With the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 just one day away, Geno sits down with series composer Oscar Araujo to discuss his work on this collection of epic games.
Geno: Mr. Araujo, it’s so great to finally meet you! It’s something that I have imagined ever since your score for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow effortlessly pulled me away from the chaos of an E3 show floor back in 2010. I was avoiding the demo station for the game out of fear that the experience would be marred by the inescapable white noise easily found on all sides of me. They had some headphones, so I took the gamble; your score made such an impression on me, that I actually replayed the demo over and over just to hear the opening bars of that first intro sequence. I made people mad, and held up a line at one point. I didn’t care; some things you have to learn to savor no matter the circumstances. Life’s too short, you know! I really wanted to say thank you. What are you up to these days?
Composer Oscar Araujo:
Hi Geno. Thank you for your kind words, I’ve been at an E3 show myself and I can imagine those queues and all the people waiting for you to stop playing. These days I’m working on two projects that are very important to me. One is directing an animated film called “Leo”. It’s about the extinction of humanity with only animals, including insects, surviving on earth. And it is from this point of view that the film is told. We are using a technique that has not yet been done in any film, so hopefully it will surprise the industry. And then there’s an electronic music LP that took eight years to compose with symphony orchestra and a heavy electronic base without a typical structure of conventional electronics, I think it’s going to make quite an impression on the community.
Geno: One of the first things to catch my attention throughout the compositions Lords of Shadow is how you wrestle with one of the game’s central themes: the ugliness of death. While most composers feel the need to approach the subject with lilting, morose shades of sorrow, you attack with your fists, pummeling, working over your opponent into near lifeless submission. Even at its most understated, your score’s temperament here is defiant, without mercy and mindful of some impending doom, specifically that fabulous opening number “Besieged Village“ not to mention “The Warg“ and “The Hunting Path“. It’s rare to be thrown so quickly to the ravenous dogs in wait. Tell me, did you feel a particular need for the soundtrack to convey a sort of physical invulnerability? It’s all so incredibly powerful!
The idea with the first map was to show that the game wouldn’t be a game like any other, but a game that is about the struggle of a man who will do whatever it takes to get back his love. That is the absolute force that has always moved the world. So the best way was to introduce the music from the very beginning, even knowing that there would be moments in the game in which the music would also be very important. So the player knows from the outset that a complex and lovingly crafted score awaits him.
Geno: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is very much the story of a broken man calling upon whatever resources he can scavenge regardless of the powers he is meddling with. It’s a snapshot of an individual’s companionless journey. Within the confines of your score, can you pinpoint the origin of our protagonist Gabriel’s quest? Which of your pieces would you offer as his main theme aside from “Belmont‘s Theme“? Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of “Belmont’s Theme”? What’s your interpretation of the Belmont’s cursed lineage? What did you want to personally impart on the series overall soundscape?
In the first meetings with Mercury Steam and Konami it was decided we wanted a very different score, a soundtrack that focused on the main character and that belonged uniquely and exclusively to Gabriel, because the adventure of the protagonist is a dramatic one, from start to finish – a powerful love story like Romeo and Juliet, which follows a path to a dramatic ending. And that was my role as the composer, to lead the player into that path. And from the first moment the player begins the game I had to convey that. “Belmont‘s Theme” is a nod to Super Castlevania and the old saga; it is a theme composed thinking of the fans of the old Castlevania games. You need to know I’ve played those Castlevania games and I’ve also been a fan and I am still one, and probably no one has ever noticed, but just like “Belmont‘s Theme”, there are other hints and nods that I have included in the composition that maybe with the symphonic treatment sound different, but if you analyze them well, you will see that they are a tribute to Michiru Yamane.
Geno: From the outset of the project, did you ever change course musically? Were there any things you eventually scrapped in favor of the final tally of songs? What sort of ideas did you eventually leave on the woodworking table? Do you have any distinct, warm memories regarding that time period or those recording sessions?
In Lords of Shadow I’ve not had any music turned down, because I was the first filter myself. If something did not fully convince me, I would not use it. Thus, I assured they had only the best music. On my hard disk there are dozens of ideas that went unused. That is how I usually work. I am my first and main critic.
About the style, it has always been clear to me where the LoS saga music needed to go; sometimes I was given suggestions of movies or scores but I tried not to delve too much into those suggestions, so that in the end the LoS music had its own identity and no one can state that it sounds like this or that movie or score. Some cues might have some nod or resemblance to the Lord of the Rings scores, but that happened at the beginning of the composition and Konami became more confident and allowed the score to slowly achieve its own personality.
Geno: I was talking earlier about how pounding and visceral the score is, but it also has a wealth of moments dedicated to dignified repose. “Waterfalls of Agharta” and “Agharta” combine to make one of the score’s most poignant and gorgeous paintings. “God Mask” too delivers something both revelatory and muted by its own sadness. It’s a gripping thing this collection of material. To create that sort of cathartic, emotive response do you find that you have to put yourself into a somewhat vulnerable position emotionally? Do you borrow from your own experiences to go to different places within your music, or do you compose completely detached from the ins and outs of your daily life?
Well what has always been pursued is to give dashing and special music to those special moments in the game, and especially that the music helps to enhance the images or the action that is happening at every moment of the game. When Enric (the Project Director) or Dave wanted background ambient music, that music was sought out to accompany Gabriel in the most beautiful way, but always implying the misfortune of the main character to the gamer. It was still beautiful music but with a dramatic touch. And I think it has been one of the strengths of the score and one of the main reasons both players and critics praised it.
Geno: I was raised a staunch Catholic growing up… all that means really is that I am afraid of the devil, evil demon pustules and am certain that if I were to encounter a real vampire, I’d do something ridiculous like try to recite broken verse from Leviticus, which I’ve never read! That also undermines the fact that I am no longer Catholic but… Bottom line: I am fearful of all malevolent creatures. How much of that primal, uncertain response did you want to incorporate into the blood of Lords of Shadow’s musical veins? There are perfect, chilling examples to be found within (i.e. “Carmilla “, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The Last Battle“). You never overdo the encounter though, it’s always just enough to remind you that your character is still mortal, and possession, curses and black magic will still weaken and exploit his nature. Did you go into the score with a sound you wanted to avoid? Not naming names, had you heard other similarly themed monster-infested scores and thought to yourself, “My vampire will be scarier than that old thing!”? How did you want Lords Of Shadow to stand apart?
Well, I love Alan Silvestri and James Newton Howard – they are my favorite composers. Alan made a vampire film, Van Helsing, that I adore – forceful music with vocals that fits perfectly with the film. And James composed Lady in the Water, and “The Great Eatlon” is one of my favorite themes ever. So what I meant to achieve was that the fights had that musical force, that when you think the cue is at the very top, nevertheless it continues to rise and grow even more and more. Because fighting monsters is fighting with the unknown, I wanted the music at a melodic level to have unexpected changes. Ferran also did a spectacular job with the orchestration so it all sounded great without harmony faults.
Geno: I am guessing that “The Swamp Troll” was great fun to compose; it nearly gallops off my iPod screaming for my head! Can you tell me a bit more about this particular piece? I envision you moving all over the studio individually directing each member of that gigantic symphony, deftly crafting their each and every move; manually sliding that precariously held bow over violin, taking over the kettledrum as the horn section collapses all around you. It’s a definitive moment in your score, like you have been completely overtaken. Do you ever find yourself wholly consumed by your musical projects? Was there something more intense about creating for Lords of Shadow? What would you consider the defining piece here, where the sound in your head perfectly matched the rumblings of the recorded tape?
Well, I try to be involved with just a few projects at the same time to keep my creativity fresh. If you get involved in too many you can end up doing the same music and that is wrong. So that is the way I work, a few projects well made, and combining composing with photography, filmmaking and enjoying life. This way I can devote 100% to one project and my brain is always alert. I don’t know whether LoS is my best work or not, only time will provide an answer to that eventually. The important thing is that I really enjoyed composing this music and I think that it shows. My favorite cues are the “Final Confrontation”, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The End”. Especially “Laura’s Mercy”, because I am moved every time I listen to it along with the images, and more than a tear has been shed while composing that particular cue. Although it may not seem so, I am a very sentimental person from the musical point of view.
Geno: I noticed you tied many of the game’s central players with their very own specific theme throughout the soundtrack. It’s a bold move. Veer too far to the left or right and a character’s nature, his or her identity, can become muddled and confused with another of the game’s inhabitants. “Cornell”, “The Ice Titan” and spectacularly “The Evil Butcher” successfully carve out an indelible musical persona to complement their onscreen presence. Where do you look for traits in a character that you are scoring for? Is it more an examination of physical traits or things implied in the person’s movements or actions? How do you get to know these people? Moreover, how do you get close to them? What you’ve done here is incredibly impressive!
Well, each character or enemy has a past history, which is developed in the script and Enric tells me where each character comes from. So I sought for a distinct identity to each of them, like in the case of the Titans, The Evil Butcher or Satan. For the Titans it had to be something big and majestic. The Butcher needed something unpleasant, grotesque and musically dirty; it is one of my favorite character themes, as it has a lot of personality, and Satan’s reeked of intelligence and fear. I think video games allow you to get more deeply into the characters than a movie, and therefore I think they deserve extra attention.
Geno: What was it that initially attracted you to the Lords of Shadow project? Were you already a dedicated follower of the Belmont’s MULTIPLE attempts to silence the pestilence of Dracula and his cursed offspring? Do you enjoy playing video games? If yes…what would you consider to be your favorite game?
My main motivation when composing LoS was doing something I personally enjoy. My favorite scores are Conan the Barbarian, the Lord of the Rings saga, Van Helsing, The Abyss, as you can see all highly epic music, so I was allowed to do something to live up to these scores: epic combat music and romantic sentimental music as well. Besides, I got an absolute carte blanche to compose and to choose songs. And the truth is that it really helped that Mercury and Konami have always provided everything to motivate me the most.
Indeed I was a fan of Castlevania, because from Super Castlevania 4 to Symphony of the Night, I think there have been really good games in the series and some others not so good, but I’ve enjoyed them all. I would love to compose for a Tomb Raider game since I got into composing because of the first Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is the culprit for my interest in video game music
Get the exclusive Director’s Cut on Sumthing.com
Geno: I recently purchased Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard your signature sound rising up from my 3DS machine. You already have Lords of Shadow under your belt as well as the DS game, and the Lords of Shadow sequel. I noticed that the soundtrack in Mirror of Fate was just as rich and enormous as Lords of Shadow. Did you have to make any compromises due to the constraints of the hardware, or did you find that handhelds were just as able as consoles to deliver a completely unedited symphonic suite? It didn’t sound like anything was sacrificed on your end in the slightest. Anything you can tease us with in regards to the sound of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2?
Technically we had to sacrifice a few things that would be later included in LoS2; there is no doubt that the Nintendo console is a great handheld console, but as such it has a number of limitations including the sound. The sound card and the speaker cannot be added or purchased separately as in home consoles or computers, so knowing that, I looked for a sound that could enhance the experience with the software and hardware of the console in mind. And besides, being a platform game in the vein of the old Castlevania, the music had to be atmospheric but in the style of LoS1.
Geno: I was looking at your official site: that’s quite a lot of work you’re doing. Impressive stuff, man! From photography, to ads and film scores…WOW. What were your formative years like in your native Spain? When did you get your start in the entertainment business? What was the first thing that sparked you to create? Were you a troublemaker, or shy and reserved in high school?
Yes, the truth is I’m lucky I can devote time to do different things. This way I do not run out of ideas. When I’m not composing music, I take pictures, when I do not, I direct video clips or ads, or I create ideas for the future. No time to be bored. Unfortunately, due to overweight I had a heart attack in March last year, I had too much work and I was not taking care of myself properly. Now I’m completely recovered and weighing 30 kilos less, I take care of myself a little more and I’m not as obsessed with work as before. But I still manage to do many things. And as a kid I was a little thug, too. I achieved higher degrees than what was usual for my age, but afterwards I was expelled for not being attentive in class. I toured several schools and child psychologists back then.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow composer Oscar Araujo
Geno: Thanks again Oscar for sitting down with me today! It’s been such an honor to get to speak with you.
Before you leave us, what’s 2014 looking like for you? Do you have any major plans like say… touring with a full symphony to play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in its entirety? I know I would be the first one in line for tickets! It’s just an idea. Any final thoughts for our readers at Sumthing?
Thank you Geno for your patience and the time you have taken to prepare these questions.
So far, as I have said, I am immersed in the electronic music LP that will be released in April, and in the film, and because of confidentiality obligations I cannot mention two AAA projects that are underway. I hope I will be able to talk about them soon. But those two games will keep me busy until 2018, since they are just being developed right now. And in one of them I will try something that I hope no one attempts in the near future, because it has never been done and I think it will be very original and daring.
Oscar Araujo’s soundtracks for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate are available now on Sumthing.com. The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 soundtrack releases tomorrow February 25th and can be pre-ordered right here!
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.