Introducing "Halo 4"'s Composer: Massive Attack's Neil Davidge On Continuing A Legacy

Especially in Halo, the player's actions can affect battles and how they play out. The music has to be pretty dynamic.

Absolutely, yeah. And I mean, the pieces themselves if you just kind of listen to them in their entirety aren't necessarily going to make sense in the same way that, like, a song would on an album where you'd get a specific kind of structure, a traditional kind of structure, a verse, chorus, and just change things up a little bit, add in some extra percussion, and then we go into the next chorus. The pieces themselves are constantly going through changes, and sometimes pretty fundamental changes. Any theme that I do will be evolved considerably as the piece progresses. Play it on different instruments, changing the timing around, changing the score for that particular melody. Sometimes the melody sounds pulsive and heroic, the next moment it sounds pretty grim and tragic.

So it's really stretched me as a composer to produce material with this amount of variation. You would never do this for a film score. You would never do this for an album. You wouldn't write music in the same way because it would be too schizophrenic. But for a game, it works because you never quit know exactly what needs to happen in that scene. Obviously as a game player I can understand it now, you know, it took me a little while for it to settle in. But once I got it I really got it.

Watching my daughter play Halo, for instance, she's a monster. She just kind of charges in there and kick ass. When I'm playing the game, I like to kind of sit back and check out what's going on and take people out with my sniper rifle. And I'll  only go diving in there right at the last moment, when I've got a good feeling of what's going on, what I need to do. So kind of watching people's different gameplay styles, I'm kind of going okay, right, now I get it. This music has got to cover all eventualities if possible. It's got to be multi-layered so that within the audio engine of the game they can unlock certain layers depending on the energy of the scene, you know, the pacing of the scene, and that is all dictated by the player.

I would love—I really hope that when someone's actually playing this game they can both feel like the music is telling them where they are in the story, why they're there in the story, helping them kind of relate emotionally to why they are here and what they are supposed to be doing and what their motivation is. But also linking very much to their gameplay style. That's important. In the same way I'm often, when someone walks into the studio room in the morning, I'm actually imagining what their theme tune would be when they walk through the door depending on their mood, you know? I hope the music to this game is going to underscore the gameplay for each individual.

Are there any pieces in particular that you're excited for people to hear? Can you describe them, however vaguely you need to, in the context of the game?

I can't really give you any specific details of any of the key themes at this point. That's kind of still under wraps. I'm hoping that some of these pieces are going to be aired in the next few weeks. There's pretty dynamic pieces of music. There's some huge, epic pieces, huge percussion and electronics driving beats, but with gorgeous orchestral lines over the top of them. And then some of the pieces are absolutely beautiful, sort of heart-melting pieces as well. Very emotional. And then there's some really, really dirty electronic manipulated music as well, which I've had a lot of fun doing.

It sounds like Halo.

Yeah, it feels like Halo to me. You know, I've been teased with just a couple of pieces that have actually been leaked online that some of the comments coming back about the music, it's been good. It's still pretty daunting taking on an iconic game like this is always going to be a bit of a challenge.

You know if the internet likes it that's a really good sign.

Yeah, exactly. You know, my daughter is a huge Halo fan. She's been playing it for a long time. And every so often she'll pop into the studio and give me the fan's perspective on the music. So that's been kind of a leveler as well. I know if she's loving the music then I'm not going far wrong.

Thanks again Neil, good luck, and we can't wait to hear the final results.

Tags: halo-4, 343-industries, neil-davidge, massive-attack, microsoft
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