Lennie Moore Interview: Career Highlights for Video Games and Beyond (November 2011)
Lennie Moore is a versatile composer known for working on television, films, commercials, and video games. His soundtrack for 1996's Outcast was one of the very first full orchestral scores featured in a video game. Continuing to be an influential orchestral writer, he recently scored Star Wars: The Old Republic, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, and Kinect Disneyland Adventures as part of ensemble teams.
In this interview, Lennie Moore discusses his career highlights in games and beyond, focusing particularly on Outcast. He goes on to preview his latest scores, emphasising how his music for Star Wars and Halo builds on the existing musical framework of these titles.
Interview Subject: Lennie Moore
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Lennie Moore, many thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. First of all, could you tell us about your background and what led you to become a composer for visual media?
Lennie Moore: In 1983, I graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston with a degree in Jazz Composition, thinking I was going to be some kind of Gil Evans-style jazz arranger. I soon found there were no gigs for that kind of person, so I've kind of spent my life being very adaptive to whatever writing jobs have shown up along the way.
In the late 80s, I started orchestrating for several film and television composers in Los Angeles and, after a while, opportunities started to happen where I could compose for film, television, or commercials. I got hooked on writing to visual media pretty early on you could say. It just seemed a very natural scene for me to do what I do best.
Chris: Following numerous works for television, film, and commercials, you started working on your first video game score, Outcast, in 1996. What appealed to you about this project and video games in general?
Lennie Moore: The first thing that appealed to me was the ad where the game developer stated they were "looking for a Hollywood film composer to write an orchestral score for their video game". I popped in and replied, "I'm that guy!" and, after a vetting process, they chose me to score Outcast. It was perfect for what I wanted to be doing in my career at the time, which was to be composing orchestral music for cool people and great projects.
Chris: Outcast was a creative score, featuring a unique tonal approach and Latin choral parts. What aspects of the score do you feel were most musically innovative and how did they fit the unique game?
Lennie Moore: Thanks! The tonal approach was a hexatonic (six-note) scale which allowed me to move freely between three key centers (C, E, Ab) in major or minor tonalities. Because the game travelled between various regions, my choice to modulate between the tonalities based on this scale proved to be a device which musically connected the entire world of Outcast together in a unified manner. I also used a leitmotif approach (think Wagner's operas) to weave central themes with individual themes for each region. This added more "connective tissue" to inform the player they were in a unique world.
As for the choral parts, the game creators specifically asked if I could have the choir sing Latin text which had something to do with an adventure. After a recommendation from a dear friend, I came upon Virgil's the Aeneid, which was a swashbuckling tale of blood, gore and adventure about the founding of Rome. I spent a month doing research and working with the great people in the Classics Department at the University of Pennsylvania (creators of the Virgil Project) to help me find someone who could source the original Latin text from my English translation of the Aeneid and convert it into singable translations from the text.
I'm really proud of these aspects of the music for this game and how they helped to compliment the mood and feel the developers were trying to achieve on this project.
Chris: Outcast was one of the first video game scores that was recorded with a full orchestra. Could you tell us about what the Moscow Symphony Orchestra brought to the music? Did you feel like you were being a pioneer at the time?
Lennie Moore: I'm very grateful we could record this score with a live orchestra at a time when a live orchestra in a video game score was generally unheard of. At the time I wrote this score, I didn't really know that the game industry hadn't really used orchestras. I later discovered there were only a few games previous to Outcast with live orchestra, so you could say that, as I realized the pioneering aspect of this, I was honored to be on the forefront of this movement. It's a really special thing to be one of the first on the block and break new ground. It's something I've always tried to do on every score I've composed.
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra was great on this project. They were very excited to be a part of this and really worked hard on getting the performances right.
Chris: Few composers in the industry are able to completely orchestrate and produced a score like you did with Outcast. How did your education and experiences on other projects prepare you for this role?
Lennie Moore: I composed and orchestrated Outcast. My dear friend William Stromberg actually conducted the orchestra. I acted as the Music Producer in the mixing booth to make sure the recordings were going well. Normally, I do conduct and have studied the art of conducting for many years but, at this time, I felt my conducting technique was not as refined as it should be and chose to have someone I trusted explicitly at the podium to make sure we got the best performance from the musicians.
I think all my education at Berklee and my film and television experiences writing and orchestrating for live musicians have been a huge reason why I'm hired for large projects like this. I'm so comfortable playing in this sandbox because I've done it for so many years. There really isn't anything that throws me for a loop in this situation. I know exactly what I can get out of an orchestra and I just love composing for great musicians. I enjoy challenging them with my writing — getting them to push the boundaries of their abilities and yet still keep the emotional connection that music provides to the audience.
Chris: While Outcast was a new intellectual property, you've also worked on established franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Dungeons & Dragons. Could you discuss how you adapted yourself for such titles? Were you mindful of existing precedents when working on these?
Lennie Moore: Each of these projects had its own unique features regarding the franchise. Lord of the Rings had a Music Director, Chance Thomas, who wrote central themes for all the franchise's games that Vivendi Universal was developing at the time. I used and developed his themes, along with central themes, that I specifically wrote for the War of the Ring. We had a strict dictate to not copy the music approach for the films, as the IP license on this series of games was based on material from the books and not the films. This allowed us to create our own musical lexicon.
On The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, I was brought in to write some additional music for lead composer Mark Griskey, who had written all the themes and most of the material for this game. My role here was to be part of his team, support his vision for the score, match his orchestral style and fit in such a way that the player would only hear a cohesive score where all the music fit together perfectly.
Dragonshard gave me a freer position to write whatever I felt was suitable for this game. I understood the Dungeons & Dragons universe well and the developers really were great with me in their direction.
Chris: Many of these projects featured samplers rather than performers. How have you adapted your hardware and software setup to ensure these scores were still high quality? What do you think a hybridised approach to implementation can bring?
Lennie Moore: War of the Ring was mostly samples with a few key musicians on melodies. Prince Caspian was sampled percussion, but everything else was live orchestra. Dragonshard was sampled strings and percussion, but live woodwinds and brass. Most of these choices about what is sampled versus live were a result of budget limitations. To me, it doesn't matter what the mix of samples versus live is, as long as the client feels they are getting the best value for whatever budget they have allotted for their project.
I'm always upgrading my computers and sample libraries to stay ahead of the curve with the quality of my music. To me, the real trick is knowing how to best use what I have to make the music sound as "live" as possible.
There are also some benefits to having a hybrid approach on a given video game score. On Prince Caspian, because of where we were recording the orchestra, it was better to have sampled percussion because we could control the mixes better. In some venues, one timpani can cause mixing issues because the nature of how the instrument resonates in the concert hall permeates every microphone and every track, to the point that you can't isolate something as simple as a flute track where you have a melody you need to emphasize.
Sometimes the mechanics of how the music will be performed in the gameplay dictate the need for isolation of separate orchestral elements. This is all decided upon with the game developers early in the process to give us the best chance of creating an amazing score for the game.
Chris: Your expertise as an orchestrator was also sought on Video Games Live, where you produced the Frogger and Metal Gear Solid items. How did it feel to be involved in such an influential tour? How did you interpret these very different games?
Lennie Moore: I'm really proud to be a part of Video Games Live. I just love Tommy Tallarico and everything he's done to promote the advancement of game music and audio.
I worked collaboratively with the VGL guys on those arrangements. It really is a matter of creating a piece of music that works well in front of a live audience. Like any live event, the song order, the energy of each piece, and where it plays during the course of the show make an impact on the audience experience at each concert.
Chris: While your works on video games have been memorable, they haven't been as numerous as your works on television and film. Out of these projects, which three would you say are most memorable to you and why?
Lennie Moore: Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie - A fan favorite featuring a composer trifecta of my friends William Stromberg, John Morgan, and myself. Narrated by William Shatner, this film shows on the History Channel a lot. I love it because it's great writing from all the composers and well performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. In addition, Peter Kuran, the director, did such a great job with this film in showing many of the great people behind the atomic program in the U.S.
Heavy Metal 2000 - Composed by Frederic Talgorn and orchestrated by me. I had such a great time working with Frederic. He's an amazing composer and such fun to be with. Since it was a German production, we scored it in Munich so I have many fond memories of being whisked off a plane by Frederic in order to go directly to the biggest Hofbrauhaus in the city for huge beers and sausages.
Raw Justice - Pamela Anderson's first film (before Barb Wire) which still gets a lot of airplay on cable TV. Just a fun blues band score.
If I'm including my game projects too, then I'd like to mention Outcast, for being the first and most amazing introduction to scoring for games. While Dirty Harry was unreleased, I appreciated being able to score a huge project with my friends on the Clint Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers Studios and for being able to bring my 70's mojo on such an iconic project. And Star Wars: The Old Republic for giving me the opportunity to play in the Star Wars sandbox.
Chris: You have also worked extensively on commercials for all sorts of brands. Could you tell us a bit more about what these roles involve? Is there much room for creativity and individuality?
Lennie Moore: I love scoring commercials. One reason: it's 30 seconds long! I think there's lots of room for creativity and uniqueness. It's a fun task to distill all your musical knowledge into one focused moment to communicate the point of the advertisement to the audience. You're also finished with the job in a day or two. It's a great thing to blend in with longer term projects.
Chris: In the last year, you worked on two major projects as part of ensemble teams, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. How did you become involved in such projects and, as an experienced orchestral writer, what did you bring to them?
Lennie Moore: I've also just finished Kinect Disneyland Adventures as part of a team of six composers. It's been an amazing year!
I think it was a combination of things: my many years of experience, my talent as a composer/orchestrator, my large amount of musical knowledge with various styles and forms, and my ability to be a team player and fill in wherever needed to make a given project as successful as possible. These are some of the things that brought me on board with all of these teams.
Chris: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition features an updated score. How did you approach this title and what was it like to work with Paul Lipson?
Lennie Moore: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition was what Paul Lipson (Pyramind COO and Composer) and I called an archaeological dig! We transcribed every note of the original score and then orchestrated everything based on the concept of: Retain the soul of the original. Honor the original composers Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori. Expand it for High Definition Surround Audio with the larger orchestra. Kick Butt.
Paul Lipson is amazing. We have a similar background going to music schools in Boston, playing jazz, writing in all kinds of styles. I appreciate his friendship, his talent, and his ability to make the impossible possible. On both Halo Anniversary and Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Paul and his team at Pyramind do everything they can to make you feel welcome into their family. That's what it's like. It's like family except without the dysfunctional stuff. Paul and I work well together. We think very much the same and sometimes never complete sentences because we're that in tune with each others musical sensibilities.
Being a part of the Halo franchise is something I will always be very proud of. I suppose what I brought to this project was my love of this music as a fan and my ability to be an accurate historian.
Chris: While Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is mostly an updated score, Star Wars: The Old Republic is a new soundtrack with a staggering 4.5 hours of music. How do you feel about the final product? Should we expect the best Star Wars game score to date?
Lennie Moore: I agree with you. I think it is one of the best Star Wars game scores to date. I feel the fans will really appreciate the vastness of the worlds BioWare is creating for this MMO. The large amount of original music suits what fans expect from big titles like this and I think every composer on this project brought their best to it.
I did a lot of research and analysis into John Williams film scores. I was already very familiar with them, but I wanted to dig deeper to try to discover what I felt was the essence of what is "Star Wars music", so that I could take off from there and just write my own thing based on that core aesthetic.
The Old Republic team, led by Jesse Harlin at LucasArts, was awesome to work with. Jesse's encyclopedic knowledge of all things Star Wars answered so many of our questions along the way (such as, there is no Latin text for choir in Star Wars music!). Mark Griskey is a great friend and such a wonderful writer. We always have fun on projects together.
An added bonus is that much of John Williams music from the films is also included, along with the scores from Knights of the Old Republic I and II. What a great way to compare scores!
Chris: You received the opportunity to record with full orchestras on these projects, namely the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra. Were you closely involved with the recording sessions for these projects? How would you compare the sessions for these scores with those of the classic Outcast?
Lennie Moore: Yes, I was very closely involved on all these sessions through monitoring performances, giving feedback to the conductor on our compositions, and collaborating with the session producers to get the best results. The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra is fantastic. I consider it one of the top three recording orchestras in the world along with those in London and Los Angeles.
With Mark, Jesse and Paul, the common thread is that they are all so dedicated to making great music for games and advancing the art of what we do. It's just so great to work with people who totally relate to your passion. I'm very fortunate to work with them and have them as friends.
That said, Outcast still has a very special place in my heart and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir did a wonderful job on it. It's a landmark score in video game music history so I think they remain very proud of their work on it.
I think people are going to be really amazed at the music performances in all three of these recent scores. I'll leave it to the fans to make comparisons.
Chris: Many thanks for your time today, Lennie Moore. Is there any more you'd like to say about your music and is there any message you'd like to leave to readers around the world?
Lennie Moore: First, I think people will really love what we did with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Star Wars: The Old Republic. They should buy both games!
Thanks to everyone for the kind words in your emails, your support of great music for games, and enjoy this next round of games coming out.