Borislav Slavov Interview: Crytek's In-House Composer (August 2010)
Borislav Slavov (aka Glorian) is a Bulgarian composer currently employed by Crytek Black Sea. During the last nine years, he has worked on major titles such as Knights of Honor, WorldShift, Gothic 3, and Risen as both an orchestral composer and ethno-music specialist. In the next month, his diverse and interactive score for his biggest work to date — Two Worlds II — will be released across multiple platforms.
In this interview, Borislav Slavov discusses his multifaceted musical background and how he has been influenced by cinematic, folk, and ethnic music. He subsequently reflects on his scoring works for Black Sea Studio and beyond. He goes on to reveal details about the score for the eagerly anticipated Two Worlds II before announcing he is currently working on several other major new projects.
Interview Subject: Borislav Slavov
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Borislav Slavov, welcome to the site. First of all, could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us more about your musical background, education, and influences?
Borislav Slavov: Hello, Chris and thank you for inviting me to this interview. I am a Master of Computer Sciences. Music has always been a tremendous part of my life. I used to sing and play the guitar in a band and this is basically how my music odyssey started.
Ten years ago, I realized that the passion of my life was actually soundtrack music. This is when my professional development as a Music Composer and Director started. My influences come mainly from the soundtrack productions of composers such as James Newton Howard, Harry-Gregson Williams, John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Trevor Jones and many others.
I also love folklore music from all over the world and it greatly influences my work. A hobby of mine is to collect stringed music instruments from around the globe, which I have used in almost all my soundtrack productions so far.
Chris: In 2001, you joined Black Sea Studio team (now Crytek Black Sea) as a music producer and composer. Could you tell us about how you became employed at this studio and what it was like to start working on game projects?
Borislav Slavov: When I heard that the newly founded Black Sea Studio in Sofia was going to develop a medieval strategy game, I thought that this was a great chance for me. Ethnic/medieval music is my specialty and I immediately took the chance and applied with couple of compositions. The CEO of the company liked my work and offered me the position. From this point on, my game music adventure has never stopped.
Chris: Knights of Honor was your first game score on behalf of Black Sea Studios. In retrospect, how do you feel about your experiences on this score? How did you establish a sense of Medieval Europe with your setting and action themes?
Borislav Slavov: Knights of Honor is the first commercial title I worked on and my first game love!
I think that, in order to compose music, which needs to evoke a certain atmosphere (in this case, Medieval Europe), you have to carry the feeling you would like to provoke within you. This was one of the most pleasant moments of the music creation process; in order to get that feeling, I had to become familiar with all available details from the game production.
Afterwards I sat down to watch a movie or read a book on the same topic until I was totally immersed to the point that I said to myself "I am there!" and started to work.
Chris: WorldShift also featured an orchestral score, but was more inspired by science-fiction than military history. How did you offer a different aesthetic for this title? Would you consider this work your proudest achievement to date?
Borislav Slavov: It was actually easy, since the game was set in the distant future. There were three different fighting factions in the game: Humans, Mutants, and Aliens. We thought that it would be suitable to attach musical identities to all three factions.
For the Humans, I bet on the classical Action/Orchestral approach, flavoured with modern synths. The Aliens received a dark horror-sci-fi orchestra cues and the ethnic tracks fell naturally on the Mutants. Whether I consider it my best achievement? Well, most certainly at the time I produced it. For me, however, my best achievement is always the one that I am presently working on!
Chris: One feature that Knights of Honor and WorldShift share is the realistic use of orchestral samples. What are the main considerations when implementing sampled orchestral compositions? What hardware do you use to achieve these results?
Borislav Slavov: We usually use a mixed approach — professional orchestral libraries mixed with live recorded instruments, which add passion and a live feeling to the arrangements. We usually record violin, viola, cello, flutes, and all kind of stringed instruments. As for the hardware, the projects are based entirely on PC hardware and software.
Chris: Your contributions to these scores also expanded to sound effects. Could you expand upon the creative process involved in sound effects production and what was demanded for each of these projects?
Borislav Slavov: While Knights of Honor required more traditional sound effects like swords clashing and arrow swishes, the setting of WorldShift allowed a lot of space for creativity. We experimented by mixing a wide range of modern and computer generated sounds to create the weapons and technology of the factions. Do you know, for example, what a real proton grenade sounds like?!
Chris: In addition, you have worked on the related titles Risen and Gothic 3 as an additional orchestrator and ethno-instrument expert. Could you elaborate on how you became involved in these projects and what your roles involved? What were the unique demands of these very different scores?
Borislav Slavov: The Music Director and Composer of the series, Kai Rosenkranz, is an old friend of mine. He was already familiar with my previous works and my passion for ethnic instruments, so when he started to score the third part of the Gothic series, he invited me to join him. I travelled to Düsseldorf, Germany for recording sessions. We recorded series of live folklore instruments, which were later on arranged within the live orchestral performances of the Bochum Symphony Orchestra.
While in Gothic 3 the approach was a grand orchestral work with ethnic stringed instruments, in Risen, KaiRo went for a more minimalistic direction. I believe it was a great decision, as it gave Risen a music identity different from Gothic.
Chris: You have been working closely with the sound designer and co-composer Victor Stoyanov. Could you tell us more about this collaboration and what it offers to your productions?
Borislav Slavov: Victor is my co-creative team-mate and a good friend of mine. He is an expert in contemporary MIDI orchestration and a very talented musician, but most importantly he shares my passion for music. This is actually the foundation of our team. As I like to say, to make people enjoy your music, you need to enjoy the process of creation.
Chris: With Victor, you rose to the challenge of scoring a horror game on Larva Mortus. How did you establish a suitably horrifying orchestral tone for this game and how did you integrate your contributions with the in-game scenes?
Borislav Slavov: Thank you for your kind words, Chris. I am glad you liked the score. We greatly enjoyed making this score. We actually made an experiment there. Instead of making music, which simply follows the game, we decided to make a big orchestral horror soundtrack in advance. Fortunately, the developers at Rake-in-Grass liked the ideas we presented and gave us the chance to make the music, before the intro and rest of the scenes were created.
It might be curious for you to know that all the choirs in the soundtrack are sung only by the two of us (Victor and myself) and a female colleague of ours (called Milena). During the recording sessions we used to call her "our beloved dead nun". Later on we were totally smashed when we saw that the developers had put a murdered nun in the Intro of the game!
Chris: The pair of you have also offered some vastly different contributions to the Eschalon series. What inspired your soothing and spiritual approach to these soundtracks? Could you elaborate, in particular, on your gorgeous title themes for this series?
Borislav Slavov: The Eschalon Series is an independent RPG gem and one of our favorite games. It was a pleasure to score this title because the fantasy style is a specialty of ours. The idea for a consistent title theme for all the installments in the series came from its creator and lead designer, Thomas Riegsecker. He wanted a memorable tune, which would serve as a silver line between all the parts in the trilogy.
Chris: Moving to an upcoming project, your score for Two Worlds 2 will be released in September. How did you approach this major title and what are the highlights of the impending soundtrack release?
Borislav Slavov: Two Worlds 2 is a huge RPG adventure — a truly epic title. The score that we did for it is the biggest and most varied soundtrack we have worked on so far. It features more than three and a half hours of original music and consisting of a wide range of music styles like: Orchestral, Ambient, Electronic, Ethnic, and Percussive.
A live ethno band was assembled specially for the creation of the folklore in the game, in addition to the main score. Instruments from all over the word have been used such as the Ud, Saz, Baglama, Acoustic Guitar, Kaval, and Baroque flute, Chinese flute (Di), Mandolin, Tamboura, Violin, and Gadulka. You can hear some demo samples at the official site of the game.
If you have ever wanted to play some of these, you will be able to do so in the game! In Two Worlds 2, the players can collect and play tracks with all kinds of ethnic instruments — as solos, or in a jam session online, with up to five friends in your virtual band!
Chris: You are also active in the wider game music community as a member of Game Audio Network Guild and co-founder of the Bulgarian Audio Network Guild. Could you elaborate on your involvement in these communities and what you feel they bring to game music as a whole?
Borislav Slavov: Well, thank you for reminding me. My membership at G.A.N.G. expired and I need to re-new it this year!! G.A.N.G. is the biggest professional game-audio forum in the world and a great place to share experience and information with musicians and audio engineers in the industry.
I was missing such a music forum on a local level and six years ago decided to co-found one, hence the name, the Bulgarian Audio Network Guild! I am happy that many young and talented musicians found a free-access stage, feedback and support there, which was our main purpose. Additionally, we organize a regular contest for original music composition. The competition is fully anonymous and all composers are bound to vote for their top five favorite tracks. I believe it is great fun for all participants and a great chance to see how appealing your music is to your fellow-composers.
Chris: Before closing this interview, we would appreciate your perspectives on game music as a whole. How do you feel about the European and wider game music industry right now? How do you envisage game music will develop in the future and what do you hope to see?
Borislav Slavov: I think that, in the recent years, the game music productions in Europe have made a huge step forward. Today the game industry provides music quality which is comparable to its big brother — the movie industry — which is really impressive, keeping in mind how young the game industry is.
We will soon witness a moment when both industries will come together, which will place the game composers in a very interesting and challenging situation. I think that a new game genre will appear — I like to call it "Play the movie", which will enable us to experience an interactive movie within a few intensive hours of game play. As a consequence, this will push the game music production to even higher production values and interactivity.
Chris: Many thanks for your time today, Borislav Slavov. Is there anything else you would like to say about your life and career? In addition, do you have any messages for readers and fans around the world?
Borislav Slavov: It was pleasure for me, Chris. I hope I will be able to talk to you again soon about a couple of new very interesting titles I am presently working on! I would also like to say "Thank you" to you and all the people that share our passion for game music! Cheers, Borislav.