Award winning composer Thomas Parisch has lent his music expertise to almost every medium ranging from tv to film. Most recently, it’s his video game work that has garnered acclaim though, just last month he took home the Hollywood Music in Media award for his work on Tencent’s Moonlight Blade. Thomas’s contributions to Capcom’s Resident Evil 6 were also celebrated by critics and fans of the franchise. He has also produced music for Tencent’s Honor of Kings, Iron Knight, Naruto and The Legend of Xuan Yuan to name a few. His latest compositions can be heard on NEXT Studios’ Iris.Fall, for which is getting released this Friday on Steam. Thomas scored this game alongside composer Edwin Wendler. When describing the Iris.Fall score Thomas says, “Composer Edwin Wendler and I set out to create a musical world of childhood magic with sounds that bring back theater nostalgia: toy pianos, organ, accordion, zither, violin, some percussion. But even though everything is quaint and cute it is also brittle, a bit scratchy and a little broken almost.” We decided to speak with Thomas more in depth about the Iris.Fall score and also about his past work. Read the full interview below.
How did you become involved with Iris.Fall?
TP: Iris.Fall is developed by Next Studio, which is one of the game studios of Tencent. I was fortunate enough that I had been doing a lot of work for other Tencent studios over the last couple years through a production studio called Unisonar. This has been an amazing learning experience both creatively and culturally. And I’m happy to say that beyond work, the experience transcended into friendships across the globe. So, just working on other Tencent stuff I had been hearing about Next Studio, the youngest studio among all Tencent studios, and knew they were up to great things. One thing led to another and I ended up writing for the project…
At what point did you start work on Iris.Fall? Were you scoring to story boards or was the game already complete?
TP: I first got involved last year, around October, I think. The music direction then was different from what the score is now. Originally it was more orchestral, traditional. Then, this year, we redesigned the music to be more intimate and have experimental instruments and soundscapes. It took a while, going back and forth with the audio supervisor from Next, to find the right tone for the instrument textures and the central main menu theme. Once the tone was set, we brought another amazing composer, Edwin Wendler, on board to co-write the score with me as I had suddenly become busy with other projects.
When we started scoring the game it was in its finishing stages. We would typically have selected stills and sometimes videos showing the artwork of the world to get inspiration about the atmosphere and overall emotion. The beautiful design direction speaks for itself and says more than words ever can. But we would also have detailed descriptions of the individual cues, their function, purpose and so on, the more technical aspect as well as storytelling and emotional intentions. And, of course, there’s always dialogue with the audio director who was extremely encouraging, thoughtful and open minded.
How would you describe the score for Iris.Fall?
TP: I hope our score captures the world of childhood wonder, childhood fragility and innocence as well as well as conveys an underlying air of haunted-ness and broken-ness. There are discoveries to be made, puzzles to be solved, truths to be unraveled. So not everything is clean an unblemished. Beneath simple melodies, we worked a lot on introducing a touch of imperfection, brittleness into the sounds (could be slightly out of tune sounds, slightly distorted or “dirty” colors) to show the scratches and cracks on the surfaces and invite to look beyond it.
Besides that childhood universe, the other important element of this score is the world of the theater. Koozer, our audio director, really liked the idea of evoking the soundscape of a barrel organ and the likes. So, we brainstormed about antiquated, unique and whacky instruments used for shows. I really have to give it to the boldness and enthusiasm of both Koozer and the music producer for Unisonar, Vivita Zheng, that we simply decided to design our own instruments. With a budget secured, I reached out to the brilliant musician and inventive mastermind, Yoon Lee, who came up with a couple designs along the lines of what we were imagining. He ended up building a special Zither and a rattle violin which we used along accordions, toy pianos, prepared pianos, modified guitars and other little toys and percussions as core elements of the score.
Just as the music for the girl is introverted yet frail and somewhat broken, also the music from the theater world, even though more extroverted, is not looking for perfection or untainted beauty but strives to bring to life a unique and imaginary, old theater in all its must and wackiness.
Iris.Fall is going to be on Steam. Do you score differently, when knowing which platform it is going to be on?
TP: Honestly, platforms don’t really impact my work that much. Only mobile comes to mind. Audio requirements for mobile games can be somewhat different as phones don’t have the best audio output capabilities to put it mildly. Those low-end cinematic booms and rumbles might not be delivered all that well through cell phone speakers or even earbuds… Also, mobile games tend to be more conscious about data size so they might really ask me to stick to the exact length of a cue as they planned it and not go over length too much.
Congrats on your recent Hollywood Music in Media award win for World Music Moonlight Blade track titled ‘Children of the Wind’. Can you tell us a little bit about creating this song?
TP: Thank you! Children of the Wind is a track from the most recent update for Moonlight Blade OL from Tencent’s Aurora Studios. It was the third update I worked on for this game and it is a project very dear to me as I’ve grown through it and with it over the last couple years. Also, it introduced me to the diverse music of China about which, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I actually knew. Combining all these experiences with my Western-European background and with a lot of encouragement from the Aurora audio director Jie Yang, I started to more and more explore a world music approach for my work. This recent Moonlight Blade update, and with it Children of the Wind, is testimony to that. As such, the track is a mix of different worlds: lead instruments are Chinese dizi flutes (recorded in Beijing) but it also features a solo of the Turkish Oud (played by Yoon Lee again) backed with ethnic percussion from various places such as the middle east. A string orchestra glues everything together in a song-like arrangement. As I have new projects in the world music arena in the making, I was very happy to receive this distinction.
You were one of the composers of Resident Evil 6. Did you feel any extra pressure when working on this game because there was already a huge built in audience?
TP: We definitely knew that the project would come with a lot of expectations from a large fanbase. For the most part, what helped me take my mind of this pressure was the fact that the team in Japan, at Capcom, really took on the lead in terms of artistic direction. So with a clear goal set, we could get to work straight away without having to ponder over what direction would be most suited. But even though we still felt some pressure, of course, I think we should also remember that it can be an inspiring and productive challenge to know the stakes are high. That doesn’t mean it always works of course… But even now that some years have gone by and I have more experience and am a very different composer with a different musical focus, the awareness of large audiences, say when working for Honor of Kings, can still be somewhat stifling but also thrillingly inspiring. I guess we will never be completely immune to the context in which we create. At the end of the day, however, I strive to be as unaffected by it as possible, try to keep the creative process as pure and self-sufficient as possible. After all, no matter the project, one always sits down in front of the same empty page in the beginning…
Which Resident Evil 6 parts did you work on?
TP: The Capcom in-house music leader would typically assign different sections and areas of the game to us composers. Of course, it would be cohesive chunks, or thematically related sections. Eventually, I ended up writing a good half of the score to RE6 together with my writing partner at the time, Laurent Ziliani. The two of us as a writing team were the first outsiders they had hired for music for the game at the time, so this was a great honor. Even though they did have their in-house composers working on it as well, we were very happy to have contributed such a substantial amount, which included the main theme.
Many thanks to Thomas Parisch for taking the time for this interview.