We met the composer, producer and score mixer Rich Aitken. Since 25 years, he working in the music industry for movies, television and video games. We owe to him the music of the series Driver, Rich Aitken also performs on the games of Guerrilla Games.
Hello Rich, first of all thank you for granting us this interview. Before beginning can you introduce yourself?
Rich : I’m Rich Aitken, I’ve been working in the music industry for about 25 years as a composer, producer and for the last 20 years as a score mixer. Hello !
We meet today to talk about your career as a composer. I propose that we go back together on your career. When did you decide to have a music career as a composer?
Rich : I have a strong background in Mathematics that goes back to the early 90s. While I was doing some post graduate research into Maths for Virtual Reality I managed to get an offer to sign to EMI music as a songwriter. Of course I’d been in bands since I was 13 and had released a few records back in the late 80s and early 90s but this was a serious step.
I’ve always written music but working with EMI gave me an opportunity to hone my songwriting skills. It wasn’t until I had a chance meeting with Maurice Suckling, a script writer, that my career took a move into music for film, game and TV. I have spent a long time working in music production and mixing but I have always composed as well. I’m mostly known for mixing and have worked with many of composers.
What are your musical influences?
Rich : I love garage rock – the Dirtbombs, Iggy an the Stooges, King Khan, Les Rita Mitsouko (although a bit more electronic) and Suicide. But I’ve always had a love for score as well – I’ve always enjoyed Tangelos, Alan Silvestri. More recently I’ve been impressed with Jóhann Jóhannsson; my mixing spirit wants to work with him.
Can you introduce Nimrod Productions and his team.
Rich : Well first, after 18 years the Nimrod brand has moved to a new company; Nimrod Sound. This new Nimrod is much more focussed on the mix of great scores and helping composers directly. We used to do lots of licensing and voice recording for games but we’re now focussing on working with composers. I like to see Nimrod as a great facilitator to help composers realise their musical aims in a piece. Just bringing a little edge to the mix and I’ve done my job! I worked with composer Marc Canham for 14 years in Nimrod but he’s now very much working outside of Nimrod. I guess you could say a mentored him but his talent has grown exponentially. A great avant grade composer with a great penchant for unusual sounds. Ed McClements still works with me and he’s a great cohort in Nimrod. I’m also still working with my friend Jonny Williams; he’s a fantastic orchestrator and conductor.
For me , Nimrod is now a great studio for mixing fantastic score and also a place for me to realise my own creations.
You worked on the video game « 24: The Game » with Sean Callery. Sean Callery is known for writing the original music for the 24-hour series, and most recently for the music of the Jessica Jones series. We are fans of the music of Jessica Jones. Tell us about this meeting. It seems to me it was at Abbey Road.
Rich : That came through SCEE. I think they really liked our approach to recording orchestra and the fact that I had a lot of experience mixing for large ensemble. It was a great few days in Abbey Road , and some at the old CTS and Lansdowne studios. The mix was pretty easy, great rooms and great players do a lot of the work, but blending some of the synthesiser elements was tricky. Sean (Callery) is an awesome composer. I think he has a sense of detail in his melodic content that is rare to find.
You are producer, sound engineer and composer on a lot of games. We have selected a few. Let’s start with the Driver series. Tell us more about Driver 2, DRIV3R, Driver: Parallel Lines and Driver: San Francisco.
Rich : Driver was the result of a chance meet up wth Maurice Suckling. Reflections, the producers of the Driver series, were looking for music that could have been licensed in a David Holmes style. Back in those days if you wanted high production values you typically had to go to a label, an artist or a successful composer. I was none of those things BUT I was a producer and writer at EMI so I understood the production process very well. Video game music changed very very quickly during the 90s and I am happy to have been a part of that change.
What is your favorite music in the Driver saga? Why ?
Rich : I love the Driver 2 stuff especially a Cuban influences jazz piece I worked on. The much younger me was a bit more avant garde. I also loved doing many of the 1970s sounding tunes for Parallel Lines and San Francisco BUT I have to say, the work in Driv3r was the most fun and challenging. We worked with Iggy Pop, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phantom Planet, The Belays and many others. It involved trips to LA and a landmark record deal with Sony Music that, unfortunately, didn’t pan out the way it was supposed to. However, we made a great soundtrack, worked with great artists and really raised the game (ho ho) for Driver.
You also composed Stuntman’s music. We keep a good memory of this game. Are your musical influences for Stuntman the same as Driver?
Rich : No. Stuntman was very specific. There were particular styles we had to reach for the contest of each Stunt Mission.
You also worked on the game Reservoir Dogs.
Rich : Yup. Which gained a BAFTA nomination for best soundtrack in 2006. I was very happy to have written so many songs for that game – I most certainly drew upon my experiences with EMI on that one! Being a multi-instrumentalist really helps with these period song pieces.
And InFamous ?
Rich : Ah yes. Second Son. Marc (Canham) was one of the composers of that game. I was Marc’s producer at the time. Although the music came out pretty good it wasn’t a fun gig. Great team but the production process was difficult and demanding. It speaks very well of Jonathan Mayer at SCEA as to how well it came out but it was a brutal process to try and get things right over here and then ship out multi-tracks for SCEA to implement. They did an amazing job… but it was real blood, sweat and tears at my end!
There is also the music of Killzone 2 & 3 by Guerrilla Games.
Rich : I was the producer and mixer of the Abbey Road recordings of 2 & 3 working with my very talented friend , Joris de Man. It was a great experience and really the RIGHT way to do orchestral works for games. Live and with a focus on recording an dmix quality! Our efforts were rewarded for Killzone 2 with the score getting an Ivor Novello win. That was nice. I sat next to Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and Graham Gouldman (10cc) at the awards and got to know a little of their histories from their view which was a great experience.
Currently, you work on Sea of Thieves, the game developed by Rare and edited by Microsoft. What can you tell us about this?
Rich : I worked on mixing some promotional material for the excellent composer Robin Beanland. I was involved with the E3 trailers and a few songs he has written. He’s a great musician and a brilliant taken tin music generally. I’d love to do some more with them on that project but currently I’m not involved. Awesome project.
We see that you have also worked for film and television. On which media do you prefer to work, cinema or video games?
Rich : I love working in film. I’ve mixed a lot of film score and written songs for quite a few movies. It’s very different to games. The artistic challenges are much broader but the quality bar is essentially the same. You have to transfer musical emotion across loudspeakers. As a composer I’m more drawn to small projects so that works for video games that don’t requires 3 hours of music. I like those jobs the most.
As a mixer, though, I’m very capable of handling AAA movies, TV and games and really I’m focussed on the emotive direction of the composer. Its very different to writing music and, of course, is the thing I’m known for.
You worked on the music of the documentary The Banksy Job. Can you give us more information about the music of the film?
Rich : I mixed the score for ARRWS – the composer behind the film. Very experimental, very arty, very unusual. I cant say much more as I’m under strict instruction to remain mysterious about who ARRWS are!
So, you compose mainly for video games. Are you a gamer?
Rich : I’ve done a LOT of video games but I’ve also done a lot of TV , movies and adverts. Working in music is a broad career; one has to rise to many artistic challenges. I’ve produced artists for labels, worked with composers all over the world, recorded with performers in many faraway places and mixed thousands of pieces of music for final product.
I do play games but find it hard to play the games I’ve worked on. Im a big Need for Speed fan but also love puzzle games on mobile. I still love Two Dots.
What is your best memory of gamer?
Rich : Its a Christmas memory. My Mum & Dad giving me a Christmas present the would change my life; a VIC 20 computer. I was gobsmacked at the games I could play at home with it. It blew my mind!!
I made music, learned to program it, made games… Computing has been a huge part of my life in music and in coding. I’m hobby coder now and am working with a developer on making some plugins that fit my workflow. My obsession with games and music really centres around computer. It’s “how the stuff is put together” rather than the end product. I guess that makes me a geek !
We have a challenge for you. Eklecty-City is a new web-site about movie, video games and pop culture. With this description, can you make us an original composition for a few seconds?
In Eklecty-City, we appreciate the composer Harry Gregson-Williams including the Metal Gear Solid franchise. We also like Hans Zimmer, Jan Hammer, James Horner, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Vangelis, Eric Serra etc. to name a few. What composers affectionate you the most?
Rich : Don Davis’ Matrix score blew me away. Vangelis has always impressed me; I love the Albedo 0.39 album. Wonderful still. I have a soft spot for Zimmer, I love it when he gets sentimental. Interstellar is a lovely score both in terms of compositional work and mixing sound. I still like Philip Glass as well. Gareth Coker is a new fave and I’ve always liked Jason Graves (someone else I’d like to mix for).
We also appreciate the work of a young composer called Ludvig Forssell. Do you know him?
Rich : Interesting. Didn’t know him. I’ll be keeping an eye now though! Reminds me of Joseph Trapanese with a bit of Stockhausen. Very interesting. I’d like to meet him!
Recently, we interviewed Nathan McCree, the composer of Tomb Raider. What do you think of his work?
Rich : I went to school with Nathan. He’s a mighty talent and one of the nicest guys in music. Haven’t seen him for about 10 years though.
Do you have a message for him?
Rich : Hi Nathan! Our plan to take over the world is proving to be slow… but we’re still here !
Is there a particular movie or game for which you would have liked to be in charge of?
Rich : Movie – Man of Steel. Liked the score a lot but would liked to have kept reminding the filmmakers that the intimate story was the better part of the movie!
Game – Journey. Just because it’s excellent. Or Ori and the Blind Forest; I’d like to have mixed Gareth’s work.
What can you tell us about your current projects?
Rich : I’m working on a cartoon series, composing two video games, finishing the mix on an album for a great trailer artist , writing some songs for a film, just finished mixing a AAA game, developing a mix teaching course and mixing several short films this week.
We are at the end of the interview, thank you again for all Rich.
Rich : Its been great talking to you!
Interview by Thomas O. for Eklecty-City.fr, who thank Rich Aitken for having lent the game an interview.