Composer Rod Abernethy talks video game scoring, virtual instruments and samples of yesteryear

Rod AbernethyRod Abernethy is an award-winning composer and musician who creates memorable music scores for video games, advertising and television. His musical repertoire encompasses traditional acoustic and ethnic scores, unique hybrid soundtracks fusing electronic and organic elements, as well as dramatic music written for orchestra and choir. Rod’s dynamic music productions enhance numerous high profile video games such as Dead Space, Alpha Protocol and The Hobbit  and is currently working on the soundtrack for the forthcoming RAGE. We heard that Rod uses several virtual instruments in his work including many from some of Time+Space’s brands so we got in touch with him to find out how he works…

Hi Rod, so how did you get into producing music?

I’ve been composing since I was a teen. I started out in various bands and was signed to major labels, played a lot on the road and then I decided to stay in one place and compose for video games, film and TV. Since then I’ve composed for over 60 video games. Game scoring has always been a great fit for me, I guess because I’m an active gamer and I love game music, new and old.

How does the process of scoring for video games work?

Composing for games is more of a puzzle solving process than a linear medium like film and TV. It can be any style….acoustic celtic, heavy metal, grind core, techno or live action orchestral. Sometimes I create music stems within a composition, for example separate loops including a synth bass, drum kit, guitars, strings, brass, etc., that must loop and interact with each other differently on each passing loop but still remain relative to the track. It’s challenging work but a helluva lot of fun.

You’re currently working on the soundtrack for RAGE which is the new blockbuster franchise from the people that made the Doom series. Can you tell us about the type of music you’re having to compose for this and how you’re producing it?

I guess you could say that the music is a blend of dark action orchestral mixed with hard grind guitar and synth. RAGE’s audio director at id Software, Christian Antkow, is fantastic to work with and also a great musician in his own right which is extremely helpful when conceptualizing the scores. I’m playing a lot of live guitar on these scores, and experimenting with the guitar in new ways with a lot of direct processing. I’m also using sample libraries from Project Sam’s Symphobia, True Strike 1 & 2, Sample Logic, and the Vienna Symphonic Libraries.

Rod in studioAside from video games, where else would we have heard your work?

I’ve scored a lot of commercials over the years for national TV advertising…you’ve probably heard my scores ad nauseam and didn’t know it (laughs)

How does scoring for video games differ from creating music for film?

With film and TV, the composer creates the score linearly to what he/she is seeing. The score is always moving forward with picture, never repeating itself. In games, I compose tracks that must loop hundreds of times, seamlessly and interact with the gameplay. You also need to be flexible and intuitive to the gameplay that you’re scoring for. And if you compose for games, it’s a big help if you play lots of video games…you’ve got to know how a gamer thinks and responds to gameplay. You need to know how a gamer thinks and responds to gameplay…it’s a big help if you play lots of video games.  I’m always trying for something different and fresh.  Composing for games allows me to experiment with samples and sounds in crazy ways.

You use a number of virtual instruments from our brands including Spectrasonics Stylus RMX and ProjectSAM’s Symphobia. What is it about these in particular that appeal to you?

I’ve had Stylus RMX for years, and I’m still finding new ways to use it. It’s always a great place to start with finding a groove and feel for a composition. The patterns are still very relevant, and many times I’ll print a pattern that I find in Stylus and chop it up and mutate it until I get the result I’m after. Symphobia is a fantastic collection of orchestra performances that I use constantly in tandem with other orch libraries. It also sounds great on its own. It’s really nice for “beefing” up sections from other string and brass libraries.

Virtual instrumentsYou also own Overloud’s TH1 guitar amp simulator – why do you use this over and above competing products?

I experiment a lot with playing and making new guitar sounds with different kinds of distortion and ambience, playing live and using software.I own almost all of the virtual guitar sims, they’re all great in their own right and have their own special sound. The TH1 has a great “live”amp, hard-rock sound, and it sits great in my mixes. I also run synth and keyboards through it to shake things up sometimes.I’ve recorded many a live guitar rig and Overloud got it right when it comes to simulating that magic combination of electric guitar, stomp box, amp and a microphone.

Last year we interviewed Zero-G’s founder Ed Stratton who talked about the first sample libraries he produced in the early ‘90s including Datafile 1, 2 and 3 all of which you own. Do you still use these today and if so, what is it about these libraries that make them still appealing 20 years on?

Many of those samples are mono but a lot of them are timeless and never go out of style…for instance the drop-ins, vocal FX, sub basses and one-offs. And it was recorded and mastered so well by Ed. It’s still awesome to have in my “tool box” . . .for instance, run those old samples through a couple of FX plug-ins like Elastique and Rob Papen’s RP-Delay and you’ve got a brand new sample library.

Do you ever incorporate real instrument performances into your work?

Definitely! I record a lot of live electric guitar and percussion.  I love taking traditional sounds, for instance acoustic guitars and drums, and processing them “in the box” with software effects until I come up with something totally different. I also record on my electric guitars and a lot of live percussion. I also record live orchestra quite often. Dead Space was recorded live at Skywalker Ranch, and I just recorded the live tracks for TERA, a new Rod in studio2MMORPG, in Seattle with the Northwest Sinfonia, that game is coming out in 2011. Sometimes real performances can’t be duplicated…there’s no substitute for a great live performance.

Outside of ‘work’ projects do you create any music of your own?

Yes I do, and I’m currently working on a project that’s outside video games. It has me writing songs and playing electric guitar, hopefully playing live, too. Sort of a new rock thing…we’ll see.

Other than RAGE, what other projects do you have coming up?

It’s been a crazy year so far. Unfortunately, I currently can’t mention my other game projects, maybe later in the year.

Thanks Rod!

Click here to visit Rod’s website

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!


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