Rom Di Prisco Interview: The Joy of Creating New Sounds (April 2011)
Rom di Prisco is best known for his electronic soundtracks for the Need for Speed series, including Need for Speed 5, for which he composed music under his Morphadron alias. He has also composed music for the aggressive slasher Rune and for arcade racer Full Auto, and has received much acclaim for his Unreal Tournament III remixes, which he created with Jesper Kyd. He recently released his first solo album Cryptidalia for free download.
Interview Subject: Rom Di Prisco
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko, Flamberg
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko, Flamberg
Michael: What started you on the path to becoming a composer? Have you had a formal music education? Did you play in a band when you were younger?
Michael: Your soundtracks for the Need for Speed series are considered by some of your fans your defining works. Your music first appeared in the second installment of the franchise, and most recently, you've been involved with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. How did you land the job on this franchise and what are your impressions of collaborating with other musicians on these projects?
Rom Di Prisco: I originally sent a demo out to EA around 1996. The Audio Director contacted me, and I started producing some tracks for them later that year, for Need for Speed 2. Collaborating with the other musicians on the Need for Speed projects was awesome. The Need for Speed audio department back in the day was amazing. There were lots of extremely talented composers involved with the Need for Speed series, and it was great to be a part of it all.
Michael: Need for Speed 3 had an interesting feature that allowed the game to dynamically mix the music depending on what was happening on the road around the player. Did this have any impact on your creative process or was it just a matter of sound engineering and post-processing?
Rom Di Prisco: This had a huge impact on the creative process. The music had to be written in a very specific way with lots of branching paths, and was nothing like writing a normal linear song. It was a very time consuming, sometimes tedious process, but got easier the more you worked on it. In the end, the pay off was great once you saw it all come together! The technology was pretty revolutionary at the time – having branching paths that adapted and changed depending on what was happening in the game world, and all running on a Playstation One.
Michael: Why did you decide to leave the series after Hot Pursuit 2?
Rom Di Prisco: After Hot Pursuit 2, the series really started to change, in terms of both overall style and music. EA were heading towards more licensed music, and using big name artists, so there wasn't really a need for what I had to offer anymore. I was very happy to contribute to the golden age of the Need for Speed series, but was also very excited to move on and try out something fresh and new.
Michael: You use quite a number of aliases when authoring your music, such as Morphadron. Could you tell us about the idea behind these aliases?
Rom Di Prisco: Yes, I've used quite a lot of aliases over the years! Some of my hardcore fans have discovered most of them, but there are still a few that might be secret :) I like to dabble in many different styles of music, so I would use different aliases and artist names for each different genre of music. After years of using aliases, I finally decided to just use my own name, and combine all the different styles of music that I love, which is how my new album came about.
Michael: Your work on Unreal Tournament 3 contained not only original tracks, but also a lot of remixes of classic Unreal Tournament tunes. Whose idea was this?
Rom Di Prisco: Epic really wanted the classic Unreal Tournament tunes to be remixed and remade, and I was very excited about this too, since I loved those tracks myself.
Michael: When working on a soundtrack, what materials do you get from the developers to inspire you? How important are deadlines and conditions set by the game creators?
Rom Di Prisco: Yes, I find it very important to get materials from the developer for inspiration, and to make sure everything flows beautifully between the music and the visuals. A lot of the time, a running version of the game is not even available during the composing stage, so I have to get creative sometimes to make sure I still perfectly capture the feel of the game with the music. Sometimes schedules can be quite tight, but I actually tend to enjoy that, and thrive on the deadlines.
Michael: What is more appealing to you, to work on your own projects without time limits, or to be part of projects with deadlines and other constraints?
Rom Di Prisco: I actually enjoy both the same, although I think I might lean towards enjoying projects with deadlines. The reason I say this is because I enjoy the challenge of collaborating with the game developers to create something special together, and I do enjoy the challenge of having a specific direction to work with, and nailing it. Working on my own albums and projects is of course fun too – being able to take my music in any direction I want. But sometimes this can be a bad thing – being a creative person, working on your own material, you tend to want to rework things. The key is to know when something is done :)
Michael: Myself, I am more comfortable making music that I feel like making, without anybody looking over my shoulder. What do you think?
Rom Di Prisco: If there was actually somebody physically looking over my shoulder while composing, which I've experienced before, then I would definitely agree with you, yes ;) But honestly, I do love collaborating with others on a project!
Michael: What instruments do you own? What software and hardware do you use in your work? Some people say that sampling is killing the music industry - nowadays you can hear not just similar sounds, but the same passages in original works by different composers. How do you feel about this?
Rom Di Prisco: My main setup is an 8 core PC running Cubase, with a RME Fireface 800 and Adam monitors + sub. I own various guitars, hardware synths, software synths, a piano, and a large collection of percussion instruments from different parts of the world. I also sometimes create my own instruments by piecing together everyday items, or banging and smashing things, and then tuning them up to play like an instrument. I recently picked up an old used autoharp, tuned it really low and ran it through some guitar amps which sounds killer, so I'll be using that on my next album. I really enjoy creating original and fresh new sounds. You are right, a lot of the big name sound libraries and plugins tend to get used a lot these days. I try to create original material as much as possible, in fact my new album has virtually zero samples, and no factory sounds, or anything like that on it. I sound designed all the synths and drum synth sounds from scratch, and recorded a lot of live instruments myself. It does take more time, but makes for a far more interesting and original sound in the end.
Michael: What other musicians have had a strong influence on you? Who would you want to work with in the future?
Rom Di Prisco: Some of the artists that have had a big influence on me are: Leftfield, Skinny Puppy, The Prodigy, I Start Counting, PWEI, New Order, FSOL, Red Flag, Daft Punk, The Cure, Kraftwerk, Thompson Twins, D.A.F., Howard Jones, Nitzer Ebb – I could go on for hours... It would be amazing to work with any of these artists, and luckily I've had the chance to work with a few of them already.
Michael: What are your plans for the future? You don’t have to mention any unannounced projects, but we would be happy to hear any interesting tidbits.
Rom Di Prisco: I do have some unannounced game projects, but I can't talk about them yet because of my NDAs. I have a bunch of music releases planned for this year too. A Cryptidalia Remixes EP is currently in the works, as well as a brand new album, a new side project of 8-bit music vs modern technology, and I'm also working on a handful of remix jobs for other artists right now.
Michael: At some stage, you had planned a commercial release of Cryptidalia. Are you still going ahead with this plan?
Rom Di Prisco: A commercial release of Cryptidalia was planned for later this year, but I am now rethinking that plan. I had originally planned to release it for free for a limited time, and then follow up with a commercial release. But there have been so many downloads of the album, and people seem to be really enjoying it from the response I've been getting, so I'm going to leave it for free for now and see what happens. The more people who enjoy it the better.
Michael: One question regarding your solo album: what is the gorgeous piano that you use on "Zenermancy"? Some Broken Piano VST?
Rom Di Prisco: Heh heh, that was a mix of about 3 different pianos in that song. There's a couple of regular VST pianos, combined with some live pianos I recorded myself. I created the modulation myself from scratch for one of them, and ran one piano track through tons of drastic notch eqs, and another through a guitar amp, and the three combined tracks made the final sound :)
Michael: With all your work, do you get any free time? If so, what do you do then? Do you like to travel and have you ever been to Europe? If you have, what are your impressions?
Rom Di Prisco: No, I don't really get a lot of free time, haha... well not in large chunks. But I do set a little time aside to enjoy life – if I am not feeling the vibe of a song, I can go for a walk in nature or take a few hours off to watch a film and inspire myself. I haven't been on an actual vacation in about 15 years, but I hope to one day make it out to the UK and Germany again, and my travel wishlist includes Russia, Scotland, Australia, and Japan, amongst others.
Michael: What was the funniest moment in your musical career?
Rom Di Prisco: I can't think of any one big moment, but it would probably have to be something to do with my fanmail... I have some pretty dedicated fans which seem to know more details about my music and history of releases than me, which quite often makes me laugh! They let me know when and where my music has been used, sometimes before I am even aware of it myself, and I've actually gotten email from fans who have mathematically analyzed my songs and discovered interesting things I wasn't even aware of myself. My fans are awesome :)
Michael: Finally, can you give any advice to aspiring composers?
Rom Di Prisco: The most important advice I would give is to constantly work on honing your skills, both in songwriting and production techniques – and technical know-how. The more time you put into it, the better. Keep at it, and work towards your goals little by little – with perseverance anything is possible. When it comes to audio, I am constantly learning new things on a regular basis. Even when you think you have a firm grasp on something, there are always surprises and new things to learn in this field!