lot of small quick inquiries regarding it: was it your decision to incorporate actress Janina Gavankar’s own musical rhythms into it? Did the fact that Iden is a canonical character to the Star Wars Universe affect your composition of her theme? Hearing it, I notice a lot of other Star Wars tracks in it, from “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” in Revenge of the Sith to “Jyn’s Suite” in Rogue One. Did you deliberately wish to hearken to the grand history of the Star Wars music franchise, or was it unintentional given your love for the series as a whole?
I wasn’t referencing anything at all when writing “Iden’s theme”, although I’m sure one could spot multiple influences. This comes more from my innate love of Star Wars, I think. With her music, the most important thing was coming up with a very simple, singable theme. Further to my first point, there is about 40 minutes worth of music in the game based around her theme, so it actually runs the gambit of musical styles, emotions, and moods.
The fact that she was a canonic character definitely guided the choice to create a memorable theme that could carry its weight in pretty much any possible musical setting – knowing of course that it had to live in so many different iterations. I wanted to treat it like John Williams would have treated writing a character theme. Take the force theme for example; And imagine all of the variations it underwent throughout the series. I wanted to approach it the same way.
That said, in the main version of her theme, I did feature mallet percussion instruments as sort of a ‘tip of the hat’ to Janina, who is also an accomplished percussionist!
What are some video game OSTs that you listen to when you’re not working? Which games’ OSTs/composers were the biggest influences on you when you were working to become one yourself? Do you prefer to use orchestras or synths when creating a score for a video game?
I always prefer the orchestra as a big part of my musical palette. Even when I’m using synth elements in a score, I tend to treat them like another instrument in the orchestra to create a balance. So I tend to gravitate towards scores which do the same as a personal preference.
As for specific game scores, I’m a big fan of the Final Fantasy compositions. And the score that piqued my interest in composing for games in the first place was a score written by Clint Bajakian for Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.
Many thanks to Gordy Haab for taking the time for this interview.