Jesper Kyd Interview
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To celebrate the upcoming 10 year anniversary of Assassin's Creed II, we're proud to release a new Q&A with BAFTA award-winning composer and sound designer Jesper Kyd.
Col: Hi Jesper, thank you very much for joining us today. It's a huge privilege to be able to conduct this interview.
I'm sure most of our fans already know, but please could you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your work on the Assassin's Creed franchise.
Jesper: I wrote the scores for the first 4 Assassins Creed games including what has become the theme of the franchise, Ezio’s Family. I have also composed all the Borderlands games, the first 4 Hitman games, Darksiders 2, all the State of Decay games, Freedom Fighters and many more. Outside of games my most recent project is the fantasy horror film Tumbbad (Amazon).
Col: It's been a couple years since you last composed a full soundtrack for the series, but your work has now become a big part of the Assassin's Creed legacy. How does it feel to hear different variations of your music in the recent soundtracks, and to have Ezio's family become the signature theme for the franchise?
Jesper: I am a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and it’s a thrill to see that Ezio’s Family has become the franchise theme. I originally envisioned the theme to represent Ezio’s loss and struggles and I tried to capture the emotion Ezio felt when thinking about this act of betrayal and tragedy. This moment defines who he is and who he becomes and of course why he joins the brotherhood and becomes an Assassin. There is always a sacrifice and struggle for all the characters in the series when they join this secret brotherhood and to me, that’s what Ezio’s Family has come to represent.
It’s absolutely wonderful to hear all the different versions of Ezio’s Family not only in the games but also the many fan versions on YouTube. This theme has evolved so far beyond anything I could have imagined.
Col: What are your top 5 Assassin's Creed soundtrack songs?
Jesper My top 5 Assassin’s Creed tracks that I have written? That’s a tough one but here goes… Ezio’s Family \ Earth, Venice Rooftops, Sanctuary, Home in Florence, Dreams of Venice but there is also of course, Access the Animus. I am proud of all my Assassin’s Creed music, however the creative freedom and journey creating a new music style for the Italian Renaissance in Assassin’s Creed 2 was one of my favorite experiences of any score I have written. I did not have the benefit of a live orchestra budget for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Assassin’s Creed Revelations so it was a bit limiting in trying to match the vision of a similar setting without the means that contributed to the sound of Assassin’s Creed 2.
In many ways the achievements of the original Assassin’s Creed led the way for Assassin’s Creed 2 and enabled me to be set absolutely free creatively for the 2nd game. On the first Assassin’s Creed we spent a lot of time and effort coming up with the central music ideas and creating the blueprint for the ‘Assassin’s Creed sound.’ This includes mixing live performances through electronics to remind the audience that the experience is simulated through the Animus. We also had to invent a lot of new gameplay specific music for game mechanics such as eavesdropping, following targets, chase music, unique music for each of the 3 different cities (which included different music writing styles, different arranging and orchestration techniques as well as different instrument sets).
Col:Which song for the series do you think holds the most emotion, and why?
Jesper: That would be hard to say. I always try to put a lot of emotion in my Assassin’s Creed music such as “City of Jerusalem” from Assassin’s Creed or “Ruins of Rome” from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. I can say this though, I was pleased with the emotion in “Earth” from Assassin’s Creed 2 and when we recorded that theme with live orchestra and choir for “Ezio’s Family” I was very moved by the emotion the orchestra and choir brought to the performance. Similarly, with the choir’s performance on “Sanctuary” from Assassin’s Creed 2.
Col: Do composers ever experience the musical equivalent to 'writers block', and did you find it difficult at all creating music for a video game?
Jesper: I can’t speak for other composers but I feel music should flow naturally so if it doesn’t I think it’s because there’s something wrong. If I have trouble finding the sound or theme it either means I have not fully stepped into the project yet, meaning it’s the wrong time to write the music or perhaps there’s another idea floating around in my head that I need to express first, even if it doesn’t initially fit the game at all. I have been writing music pretty much every day since I was 13, so I just tend to keep writing until I get there. I don’t call that writers block, it’s more like you have to process ideas in your mind before fully finding the right sound, especially when you are inventing something unique, such as the Renaissance sound of Assassin’s Creed 2.
Col: When composing music for AC, what would you say were your biggest inspirations?
Jesper: How the game feels to play, the setting, the story, the characters and the atmosphere of the game. These are all very integral to the music creation process. On the first Assassin’s Creed, we focused on 3 main themes, Mysticism, War and Tragedy (of the Third Crusade). Then I worked these ideas into 3 different styles of music for the main areas in the game, Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem.
For Assassin’s Creed 2 the music was inspired by Ezio’s story and the Renaissance and with Assassin's Creed Brotherhood we introduced a darker tone to reflect the corrupt and tyrant regime of the Borgia family in Rome. My music for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was inspired by the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), particularly the exploration and city music which features Greek as well as Renaissance and Middle-Eastern instrumentation. Additionally, all of the scores are filtered through the Animus.
Col: Do you ever sit and listen to the AC soundtracks, like many of our fans?
Jesper: I do listen to the music since it still retains a lot of deep emotions for me. It’s also important to review what you have written before as a refresher for interviews like this one(!) or when talking with fans at events. That might sound kind of strange but when you are working on the score, you are in the moment and everything is written to enhance the game. Once you take a step back, that’s when it helps you realize what you have created. A lot of people have told me Assassin’s Creed 2 is their favorite score of mine but to me it’s just one of many scores I have written and they all hold a special place in my heart for different reasons.
Col: How many of the Assassin's Creed games have you fully completed, and which one is your favourite?
Jesper: I have played quite a few but only fully completed Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. I really enjoyed the first Assassin’s Creed; Altair is a great character. But I would say Assassin’s Creed 2 or Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood are my favorites. They really improved the Assassin’s Creed 2 gameplay in Brotherhood and I really like the music implementation in Brotherhood. Assassin’s Creed 2 has the best story though.
Col: Do you own Assassin's Creed merchandise? If so, what is your favourite item?
Jesper: I quite like the Jack in the Box from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood. However, I would love to have some more vinyl of my music released from Assassin’s Creed outside of the ‘Best of Assassin’s Creed’ picture disc LP that’s currently available. We are in talks with record labels regarding more vinyl releases and hope to have more news to announce soon. I would love to see something similar to the ‘Hitman: The Critical Collection’ box set release from iambit.
Col: How did you first hear about the Assassin's Creed Symphony?
Jesper: I first heard about the concert tour when the producers of the show, MGP Live, reached out and started collecting material for their suites of my Assassin’s Creed music.
Col: How involved were you in the song selection process for the Symphony?
Jesper: I was quite involved with the music selection for the ‘Symphony of the Shadows’ concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Assassin’s Creed 2. For the Assassin’s Creed Symphony world tour, I was not involved in the track selection.
Col: I understand that you were recently part of a community meet and greet. How did it feel to speak with fans of the franchise after the AC Symphony event?
Jesper: Yes, I was at the world premiere of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony in Paris, where they held a meet and greet with fans after the concert. I love speaking to the fans of all the various franchises I am involved with. Often people share their stories about why the music is so important to them and I feel blessed and honored when fans share such personal stories. It’s almost like sharing a part of you with people when writing emotional music. I really try to pick projects where I can maximize the truth behind the music, writing music that has a deep meaning to me too, and I think that translates to people that hear the music in the games.
Col: Do you have any plans to attend more AC Symphony events?
Jesper: Yes, I will be attending their next show at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on November 10 and we have a special surprise in store for the fans in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Assassin’s Creed 2. Also, as I am writing, I’m actually flying back from an amazing performance of Assassin’s Creed 2 at the 10-year anniversary concert ‘Symphony of the Shadows’ which was performed at the National Forum of Music in Poland together with Hitman…one of the best concert halls in Europe and an absolutely amazing performance by the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Jesper Kyd for joining us for this interview, and to Top Dollar PR for making it possible.
BAFTA award-winning and MTV nominated composer Jesper Kyd has created the iconic music scores for the ASSASSIN’S CREED series, BORDERLANDS series and HITMAN series. Renowned for his non-traditional methodology of blending live instrumentation and manipulated sounds, Kyd’s dark electronic, choral and symphonic scores for the HITMAN series received Best Original Music from the British Academy as well as an MTV VMA nomination. As pioneer of Assassin’s Creed’s musical universe, Kyd’s cinematic and uniquely atmospheric music helped define the series for fans around the world, including his ‘Ezio’s Family’ theme which has become the signature musical theme of the franchise. Most recently Kyd’s evocative original music can also be experienced in the visionary, multi award-winning Indian horror-fantasy Tumbbad. Bestowed with the 2018 Global Creators Award by Rock & Roll Hall of famer Nile Rodgers (David Bowie, Daft Punk), Jesper Kyd’s journey as an artist is ever-evolving and latest opus Borderlands 3 continues his penchant for experimentation with new sounds.
About the Author
Col is one of the UK's leading Assassin's Creed Community members, and is best known for establishing both 'The Ones Who Came Before' fan community and 'Isu_Network' content creation program.
As Team Leader for The Ones Who Came Before, Col was officially recognised by Ubisoft, becoming one the UK Assassin's Creed community ambassadors in 2016. He has attended many events after spending a decade in the AC Community, and has worked on countless projects, all of which you can find here on TOWCB website.
He is also a former Ubisoft Star Player and member of The Mentors Guild, two recognisable community programs which opened doors and took his status within the AC Community to the next level.
Colum Blackett (Col_96)