Thomas Boecker Interview: The Merregnon Trilogy (April 2007)
This is the second instalment of a three-part interview with Thomas Boecker. Thomas is producer and founder of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series, co-creator of the Merregnon trilogy, and advisor and former executive producer of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony.
His experience with such projects has enabled him to assist in the production of Masashi Hamauzu's solo album VIELEN DANK and work as the music producer for games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl. He has loved game music since he was seven and has worked as producer for much of his adult life.
In this instalment, we discuss with Thomas the Merregnon project, a three volume multi-composer orchestral soundtrack project dedicated to interpreting a fantasy world.
Interview Subject: Thomas Boecker
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Tell us about the history of the Merregnon project.
Thomas Boecker: The project was started back in 1999. I met composer Fabian Del Priore who was introduced to me by Chris Huelsbeck. They had been both working on the soundtrack for Extreme Assault.
Fabian and I soon realised that we had a similar idea in mind: having a fantasy story told by the music. We are both huge fans of music from video games and the demo scene, so we thought it would be actually great to have many different composers participating. Not only for the diversity of music on the album, but also to promote the work of video game music composers outside of the game industry. The composers should come from all over the world. They had to work together in order to develop musical themes; this was an important point as well.
We could convert these plans into reality and the first CD was released in 2000 in a limited and numbered edition, followed by another regular one in 2001. It was my first project of this kind and size.
Soon after the release of Merregnon we decided to start working on volume 2. This time we wanted to try something new: we wanted to work with a live orchestra. Most of the composers never had done something like that before, so it was a great learning experience for everybody. Strings were recorded in 2002 in Prague, the choir one year later at the same studio. All other instruments were recorded in New York. Finally, the album was released in 2004.
The world-premiere of the music was in 2003, though — at the first Symphonic Game Music Concert in Leipzig with a medley orchestrated by Nic Raine.
Chris: What is the background to the story?
Thomas: It is a fantasy story in the country of Merregnon, where Gallahadt, Selina, and dragon Madostror'Skar are forced to fight in a battle for freedom. In Merregnon 1 it all starts with young Gallahadt, who, on a search for his beloved Selina, will have to pass many adventures. Ripped out of his former, comfortable dream world, he starts to take action, and in so doing scares up the ghosts of a truth which gives him an all new picture of the world around him.
The sequel ties up seamlessly with part 1: Gallahadt, Selina and now also the dragon have become a team. Being certain about having won their fight in Merregnon 1, they are on their way home, when suddenly a huge thunderstorm swallows them and sweeps off their plans for good. It is more than a freak of nature, as will soon become clear — and so the group is forced to enter a new episode, which can only to be passed by working hand in hand. Their path recalls the story of their land, unsealing forgotten secrets with familiar faces, new backgrounds.
Indeed, the story is simple, but I would say very effective too. With the limits of a booklet of about 30 pages, and with the concept of Merregnon to promote the actual music I think we could get the maximum out of it. We wanted to offer a great range of emotions that the composers could use in their compositions.
Chris: Who are the main composers that have contributed?
Thomas: Fabian Del Priore (Extreme Assault, Cultures 2) is the main composer of Merregnon. He created most of the music themes that are used through the CDs, e. g. Gallahadt's Theme, Madostror'Skar's Theme and so many others.
Additional composers so far are Chris Huelsbeck (Turrican series, Star Wars: Rogue Leader), Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Streets of Rage series), Andy Brick (Sim City, Sims 2), Allister Brimble (Alienbreed, Body Blows), Olof Gustafsson (Pinball Dreams, Battlefield 1942), Gustaf Grefberg (Chronicles of Riddick, The Darkness), Markus Holler (Cold Zero: No Mercy, S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl), Jonne Valtonen (Death Rally, Rally Trophy), Rudolf Stember (Z-Out, Mr Nutz), as well as Jogeir Liljedahl and Jason Chong who are especially famous for their contributions to the demo scene in the past.
For Merregnon 3 I am planning to invite new composers, especially from Japan. Nevertheless, I will follow the "never change a winning team" rule most of the time. In regards to this instalment, it needs an incredible amount of time to make it happen again, but it will happen.
Chris: The soundtrack to Merregnon 2 was a major landmark in that it featured a full symphonic performance. What makes this CD particularly personal to you?
Thomas: Merregnon is simply my baby. It brought me into the industry. It made everything happen until now. Because of Merregnon I was able to start the Leipzig concerts. These brought me to work for PLAY!. I got a lot of new friends. Somehow everything is based on Merregnon. Merregnon is the fundament of my career which is a fantastic thing, because I could combine my hobby with my daily work.
Having Merregnon 2 performed by a live orchestra in 2002 was simply breathtaking, really. I cried (silently! After all, I had to pretend to be a cold producer!) when the strings started to play Merregnon's Main Theme. It was like living my dream at this moment.
It was such a relief after all the preparation work that took almost ages. It was a moment were you are thinking: well, all my money is gone, I am poor now — but boy! Who cares.
Chris: How did it feel to see the Japanese release of Merregnon 2 sold alongside various world-famous games and soundtracks during your visit to Japan?
Thomas: This was another emotional highlight for sure, on the same level as the recordings in Prague. People sometime smile (or even laugh) when I say this, but for me it was like the absolutely highest possible point to reach for my project.
Being an incredibly huge fan of Japanese game music it is simply impossible to put it into words what it meant to me to have my CD released by Sony Japan. This was thanks to the great people at Dex Entertainment and Yuzo Koshiro, who was the person who pushed it forward. Merregnon 2 was sold in shops all over Japan. Of course, I took photos, one of which is shown to the right.
It was completely localised in Japanese language and featured new drawings by a Manga artist. We got interviews and articles in the Famitsu, Dorimaga, in Nobuo Uematsu's fan magazine etc. etc.
Chris: You have clearly made an effort to reunite the often divergent worlds of Western and Eastern game music in your projects. What do you perceive to be the main reasons for the split and how do you feel both fans and companies contribute?
Thomas: At the end of the day it simply it is a matter of taste, isn't it? When combining music from the East and the West in my projects, I never felt that it did not work in some way. Of course there are differences. But this makes it diverse — and I like that a lot. Japanese composers such as Yuzo Koshiro like the music of Jeremy Soule. Jeremy Soule likes the music of him, too, as well as music by Nobuo Uematsu. I hear it very often that composers from the East like the work of their Western colleagues and vice-versa. Cross-admiration, so to say. Fans should be as open-minded as their favourite composers, too.
Chris: How did Yuzo Koshiro contribute to forming the bridge between East and West?
Thomas: He was essential. He made it possible to introduce our CD to the Japanese market after all. People got curious about his work at first, of course — but then realised there are other composers on the album that created great music, too. Because of Yuzo Koshiro we could also forward the CD to basically all the big names of Japanese game music to take a listen, and this way I could learn a lot based on the feedback I got. Without Yuzo Koshiro there would be no Japanese release of Merregnon 2 for sure.