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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

GUEST BLOG: Next Gen Audio - The Power of Ideas

I’ve interviewed a few famous composers in my time. They’re an interesting bunch – some perfectly relaxed, some slightly frazzled, some completely hyper, but they all have something fascinating to say.

John Broomhall

A particularly memorable moment occurred in conversation with an iconic movie maestro in front of a live audience. Having discussed some of his key works, his history and how he goes about the job, we strayed into his working relationship with orchestrators. This is sometimes a touchy subject, but no problem here. He was delightfully candid and complimentary about the contribution of the team around him. Figuring the audience of two hundred or so aspiring composers waiting on his every word might be interested in his choice of software and sample libraries, I then posed the question: “So, tell us about your studio – what technology do you use?” The terse, and somewhat unexpected, response: “Technology? F*ck the technology! What I do is all about the power of ideas!”

There are certainly many celebrated instances of sound design for moving pictures that have everything to do with ideas and little to do with technology. In fact, many were created using equipment we would now consider laughably rudimentary. The creative approach is, however, extremely sophisticated. I first experienced something of this early in my career sitting in a wildlife dubbing session watching a now famed sequence of whales beaching themselves in some exotic locale. It didn’t occur to me that the accompanying sound was complete artifice until the well-known wildlife dubbing mixer pointed out the tiger, tank and aircraft sounds that had been manipulated and combined to sell the drama of that extraordinary moment when a gigantic mammal hurls itself out of the sea.

The actual location sound recorded by some poor bod with a microphone in situ was truly pathetic. The cleverly ‘designed’ sound was awesome. The fact it wasn’t real didn’t matter one bit. It conveyed the immensity of the spectacle. This was the power of an artist’s ideas in play: story-telling through the choice and mix of sounds.

Such creativity is, of course, just as relevant to games. We may be inextricably linked to technology, but the power of our creative ideas is a real differentiator. However, it may require us to stray from some obvious paths that both technology tools and videogame culture and heritage tend to point us towards. For instance, a literal approach to sound choices and mix is not necessarily entertaining, informative or compelling for games either.  It’s a useful starting point but overriding it and embellishing it for dramatic effect to engage the power of ideas in storytelling and narrative support through audio is a rich seam, ripe for plundering. 

Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are almost upon us. Their technical power for audio is clearly obviously important. Equally important is the creative ‘ideas power’ we bring to the table to go beyond the obvious and break new ground, bringing engaging, dramatic and impactful audio to the console games of tomorrow.

This blog was written by John Broomhall who is a game audio specialist and organises and chairs the Develop Conference Audio Track. He is currently finishing work on original music composition and production for a major AAA console title TBA soon.

Find out more at www.johnbroomhall.co.uk or get in touch on Twitter - @BPLGameAudio and @broomerslive