Rivendell (R): Inon, thank you for letting Radio Rivendell interview you. You have many fans on the radio site, and it’s an honour to be able to talk to you.
You graduated at the Music Academy in Tel Aviv in Israel, before moving to Los Angeles to study film music at the Dick Grove School of Music and UCLA. This must have been quite a gamble, but it certainly paid off! What made you decide to follow this path in life and become a composer?
Inon Zur (IZ): During my studies at the Music Academy of Tel Aviv I understood that I needed to look for a different direction than what they were leading me towards. I was looking for communicative music that could speak to everybody, not just those at the highest level where only the affluent minority can enjoy classical music. Music is supposed to reach out to the majority of people and I felt that this elitest approach was not the right way for me. When I came to USA I found a different approach to composing music for an audience which was widely accepted, and to have a livelihood as a working musician and composer (which was not so evident when I studied in Israel.)
Yes, it was a risk to leave everything I knew and move here to a different place with a new language. It was especially difficult to leave my family, however I was very motivated to make it as a composer.
(R): You studied with the likes of internationally acclaimed Henry Mancini, Jack Smalley, and Alan Ferguson. Were they intimidating, or did you find being amongst people like this helped drive you?
(IZ): Their whole approach to student composers was to treat us very much like collaborators. The teacher was part of the experience and not just standing there lecturing you. They were very hands-on, teaching us in a personal manner. They were passionate and generous with their time because they really wanted to keep the artform alive and pass on their experience and knowledge.
(R): Most of us know you from your work on Dragon Age, EverQuest, Lineage, and Prince of Persia. You have also done music for movie trailers including Kingdom of Heaven, music for TV, and film soundtracks. Would you like to do more movie soundtracks in the future?
(IZ): Yes, I think that movie soundtracks are very appealing as long as they’re the right projects where I am the right fit and can contribute the most. Whether it’s film, TV or games, music is always there to support the emotional element and to enhance the drama. There are different ways of working in film and television but each medium has their own challenges and I like challenges!
(R): You worked with Aubrey Ashburn for some of your pieces, including the award winning “I Am The One” from Dragon Age: Origins, which also climbed to #1 on the Amazon UK downloads charts in December 2009. Were you surprised by how well the soundtrack was received?
(IZ): Yes, I was surprised. We all worked very hard but I always treat the music as part of the overall experience and inseparable from the actual game so it’s a great to learn when people enjoy the score on its own. It is a good feeling to know that there is an audience appreciating the music outside of the game.
(R): Your works have been performed all over the world by live orchestras, including the debut of Dragon Age: Origins, and Prince of Persia, performed by The Eminence Symphony Orchestra in Sydney, as well as in performances by the Malmo Symphony Orchestras in Sweden. It must have been fantastic to hear your work performed in a symphony hall. Were you there to see these concerts?
(IZ): Yes, I attended the Eminence concert in Australia and it is always a wonderful experience whenever you hear your music peformed live. It fills you with a great sense of pride that people are coming to hear your music. For a composer the best feeling is to make a connection with the audience, especially when your music is played in a live concert.
(R): Your music has a very epic and sweeping sound to it. Are there any composers or artists that have inspired or influenced you?
(IZ): My main creative influences are the classical works of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Debussy and Beethoven and in film the music of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Thomas Newman.
(R): Are there any particular projects that you enjoyed more than others?
(IZ): It’s difficult to choose as I enjoy working on many different projects for different reasons. Each and every project that I choose to score poses new challenges so it’s not so much just the title itself that appeals to me. The musical challenges presented are always very motivating for me - projects that try a new approach, or that present challenges that are unique. I try to look for new ground, new sounds, new approaches to composing music.
(R): It is rumoured that you like working to a deadline. Are there any projects you have been working on that have been put on the back-burner? And do you have plans on getting these released some day?
(IZ): I do have a lot of music in my archives that could one day be released as an album but I would need to find the time to compile everything.
(R): I read that to help you compose soundtracks to video games, you play the game itself and put together a score that will accompany the player on his or her journey. Do you enjoy gaming, or is it strictly research?
(IZ): I always play the games I work on to get a feel for the game and its rhythm, to understand the role of the music, and how to shape the music for the game. I play and watch these games a lot during their development. However I don’t have much time to check out games outside of my work as I’m usually onto the next project.
(R): I hear rumours that you would like to look at composing some jazz pieces in the future. Is this a genre you enjoy listening to?
(IZ): Yes, I love jazz, and I love to play jazz. I enjoy listening to artists like George Gershwin and great musicians such as Herbie Hancock. I would love to write a soundtrack with a big band jazz.
(R): Many gamers and Lord of the Rings fans are buzzing about Lord of the Rings: War in the North (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC), which you have done the original score for. I’ve read that you conducted a full orchestra and choir at Abbey Road Studios in London. Can you tell us more about this work?
(IZ): It was an exhilirating experience to record at Abbey Road, and conducting the wonderful players of the London Philharmonia and Pinewood Singers Choir. We stayed loyal to the sound of the films, however we have taken it to a darker place. In order to support Snowblind's original story and cinematic vision, I created an entirely new array of themes and musical palletes for War InThe North which are different than the movie scores. We do not use any quotes or direct references from the film soundtracks.
Photos by Tom Bowles
(R): Have you played this game, and are action RPGs your thing?
(IZ): Of course! I’m playing War In The North while I’m composing and by the way I think it is a really great game. RPGs take a long time so I don’t usually have time but from a musical point of view it’s one of the best genres to compose for in games. I enjoy working on many genres but fantasy is generally my favorite since they usually allow greater freedom and scope for a large orchestral expression and diversity.
(R): Is there a particular CD that you listen to more than others at the moment?
(IZ): At the moment I am listening to a lot of different music at random on the radio. I like to turn on NPR during the middle of the night. And it doesn’t have to be orchestral. I always like music to surprise me as it gives me new ideas.
(R): Have you got any projects in the pipeline for us to look out for?
(IZ): In addition to The Lord of the Rings: War In The North, I’m currently writing more music for the MMORPGs, RIFT: Planes of Telara and TERA Online. I’m also working on several new projects to be announced.
(R): Thank you very much for your time Inon!
Inon Zur's official website: www.inonzur.com