Red Stewart chats with Brian Tyler about Crazy Rich Asians….
Brian Tyler is an American composer who has been working in the film, television, and video game industries since the late-1990s. He is best known for his compositions for projects like Law Abiding Citizen, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Fast and the Furious franchise, and Crazy Rich Asians.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview him, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Mr. Tyler, thank you so much for speaking with me. I’ve been a fan of yours, really going back to Eagle Eye, but it was Assassin’s Creed IV that put on my radar in terms of composers I actively follow, so thank you.
Of course, that’s great man!
I was hoping I could ask you a couple of questions about your video game discography because not many composers I talk to do video games, especially ones that I’ve played.
First off, I just have to say your main theme for Black Flag was so freaking good. In a series that has done a consistently great job with the main themes like Jesper Kyd’s Ezio’s Family and Lorne’s Balfe’s themes for Revelations and III, yours more than stands alongside them. I’ve always wondered, because of how upbeat it is with the Caribbean influence, was Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean score an influence on it?
No, I hadn’t really thought of that. I always thought of Assassin’s Creed as its own thing; I didn’t relate it to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Oh okay, that’s interesting to hear. They are different sounding, but they also have an inherent similarity.
Yeah, a lot of pirate music comes from Irish jig-type influences. They’re essentially like folk jigs, and I thought Assassin’s Creed would be something very emotional and epic in a sense that there isn’t that kind of ironic humor that Pirates had. I guess Pirates had a little bit of a different tone in that sense, but I hadn’t considered it before until you mentioned it.
No, that makes sense. When you say more of an epic emotional feel, another piece that resonated with me was The Buccaneers, because I felt like that played a lot during exploration, and it runs just over four minutes. I’m wondering, when you’re scoring a long piece like that, how much are you taking into consideration player interaction? Like okay, they might sailing or parkouring, but they could quickly end up in a combat situation or a stealth situation, and one piece has to end and the other begin without it feeling like a record scratch, you know?
Yeah, the idea really is that….coming from a gamer’s perspective, I always want to have immersion be the key factor. And there’s always the push-and-pull of how much is going to be changing as you go through a game: like how often does it change and what’s the rate of change that customizes your journey?
And so you have to make sure you have enough music there that can follow the player’s journey but also, at the same time, have enough of a wide view in the player’s location so that it doesn’t need to change with every tiny little move that they do. Therefore, it’s about having music that captures the general feel of what’s going on, while also incorporating a couple of options where you trigger certain moments in the game, like where you cross a certain path or achieve a certain goal resulting in it going into something else. I always try to do things where I have tempo shifts and modulations that can kick in at certain times, but can still melodically be related to the overall world that you’re in or even the level that you’re on.
It’s basically like scoring the emotion and the vibe and the intensity of the theme that you’re in without it feeling choppy at the same time. It’s a fine line to walk.
I understand, and it’s really cool that you’ve brought your own experiences and expectations and personal feelings into your scoring process for video games. Talking about doing longer pieces, I know for video games you have to create hours and hours of music because, as you know, these titles have a lot of content. I asked Lorne Balfe this question, but I’m curious for your answer too sir, which is does the lower workload for movies make them, for lack of a better word, easier to do?
You know, I’m not sure I see a direct correlation between quantity and difficulty. I think finding the melodic heart and the core ideas of something is really what kicks the time. You want to find, thematically, what you’re going to base a score off of. And in order to do that, you want to spend time making sure that things are memorable and truly represent the exact tone of whatever movie or video game you’re scoring.
The rest of it is, I never really thought about it. I’ve scored movies that had a lot of music, but I don’t think the quantity is a thing. And often with games, you’re on much longer than a film. Sometimes you’re on a game for years. I’m starting a game that comes out in, I don’t know, 2021 or something right now [laughs].
So it’s spread out more, and granted there’s more music, but I’ve never even noticed a level of difficulty difference. It’s just a different type of thing. Aside from cutscenes, you’re not writing directly for a theme: you’re generally writing music that is based on ideas and story points that are a little bit more general because of course the specifics are directed by the gamer, as opposed to being a static moving picture like a film is. With video games, you get a general idea of what the level is, and then you dive in and you play it and you live in that world and then you write music that represents it, which is very different from sitting down and seeing a theme that is cut a certain way, like in a movie, and you’re following each beat very very specifically.
So they’re kind of apples and oranges in a sense outside of the fact that you just want them to be very memorable.
That makes sense that the quantity is just one factor in a project, and there are so many other things that go into it like finding the right theme, finding the right story, finding the right idea. And I’m glad that both movies and video games have managed to provide those experiences for you despite, from an outsider’s perspective, them seeming like very different processes.
Now, one thing I’ve noticed consistently across all your works is that you tend to employ a lot of brass in your compositions, whether it’s video games or movies, which I really like because I come from a brass background, having played trombone and baritone in high school.
In particular, I noticed it in Iron Man 3 and I noticed it in Black Flag. I’m curious as to how intentional that is on your part?
To me, brass is underrated, and I think it can be very powerful emotionally. People know it can provide size and grandeur and an epic tone, which I use obviously in the Marvel movies quite a bit, but I think it’s an underrated instrument for emotion. In fact, it’s interesting because I just did the Far Cry 3 theme at my concert in London, and I orchestrated it to be larger for the concert version. I didn’t have brass originally in that piece, but I added it for the live concert. So I basically just heard it recorded that way, and it added a depth of emotion that actually was really powerful. And I think most people think of brass as something that brings size and epic and power to a piece, but I don’t think people think of it much as an emotional component, but I really believe it is.
No, I agree entirely. Going back to my band days, I remember we hardly got to play the melody or the harmony in a piece- that all went to the woodwinds. So I’m definitely glad you’re fighting that image [laughs].
[laughs] Yeah, for sure.
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