Interview: Greg Edmonson

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Greg Edmonson should be familiar to everyone for his eclectic and incomparable scores to two of the most innovative series of the last few years: video game smash, Uncharted, and Joss Whedon-helmed, modern sci-fi, cult classic, Firefly. Greg was kind enough to suffer an interrogation from me.

What has it been like working on a long-running series like Uncharted; the good and bad?
The time that I spent working on the Uncharted series was absolutely wonderful. I loved the creative team at Naughty Dog and also the creative team at Sony. Of course, writing that much music has it’s own set of unique pressures but really it was just fun and also opened a whole new world up for me.

I can’t think of a downside really. If there is one it is probably that the enormity of the project requires so much of your time and creative juices that you lose track of other types of projects, but that is really just quibbling. Another giant plus is having the resources to record a large orchestra at places like Skywalker and Abbey Road. Something that I am always humbled and thrilled by. Video games allow you to write more melodic content than would normally happen in a film or TV show because you are not always having to fit under the dialogue.

Both Uncharted and Firefly have very devoted fans – are there differences between the music fans of a game series and a television series?
You can not have better fans than sci-fi or game fans. It just does not get any better. They are so very supportive and appreciative of the work that you do. But really it is all of us who make those projects that owe the fans a huge debt of gratitude. Without them watching the shows or playing the games – we wouldn’t have a gig! It always gives me great joy to speak with fans and give them the credit that they deserve. We are all in this together and and in my mind there is no separation between the makers of a project and the fans that support such. We are all equals and I find myself with a vested interest because I am a fan too.

I am a huge fan of Uncharted and of Firefly and how very lucky to get to work on a project that you already care so much about. I cannot say enough good things about how wonderful the fans have been to me—both for Uncharted and Firefly.

I shall confess to not having watched Firefly but recently listened to your music from it. It’s quite unusual to have that blues/bluegrass feel blended with ethnic elements. Is that borne out of being raised in Texas and those musical influences?
Perhaps that played a part, but really using those instruments was a part of Joss Whedon’s unique vision for what the show represented. It was the polar opposite of Star Trek music-wise. So when you hit a space shot, rather than big French horns, we used fiddle, dobro, and guitar. It was intentionally a smaller and more intimate sound which matched our crew and was intended to draw you in closer to them. In some ways Joss’s vision was of a post apocalyptic world where all the cultures had been thrown together. Much like the early days of America, your resources had an awful lot to do with what your life was like.

So it became easy to mix in any ethnic combination as it worked with the world that Joss had created. That was also the reason that you could have laser guns and old style pistols in the same universe – your money determined your choices. And how liberating, both musically and visually – anything could make sense so you didn’t have to repeat the same thing over and over.

I’m very much an ethnic music fan too, what draws you towards those sounds?
I just love ethnic music influences. It is a way of adding an element to your music that helps to conjure up an exotic flavor but if you use them sparingly it doesn’t comment on the picture. So for me at least, less is more, just like seasoning in the kitchen, a little goes a long way. It is always fun for the musicians as well; and they never cease to surprise and amaze me with some new and very cool instument that I have never heard of. Use of these instruments has become a big part of the music that I do these days. And it is always good to have as many tools as you can get in your toolbox!

I am always conscious of the fact that I am not writing ethnic music, merely using elements to sweeten the score. Amazing how every culture made music and instruments out of whatever was available to them. We all have that music inside of us.

Couldn’t agree more. With the ethnic music, how much is live and how much sample libraries? And why do you use both?
Occasionally I will use samples if I just can’t get the real thing, but I would say that about 97% of what I do is “live guys”. Also it depends on how you are using the sounds. If it is a tiny part, then maybe the budget would demand that you spend the money elsewhere but there is almost nothing that my wonderful team of musicians can’t find a way to do! If I can’t get the real thing, I then look for sample libraries that are actual recordings so that it still has the human factor. Sometimes those recordings are easier to manipulate into the score.

What instruments do you play yourself?
Mostly just guitar and piano, but I can make noise on a whole host of different instruments (with noise being the operative word). But I write mostly on piano.

What are the main differences for you, working on game music as opposed to scoring to picture?
Well, as above, games allow you to embrace more extended melodic content. And in some ways games free you up, since the game doesn’t really exist in anything like it’s final form as you are writing the music. But there is also something really wonderful about writing to picture and then getting to watch it all back and see what the music does to the scene.

You write a lot of music for a game but it can all get shifted around as the game starts to come together. Also in order to stretch the music to cover the whole game, sometimes the music gets deconstructed, i.e. they will play only the low strings until the player does something and then the brass will come in – stuff like that. Every media format has it’s own unique set of challenges and rewards. We are so lucky to be able to work in all of them.

Early on in your career, you worked closely with Mike Post (on all those classic TV shows). How was that experience?
Mike Post was a great place to learn how the business worked, and he had so many shows that it was an opportunity to write a lot of different types of music. I am so grateful for the time that I spent there. His career will likely never be duplicated.

Favourite bit(s) of kit in your studio?
I am getting a lot of use out of U-He’s Zebra HZ and Diva. There are really wonderful sound libraries (nod nod wink wink) available for these synths. I just got Serum but haven’t had a chance to work with it much yet.

What hardware/software is missing from your studio? Does it even exist?
I have pretty much everything that I need. Of course, you could always have more, but I don’t feel deprived at all. I have a lot of high end audio gear and still work with a console (Yamaha DM 2000) as a routing system. For the last ten years I have had the luxury of working with live orchestras for the final product, so I don’t worry too much about tweaking the demo in that sense, because real players can do so much more than samples ever could.

But I love mixing synth sounds that combine with the orchestra for this hybrid score – that is fun to do! So even with all of the great orchestra libraries, it still makes sense to write a certain way for samples, and then to rewrite if you are going to do it with real players

Anything you’d particularly like to see coming out from The Unfinished?
Just keep doing what you do. I find it all useful and inspirational. I always buy it, sometimes without even checking out the demo because I know that it will find a place in some piece of music that I am writing or one coming up in the future! I did/do wish that I could break apart some of the great grooves in Drumstruck & Drumstruck 2.

Well, you won’t be disappointed with an upcoming plan I have then! What projects have you been using my sounds on?
The project that I am doing now is a video game and, as you know, the NDA forbids talking about the project. I think that games have to market differently than film or TV. They either make a big splash or disappear, so the companies that make them control the information so that they can build momentum at the right time. Even a failed film or TV show will make it to DVD, VOD, etc. But games don’t have an afterlife in the same way. I know that your sounds were in Uncharted 3 and I did a wacky little movie last year called Bounty Killer, in which you were well represented!

I shall have to check that out. What do you enjoying writing the most/what would be your dream job?
They are all good, but I do love writing to the artistry of a great director, with cool lighting and fantastic acting. So wherever I find that, I am thrilled. I love to write music that has emotional content most of all.

What will we hear from you next? And where can hear more of your music and learn more about your work?
I am just thrilled to be working and I have been so very lucky to work on projects that people care about. I have ventured in the game world for a while now and I would like to add more TV and film back into the mix. It is quite fun to move from one type of project to another because you have to think a different way, so it keeps you fresh in your approach. Anyone who might be interested can wander over to www.gregedmonson.com and check it out – shoot me an email if you so desire!


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