Winifred Phillips Interview: From God of War to SimAnimals (February 2009)
Interview Subject: Winifred Phillips
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko
Michael: Greetings, Winifred. First of all, tell us about yourself. When did you decide to become a composer and how did your professional career begin?
Winifred Phillips: My first job as a composer was for a long-running series of dramas on National Public Radio called Radio Tales. It was a great way to begin a career as a composer. The rigorous schedule of the series served as a great bootcamp for me, and writing music for a purely aural medium taught me a lot about the power of music to tell a story. When there is no picture to help you understand what the characters are doing and feeling, the music has to take on the responsibility of filling in those blanks. I was the composer for “Radio Tales” for over ten years, and then I transitioned into the video game industry.
Michael: Unfortunately, there are currently only few woman-composers working in the video game industry. How and when did you manage to break into the industry?
Winifred Phillips: There aren’t a lot of female composers in the video game industry – although I’m certain that will change rapidly in the next few years as the development community adjusts its own male-female ratio in order to more accurately reflect the changing demographic of gamers. But at the moment, I think there are only one or two other female game composers working today. I began my career as a game composer when Sony Computer Entertainment America brought me on to create music for God of War. At the time, I was interested in entering the industry – I’ve always been a big fan of videogames, so I was very excited to work on the God of War audio team.
Michael: Have you had a classical music education?
Winifred Phillips: My education consists of a strong classical foundation that includes numerous music instructors and a university music education. I’m also quite fortunate that at an early age I studied MIDI orchestration and music technology with a private tutor, which afforded me an extra level of comfort with the equipment and working methods. Also, I received classical vocal training, which has been a great service to me in my current career. I’ve recorded my own voice for several of my projects.
Michael: You are best known for the music that you contributed to God of War. Could you tell us more about your experience working on this game?
Winifred Phillips: I created a lot of ambient music for God of War, as well as some combat music, and my singing voice is featured in the game – I performed the vocals for the “Siren” miniboss character. Working on the God of War project was a fascinating experience. I’ve always enjoyed mythology, fantasy and ancient literature, so I approached this project with enormous enthusiasm.
Michael: Throughout your career, you've worked both with electronic and symphonic material. Do you prefer one over the other?
Winifred Phillips: I don’t let myself lean one way or another. As a composer for games, I see myself as a storyteller. Music is the vocabulary I use to communicate, and musical instruments are the building blocks of that vocabulary. My goal is to be as eloquent as possible, so I never want to limit my musical vocabulary. Some projects call for electronic instruments, or orchestral ones, or some combination of the two, and I think it is important for me to cultivate my own understanding and proficiency with all of these instruments.
Michael: Let's talk about SimAnimals. One of the remarkable features of your score for the game is the detailed orchestration. Did you do the orchestration on SimAnimals yourself or were any other orchestrators involved?
Winifred Phillips: I did the orchestration myself. I’ve always done all of my own orchestration, and I’m very glad you enjoyed it! SimAnimals really required an uncompromisingly symphonic approach.
Michael: What was the guiding concept behind the soundtrack and what materials did you receive when you started working on it?
Winifred Phillips: The development team at Electronic Arts had a vision for the music of SimAnimals that always included a symphonic style – they talked quite a bit about Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf at the beginning of the project. While the score I created for SimAnimals has very little in common with Prokofiev’s work, I recognized the developer’s passion for a lush, orchestral score, and I kept that in mind while I was creating the music. All throughout the music creation process, the team at EA provided gameplay videos and concept art, as well as documents outlining the musical requirements of the game. One thing I really appreciated was their faith in my creative decisions. Once I began creating the music, they gave me a lot of room to create a unique sound for SimAnimals. Electronic Arts allowed me to define a musical style for the franchise. I found the experience very fulfilling.
Michael: How much time were you given to create this soundtrack?
Winifred Phillips: I worked on SimAnimals from June to September of 2008.
Michael: One of your longtime collaborators is your producer Winnie Waldron. Could you tell us more about her role on SimAnimals?
Winifred Phillips: Winnie Waldron is an invaluable creative partner, and I’m enormously grateful to be able to work with her. We worked together on the Radio Tales series – she was a producer on that project. When I crossed over into video games, she came with me as my music producer. Winnie contributed to the planning stages, helping to define what the musical style should be for the game. During music production, Winnie provides oversight and quality control, offering great advice and encouragement.
Michael: What hard- and software do you use for writing your music?
Winifred Phillips: At the moment I have six computers in my studio – four are running sound libraries via Native Instruments Kontakt, one is a dedicated DSP PC running T.C. Electronics System 6000, and one is my Pro Tools DAW (which also hosts sound libraries via plugins).
Michael: What methods of writing music do you use when you start working on a soundtrack from scratch?
Winifred Phillips: I think that a composer ought to always be listening to the work of other composers that he or she admires. There is nothing more inspirational than hearing a piece of music that pushes the boundaries of convention. After I’ve been briefed on the nature of the game I’m about to score, I listen to lots of music in divergent styles, all the while keeping my ears very sensitive to anything that may leap out to me. Then I begin creating music, with my ‘creative subconscious’ hopefully enriched by everything I’ve heard. I think that no artist should work in a vacuum. Music is a living language, and every composer and songwriter adds to its complexity and versatility.
Michael: Could you tell us about your daily routine in the studio? How many hours do you spend writing music and where do you get inspiration from when your brain just can’t produce new ideas?
Winifred Phillips: Every day is different. I think most composers would tell you that. Just like in game development, there are ‘crunch’ periods for composers, in which we work from early morning to late night. But there are also periods in which we can recharge our creative batteries. In terms of inspiration, my music producer Winnie Waldron sweeps to my rescue when I’m floundering for ideas. She has lots of methods for getting me out of my ‘composer’s block’, so I’m never stuck for long. I’m very lucky to work with her.
Michael: We know the CIA will go after us for asking this, but what projects are you currently working on?
Winifred Phillips: I wish I could tell you! But for your own protection, I have to conceal the identities of the games I’m scoring at the moment. :) I can tell you that currently I’m scoring another title at EA. I’m also creating music for a really top-secret mature game at another publisher – but unfortunately I can’t say anything more about that.
Michael: How do you think game music will evolve in the years to come?
Winifred Phillips: The future is in the hands of audio directors and game developers. I’m as curious to see what will happen as anyone else. The constant advance of console and PC technology has had an impact on game audio, opening up possibilities in terms of interactivity and surround sound implementation. It’s all very interesting!
Michael: Thanks for being our “first woman-composer interviewed by Game-OST”! We wish you peace and happiness, and more great new soundtracks and successful commercial releases!
Winifred Phillips: I’m honored to be the first woman-composer interviewed on Game-OST. Thanks for the good wishes! Your site is fantastic. I wish you many more years of great content at Game-OST.