Scoring Halo 4

For the sake of chronology, when did you start working on the game?
So I was due to start writing in February for a prototype phase, but my first meeting with Microsoft would’ve been in December of 2010, when I went over to meet everyone. I literally got off the plane and just came straight to the studio and started messing around, throwing in ideas. My impression of what I’d seen at the studio, the visual materials I’d been shown, and the energy I got while talking to these people, it inspired me. So I started working on this project in December 2010, but officially became engaged in composing for the project in July or August of 2011, but that was after a prototyping phase, during which I probably wrote 20-30 pieces of music. I don’t know how many pieces of music I’ve written to this point,” says Davidge, “but it’s well over four hours of music, maybe 300 pieces – it’s insane.

I don’t know if this is true. They might just be saying this to make me feel better, but [Microsoft] tells me that the music is going smoother than anything else. Everything else is so fraught, they’re so frantic trying to build these weapons and these environments and these characters – it’s enormous! But they say the music is actually going very smoothly. From my perspective over here, it’s like, I’m running out the door going, ‘Fuck this! I can’t do this!’ [Laughs.]

How do the slideshow images cycling on your TV up above the sound desk help you work?
I’ve got four screens here, all displaying different things. Two of them are kind of used for visual material, and I keep running visuals related to whatever particular theme I’m writing for, or what particular mission I’m writing for, or environment I’m writing for. I tend to go and find materials that may inspire me or keep me focused on a certain theme, feeling, emotion or texture. Is it hot, cold, shiny, rough, tropical, desert, scary, sad, exciting? So I go collecting loads of visuals, and some of these images have been sent to me from the artists at 343.

So you might have concept art or sketches displayed up there?
Yeah, concept art, but I may also go looking for clips – scenes from movies or TV shows, strange things that people have uploaded on YouTube, anything that elicits the correct emotional response in me, that will help inform what I’m doing. Because the biggest challenge of doing a project like this is that you don’t actually get to see the finished thing. When you’re working on a film score, you get to see the film, even though it may be recut and stuff, you actually get to see the film all the way through before you start writing the music. But with a game, you don’t. You’re lucky if you get to see a few pictures and get to have a conversation with the guys who are making it.

Do you tend to write on the keyboard predominantly?
On the keyboard, sometimes on the guitar. I’ve had a lot of late-night sessions at home on the edge of my bed with my guitar, whistling and singing into my dictaphone. A lot of the big themes of this game have actually come from me just singing. The key melodies have come that way, just singing tunes into the dictaphone. As I’m listening to music on the way in to the studio, an idea may pop into my head and I’ll just sing that straight onto the iPhone. I’ve got hundreds of dictaphone samples. Some of them are actually beats as well. So I’m actually doing human beatbox onto my dictaphone for a particular rhythmic feel that I’m going for.

What milestones has 343 given you?
Sometimes I really don’t know how we achieve these things. It comes together magically at the end of the process. Yeah, there have been milestones. We started with the prototyping phase of it. We concentrated on two essential themes for the game. I wrote a lot of other pieces at that point as well, and a number of those have become fairly key themes for this project, but we’d break it down into tiers. We’ve had four tiers since officially beginning work on the composition for this game in August last year. In each tier we’ll deal with a couple of missions and a bunch of key themes, and I’ll keep writing pieces for that. The period just after Christmas, we really wanted to wrap up on all the key compositions so I spent a good month and a half concentrating on themes at that point because we were coming to the end of the composition phase. We needed to make sure everything was in the bag, especially as things are becoming more intense over there as 343 gets closer to its deadline.

I do have a final delivery date for this project. And as much as possible, I am trying to stick to that, but it’s a big challenge because it’s a creative process. I don’t know when I’m actually going to get it right. Some days I can walk into the studio, and within two hours, I’ve done it. I’ve written that piece, it says everything that everyone wants to say, and it says it beautifully. It doesn’t need anything more added to it. Other days I can come in and, day after day, I’ve still not hit the nail on the head. And I have to keep going until I do. A deadline does inspire some kind of resolution.

Are you able to utter that date without devolving to tremors?
Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve been up against deadlines before now and I guess I have faith in my own abilities, I have faith in my team, the people I’m working with, everyone’s great, everyone’s top of their game. Everyone’s inspired, everyone’s passionate. If push comes to shove, we’ll all work through the night to get the job done. The deadline is looming, and my role is actually kind of shifting now from the composer to the producer.