Clint Bajakian about the Orchestral Score
(September 26, 2002)
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb, the upcoming PS2, Xbox,
and PC game, represents a major first step. It will be the
first time that a full orchestra has been used to enforce
the gameplay and atmosphere of a title produced by LucasArts.
The composer responsible for this massive task is Clint Bajakian,
who has written music for such LucasArts games as Monkey Island
2, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Sam and Max Hit
the Road, Outlaws, and Escape From Monkey Island. The orchestra
recordings took place in late July, and Clint recently answered
a few questions for us regarding the project.
Was it your idea to use a live orchestra for original
music in Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb? And if so,
how difficult was it to convince the game's producers and
It was both LucasArts' and my idea at the same time. Jeff
Kliment, the sound department manager at LucasArts, mentioned
the use of live orchestra to me when he originally told
me about the project and expressed interest in my composing
the score. To all of us, it seemed exactly the right time
to make this effort. Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
called only for short musical stingers for which sampled
orchestra seemed appropriate, but the extensiveness of the
score envisioned for Emperor's Tomb pointed straight towards
bringing in a full live ensemble.
In what way does your composing process change when
you're writing music that will be recorded by a full orchestra?
First of all, the similarity: most composers will still
compose in a MIDI sequencer on the computer that plays orchestral
samples back over the speakers. This way, the composer can
design the music with real-time feedback. With the realism
of orchestral samples these days, the composer can get a
fairly realistic sound. The difference though is interesting.
What you enter in the way of notes and rhythms into the
MIDI sequencer is not what the end-user is going to hear,
unlike when the score is sample-based. It is actually code
for the elaborate process of music preparation (written
notation scoring and part extraction) between the composition
phase and the performance phase. Every note that's written
for each instrument must be playable by that instrument,
and similarly, every rhythm composed must be reasonably
straightforward to play at sight. Composing for a live ensemble
in a MIDI sequencer is more analogous to composing on paper
at the piano. Your main concern is to compose in a way that
works well for each individual player and also blends well
in ensemble. This means you must take the properties of
every instrument into account, such as range, tone color,
and fingering unlike composing for MIDI for which you simply
follow your ear towards a final result you're happy with.
Ultimately, composing for samplers is for machines to play
and composing for live orchestra is for human beings to
play. Clint and his composition assistant, Jared Emerson-Johnson,
prepare the score. The other key difference is the music
preparation. The first step is to quantize the notes in
the MIDI sequence to a completely unnatural and mechanical
degree. Quantization is making all the notes' rhythms and
durations metrically perfect. While the MIDI file now sounds
unnaturally "machine-like", the transcription to written
notation is much easier. The next step is to transcribe
the MIDI sequence into a music notation program. My orchestrator,
Steve Zuckerman (who also orchestrated Myst III: Exile for
Jack Wall) used Mark of the Unicorn's Mosaic to score the
Indy compositions. I sent him Digital Performer files which
he transcribed into Mosaic documents. Then he returned the
Mosaic documents to me and Jared Emerson-Johnson, my composition
assistant for the project, and we would listen to the scores
over the same synthesizers Steve used in Los Angeles. When
we arrived at a final version, Jared would extract the parts.
At this point, the score was ready for the conductor (Adam
Stern of Seattle) and the parts ready for the orchestra
(Northwest Sinfonia of Seattle).
How has this experience been different from games like
Escape From Monkey Island where you mix live players with
synthesizers or instrument samples?
Like the old days of pre-electricity, the whole thing was
to be recorded live and that was that. So, there's no fuss
of having to slave (time synchronize over a cable) the MIDI
sequencer to the digital audio multitrack application, or
having to commit the MIDI tracks to audio for mixing. What
you heard on the stage was what you got! And Steve Smith
did a superb job of recording the ensemble using the finest
microphones, microphone preamps and recording equipment.
The recording was staged in the chapel at Bastyr University
in Washington state. The room was magnificent.
How large was the orchestra that you used?
We had an orchestra of 72 players. This is large enough
not to have to augment the numbers with sampled sounds.
They got such a beautiful, rich sound and sightread incredibly.
Steve Zuckerman's an my work totally paid off to make the
music both challenging and straightforward at the same time.
With limited recording time, you have to be extremely careful
not to overburden the players with unnecessary complexity.
They sounded great - and came across as a much larger ensemble
than they really were, simply due to how well they played,
and how great the room sounded.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a
real orchestra instead of just using instrument samples
Using sampled sounds is fast and less expensive. This is
often a perfect choice for many professional productions.
If you listen to Saturday morning cartoons, you often hear
well-crafted sample-based scores that work just fine. But
nothing can deliver the drama and power that a live ensemble
can muster. This has always been true and will always remain
true. One aspect people may overlook is that we're talking
about a group of human beings here. They all have emotions
and are all sharing the same music-making experience. Some
are tired, some are fresh, some are angry about a speeding
ticket he got on the way, others love the music, some may
hate it - but the common fact is that they're all combining
the expressive power of their individual instrument with
everyone else's, putting decades of assiduous practice to
the test. The magic that results can't be achieved in any
Can we expect dynamic and interactive music like Fate
of Atlantis or even Jedi Outcast?
Yes - the goal is to utilize the recordings in a way analogous
to the way we utilize the John Williams scores for a title
like Jedi Outcast. We will often simply play a piece as
written - but we will also often edit different pieces together,
both off-line, and in real-time in the game using the audio
engine, in order to achieve the music following the action.
Is this the first time in your career that your music
has been performed by a professional orchestra?
This is indeed the first time in my career that I have
had the privilege of working with a live orchestra. The
experience was totally gratifying for myself as well as
everyone else involved so far as I can tell. I hope to have
the opportunity a lot more in the future. I am formally
trained in composition, orchestration and conducting, so
in many ways I felt the most at home as I've ever felt in
the 12 years I've been composing for games.
What was the recording sessions like for you when you
heard the orchestra play your music for the first time?
It was like powerful magic. What blew me away more than
anything is how closely the orchestra got the piece upon
first reading. It was incredible! The conductor, Adam Stern,
would say "onto the next piece", then there'd be a shuffling
of papers, then you'd just hear the piece pretty much all
there! The other feeling I had was that I had experienced
these pieces so many times via MIDI, that to hear it "correctly"
as played by a great orchestra in a great hall was an awesome
Do you think LucasArts and other game companies you
work with may be more open to using real orchestras in the
Absolutely. It has already become a cutting edge trend
for leading titles throughout the industry, and producers
can only be happy they took that route when the products
wrap and go out to the public with live orchestra. Again,
there's no other way to get that dramatic intensity in a
musical score, so it is simply a matter of whether producers
and executives find that expressive power worth the increase
in cost. My guess is that they can see the difference. At
a recent Game Developers Conference, Jack Wall, composer
for Myst III: Exile, demonstrated a MIDI mock-up followed
by the same musical passage as recorded with a real orchestra
and chorus. The difference spoke volumes - and I think producers
So in the future, do you think it's possible that we'll
see more live musicians in, say, the next Monkey Island
I would certainly hope so - MIDI samples work just fine
for many things, but there's nothing like live players to
really take the music to its fullest potential!
- Interview conducted by Andrew "telarium" Langley