A couple of years ago, Sony Computer Entertainment decided to produce a new game, set in ancient Greece. The result was “God of War” – an epic series telling the tale of a man (Kratos) with the sole desire to enact vengeance upon the Gods of Olympus. Some time ago, the third installment was released, crowning the final work of the trilogy.
Among them was Winifred Phillips, who deserves a distinction for her special contribution to the soundtrack.
One of the series’ key elements was a unique sound backdrop. Many composers worked together during the production of the music for the first God of War title. Among them was Winifred Phillips, who deserves a distinction for her special contribution to the soundtrack. GameMusic recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her participation in this unique venture, as well as her other works.
gamemusic.net: We are very pleased that you have found some time to talk about your video game music work. First of all, could you tell a bit about your passion for music? How did it begin?
Winifred Phillips: Like many composers, I discovered a passion for music at a young age. While I enjoyed studying to play the instruments of the orchestra and training as a classical soprano, I was always most excited about creating music. That led me towards a career as a composer, first at National Public Radio, and then branching out into work for television, film and video games.
gamemusic.net: You started your musical career working on a series of radio programs named “Radio Tales”, during which you co-worked with Winnie Waldron – could you elaborate on this broadcast experience, and tell us your thoughts about this period?
Winifred Phillips: This was a period of intense growth for me, and my first experience as a working composer. The “Radio Tales” series adapted classic works of literature for the radio such as “War of the Worlds”, “Frankenstein” and “Homer’s Odyssey”. All of the 30 minute programs had music from start to finish. I was the only composer, so I had to provide music for over a hundred programs. Also, I was the featured actress of the series, so I had the opportunity to perform some incredible parts. I think it’s beneficial for a composer to step into the shoes of an actor, because both a composer and an actor are tasked with telling a story in a way that carries the audience on an emotional journey. I think that having that experience helps me now when I’m thinking about the emotional undercurrents of music, and the musical story I’m trying to tell.
The “Radio Tales” series was produced by Winnie Waldron. It was the first time we worked together as composer and music producer, and the working relationship really clicked, which is why we continue to work together on all our projects. For “Radio Tales”, Winnie was also the script editor and “host”, so she began all the episodes with a wise and mysterious introduction, just like Rod Serling for The Twilight Zone. The series is still being broadcast twice a week on Sirius XM Radio. “Radio Tales” won a bunch of awards, including an International Radio Festivals WorldMedal and four Gracie Awards from the American Women in Radio and Television.
It was the first time we worked together as composer and music producer. – Winifred Phillips
gamemusic.net: Which role suits you better – broadcaster or composer?
Winifred Phillips: I’ve always been a composer for every one of my projects, so I’ve never had to decide which I like better. I like to try new things whenever possible. It keeps me challenged, and I like to think that helps keep me sharp.
gamemusic.net: Writing music isn’t an easy occupation – you need to show a great amount of imagination, as well as possess the ability to operate with various artistic means. Over the past dozen years, video game music has evolved, and nowadays, it can be said that the process of creating game soundtracks only slightly differs from writing movie scores. What future do you see for video game music? Is there a chance for this music to be acknowledged by groups not necessarily acquainted with video games?
Winifred Phillips: I wouldn’t say that the process is particularly similar to that of creating music for movies. A composer for film and television has the visual component to lean on. The visuals proceed in a set sequence of events, which can be scored with great precision. The visuals are predictable and reliable, which can make the work much easier. A video game composer has none of these things. The visuals of a game rarely proceed in a set sequence of events, and most of the events that take place can’t be scored in the traditionally precise way that we associate with film scoring.
The game composer has to rely on his or her own imagination in order to anticipate the various actions and outcomes that can occur at any given time. Sometimes as game composers we’re asked to create music in lots of small component parts that can then be disassembled and reassembled by the game engine in response to gameplay. Other times, we’re writing more traditional music, but in an attempt to make the music feel appropriate to the action of the game we write the tracks with a constant state of flux and drama built in, as if we were scoring the action without having any idea what the action might be. In my experience this is much more difficult, and requires the composer to employ his or her imagination vigorously.
I think video game music is already being acknowledged by societies that are not usually associated with the field. The International Film Music Critics Association recently recognized my music for the videogame “Spore Hero” with a nomination in its annual awards, as did the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. The music I wrote for the videogame “Speed Racer” was also recognized by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. I think it’s great that these sorts of awards programs are including video games and accepting the validity of video game music as an art form. It is a great time to be a game composer.
gamemusic.net: The first part of the God of War saga premiered in 2005 (March 22nd in the USA, June 21st in Europe). The title was a staggering success, even though adventure games were mainly dominated by Japanese developers. How did you become part of the God of War team?
Winifred Phillips: In 2004, the music supervisor for the project, Victor Rodriguez, met with me at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles and showed me the game. He’d heard some of my work and he thought my capabilities would be right for the God of War project. Shortly after E3, Victor brought me into the God of War music team, and I started writing music for the game, working with Winnie Waldron as my music producer on the project.
gamemusic.net: God of War is something more than a gripping adventure. What distinguishes the title from other games is the world of mythology, and the unique music that accompanies it. Could you tell us what the process of composing God of War’s music looked like?
Winifred Phillips: I received assignments from Victor regarding tracks that the game needed. Winnie and I got to work. The music of God of War has a strong influence from the ancient world traditions of Greece and the Middle East, so I was careful to incorporate instruments and techniques that evoked the appropriate time and place.
gamemusic.net: When you were working on the music for God of War, did you take any inspiration from movies or books on Greek mythology?
Winifred Phillips: I found my strongest inspiration from one particular author. The choice was actually suggested by one of the earliest promotional posters for God of War. There was a quote featured on the poster that read “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”, written by Euripides, a writer of tragedies in ancient Athens. The words were quoted from the play Medea, so I read the play frequently while working on the music of God of War. Medea was incredibly ruthless, selfish and violent, which reminded me of Kratos.
gamemusic.net: It’s said that you voiced one of the characters in God of War – is this true? If so, did you enjoy it? Was this an easy task, or did you encounter difficulty? Are there any other projects where your voice was recorded?
Winifred Phillips: I was the singing voice of the Siren character, and it was a lot of fun. The Sirens in Greek mythology are seductive supernatural women who lure men to their deaths with their hypnotic singing voices. I really enjoyed the idea of participating in the creation of the game on that level, by giving voice to a character in it. As always, Winnie Waldron produced the vocal sessions and directed my performances, not only for this project but for all the games in which I’ve sung. Those include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Speed Racer”, “SimAnimals”, “Spore Hero”, “The Maw”, and “The Da Vinci Code”. I particularly enjoyed the singing work for “The Da Vinci Code”, since it involved vocal motets in a medieval style and liturgical vocals in Latin. The whole experience was incredibly inspiring.
I feel truly privileged to have found a creative home in the videogame industry. – Winifred Phillips
Over the last six years I’ve been hired to create music for a lot of really great videogames, and at times, I’ve been offered more projects than I’ve been able to take on, which is both flattering and frustrating at the same time. It’s not possible to fit everything into my schedule, and I wish it were, because the videogame field is full of so many wonderful projects and so many brilliant development teams. I feel truly privileged to have found a creative home in the videogame industry – I don’t think any other industry would have offered me such rich opportunities, and such great memories too. The experience of voicing a character in God of War was amazing, and I’m very glad that Sony asked me to contribute to the project, both as a composer and a vocalist.
gamemusic.net: Let’s forget about God of War for a moment. Your latest projects are “Spore Hero” and “SimAnimals”. Did you have creative freedom during these productions, or were you expected to stick to a particular musical plan for these titles?
Winifred Phillips: Both “SimAnimals” and “Spore Hero” were developed internally at Electronic Arts, which is extremely supportive of composers and musicians, and the field of game music in general. For “SimAnimals” I was given complete freedom. The development team brought both Winnie and myself into their studios and personally demonstrated the game, discussed what their inspirations were, and then let me create a musical interpretation that best enhanced their vision. For “Spore Hero” there was more comprehensive discussion regarding the musical vision for the project since it was a part of the newly created “Spore” franchise, but I still felt free to give “Spore Hero” its own distinctive sound and experiment with musical techniques and instrumentation. Both projects were creatively fulfilling.
All through the creation of the music I was aware of these warm, caring emotions that existed at the heart of the game. – Winifred Philips
gamemusic.net: “SimAnimals” is a counterpart to the well-known Electronic Arts title “The Sims”. Here, we have similar interactions with the environment, but this time, we are controlling the lives of forest animals. Similarly, with “Spore Hero”, we look after alien species from other planets. Were you inspired by animal sounds during the recording session?
Winifred Philips: Not really. To me, SimAnimals was predominantly about being a nurturer and making friends. In the game you spend a lot of time caring for the environment and making the animals happy, so that they want to play with you and be friendly. All through the creation of the music I was aware of these warm, caring emotions that existed at the heart of the game, and I did my best to express these emotions in music. Of course it was also possible when playing the game to completely ignore the environment and spend all your time making the animals miserable. I got to write music for that too, and the experience was wicked fun for me. “Spore Hero” was more of a traditional action adventure game, so I focused on the exotic, otherworldly environments and comical storyline.
gamemusic.net: Once again, thank you very much for the interview! We hope to hear news of your next project in the near future.
Winifred Phillips: Thank you! I enjoyed this very much, and I’m pleased to be a part of GameMusic.net. I’ll certainly share information about my next videogame project as soon as I am able. I’m having a great time working on it.