Tuesday, December 3, 2019

'Into the Storm' with Inon Zur (Dragon Age Day 2019 Interview)

As part of this year's Dragon Age Day 2019, we're so excited to announce that EMMY award-winner and three-time BAFTA nominated composer Inon Zur is taking part in this year's festivities to benefit Able Gamers! 

Inon composed the beautiful scores for Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakening, and Dragon Age II, and this year he is offering a video greeting and a signed photo and Dragon Age score sheet for charity auction to benefit Able Gamers.

He's internationally renowned for his emotionally dynamic original music scores for film, television and additional blockbuster video game franchises such as the FALLOUT series and the PRINCE OF PERSIA series. Recognized worldwide as one of the most innovative and successful composers in the industry, Inon’s best-selling soundtrack for FALLOUT 4 has been described as “sophisticated and atmospheric” (Classic FM) and celebrated as one of the best original video game scores by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, The PlayStation Awards, The Game Awards, Spike TV, FACT Magazine, Paste, and Classic FM.

I sat down to talk to Inon via Internet call last week, and he was very generous despite the holiday week to talk about his inspirations and career. 

Inon, you've composed so much iconic music in your career -- you're an EMMY winner and multiple BAFTA nominee. It's a privilege to talk to you today.

INON: Thank you so much. Even after working on over 100 titles, Dragon Age is not just one of the most beloved franchises that I ever worked on in my life, but some of the songs I created for Dragon Age, for me, remain some of the highlights of my whole career.

That doesn't surprise me at all, as your scores for Dragon Age have been so iconic. When did you start composing?

I started composing when I was about eight. It was when I started playing the piano, and instead of reading the notes, I would actually come up with my own melodies. My piano teacher was really great, because she got, you know, that I had to do this and it was simply the way I am. 


So she gave me some children's songs, some Hebrew children's songs (because I was in Israel). And I went from there and started composing on my own, something like six songs when I was still just eight or nine. And that's how I started. And I just never stopped.

So you just always had music in your head.

(laughs) Pretty much! Pretty much.

You've done a lot of beautiful and diverse compositions for fantasy and sci-fi. Are those genres that you personally enjoy, as well?

Again, I think I find in every genre sort of the search for difference, looking for what I can bring if I create it. But I must say that in fantasy and sci-fi, those two genres are ones where I feel mostly at home. And I feel that my creativity really gets a boost because I love stories, I love fairy tales, I like adventures, and I like places that are out of this world. So this is why I feel like I'm connecting to those genres.

What were your inspirations when approaching the Dragon Age: Origins score? It's really a landmark score for a landmark game in a lot of ways for me. What were some of your inspirations for some of the motifs or instrumentation, that kind of thing?

It's a good question, because I approached it very differently from the way I've approached other games, even those in the same genre. I decided to look at it from a different angle—more from a dramatic angle, and also from the more dark and menacing angle.

And on top of it, I felt that the story for me was really compelling, and I was drawn to it right away. With other games, I was usually more enchanted by how it looked and how it played, but here it was more—I was really attracted by the story and the characters. So the story was what really gave me a special drive on that.

And the characters are so complicated, too. They're really complex people.

That's true. And again, for me, coming into it from more simple game form and story form, to encounter this level of complexity in the story was really something that gave me a special drive to get inside the story and create something that I hoped would be as moving as the actual story itself.

How long did you have to work on composing the Origins score?

I worked on Origins for close to two years.

That must have been intense.

It was, but it was a real journey. It gave me the opportunity to work with them to hammer out what would be the style, the actual style? We actually wanted to separate ourselves from anything else, especially any of that Tolkien kind of approach. So we created something that pushed against the genre a little bit, and this did not always come easy. I remember going back and forth in the early days, really trying to hammer out what would be the 'something' that would separate the score from other fantasy scores.

Eventually, we realized that a low, growling, orchestral sound was what—more than anything else—would be the signature sound for Dragon Age 1. Having said that, I'm still so honored to have worked on it, because it's one of my favorites. 

Mine too. It's just beautiful. And I loved that it lived on, that even later in Inquisition, that there was a tangible homage to the main Origins theme. 

I know! I really felt good about that. "I am the One" was always a favorite of mine, yet I don't know if you know about this, but the really interesting thing is that that theme was not even supposed to be in Dragon Age at all. There weren't supposed to be any individual songs in Dragon Age at all.

Oh, wow! Not even "Leliana's Song?"

No. Nothing. But I felt so moved by some parts of the story and by the characters, that I decided to write a song about it, and I wrote "I am the One," and we collaborated together on the lyrics. 

And after we were done, I just sent it over, telling BioWare, "Look, you guys didn't ask for this so you don't need to pay me for it, but I felt that a song could really enhance some of these scenes in a more effective way. And fortunately, they really liked it and they adopted it for the game, but it was not part of the original plan. 

That's so interesting, because I would say, out of any songs across Dragon Age, "I am the One" is kind of the anthem, to me, for all of the trilogy.

What was your approach to Dragon Age II? To me, it's so big and cinematic—so many emotions—and your score reflects that perfectly.

That's right, but on the other hand, for me it was more intimate, and it is ultimately the story of an exile. So I had to approach it from a different point of view than I did for Origins. In Dragon Age II, I featured a string quartet, which is a more intimate setup to describe a more intimate and tragic story, again emphasizing exile. I would say this was the big difference. 

If Dragon Age I was very big and orchestral, in Dragon Age 2, I was more concentrating on trying to create a more intimate feel with the music. The score was also more Middle Eastern, with that influence, because some of the locations of the game were in Middle Eastern settings. So for me this was a way for me to integrate a little more of my roots into Dragon Age as well.

You can definitely hear that Middle Eastern influence, especially in some of the scenes at the Qunari compound, too. I also love that you downsized the ensemble itself to make the music more intimate and personal.

That's true, and I also collaborated with Idan Reichel, who is amazing. An amazing world artist in Israel and his songs are just superb. We called him, and he just moved over here, and for a week, we composed together, creating at least two to three songs ("Destiny of Love" and "Mage Pride"). Especially "Mage Pride," for example.

That's a good one.

We really collaborated strongly, and you could really hear the strong Middle Eastern influences inside the music.

It opens up the world a little more, musically, too. So that must have been a lot of fun.

INON: Yes, it gives a certain flavor.

Do you have any other favorite compositions beyond Dragon Age, as well?

Two things: First, the score for FALLOUT, which is extremely different, and it's basically my other side. And the work I did for FALLOUT 76 is still work I really cherish. And the second thing would be my album, INTO THE STORM, which is basically my dedication to Dragon Age lovers.

It's really close to my heart, and I created it by totally going back to my time on Dragon Age and thinking about it. 

I know how excited Dragon Age fans are going to be to hear it. Can you tell us more about INTO THE STORM? How long did you work on it?

INTO THE STORM was a work that took place over five years. I remember that I just got more and more requests from Dragon Age fans for more work that felt like part of that world. Fans would ask, "When are you going to write more songs?" So finally, I said, "I am going to do it! I'm going to do it." And eventually it just came together, and it actually took me taking a leap from—it's not only Dragon Age style, but it also took some kind of departure for me.


So it still stays with me, that additional visit to the fantasy realm, and I hope that Dragon Age fans especially will appreciate it. Because I definitely did create it primarily for them. It was meant to be a gift from me for the fans.

It's a beautiful piece of work, and you can really hear that five years that went into it, I think. Where can people get INTO THE STORM

Into the Storm is available now from Sony Music Masterworks. It's also available on Amazon, and more.

Is there anything I haven't asked you that you wish someone would ask you about your work and approaches?

I think that the future looks very interesting for me. 

What's up next for you?

Ah! I cannot really talk about it...

Of course!

But one thing I can say is that the next two years will be full of musical adventure. I started on it a few years ago and it isn't finished yet. But I can say that I am so excited for what's to come, and I just can't wait to share it. 

I also wanted to thank, personally, the Dragon Age brand, and Dragon Age fans, for their love and support throughout all these years. And I want them to know that they are the reason why it is such a satisfaction to wake up in the morning every day and to try to create something that I think is good, and cool. Because know who I'm creating for. 

That's so meaningful, especially as the Dragon Age community is so passionate and so loyal. We love the world you and so many other artists worked to create in these games, and we're here for the long term.

Thank you so much, and Happy Dragon Age Day to all of you! I love hearing from the fans and look forward to it any time. I really can't wait for Dragon Age Day, and it means so much to me to be included.

Images courtesy of Inon Zur.

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