The music has always been central to every Halo game, and to make sure Halo 4 is no different, Microsoft and 343 Industries aren't leaving its scoring duties to just anyone. Neil Davidge helped pioneer the trip hop subgenre of electronic music in his role as co-writer and producer for Massive Atttack. He's scored films including Clash of the Titans and worked with artists ranging from David Bowie to Mos Def and Snoop Dogg.
Yet when it comes to Halo, he's taking over for Martin O'Donnell, a composer who's earned the trust and admiration of millions of fans over a decade of incredible creations. Those are some big, metal shoes to fill, even for someone like Davidge. When he offered to speak with us, we had our fingers crossed that that wouldn't be lost on him—it was going to be a very awkward interview, otherwise.
Check out 343's latest vidoc above for a behind-the-scenes look at scoring Halo 4, listen to a sample track at Halo Waypoint, and read our blessedly not-awkward interview below.
COMPLEX: Were you a Halo fan before becoming involved?
Neil Davidge: I certainly was. I've been playing it from the beginning. I've played every Halo game and I've been playing them consistently over the years. I haven't just played them once, I've played them a number of times, and I often play them whilst I'm working on a project, if I'm getting stuck musically and getting frustrated, you know, one of my options apart from going for a walk or having something to eat will actually be getting on the Xbox and playing Halo. Yeah, it's been consistently there for me. I can't remember which—since 2001 or 2002 I started playing it, so right from the beginning.
So how did you get involved with Halo 4?
There were some secret meetings going on, I believe. I was in LA with my manager a couple of years ago and they told me that they were off to do a couple of meetings and I wasn't invited. So I was like, "Okay, alright," [laughs]. And I know that there was a lot of negotiations going on for quite a period of time, and since then I've kind of found out that 343 [Industries] had a bunch of different composers that they had—they had a list of hallowed composers. Apparently I was at the top of the list.
So, I mean, I only actually found out about the game I think it as a week before I was due to get on a flight to Seattle to meet everyone at 343. So it was a secret from then. And my management didn't actually know I was a Halo fan, so you can probably imagine—they were telling me about a possible score for a video game for a while, and I said, "Yeah, that could be cool, cool be fun. Let me know if it comes off." And when they actually said "Okay, it's happening, you're booked on a flight to go to Seattle, and the game is Halo," I almost fell over.
You know, I was so excited as a fan to get involved in the game, and also daunted as well. Because I've obviously listened to Marty [O'Donnell]'s scores for many years. It was like wow, so how am I going to put my spin on this? He kind of hit the nail on the head many times, and kind of changed—well, paved the way, really—for serious film score ethics in game schools.
Do you feel a lot of pressure going into that legacy?
Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean, there's a lot to live up to, and obviously there are a lot of Marty fans out there. So it is extremely daunting. Obviously some of the music I've written has just started to leak on the internet now, and I've been quite nervous as to what the fans will think of it and touch wood, so far everyone for the most part seems to be liking it, so that's great. But yeah, there's a big challenge there to try and come up with something as iconic as Marty's score, yet sort of put my own take on it as well and help evolve Halo into this new galaxy and to this new story arc.
You've got a pretty incredible history in the music industry, as a producer, as a performer and as a collaborator—you've worked with a lot of really incredible artists. Are there any past experiences in particular that you're drawing from?
Kind of generally from the whole lot of it. I'd say the experience of working with Massive Attack for the last 18 years would stand out from that, but you know I'm even drawing on experiences of kind of playing in bands myself and being a, you know—I started in this business actually as a singer-songwriter, so I'm bringing my kind of songwriter aspects to the game as well.
You know, a lot of the melodic themes for this game were, you know, me sat at the end of my bed with my acoustic guitar singing into a dictaphone to try to find a lyrical melody that would sum up the particular character or the particular theme that 343 were pushing for.
But there are aspects to some of my work with Massive Attack, certainly in terms of pulling together various textures and kind of contrasting genres and sonics, and finding a way to make them all work together in a cohesive and very natural way. Pulling electronics and organic instruments together into the same world and creating whole new worlds from doing that.
There's more on page two!