SOE Live 2014: Discussing EQN and Landmark music with Jeremy Soule

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|08.24.14

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SOE Live 2014: Discussing EQN and Landmark music with Jeremy Soule
Who wouldn't want to talk with Jeremy Soule? This composer has brought to life myriad games through his music, both single-players and MMOs alike (even a number of zombie games!). Luckily for Norrathian fans, his attention is now focused solely on EverQuest Next and Landmark, where the worlds are shaping his music while his music, in turn, helps shape those worlds. I had the opportunity to sit down with Soule at SOE Live to discuss the new combat piece revealed during the keynote and delve into his inspirations for the upcoming games' musical scores. He also shared a bit about the composition method he is developing.

Organic music

Soule expressed his propensity to use organic sounds from nature in his work. As an example he pointed to Skyrim: In that game the main theme starts with Taiko drums, but the ending crescendo is actually derived from thunder as there simply weren't big enough drums to get the sounds he was after. Regarding his work with SOE, Soule told me,
"In EverQuest we are pulling from a lot of different sound sources and using a technique called acoustic morphing, where we start with maybe the sound of bees or the wind and then we can create tone out of that. Then that becomes the instrument palette. It will sound very organic."
He added that people would never know where the sounds originated from after they've been synthesized. "It all comes down to creating the right kind of inflections and atmosphere that can inspire people," he said.

What of that new combat clip that was presented during the keynote address? Though he'd mentioned whale voices (used because of their human qualities and inflections) then, Soule noted that fans didn't hear any of them in that particular segment. Instead, the dominating sounds were from the traditional romantic orchestra as well as some use of virtual instruments. But in the end, he emphasized, "It's not important where we get the sound; what's important is that the sound narrates the story, brings people into the experience."

A Norrathian narrative

"All languages are descriptive, and music is one of the most descriptive emotionally of all the languages." - Jeremy Soule

Soule emphasized how the music in EQN and Landmark is there to take the story beyond visual to a whole new emotional level. He noted how the visual and audio information have parallels and reminded me that "if you understand the language, you can narrate with those parallels." (And that's not just for games: He's even written three pieces that went with a triptych of paintings.) He further illustrated using Landmark's cave system. Soule explained that he used psychoaccoustic technique, incorporating things like doppler and taking into account the actual measurement of the space. This way the audio changes with the atmosphere depending on where players are. "If you are in a cave, that music had better tell a story that you're in a cave," he said. "It'd better feel claustrophobic." In fact, every aspect of the environment has to be addressed so players feel where they are through the music.

How does Soule create music that fits Norrath? He said, "To me, EverQuest is not reality, it's imagination." And because surrealism is a strong base for him, he can "pull things into the scene like whales and turn them into the instruments. It's not reality we're making; it's another-worldly feel." Soule revealed that there is nearly four hours of total music now completed for the games. More is still coming to Landmark, and significantly more is coming for EQN.

How is the music between the games different? "In Landmark," he explained,"I'm very busy with the idea of personalization, trying to inspire folks with the notion that anything is is possible." Players should have the feeling that they can do anything from the music. EQN, however, has a totally different feel and direction music-wise. Soule explained,
"When I get into Next, it's more about the storylines, narratives, and characters and less about the environment. The narrative providing a duality between the purpose of story and purpose of gameplay."
Even as the story of EQN changes over time through player actions, there is still an underlying narrative, unlike the premise of Landmark.

Creating a new way to compose

Soule shared that though he studied composition in the traditional ways -- theory, counterpoint, and harmonic analysis -- those methods all "sucked." He emphasized, "I did not learn how to compose using the college methods." So he's doing something different for future musicians. Soule's trying to take note of how he works -- what he has internalized -- and move it into an easy curriculum so that others can express themselves using his methods.

In describing his method, Soule explains, "I think my methods are very veery similar to composers predating the 1900s." He discussed how schools right now focus very pretentiously on man-made musical structure (such as atonalism), but he doesn't feel that the last 85 years of this teaching method has resulted in music that has any connection to society. "It's been a failure," he stated. Instead, he wants to revise the earlier methods, such as the way that Mozart or Beethoven learned. Soule explained that Beethoven, for instance, learned a lot about harmony from watching faces; if you had a chord that was stressed, you'd see the stress displayed on the faces of the listeners. Basically, just watching facial reaction reveals emotional cues as to what the meaning of those harmonies are. He said, "That's what we've lost, and that's what I am hoping to teach again."

What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporter MJ Guthrie to this year's SOE Live, from which she'll be transmitting all the best fan news on EverQuest Next, Landmark, H1Z1, and the other MMOs on SOE's roster.
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